Here’s how Arrested Youth wrote an entire EP with the help of his fans
In between bingeing Homeland and taking neighborhood strolls, Los Angeles-based artist Ian Johnson, the mind behind Arrested Youth, has been working on his new EP, Arrested Youth & The Quarantiners. This EP isn’t just any self-isolation-produced record—each song was written by fans and for fans. Today, Alternative Press is exclusively premiering the music video for “Jumping Ship,” which also stars the project’s listeners.
“Jumping Ship” served as the first collaboration song between Arrested Youth and the fans. The music video itself features listener video submissions in their own homes and backyards.
This EP, mixed, mastered and produced by Escape The Fate’s Kevin Thrasher, might sound different than past tracks such as “My Friends Are Robots” and “Mirrors” from his 2018 album, Fear. Arrested Youth doesn’t fit into one genre by any means. Johnson shared how he listens to artists such as Tame Impala all the way to Kid Cudi for inspiration. Rock, pop and rap are only a few components of this rising artist’s sound. These elements and more can be found on his five-track EP, with narratives explaining current events and ravaged emotions as a result of quarantine.
Additionally, Arrested Youth is donating the money from streams to charity. The fans will also have a hand in deciding which organization the money benefits in a few short weeks.
AltPress had the chance to sit down and deep dive into Johnson’s one-of-a-kind project. Check out how he arrived at his final fan-written project as well as the “Jumping Ship” music video below.
In quarantine, you used your time to create this whole EP with fans. Where did that particular idea come from?
It was a very on-the-whim idea. I was just in the studio [around] the day after Trump announced that we were shutting down. And I said, “OK, well I'm just gonna focus on making new music as I usually do.” I just said it'd be cool to try something different. I know everyone's locked at home now. So it's like maybe fans and supporters want to write music.
So I just turned on an Instagram live, and I said, “Hey, I'm in the studio, and I'm working on a song. Do you guys want to help write it?” It went so well, and we had so much fun that I said, “OK, let's do it again. We'll do it again in two days.” It was that natural progression. Honestly, at that point, the songs kept going well, so we kept doing sessions, and before too long we had a little album.
These new songs are different from previous tracks such as “Mirrors” and “Riot!” So what influenced you to go a little bit more acoustic with different sounds?
It's funny. I was talking to some people the other day, and I was like, if you follow Arrested Youth on social media, you see the idiot that I am. You wouldn't be surprised to hear this. But if you were just following Arrested Youth on Spotify, you’d have no idea what I'm doing right now. I'm really interested to see when this comes out. I think people are going to be really surprised in a good way.
This is the first release since “Brightside” came out right when everything shut down. How did that get received? Was it better? Was it harder to share?
I think it was received on an emotional and sentimental level really well, but at the same time, because people were dealing with so many other things, I think it came out at a time where music wasn't the thing to really focus on. So it was this weird thing where people who heard it and were looking for music were like, “This is really great for where we're at.” But it also was tough to put out a song that we really wanted to put out because you were like, “That's cool, but I need to make sure myself and my family are alive.”
It was a mixed feeling because it's a great song for a rough time, but it also wasn't the perfect time to listen to music. There was a balance there, but I'm happy we put it out at the time we did and that it helped people who needed it in a strange time.
What was it like to receive all those submissions from fans?
It was really cool. I think the thing that was even cooler was the quality of the submission. It was in a live chat, so people were just writing the lyrics. I think the coolest part was how [many] of the songs are actually written by fans. I think some people might be skeptical and say, “Oh, you did a fan album. How much was really written by the fans?” Like 80% of the lyrics were written [by them]. But then I made sure that the concepts and the melodies and the sonics were where they needed to go to be a full song. But the actual lyrics were pretty much written by people other than myself just throwing out ideas in a group chat.
Maybe it's a new way of writing music. Maybe it's a way of more people trying to write songs with people who are actually listening to them. I know I wanted to make a project during this time that talked about what people were going through in the quarantine, especially more so the youth population. And I was like, “I can either do that and second-guess myself, or we can just do it together.”
Before this project, were you doing other things to connect with fans like Q-and-A's or livestreams or other types of things?
