Arsena Schroeder is a 24-year-old, Charlotte-based indie act with a small, yet powerful catalogue of honest, acoustically driven songs. Schroeder recently released her debut full-length album, For My Artist Child, which was inspired by Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way.” Each track from the album teems with mature lyrics as Schroeder delivers each line carefully over a myriad of acoustic guitar progressions and soft percussion arrangements. Schroeder released the album’s last track, “Manna,” in 2013 and it became a hit among her followers. With two overlapping fingerpicked acoustic arrangements, Schroeder showcases her ability to write a lyrically deep song, while still maintaining a certain catchiness. She quickly cuts into the song and sings, “How awesome would it be? If I allowed you to supply my every need.”
And while the song is an upbeat song, Schroeder slows things down and gets even more personal on, “Words Just Won’t Do” and “Elephant In the Room.” Schroeder’s lowly set vocals give the songs a solemn tone and her honest songwriting adds an organic feel to the songs. Of course, the album in its entirety has an organic feel because of the acoustics. Even when songs like “You Made” present a rare use of the electric guitar or the ukulele in “Face to Face,” the reverbed tones blend in just right with Schroeder’s vocals. And that’s the simplicity of the album – guitar, ukulele, percussion, and some keys here and there. With 12-tracks, the album is one of the best I’ve heard from a local, solo act in a while.
Here are the songs that I consider “must hears” from the album: “Manna,” “Tell Me It Was Love,” “Crazy Good,” and “You Made.”
Get a free download of two songs from For My Artist Child here.
We caught up with Arsena about her DIY approach to music, For My Artist Child, upcoming tour, and her new YouTube cover series.
Andrew: When did you decide to play music full-time?
Arsena Schroeder: Two weeks before I finished college. I kind of had that feeling that I wanted to do music. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was approaching graduation and finally that day came. It took a few months of me working different jobs and realizing this is what I wanted to do and I even enrolled in grad school and everything. But I finally decided that if I wanted to do this then I should give it a go now while I’m young and while I can give it my 100 percent focus and attention. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last three years.
Andrew: It seems that you take the DIY approach very seriously. Your album was independently released and you even hang your own show posters. How important is it for artists to get out there and do these things?
Arsena Schroeder: I think it’s important to do the groundwork. I’ve been doing this … like I said, for almost three years … everything on my own. And I am getting to the point now that it’s difficult to do everything on my own – booking and promoting and marketing and production. But I think it’s important that you do it as a businessperson just to learn what it takes and then just for your fans. I think they respect it more when you bring them in and you ask them to help. They feel like they’re more a part of your career and your journey. So I really do like starting off the grassroots way because I think it involves other people to become partners with you.
Andrew: Your social media profiles say your music is “god-breathed” and some of your earlier material is spiritually charged. Are you trying to shy away from the religious label with your latest album?
Arsena Schroeder: Yeah, definitely shying away from putting it in that box. A lot of my original stuff is without a doubt. You write from your experience and perspective, so it does have a faith element. And that resonates with all people no matter what their beliefs are or background is. So yeah, I definitely do not like being put in that box of “Christian” because I play a lot of different type of things.
Andrew: So how would you label your music?
Arsena Schroeder: I feel most comfortable calling it acoustic soul. My stuff is very soulful. And soul refers to the content and not just the sound. I like singing conscious music, not just something that doesn’t mean anything. So it’s definitely acoustic driven in the sense that I’m usually playing solo acoustic. I will be playing with my band starting soon. But even with the band, we make sure it has this very authentic, acoustic sound.
Andrew: Has it been difficult transitioning into a full band show?
Arsena Schroeder: I’ll be playing solo this Saturday, so it will just be me and my guitar. It’s very different; it’s like two different worlds. I’m actually rehearsing with my band now to prepare for next month’s show. But a few ways it’s different is that the acoustic is more intimate. It’s just me so I can kind of go wherever I want to go with it and it’s very vocal driven. And there is also a lot of time to tell the stories behind the songs. It’s just intimate. With a band, it’s more rehearsed and there is a fuller sound, so I don’t have to do as much instrumentally. You have a band carrying you and I’m still getting used to that. I’m used to having to carry all the weight on my own, so I’m trying to getting used to the idea of sharing that with other people and just finding a good blend so that it’s cohesive.
Andrew: Do you feel that living in Charlotte and being around the local music scene has helped shape you as an artist?
Arsena Schroeder: I would probably say no. Being the artist that I am has just kind of come from my process of being raised and encouraged to express myself and to think and do for myself. I think even as an artist, I stray away from what typically is expected from musicians or artist who are popular or common. And I can’t say I attribute that to the scene. So I’m just now getting to the place where I’m learning about what other song writers are doing and what’s going on because it’s really important for me to stay true to who I am and not trying to imitate anything else that’s going on.
Andrew: “For My Artist Child” was inspired by “The Artist’s Way.” What is the book about and what about it inspired you to write this album?
Arsena Schroeder: It’s a book by a woman named Julia Cameron and it’s basically a twelve-week course for what she calls “blocked artists” or people who want to realize their full potential as an artist. Maybe they don’t even think they’re artists, but it basically gives you all these activities and assignments to do and it kind of breaks down all the things that keep you from going after your passion and also developing and nurturing your creativity. So she uses the term often in the book called “your artist child,” which is basically another way of referring to your creativity. And she says it’s like a child because it needs nurturing and it needs attention, protection, and it’s something that really needs to be nurtured just like a child. So I found it really therapeutic to approach my album as if I were making it for my artist child, because I really struggle trying to write about what people wanted to hear. I had maybe an EP worth of songs and I thought, “You know these really aren’t songs that I connect with, but maybe I think people will like them.” I definitely switched my mindset for my artist child. I found that I had songs that were way more authentic and songs that I enjoyed actually sharing. I also talk about things that were difficult for me. Like talking about my relationship with my dad or my relationship with my husband. Just things that are more transparent than what I’m used to sharing. But I wrote the songs as if no one else would hear them.
