Rise of the (Joaquin) Phoenix

Photography by Antony Langdon & Joaquin Phoenix

“We met in New York about ten years ago,” says Joaquin Phoenix of his friendship with the lads of Arckid. “But you can say we all met at a nudist colony in Russia, that’d be fine with me.” Such is the tone struck in the Oscar-nominated actor’s interview with the band formerly known as Spacehog—Royston Langdon, Antony Langdon, and Jonny Cragg—plus youngest Langdon, Christian. For the record, the musicians were never dead-serious fellows, despite elegantly bashing out some of the wittiest post-glam rock since David Bowie and Queen, when Spacehog debuted in 1995 with their gold record Resident Alien. Pearl Jam, who they opened for, raved. Michael Stipe sang with them. Comparisons came even to Pink Floyd (on their second CD, The Chinese Album). They split up in 2001, working on various other band incarnations and solo projects, but left a still-hungry fan base. Here, Arckid—who now sound less glam, more harmonic (if the Clash were that)—talk about what’s in their name, why they’ve reunited, the wonders of bullfighting, and the dangers of YouTube.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: So, for people that don’t know, what does Arckid mean?

JONNY CRAGG: It’s vernacular for “my brother” in England.

CHRISTIAN LANGDON: It’s a “mate.” I used to call my mates “arckid” as well. But it means “brother,” really.

JOAQUIN: And why do you spell it “a-r-c-k-i-d”?

ANTONY LANGDON: Ah, well that was an acronym that in my wisdom, and frankly, genius, I came up with: “Antony, Royston, Christian, kid.”

JONNY: You see, you left me out there.

ANTONY: You weren’t a member of the band at the time. And, frankly, it was never meant to be. Once again, Chance has played its part.

JONNY: But if I change my name, I could be a brother.

ANTONY: What would you change it to?

JONNY: Kevin.

JOAQUIN: Kevin Langdon! I have some questions from your fans. Well, actually, just one person had a hundred questions. But I’ve narrowed it down. This is from Dermott M. of California. He saw both of your shows and asks, “What’s the benefit of singing with your mouths so wide open?”

CHRISTIAN: We can reach the notes other singers can’t reach.

ANTONY: It has to do with Roy and I being in choir together when we were boys. The choirmaster used to make us open our mouths very wide. ROYSTON LANGDON: He said that it would help the resonance of the vocals.

ANTONY: You can’t get some of the notes when you have your mouth like that [making a pie hole with his mouth]. Try it.

ROYSTON: No, I’m not going to try it.

JOAQUIN: Here’s a question for Jonny. Is it difficult being the non-brother?

JONNY: Of course it is. I do have to be the glue that holds it together. Or not. It’s a bit of a drag sometimes, but we’re all in it together.

ROYSTON: I don’t think there’s another drummer quite like you.

JOAQUIN: Honestly, the shows I saw were great. I was so excited. I mean, I get excited, like when you’re excited for a friend, but then it’s also exciting because you’re a proper band.

ANTONY: Is this a question from anybody in particular?

JOAQUIN: Uh, I’m not quite sure what the question is. There are other brother bands: the Beach Boys, Oasis, the Allman Brothers, Radiohead, the Jackson Five, Van Halen, Cranky George…

CHRISTIAN: Cranky George?

JOAQUIN: There are brothers in the band. But the Righteous Brothers, the Ramones? Not actually brothers, really, but a couple of the Ramones changed their names. Are you actually brothers, the three of you? Or is this some kind of marketing ploy?

ROYSTON: You’ve got us.

ANTONY: I’m afraid that’s going to have to remain a mystery. Not even we know, actually. I think that’s a question for my father and mother.

JOAQUIN: Another question from a fan: Regarding the cliché of “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll,” if you had to pick one, which would it be?

ROYSTON: I can’t live without the rock ’n’ roll, basically. And sex, because, you know, where would we be without sex? Nowhere.

JOAQUIN: Is it true that when you met Jonny, you just walked up to him and said, “You…have…got it!” [all laugh] That’s what I heard. He appeared to you like a vision and you were swept off your feet.

JONNY: We met in 1994, and then became Spacehog, which split up in 2001, and then we went and did our projects.

ANTONY: Well, I didn’t do my own project.

CHRISTIAN: You tried to become a bullfighter. [laughs]

ANTONY: I actually lived in Seville for three years and met a bullfighter named Emilio Muñoz, who changed my life. I’d always wanted to meet him—not because he was in the Madonna video for “Take a Bow,” but because a friend of mine had made a film about him. And Emilio Muñoz said to me, If you want to learn torreando, bullfighting, then come to my ranch. The offer remains, I never took him up on it. The one thing I did do down there was learn Spanish. Badly. So I think that was positive.

JOAQUIN: I have to say it’s a great dynamic, the combination of you guys singing, and switching off, and all singing together. ANTONY: I always liked, for example, when the Clash did that, because there were really three lead singers.

ROYSTON: I hope that we can develop that more, because on some of the records that I can remember with those multi-voices, like the Beach Boys, I’m really interested in the close harmonies.

JONNY: Can I say something?

ANTONY: I’d rather you didn’t.

JONNY: Well, me and Roy always had a sort of relationship after Spacehog. We lived in the same city and we socialized a little bit, and when we started talking about Arckid, there was a sense of nostalgia about working together again—I really missed that. Simultaneously, wheels were sort of coming off on my band, the Twenty Twos, while on tour in New Orleans. I don’t know if you’ve been down there, but it’s total fucking chaos, still mangled from the hurricane. Things reached critical mass, and one of the ladies I was playing with just imploded, basically, the night we were playing the House of Blues. I took off and went down to see a clairvoyant in the French Quarter, and she said, “You really are desperately unfulfilled creatively, you really need another outlet.”

JOAQUIN: So now with Arckid you feel fulfilled?

JONNY: Yeah, I love it. It just started pushing me more as a drummer and there’s just a lot more gristle in the songs these guys write. The difference from Spacehog is, aside from Christian, it’s musically a bit more streamlined and a little less glam-rock. JOAQUIN: Yeah, it’s really different.

ANTONY: I’d like to talk about something serious. Joaq, you and I once worked together on a commercial, which I’ve noticed is now on YouTube. Any comment on that?

JOAQUIN: YouTube is the end of the world. Big Brother was the fear growing up. We were afraid there would be officials installing cameras in places and watching. What we didn’t realize was that we’d be doing it ourselves. We’d be filming our idiocies and putting it out for everyone to watch.

ANTONY: So then, the use of such things as YouTube is a positive mechanism for the distribution of absolutely horrendous content?

JOAQUIN: Did we ever get a vote on what I’m going to with your music video?

ANTONY: You mean if you are going to do it or not?

JOAQUIN: Well, what I’m going to do is what I meant.

ANTONY: Yeah, we got a unanimous vote. The idea was “gynecological instruments.” When’s it going to happen?

JOAQUIN: The preliminary idea was inspired by the rearview camera on my Prius, which actually has a wide-angle lens that would be great for filming. I can’t say much else. The ideas are sort of nebulous at the moment: Fire, trapeze artists, dancing bears, and… bunnies.
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