From the beginning of Arrested Youth, I've just built it as a very close-knit community of creative kids. So we've always been doing stuff that is more personal. I think that's why when this idea came up, so many people were willing to do it and put in the time. I was always really honored that when I set up the session, so many people came to write the song. That's a lot of time and energy...It takes energy for music. So now, when push comes to shove and we want to write songs together, we actually care enough about the project to do that.
Do you think you would ever do this particular style of writing in the future?
Oh, absolutely. Maybe like in Arrested Youth, we have a time and place set aside every year to do a small fan-written EP. To me, it's like a way of checking back in with your fanbase as you're growing. Maybe we write a song about where we think Arrested Youth is, and we find a weird, symbolic way to write a song about that. It'd be really cool to have a project like this be consistent where we're just checking in and writing music together and then when that's done, I go back to writing by myself. I haven't flushed that out yet, but to me, that seems like a really cool way to just stay connected with your fanbase.
What personal experiences did you put into “Jumping Ship,” or was that 100% the fans’ writing?
I did a lot of the verse work on that. But [with] that song in particular, the concept and the idea started with someone wanting to call it “State Of Mind.”
And then I said, “How do we make that a little more like a novel concept?” Like, how do we do something with “state of mind” that feels fun and different and isn't so on the nose? Because a lot of people in the group chat said, “My state of mind is tough right now.” It's so sporadic, and I can relate to that. I'm a pretty sporadic thinker. Then someone just said, “It's like I'm jumping ship on every thought or emotion I have.” I think for me, my experience in that song was the melodies and the emotion and the production and some of the lyrics. But I took that energy and let the fans write the lyrics.
Is there anything you have in store for this year when you can't do touring or anything like that?
We have a full year of music. We have Sobville (Episode II) coming out this summer and then the full studio album coming out late fall. So many artists build their releases around tour, and I've done stuff like that in the past. But I've decided that stuff is coming out regardless of being on tour. You can expect three projects coming out before 2021. I make so much music, and if I don't, it's just going to pile up, and it's not going to get out there, and I'm starting to become afraid of that. So we're going to put this stuff out, and I'm really excited because it's a lot of different sounds.
With the state of the world, no one knows what's happening tomorrow. How is it going to affect your music specifically? How do you think the whole industry will adjust to allow musicians and artists to keep creating?
I've always been incredibly influenced by so much different music. And my dream has always been to find a cohesive way to use so many sounds that I love under one music project. So it's pushed for me to really start saying, “No, I'm going to make the sound like this [regarding] what I'm interested in right now,” and I can find a way to make it work for Arrested Youth. It's pushing me to really go for what I want to make in the moment and then say, “I can put this out.” I don't want to ever be called this “alternative” or “punk” project. I want the influences to be so diverse, and this time is helping me really follow through on that and make that music. I've been making a lot of records in these past three weeks.
When the quarantine project was finished, I took a two-week break, and then I got back into it. Even in this time, I'm starting to make a whole other sound for another album after the album. It's just pushing me to experiment and really try to make new stuff. I think it's going to do that for a lot of people. That's the industry party. I was talking to my friend Jordan [Benjamin] who does grandson, and he was like, “I feel like this is a pause where everyone feels like there'll be a reset later on, and we can do whatever we want right now until that reset happens.”
That's a pretty cool way of putting it. It's like a chance to actually do what you want to do because your expectations are different. The expectations are removed. That's not just music—that's life right now.
What else should fans know about this special project?
I don't want this to sound preachy or too sentimental, but I'm very honored to put out this project. I'm really excited because it's the first time that something has felt so connected to creating music with people who actually listen to the music. There's something about that's really special, and I feel very honored to be the first artist to do a full album of that type of writing. As a musician, you struggle a lot with, “Why am I doing this? What am I really after? Do I feel good about it?” Almost every musician struggles with putting out music and feeling like it's what they wanted out of it or if it was authentic. Being a musician is a shit show, mentally. This is so special because I know how it was created and the intention behind it and what it became.
And I was telling my mom if something were to happen and I’d leave music tomorrow and this was the last thing I did—a product of people who've been wanting to write music forever and haven't and get to do it now with the artists that I listened to. I was like, “That's a pretty good way to go out.” It was a really amazing experience, and I'm just, again, honored to have fans I have to come up with these ideas and lyrics and then to have awesome people I work with put it out.