When the concerts stopped, he started making music

Andre Arsenault releases his debut album, with a band of local musicians

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 6/10/21

First performed publicly last Fourth of July, the song “02809” is an homage to the July 4 celebration in Bristol. The first song of Andre Arsenault’s creation that has reached such …

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When the concerts stopped, he started making music

Andre Arsenault releases his debut album, with a band of local musicians

Posted

First performed publicly last Fourth of July, the song “02809” is an homage to the July 4 celebration in Bristol. The first song of Andre Arsenault’s creation that has reached such a wide audience, it won’t be his last. The pandemic inspired a burst of creativity that ultimately resulted in a record of the same name.

The Mt. Hope High School graduate who studied Musical Theater at Catholic University and Music Education at Rhode Island College is no stranger to performing. Mr. Arsenault has made a second career of playing solo acoustic covers at venues across Rhode Island and Massachusetts. But with a day job as the chorale director at Kickemuit Middle School, there was not a lot of time left over for writing his own music.

“I’ve been playing other people’s music for about 20 years now,” Mr. Arsenault said. “I’ve focused on building a big repertoire, so that I can play things people know and like. I have always wanted to write my own music, but I haven’t taken the time.”

That changed early last year when Mr. Arsenault was contacted by a Channel 12 reporter who wanted to do a story but couldn’t use the licensed music he was playing. It pushed him to not only finish “02809” but, as it turned out, several other songs — five in total.

For the love of Bristol

The kernel of the song that became “02809” began around the 2019 holiday, when Mr. Arsenault was spending time  with his family. “I was raised in Bristol, my grandparents lived on the parade route, it’s our favorite time of year,” he said.

The song “02809” was the springboard to the larger project, which also includes “Mask and Gloves”; “Basement Party”, in reference to the many Facebook Live concerts performed from his basement during quarantine, “Another Way Around,” conceived of during one of many dog walks along the Bristol waterfront, and “Big Time Enough.”

The music has a decidedly country feel to it, which is not a big departure from his performances, which feature a wide range of musical styles, from rock to rhythm & blues. “I was never a country fan until I met my wife,” Mr. Arsenault said. “Like a lot of people who grew up around here, my favorite musical genre was ‘everything but country’.”

“Never in a million years did I imagine I’d write country music,” said Mr. Arsenault. “But solo acoustic music lends itself well to it.”

With a little help from his friends

When Mr. Arsenault approached sound engineer Randy Hunicke about making a record, the engineer asked if he would be going solo. Mr. Arsenault realized he didn’t want to go at it alone.

“I immediately thought of all these guys,” he said. He reached out to Bob Tomassone (electric guitar), who also performs solo, Eric Leffingwell (bass), a member of the band Trinity, and Scott Grimo (drums).

“I had Providence-based piano and keyboard player Johnny Juxo record piano and organ parts for most of the tunes. My friend and Grammy-winning trumpet player from the funk band Lettuce, Eric ‘Benny’ Bloom, who is originally from Bristol, recorded horn parts for “02809.” He is currently based out of Colorado and recorded his parts from there instead of in the studio,” said Mr. Arsenault.

“We’ve gotten together for this project, but we’ve not really gotten ourselves a name,”Mr. Arsenault said.

“We’re the Andre Arsenault Band — like Zac Brown,” said Mr. Grimo. “Andre gave us the five songs. We rehearsed for a month and it all just game together,” said Mr. Leffingwell.

“I played how I would, and they each made up their own parts,” said Mr. Arsenault. “And Randy Hunicke of Newcastle Sound engineered the project and did a fantastic job.”

As for the high-pandemic vibe of some of the songs, the group discussed changing some of the lyrics to reflect today’s rosier forecasts, but ultimately decided to stay true to the times during which the material was written.

See them perform

The concert series has always been one of Mr. Arsenault’s favorite July 4 events — now he’s a part of it. He (and the band) will be performing at Roger Williams University on Tuesday, June 29, at 6:30 p.m. He also performs locally year round at various venues and will be selling the EP digitally. For more information, visit  andrearsenault.com.

Whatever comes next, Mr. Arsenault enjoys the collaboration with other talented local musicians. “We’ll continue together after this,” he said. “It’s a natural progression and these are just the first steps.”

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.