The lines between mainstream music, dance music, and instrumental music continue to further converge with each passing year. As this confluence progresses the electronic music realm is beginning to see a greater presence of “real” instrumentation in both artists’ live shows and studio outputs. Pretty Lights and ZHU come to mind as artists who have embraced this fusion in their live sets, while on the more commercial side, artists like The Chainsmokers have begun to implement more instrumentation into their studio productions.
Armond Arabshahi is among the class of rising producers pushing toward this end-game. As Unlike Pluto, Arabshahi has gained significant traction over the past year for his melange of jazz, rock, pop and dance music. Named one of our Artists to Watch in 2017, the Mad Decent and Monstercat-signed producer has earned slots on major festival lineups in the coming year, including Tomorrowland, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza.
“My background comes from emo, metal, screamo rock… I want to infuse that, jazz, pop, and EDM.”
With his ongoing success, it’s safe to say that Unlike Pluto’s eclectic well of inspirations is a recipe that sits well with the current dance music climate. Of course, the fusion of dance music with other more instrumentally-focused genres is nothing new, but rather is experiencing a resurgence in its broad appeal. When asked which artist he sees as exemplifying the highest point in his paradigm for success, Armond swiftly replies, “Damon Albarn.”
“I don’t know if Gorillaz is necessarily ‘pop,’ but it’s mainstream. It’s popular culture,” the artist elucidates in discussing how Gorillaz fits into the pop spectrum of his musical inspirations. Indeed, while the influx of instrument-driven dance music that currently pervades the mainstream can’t be attributed to the resurgence of Albarn’s virtual group in 2017, it’s undeniable that the Gorillaz resurrection taps into the same vein through which Unlike Pluto is building his career.
Veering outside of the quantifiable and qualifiable influence of Albarn, Arabshahi’s artistic backbone is rooted in jazz, classic rock, and the brooding sensibilities of emo culture. In discussing his inspirations, Unlike Pluto gives nods to jazz drummer Art Blakey and saxophonist Sonny Rollins in the same sentence as emo bands Underoath and As I Lay Dying.
This stylistic juxtaposition is evident in Arabshahi’s recent output through songs such as the jazzier, Joanna Jones-assisted “Waiting For You” and his darker, self-sung single, “Worst In Me.”
So, too, do his seminal inspirations – classic rock band The Moody Blues and jazz/blues vocalist Nina Simone. While the former artist proffered what Armond refers to as his “first song ever,” the latter is a recurrent figure of inspiration to him.
“I was into [Nina Simone’s] music when I was younger. It’s very jazzy. Joanna Jones, who I collaborated with on Waiting For You has a similar vibe to her,” the artist states. He also notes her impact in discussing “Everything Black,” his recent collaboration with Mike Taylor. “[In the studio], we watched some Nina Simone interviews from back in the day and I was just jamming on the piano and then he came up with the lyrics and then ‘ba-boom’ the track came out. It was honestly 2 hours,” Arabshahi quips. “It was really inspirational, and me and Mike Taylor just latched onto it, and then we made the track.”
Given his eclectic range of musical influences, it’s unsurprising that Unlike Pluto has had an eclectic path to success. Growing up in Georgia, Arabshahi played in varied bands from a young age and went to school for biology before pursuing music as a career.
“Ever since I was 13 I always made music,” Armond reminisces.” I was in rock bands, metal bands, folk bands. I was in a country band for awhile – it was weird being a brown guy in a country band… My parents were Persian, so they made me/raised me [under the mindset] that you have to get a college education. So I went to Emory in Atlanta and I just finished Biology, but in doing so, I just worked my ass off making music at night and just released bootleg remixes on Hypemachine.”
The contrast between biology and music as career pursuits is stark, though not much more disparate than the music which initially inspired Arabshahi with the scene in which he currently thrives. While the jazz, pop, and rock influences account for a major portion of the artist’s style, at the end of the day, his Unlike Pluto project is dance-centric. Arabshahi’s shift into dance music came through the likes of Skrillex, deadmau5, and Justice:
“So, what got me into EDM was a remix EP for Suicide Season from Bring Me the Horizon. And, actually, Skrillex was on that back in 2009, or maybe it was 2010…After I heard that, I heard Justice’s Cross album. Then I heard deadmau5’s ‘FML.’ And, when I heard those I was like, ‘dance music’s not just ‘UNTZ, UNTZ, UNTZ’ – it can be more than that.”
Indeed, the drive to make dance music something “more” than the status quo seems to be a major catalyst for Unlike Pluto’s production. The artist is currently sitting on a litany of unfinished work which draws from his musicality outside of the dance music realm – specifically, his own vocals:
“I have 20-25 tracks that are done with just guitar, piano, and vocals from chorus, to bridge – everything. It’s all done, I just need to produce them out. That’s kind of the future of what I want to do with this project, is to infuse my vocals and make it more personal… I feel like people kind of latched onto ‘Worst In Me’ because it was so simple and it was about something that I’m being honest about. Because, when I work with a lot of vocalists, I don’t necessarily have a lot of say in the lyrics a lot of the time, because I want to hone what they are going through, so that I can fit a track to best fit around that.”
“ So, for me,” Arabshahi continues, “I actually want to sing about what I’m going through. And I also write lyrics with my sister a lot because she’s an incredible artist. I’m actually really bad at writing words, but I’ll give her the idea and I’ll make the hook and then she’ll give me like random lyrics, like a poem. She’ll write a poem that I can just fit into the song.”
In creating a project that strives to evade mundanity, it makes sense that Unlike Pluto draws upon outside collaborators like Mike Taylor, Joanna Jones, and indeed, his own sister. The collective creative process undeniably helps to stave off stylistic stagnancy.
However, ultimately, the artist believes that his success, and the success of any artist, has to come from self-reliance, self dedication, and self-belief. In his parting statement, Unlike Pluto shares his experience in breaking into the industry to provide inspiration for producers on the rise:
“I worked my ass off. I was in bands since I was 13, I just kept making music. Even when the times were rough, I just kept doing it. And believe me, the times were rough. There were points when I’d release music and it would get like 10 plays in 5 days. Like, horrible. But, for upcoming producers, I’d just say stick to your guns and just if you’re into something and you’re passionate about it, just do that. Don’t do what you think is popular, do what the fuck you believe in.”