In normal circumstances, the prolific, Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur never would've waited a year to pick up his Dobro – a prized guitar he left behind after playing a festival in Mexico. But the musician spent the last year focusing on a personal transformation that, in turn, caused him to write a solo album. He needed that guitar. And then, in Todos Santos, he ran into his old friend Peter Buck.
"I was like, 'Come swimming!'" the 61-year-old guitarist tells Rolling Stone with a laugh. Buck and his wife, Chloe Johnson, live in the Edenic Baja coast town when they're not in Portland. "Joe shows up in Mexico – the kind of guy where he's carrying every single thing he owns on his back – and then all this stuff started occurring."
Buck says that the run-in with Arthur, who he's played with sporadically over 20 years (Arthur opened for R.E.M. in 2004) resulted in an uncannily productive jam session. They improvised eight songs in eight hours. They wrote nothing down (Buck says he just has a good memory for songs worth remembering). And three days later, Buck and Arthur who will record as Arthur Buck, performed them for a handful of locals for the first time. "It was really spontaneous and kind of magical in its own way, as [being in Mexico] we were kind of disconnected from everything," Buck says.
New West Records signed Arthur Buck after hearing the ad-hoc demos, giving them the green light to produce a debut album set for release this year and coinciding with tour dates in North America and Europe. The songs – though currently being mixed – are catchy, starkly optimistic and (both Buck and Arthur agree) very different from their other current projects.
In June, Buck released the politically galvanizing rock album Invitation with the Corin Tucker-fronted supergroup Filthy Friends. Around the same time, Arthur, who lives in New York, was finishing up what he describes as a dark, introspective solo album. So he surprised himself when the lyrics he improvised with Buck were full-hearted. "All of a sudden it was like I had this musical partner and friend, and that relieved the music of the burden of the self, if that makes sense," Arthur tells Rolling Stone.
One new song, tentatively called "I Am the Moment," sprang from his ritual of listening to inspirational YouTube videos – cheaper than therapy and more amenable to the full-time-musician timetable.
"Joe is going through that searching period we all go through in life," Buck says of his bandmate. "And those experiences he's having make this a very forward-looking record, lyrically. The music has a questing kind of feel. We were making it up as we went along."