Arbouretum emerges from the 'Fog'

Get Arbouretum frontman Dave Heumann started on certain topics — such as maximizing the sound quality of vinyl, fictitious narrators in songwriting, photography — and expect long-winding exchanges full of ideas and anecdotes.

But ask the 40-year-old Roland Park musician why he started playing music in the first place and the answer is uncharacteristically succinct.

"You start a band and you get to play guitar solos for as long as you want," Heumann said from a corner of a coffeeshop late last month. "That's how I've always looked at it."

His heady solos have long been a staple of Arbouretum, a Baltimore quartet that released its first album, "Long Live the Well-Doer," in 2004. The band's large sound — a mix of brawny folk and rock — has remained relatively similar since.

Released last month on Thrill Jockey Records, "Coming Out of the Fog" finds the band playing its sharpest music to date. With its combination of intoxicatingly slow rhythms, surreally poetic lyrics and fuzzed-out guitars, the album can have an almost inebriating effect on a listener.

While Heumann says the recording process is a sober one, he chuckled approvingly at the idea of Arbouretum, which plays Golden West Cafe on Friday, removing a listener from his or her usual headspace.

"Our music does appeal to that mindset and that's our connection to the word 'psychedelic,'" he said, between sips of tea. "That's the head we're writing from but it's not necessarily part of the process."

While the band's sound could be described as glacial, the quartet's recording process is fast. "Fog" was recorded in 10 days, a pace similar to 2011's "The Gathering." The band considered recording in another city, such as Nashville, but decided on Wrightway Studios in Remington at the last minute. It was a practical decision (travel expenses were non-existent) but one also guided by Heumann's ear.

"I was really hearing pedal steel on a couple songs and knew a guy," he said. "If we were in another town, we'd be at the mercy of whatever pedal steel players are in that area, which may or may not have worked out well."

David Hadley was that "guy," and his contributions can be heard on two of the album's strongest songs, "Oceans Don't Sing" and the solemn title track, the latter of which closes the album. It wraps the album up on an uplifting note, according to Heumann.

"I knew I wanted that to be the last song," he said. "It made sense with its hopeful overtones. It could be referring to the journey that took place during the rest of the record."

With the album's release behind them, Arbouretum will play a few dates in Maryland and New York before heading to Europe for a month and a half.

While Arbouretum is popular enough to tour regularly, it is not Heumann's source of income. He teaches guitar lessons via webcam as a side job. He calls making a living as a musician "a constant struggle."

"I'd like to actually get health insurance this year," Heumann said. "But I just can't afford it right now."

Heumann talks glowingly of Baltimore's current music scene ("Just when you think it's dying down, there's new bands that come around"). He's fine with Arbouretum not being the most-recognized name in the city, but hopes "Fog" will result in the perks more popular acts receive.

"A worthy goal would be to play to more people and to sell out more shows," Heumann said. "To maybe start playing larger venues. To afford a driver. The little things our peers are already doing, we'd like to do that, too. But we'll take what we can get."

If you go

Arbouretum performs Feb. 8 at Golden West Cafe, 1105 W. 36th St. in Hampden. The Sterling Sisters and Drusm of Death will also perform. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $7. Call 410-889-8891 or go to

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