On a rainy Friday night in Greenpoint, Mike Law is trying to stay dry. As he unlocks the door to his apartment, the frontman of Wild Arrows, whose new record, Tell Everyone, will be released on vinyl December 9, remarks that the rain is fitting.
Indeed, though tragically so. Until November of 2012, Law was one of four co-owners of Gowanus recording collective The South Sound Studio. When Hurricane Sandy hit, the space, including the entirety of his studio, Translator Audio, was destroyed. The last time I saw Law, he was standing amid the wreckage, appealing to the universe to send him “a fucking hammer” so he and his friends could begin to rebuild.
Since that day, over two years ago, that’s what Law has been attempting to do, though he does warn in an email that there is “no happy ending.” The four main partners of The South Sound had put almost everything they had, physically and financially, into the building. They finished construction a mere two weeks before Sandy.
The day of the hurricane, Law stayed at the studio sandbagging the roof until the elements, quite literally, tore it off. “You could feel the roof moving your body up and down because the wind was peeling it up,” he says. “It was beyond the level of stupid to stay up there.” When they reluctantly left, chased almost cinematically by the rising waters, Law says he knew that they wouldn’t be returning to anything.
He prediction came true; he awoke the next morning to a phone call stating simply: “It’s all gone.” Law called FEMA and began the long, frustrating process of dealing with governmental bureaucracy. “The initial reaction was ‘Fuck this, we’re going to rebuild,’ ” he says. ” ‘It’s just something we’re going to do.’ ”
Ultimately, that proved to be impossible. The first couple months were spent fighting with the landlord, being threatened with lawsuits, and dealing with a sense of communal loss. Once the landlord figured out the group’s finances had been devastated by the storm, they reached an agreement to simply return the space. The landlord promptly demolished the building.
The most frustrating thing for Law was the sense of having his hands tied by powers beyond his control. “I couldn’t accept that I couldn’t work my way out of it,” he says. He has looked into 128 buildings (he keeps detailed records) to relocate to, but says the price of real estate has almost quadrupled for industrial space since he was last in the market. After about 18 months it became apparent that recreating The South Sound in any form resembling its previous incarnation just wasn’t feasible.
Law says the damage caused by the storm has affected 60 people directly. Some had insured their gear; most hadn’t. He was in the former category. He says engineers who inspected the building told them flood insurance wasn’t necessary. Law himself lost around $130,000, and, in a matter of hours, was $50,000 in debt.
He also lost a record. An LP’s worth of material was housed on waterlogged hard drives. “I don’t feel that much attachment to things,” Law says, after casually remarking that his apartment had burned down a few years before.
Law decided to scrap most of the material for Tell Everyone he had written and recorded before the hurricane. “I was trying to make a really vicious record,” says Law. “Harnessing the most negative feelings that everyone has. The hurricane pushed me in that direction even more.”
Law and his drummer, Shiori Takenoshita, were stalled for months because they didn’t have instruments, a practice space, or any ability to record. “For a while, band practice were just going and hanging out,” says Law.
By July of 2013, nine months after the storm, they had assembled enough gear to begin writing Tell Everyone in a practice space. For someone who’d owned studios for more than a decade, it was a grating transition from The South Sound. A massive space filled with vintage gear, creative minds, and a sense of artistic autonomy shrank to one tiny, freezing room. There is no bass on the record, as it wasn’t possible to buy or record with one. “Building The South Sound was very intense,” Law says, “but recording this record was far more difficult.”
His practice space was so poorly soundproofed that Law would have to start his recording day at midnight when there were no other bands there. (Law notes with a black irony that the practice spaces at The South Sound were beautifully soundproofed.) All last winter, which was one of the coldest in recent memory, Law would leave Greenpoint wearing four layers of clothes, walk 35 minutes to his practice space, record until dawn, walk home, and go straight to work.
He says the schedule took its toll. “You don’t have a solid relationship with a significant other, you don’t see your family enough, you end up living in…well, this is a nice room,” he says, looking around his bedroom, “but you end up living in ways you wouldn’t normally live.” (Law’s studio apartment is modest: a minimally decorated room employing a box of his old misprinted LPs as a coffee table.) He finished the record because he “couldn’t tolerate the idea that some outside force could stop me from making it.”
When the record was finished, Law says, there wasn’t a Hallmark card-esque cathartic moment of letting go, “coming through the storm” being too simple a platitude to describe his feelings toward the last two years. “I thought that’s what would happen,” he says. “I thought that when it was done I would feel really satisfied. And I don’t feel that way. I just want to make something else.”
On first listening, you wouldn’t guess at the story behind Tell Everyone. The songs have a floating, pop-y quality until you absorb the lyrics, which take on liars and disease in numbers with titles like “Ruiner.” It’s an inherently dark record hiding behind gorgeous synth lines.
Law makes it clear that he doesn’t want sympathy and isn’t trying to sound purposely dramatic. “These are just things that actually happened,” he says. Law and Tell Everyone are testaments to the wild complexity of a life devoted to art, proof that a story doesn’t require a happy ending to inspire.
Wild Arrows play Rough Trade with HITS and Reputante on December 18. Doors 8 pm; show 8:30. $10, 21 and over.