Andrew: ‘Manna’ seemed to gain a lot of attention. Was it as well received as you had hoped it would be and what’s the story behind it?
Arsena Schroeder: I think Manna has been received really well. It came out in 2013 and my full-length album came out in 2014. And I actually never intended to put that single on the album, but because people loved it so much and requested it so much, and it didn’t have a collection of songs that it belonged to, I put it on there. It is still to this day the song that everyone wants to hear and that I see going viral. So that song has been a really good, fun song of mine. And it’s really funny because I made it up on the spot while playing at a coffee shop that was free style. So just to think about all the hours you put down writing other songs and the song you write instantaneously was the one everybody likes.
Andrew: On your YouTube video, “In the Studio,” you said you had never written an album worth of songs at once. What was that experience like for you?
Arsena Schroeder: At first it was overwhelming trying to come up with that many songs. Like I said, I was writing what I thought people wanted to hear. I wanted to prove that I had grown from my first EP and show that I had matured as a songwriter and musician. But it was a little too forced, so it was difficult at first and even still now in hindsight looking back at the album. An album, at least for me, is an opportunity for you to grow and take a snapshot of where you are as an artist right then. And I learned a lot from that project even with it being over. But at first, it was a little overwhelming just to think of content and then financing it is a lot.
Andrew: When can we expect a tour in support of the album and how long do you think you’ll be able to tour “For My Artist Child” before releasing new music?
Arsena Schroeder: I’ll be going on tour next month to support the album. But I’ve been really burnt out doing everything on my own, personally and financially. Just to recoup from making an album on your own … it’s expensive and very tiresome. So I will be promoting the album next month with a tour and a full band show here in Charlotte and I’ll also be down in South Carolina for the tour as well. But so far it’s received really good reviews from the people who have already supported it and I think it still has a good year or two or so to run before I actually even need to start thinking about recording the next one.
Andrew: Alongside the release of the album, the Arts & Science Council awarded you a regional grant. Can you tell more about that?
Arsena Schroeder: When I decided to do music full time I ordered this book that helps the artist back themselves and the book just gives you ideas on how to get financial backing. And one of the ways was a grant. So I started researching grants and I gave myself two years to apply because I wanted to develop. And another reason being that songwriters can only apply every year. The first grant I applied for was the first one I got. And I actually just wanted to get a pro quality PA system that could support my entire band. But I had a PA before that was for more solo acoustic and that’s what it had done for me so far. It also puts you on a roster of artists that they can pull from for events or your events can be promoted. So it’s been really good networking as well as a nice check to help you do what you do because we don’t make a lot of money.
Andrew: Speaking of new equipment … you just started learning the piano for your new cover series on YouTube. How did the idea for the series come about?
Arsena Schroeder: That came about at the end of 2014. At the end of each year I start to think about what I want to do the next year. And I got really tired of singing the same cover songs. I’ve been singing the same cover songs for about two years. So I forced myself to sit down, because believe it or not when you do everything on your own, you don’t have that much time with your instrument. I spend a lot of time at my computer sending emails or creating fliers. So I really had the idea of forcing myself to learn a new song once a week that wasn’t my own song that would force me to grow. But I kind of chickened out. So I just got started and I’m in week two. But yeah, I’m taking suggestions and I’m learning songs that I think are classic and that I also connect with and that I think will challenge me to grow as an instrumentalist, which is always my biggest hurdle. For me, I think I rely on my vocals a lot, but I really want to be just as strong as an instrumentalist as I am a vocalist.
Andrew: I’m guessing we’re going to hear you playing the piano on your next album?
Arsena Schroeder: Yeah. That is my goal and another reason I said I didn’t want to do another album for two years. My goal is that on my next project I want to be a multi-instrumentalist. On this album, I’m playing guitar, ukulele, and I’m singing. On the next album, I would love to incorporate another instrument. It’s just a dream I’ve had for myself.
Andrew: I know you mentioned that it would be a while before the next album, but are there any ideas floating around in your head for the next album?
Arsena Schroeder: No ideas floating around other than wanting to be a multi-instrumentalist. To be honest and very transparent, I don’t know if I want to do another record independent. I would love if the next album was on a label and they financed it. So that’s a personal goal that I have up on my vision board that I keep in my music room. If everything falls into place, I would love for my next record to be as a signed artist. And it could be an indie label or a major label. But I don’t know if I want to go through that again all on my own.
Andrew: Do you have a specific record label in mind?
Arsena Schroeder: I’m open to anything. I can’t say there is a specific label I’m interested in, although I do like Timberland. He has a label that I think is interesting and I really like everything he’s produced for Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado and Missy Elliot. I really like his production and I’ve been researching it and seeing that he has a label. So that would be kind of cool I think. I’m not really sure how it would work with my Christian background. I’m not really sure what their background is, but that’s the only thing that has crossed my mind. But I’m open to anyone who let’s me be the best artist I can be.
You can listen to or purchase For My Artist Child here: http://arsenaschroeder.bandcamp.com
More info about Saturday’s show:
Where: Moe Joes Coffee and Music House, 20 S. Main St., Greenville.
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Need more info? Call Moe Joe’s at 864-263-3550 or visit their website