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Inside the theatric folk appeal of You Won't

Willing Participants
By RYAN REED  |  February 7, 2012

MOVIE LIFE "I'm proud of the films we did together," says Josh Arnoudse (left, with Raki Sastri). "But once we discovered the way you pursue that kind of thing in the real world is through the festival circuit, we got a little discouraged."

"It's about trying to let things come without judgment," says You Won't frontman Josh Arnoudse. "It's a great feeling when the nonsense starts to coalesce into something." Arnoudse is describing his songwriting process, how a handful of rudimentary guitar chords and a gibberish melody can bloom into a revelation. But that quote is also an apt description of Skeptic Goodbye [Old Flame Records], his band's quirky and oddly touching debut.

Arnoudse and multi-instrumentalist Raky Sastri began the project in late 2010, branching off from Sastri's previous band, the folk-ish Nohow On. After an "epic nine-week cross-country tour," the pair settled back down in Boston, with Sastri pushing Arnoudse to record some of the latter's solo material. Recording in total isolation at a Littleton farmhouse, they battled writer's block and extreme bouts of cabin fever, emerging three months later with Skeptic Goodbye and all its acoustic strums, colorful home production, and poignant lyrical streams-of-consciousness.

"It was a long time coming for us to have a band together," Arnoudse says. "We met in high school [in Lexington] doing theater, both building our lives around that creative community." After high school, Sastri played drums in several New York bands, while Arnoudse pursued film, attending Amherst College, an interdisciplinary school where students create their own majors. "I was a film student," Arnoudse says. "But I was doing all sorts of other things — acting, improv comedy, pretty much everything except music!"

Though you'd never know based on the strength of Skeptic Goodbye, the You Won't project, in many ways, owes more to timing and convenience than to an unbridled desire to make music. "We kept meeting up to collaborate," Arnoudse says. "Raky and I did a few different films. We would meet up to do one-off performances with friends, and the whole time, we were sending songs back and forth to each other."

"I'm proud of the films we did together," Arnoudse says. "But once we discovered that the way you pursue that kind of thing in the real world is through the festival circuit, we got a little discouraged. I think what appeals to us about music is that we can come up with something and book a show and go out and play it almost immediately. There's less of a disconnect between the creating of the thing and the sharing of the thing." Music, film, surreal performance art — Arnoudse and Sastri aren't as concerned with particular creative mediums as they are with the overall spirit of their art and what it helps them discover about themselves.

The Skeptic Goodbye artwork features a photo of a severely injured mime: whiteface, white gloves, striped jersey, beret, black suspendered pants — plus neck brace, crutches, bruises, arm in a sling, and the dejected expression of a heartbroken amnesiac. We have no idea what happened to him, but we know it wasn't pleasant. The mime (portrayed by Arnoudse) comes from Sastri's film Doppelgangers. Like the album cover, it's simultaneously hilarious and sad, sort of like the duo's songs.

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