London in January is cold, dark, and miserable. Yet Arno Carstens is excited to be back in the city he called home while making his third solo album.
“My memories of recording ‘Wonderful Wild’ are that there was a lot of serious thinking and kind of hard work but amongst the angst was just great fun and partying,” he says, thinking back to 2009. “Most memorable was all the good friends I made.
“Visiting again feels like going home away from home so it’s all about seeing friends, playing some intimate shows, and maybe recording some stuff.”
This return trip has been a long time coming — the Springbok Nude Girls frontman reckons he was last here “about three or four years ago” when the band performed at the Isle of Wight Festival.
“After that I had a child and since that moment I became naturally obsessed with spending as much as possible time with him,” explains the singer of his time away. “This year is a bit of a new dawn. I realise I need to work again.”
That makes it sound like he’d taken early retirement — but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In the past 12 months alone, he’s released another album, acted in a film, toured South Africa (solo, with Francois van Coke, alongside Albert Frost, and backed by an orchestra), played Oppikoppi with The Nude Girls, and turned reality TV star as a judge on ‘The X Factor’.
Frankly, he sounds like a workaholic.
“No, I’m lazy,” he counters. “I only work if I have to, but I can’t classify my occupation as work. So, yes, maybe I’m busy but it’s fun.”
That sense of fun infuses his latest album, ‘Lightning Prevails’, which blends a stripped-down sound with brass and background singers, and mixes electro, real drums, and almost no electric guitars.
“We did things I’ve only dreamt of,” says Carstens. “Doing it felt real fresh,” he adds of the album that’s yet another musical evolution for him — a very conscious decision on his part.
“I’m a big fan of artists who stick to their guns — I buy all their albums. I believe I also stick to my guns by doing different attacks to keep it fresh for me and people who are interested in my stuff.”
Also keeping it fresh is his continued willingness to collaborate with other musicians — be it songwriting with Genesis and Mike + The Mechanics veteran Mike Rutherford (“Mike is a real musical legend and I’m always a bit in awe when I’m around him”), performing with a big band (“its a different musical steroid”), sharing a stage with Francois van Coke (“He’s got a powerful voice and rocks harder than f**k; that’s the kind of stuff I like and respect”), or reviving The Springbok Nude Girls.
“It was great,” he says of the band’s recent live reunion. “We did some stuff we haven’t done for years, which made it more exciting for us.”
The excitement has continued far beyond the dust bowl of Oppikoppi.
“We’re finding our way forward, in a way.We’re busy with some recording soon, but there are no plans for playing much,” reveals Carstens, whose year is already filling up with commitments.
“I have to do an art exhibition and start writing a potential new album for late 2016,” he shares.
And then there’s a possible return to ‘The X Factor’. “It was a great experience — my first real job and I learned a lot — and, yeah, I’ll do it again if I’m asked.”
First up, though, is his long-awaited return to London’s live music scene with gigs that will feature “new and old songs, very unplugged but spirited”. Just the ticket, then, to keep the London weather at bay for an hour or two.
- This article originally appeared in The South African.