'Symph-pop' band Art Decade returns home to perform at Lichtenstein Center for the Arts
When The Eagle last spoke with Ben Talmi of the band Art Decade in 2008, he was 18 and heading off to the Berklee College of Music.
Even in his teens, Talmi demonstrated an ambitious drive. Initially known as Channel before becoming Art Decade, the band has produced several CDs, changed its lineup of members, had opened a couple of times for the Dave Matthews Band, and had taken a trip to the 2007 Grammy Awards ceremony after receiving a ballot nomination.
"I'm a musician for life," said Talmi, now 24, in a recent phone interview with The Eagle from his new home in Brooklyn. "Music is going to be my life, one way or another."
The latest lineup of Art Decade, accompanied by a string quartet from Boston, will make a spring tour stop to promote its new self-titled album Friday night in Pittsfield, at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts. It will be the first time the band's been back in the area since playing the 2012 Rock On! Presents: Play it Forward benefit at the Colonial Theatre.
"It will be awesome ... to play some acoustic songs and have chill time to talk with old friends and play some music," said Talmi. "I've traveled all over the U.S., but nothing really feels the same to me as the Berkshires."
The son of Akiva and Mary Talmi of Pittsfield, Ben graduated from Pittsfield High School where he played in the jazz band under Ron Liveley. He studied voice with Jack Brown at the Berkshire Music School, and guitar with Jay Fruet and Brian Rabuse.
Talmi graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2013 and moved in September to the Bed-Stuy (Bedford-Stuyvesant) neighborhood of Brooklyn with his bandmates and fellow Berklee grads -- Binod Singh Jr. (bass), Jamie Walters (drums), Joe Harrison (guitar) and Cale Hawkins (keys, vocals).
There, Talmi continues to grow Art Decade while also working as a resident composer, arranger and orchestrator at Virtue and Vice Studios. He's arranged for the Manchester Orchestra, Phosphorescence, Perhaps, Young Man, Late Night with David Letterman, among others.
More recently, Talmi was recruited by film director Josh Chertoff to score the 15-minute documentary film, "Duke and the Buffalo," which follows Duke Phillips and his team of Colorado ranchers as they risk everything to preserve the endangered buffalo and their habitat. The film was screened last month during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival at the AMC Loews Village 7, Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea and Tribeca Cinemas, and available online at http://goo.gl/V724Qy.
Like many of his gigs, Talmi said he got the film scoring opportunity by chance -- "It's always a meeting-a-friend-of-a-friend's-brother kind of thing."
Instead of a Western or cowboy-style soundtrack, Chertoff, who co-directed the film with Alfredo Alcantara, encouraged Talmi to go beyond those boundaries.
"It was a nice challenge," said Talmi, who turned out a signature strings-based composition, which eloquently captures the drama of the ranchers' efforts to preserve the herd.
Asked what it was like to experience his music being featured in Tribeca in front of a sold-out AMC Loews theater crowd, Talmi said, "It was a dream I never knew I could achieve."
Talmi said his latest efforts, both with Art Decade and his solo projects, are "a reflection of who I am and how I've grown."
"The last time we talked, I was 18 and in the prime of my addiction to rock and roll and all that was raw, angsty," he said. "Now at 24, I mostly listen to classical and folk-chamber type bands. There is that side of me that loves to plug in and crank up that amp, but there's also a contemplative, orchestrated side to me that likes to make things very specific music."
He gave the example of integrating string ensembles into many of his arrangements, referring to Art Decade's genre as "symph-pop," short for symphonic pop. The new album was recorded with 15-member chamber orchestra of brass and strings.
He credited his bandmates -- Singh, Walters, Harrison and Hawkins -- for being adaptive and enthusiastic.
"I met them all at Berklee in Boston and really just found they were people that had similar tastes as me -- we're really obsessed with Radiohead and the Beatles and stuff. It excites me about finding the kind of musicians who will stop everything and start working on something new," Talmi said.
Luke O'Neil wrote in an Art Decade album review for the Boston Globe: "Although a push of buoyant strings puts the air in the wings of songs like opener ‘No One's Waiting,' this is still at its core a rock ‘n' roll record. ‘Harbor Light' churns on dirty bass chased along by a piano lead before the strings give an extra charge in a rousing sprint to the finish. ‘Idle Talk' segues from a gentle strings passage into a hip-hop drum loop broken up by shuddering violin passes, then explodes into a sweetly sung pop-rock chorus."
The young composer and frontman said that being in Brooklyn has helped fuel the creative drive within himself and the group.
"Brooklyn's exploding as always," said Talmi. "When we came out here, I expected there would be tons going on. It's my generation's own renaissance in a way. In every apartment there's a recording studio now. In every nook and cranny, there is someone painting, someone doing theater work. You have everything from the corner cafe poet to the Lincoln Center artists."
Art Decade, whose name invokes a David Bowie song, seems to constantly shift and reimagine itself, much like its namesake. Many of their songs, albums and concerts are accompanied by original art, be it in the form of video, CD covers or promo posters. The new album, for example, features solargraph photography by Boston-based artist Hadley Brooks.
"We want to be able to really realize a vision of an artistic statement," said Talmi, who wants to continue to reach out to venues across the country and cast a wide rapport with both curators of concerts and people willing to go out and listen to live music.
"At the end of the night, we're providing a great evening out with some great music. We want to make something so good that audiences can't deny," said Talmi. "I have a never-ending burning desire for musical greatness and I haven't achieved it yet, so I'm not going to stop until I get there. It's a struggle at times, but I absolutely love it."
If you go...
What: Art Decade homecoming show, with special guests Throw Vision, Justin Hillman and Walter Burmer.
When: Friday. Doors open at 7 p.m. Show starts at 8.
Where: Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, 28 Renne Ave., Pittsfield.