Arthur is also the founder and honcho here at Linescratchers. He sat down to talk with us about the desperation that bore his new album, why anyone should care that he’s Mormon, and how Eastern Orthodox Christianity has influenced his work.
Odes has a unique creation story. Can you describe the contributions from all the people involved and how it came together?
Well, there are a couple creation stories for Odes. The first is that the project was initially created to help me repair my car. Long story short, my wife and I were driving down to Charlotte, NC, with our very small baby, for a grad school interview, when our car broke down in the middle of Tennessee. We were then completely taken advantage of by an unscrupulous tow/mechanic guy and depleted our savings completely. We didn’t know how we were going to pay bills that month. So I decided that maybe I should just get a bunch of my recorded demos into some kind of presentable form on a Bandcamp account and sell them to raise money for our bills. I had been particularly inspired by a collection of ancient Christian hymns called the Odes of Solomon and a few of my songs were strongly influenced by those hymns. However, due to my pathetic need to pay the bills, a bunch of family and friends pre-ordered the album, enough that our immediate need was fulfilled. Since the matter wasn’t urgent anymore, I decided to create an album out of the material that was truly worthy of being called an album. Around 10 months later, Odes was finished.
A few of my musical contacts I’ve made through Linescratchers helped along the way. Ian Fowles (from The Aquabats!) volunteered to play lead guitar on some songs, and he can be heard in “Don’t Wake Me Now” and “Last Song.” Davey Morrison Dillard asked me to write a song to be featured in his upcoming film adaptation of the play WWJD? and that was “Don’t Wake Me Now.” Adam Kaiser of the Neighbors almost played drums but moved out of his city last-minute and couldn’t do it. I got a friend of a friend, Jared Palick, who plays drums in Portland, to play drums on “Last Song.” My sister sang harmonies on “Gabriel,” and my brother sang harmonies on everything and played drums on all the other songs, so it was really a collective effort from a lot of friends.
Lastly, Young Sim has invited me to list my album under his Feel Good Music Coalition label which I happily did. I love that guy and take every opportunity to work with him that I can.
If you had to write your own one-sheet promo, which hyphenated sub-genre could Odes call home?
I always find it annoying/amusing when artists try to say their music is a combination of basically every genre. They think that’s a way of attracting a wider audience but I think it basically just turns everybody off (“My music is a combination of funk, rock, latin jazz, metal, and hip hop… I’m so clever and groundbreaking, etc.”) But I would say Odes can best be described as a few different flavors of singer/songwriter (folk, rock, and a little hard rock maybe).
What artists have you found yourself learning the most from? Are you the direct musical descendant of anyone?
I think my primary influence in almost everything I do musically is Kevin Moore (Chroma Key, OSI, formerly Dream Theater). And this might surprise people who know what Kevin’s music sounds like because I don’t know that it really sounds anything like mine. But Kevin Moore really stretched the boundaries of what I thought was possible with music, giving up a semi-famous life in a semi-famous band (Dream Theater) to really explore himself and his own music. I really wish I could say more about him in a short interview, but suffice to say he’s the inspiration behind a lot of what I’ve composed. I covered one of his songs live with my two siblings not too long ago (it’s my favorite song in the world). Some other “ancestors” of mine… I learned a lot about composition from Nick Drake, in that he was able to say so much with so few words. At one time Kevin Gilbert was really inspiring to me too. And there are two local Kentucky musicians who had a direct impact on me in a very big way – my former band-mate Matthew Ryan from Killer Ellipsis (not the one from Nashville; you can listen to his recent work at http://fromthefire.bandcamp.com/), and Lance Whalen, both amazing friends and musicians.
Yeah, I have no idea. I mean, as I said above, I kind of started the project out of financial necessity, not wanting to straight up ask for charity from my family and friends. However, it’s been one of the hardest non-parent things I’ve done. Especially cobbling together the musical contributions from all over the country. I don’t know how bands like OSI can compose and record albums via mail like that on a regular basis.
You’ve made the case that people should care about the religious affiliation of musical artists. Should anyone care about your religious affiliation?
Yes, I think they should care inasmuch as people are able to spot a lot more nuance when they’re considering members of their own in-groups. That’s the psychology grad student answer, I guess. In the case of Latter-day Saints, we’re so freaked out about branding and loyalty that I don’t think we ever really learned how to respect differing opinions within our own ranks. There’s no real functional mechanism to relay differences of opinion up to Salt Lake, and we all kind of just wait for Salt Lake to tell us what to think and how to act. I’m not going to go as far as saying that we’re all sheeple, but one thing that’s nice about musicians is that they, by their very nature, see the world a little differently. And so, for instance, I could be wrong about this but it seems like during the mid-’00s the Mormon people were some of the strongest war hawks in America, and right in the middle of that time Alan Sparhawk writes Drums and Guns, a strongly anti-war album. And I was in the middle of really figuring out my own stance on the Iraq War, and when I heard that album, I thought, “Well, gee, I guess you can be an anti-war member of the Church after all.” It just exposes us to a wider range of diversity of thought within our own people.
Specifically, for you and this album, how did your faith impact your music?
I would like to think that this album is the strongest expression of my faith I could produce. I can bear a rote, formulaic testimony in some testimony meeting, and that is one way of bearing testimony, but this album is really the testimony I wish I could give in testimony meeting. Every song deals in some way with my relationship with Christ. It’s just that some are more cryptic than others I think.
It’s probably some sort of ironic that the guy who created Linescratchers – a website devoted to non-LDS music written by Latter-day Saints – suddenly puts out this faith-tinged album. I guess ever since I created Linescratchers I’ve been wondering what a good faith-inspired LDS album would actually sound like. Something that would be inspired by religious ideas but not so obnoxious that an atheist wouldn’t enjoy it too (and a few of my atheist friends have confirmed this, thank goodness). Not to say no Latter-day Saint has ever done this successfully (Alan Sparhawk is of course my main influence here) but I wanted to try it myself.
It’s also an exploration of Eastern Christianity. After my mission I’ve tried my best to understand mainstream Christianity, and that’s led me to a real appreciation of the theology, philosophy, and history of Christianity (thus the discovery of the Odes of Solomon). In particular I’ve been very drawn to both Thomistic philosophy and Eastern Orthodoxy. A lot of the imagery I used in the album is an exploration of the art of Orthodoxy – mosaics, angels, etc. It’s not a perfect album. I’m not sure I accomplished everything I set out to do. But hopefully I might inspire some more talented artists to take what I’m trying to do as a starting point.
Have you ever played live as a solo artist? Do you have any plans to play the material on Odes to a live audience in the near future?
Yes, I have played as a solo artist since the late 1990s, in various places. When I was a teenager I was very scared to play in front of people, so I decided to play on street corners until I overcame that fear. I’ve played on streets in a few states and cities. I also have played shows of course pretty much my whole young adult life. However, I am in a period of retirement in Georgia. I don’t know the venues around here and I’ll only be here for two years, so I have just put the whole live show thing on hold till we find a more permanent residence.
Funny you ask that. Over a decade ago, when I first discovered the concept of Googling my own name, I discovered Arthur Hatton Elementary School and sent them an email inquiring as to who they were named after and why he was so great that they named a school after him. They never wrote me back. So I’m just going to assume they’re named after me.
What’s next for Arthur Hatton?
Well, I’m focusing on my graduate studies right now (I’m getting a Master’s in experimental psychology with a research emphasis in the psychology of religion). I still have all my recording equipment set up next to the living room and I expect a creative burst at some point in the future.
Visit Arthur’s bandcamp page to listen to Odes or other Arthur Hatton music for free and then immediately download it directly from him.