Veteran singer-songwriter Mark McCambridge makes no pretense about being an upbeat guy. Under the guise of his nom de plume Arborist, he weaves a sound that’s deep, deliberate, and well considered. “Most of the music I like has a slightly dark undertone,” McCambridge admits. “It provides a certain comfort while negotiating the strangeness of being alive. I hope people get something similar from our music.”
He needn’t worry. With a current single, “Twisted Arrow,” a past series of supporting gigs for the likes of Low, Cat Power, James Yorkston, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Alasdair Roberts, and a forthcoming full-length album titled Home Burial scheduled for release early next year, Arborist has covered a lot of turf in the three years since this Irish musician began his venture. While comparisons to Leonard Cohen, Jason Molina, and the aforementioned Low seem inevitable, Arborist possess a singular beauty that captivates all on its own.
“Music was always a big thing in my house growing up, though I wouldn’t specifically say my folks were ‘music fans’,” McCambridge recalls. “They didn’t have an extensive record collection or play any instruments, but we had a piano from very early on and there was always music playing in the house somewhere, from Irish traditional to Pavarotti or Elton John, to Porter Wagoner and Tammy Wynette. When it came to my early teens, I had two main obsessions — the Pixies and the Smiths. Even now I still can’t see beyond them, though I’ve stopped trying to write like Morrissey and scream like Frank Black. I think it’s their otherworldliness that drew me in.”
That’s a quality that’s obvious in Arborist’s songs, even on first hearing. They have a stately elegance and an elegiac quality that leaves a haunting, sometimes harrowing impression. Songs such as “Twisted Arrow” (which features a cameo appearance from Kim Deal, no less), “A Crow,” “Kirkinriola,” “A Fisherman,” and “Border Blood” quickly get under the skin and refuse to budge from there. McAlister’s impromptu solo appearance at the annual British BBQ that took place during this year’s Americana Music Festival confirmed that impression even on his own.
“Many debut albums can simply become a collection of songs amassed to-date,” he suggests. “But I was keen to avoid falling into this trap and preferred to concentrate on making a cohesive, flowing record. This meant leaving some strong songs out. However, I feel the album is better for it.”
Not surprisingly then, McCambridge is pleased with Arborist’s progress thus far. “There have been some great live highlights playing alongside acts I’ve always adored such as Low, Cat Power, and Mark Mulcahy, but 2015 has really pushed things on for us,” he says. “Having Kim Deal sing on … ‘Twisted Arrow’ was something I could’ve never imagined.”
As far as the future is concerned, he’s equally enthusiastic. “Everything to-date has been leading up to the release of our debut album early next year, so I’m just anxious to get it out there. Hopefully people will enjoy it and we can push on from there and recreate it live across the UK and Ireland and then…the world!”
Maybe he’s not such a downbeat fellow after all.