If you were at this year’s Hutchmoot, you will undoubtedly remember the moment a roomful of people came alive to a new voice among the mix of Square Pegs and Friends. Arthur Alligood hadn’t picked up a guitar in over a year, and even then was uncertain how the night would go. After playing two songs, the songwriter described the night as a “glorious moment” and one that would lead to newfound inspiration.
If you’re new to Arthur’s music, his ability to stand out even in a songwriter’s circle speaks to his incredible ability to connect so deeply and meaningfully. His music is now available in the Rabbit Room store. Look for a sample of one of his songs at the end of the interview.
You just played Hutchmoot and told us it was your first time playing in a while. Just how long has it been?
I think I played a show last September if I am remembering correctly. It was miserable, I do remember that. There are not many things worse than being away when in your heart you just want to be home. So, its been a little over a year since I’ve performed. I desperately needed a break from the touring machine. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still on break.
But I can’t imagine a better way to reenter performing than to share a couple of songs at Hutchmoot! I feel grateful to have been invited to play. I’d like to attend the entire retreat next year, if I can get a ticket. I hear they go pretty fast.
For those who weren’t at Hutchmoot, the room came alive and people started clapping along to “Darkness to Light.” How was that moment for you?
Concerts are moments. They’re moments in and of themselves, but they are made up of little moments depending on how many songs you play, how many stories you tell. I usually close my eyes when I play and try to push everything aside and sing from the brokenness within me. This is the only way I know how to do it.
Towards the end of my first song, “Darkness to Light,” people just started clapping out of nowhere. It was a pleasant surprise for me and felt a bit like a pat on the back or a nod or a smile of agreement from a friend. Also, it seemed to me in those seconds that the crowd was clapping in beat because they felt compelled to join with me somehow. The artist/audience barrier seemed to evaporate and suddenly we were all in it together. It was a glorious moment for me personally, one I will never forget.
A lot of times you don’t know really if people are connecting with the songs at all. This little moment let me know people were making the connection. As a songwriter, there is nothing better than that, to connect with your listener and in a sense be understood.
You said you hadn’t performed for some time. Can you talk about the need for a break a bit more?
I just lost the desire to play for people. For years I played quite a bit, touring all over, trying so hard to make a living at music. Though I had some successes here and there, things never seemed to work out. To be honest, I pushed too hard and fractured the relationships that have always been most dear to me. This last year has been a healing process, and I’m still not out of the woods in any sense. Therapy continues to be helpful.
I’m not sure where things will end up, but I feel I’m in a much more healthy place personally. I’ve learned so much about myself, my tendencies and my pressure points. So in terms of playing shows in the future, I’m not totally sure. I don’t want to completely close that door, but I now have clear boundaries set concerning it all. So, don’t expect me to tour any time soon. But I would love to play Hutchmoot again next year, if Pete will be nice enough to let me play again.
Given the lessons you’re learning, is there any song that has taken on new meaning from your past?
My song, “Bring My Heart Out” from my most recent album One Silver Needle is much more dear to me than when I originally wrote it. At the time I was sitting comfortably within the calm before the storm so to speak. I had just won this songwriting contest and was writing for a new album, which was the grand prize for the contest. I remember I was putting a ton of pressure on myself to write good songs and quick.
After writing “Bring My Heart Out” I took note that I didn’t necessarily “feel” the song. The song is about stepping out towards the truer self, the one we tend to hide in fear and pride and selfishness. Now, I hear the song and realize something or someone was trying to get my attention. The journey inside of the song is what the last year of my life has been about. I’ve had to bring my heart out so that it could breathe. The fear and selfishness was suffocating.
Given what you said earlier, is there any vision of what’s coming next for you musically?
I see the occasional flashes of light in the dark. I am content with these at the moment. I’m not sure what they mean and I have decided not to try to read the signs anymore. It’s exhausting trying to decipher every little thing that comes along in life. My wife says that I will always write songs. I agree with her. The very act is something I cannot escape. I guess this means that it is truly a part of me and something I am supposed to do.
For now though I am okay with the scarcity. I actually sat down just the other day with a guitar and formed the makings of a new song, but the next flash could be months from now and that is fine. At some point I would like to make another album. How far that is down the road I don’t know. I suppose I’ll keep walking till the lights burn brighter and longer and I receive a fuller vision. I have never been more content with near blindness than I am now.
[I Have Not Seen the Wind and One Silver Needle are now available in the Rabbit Room store.]
“Darkness to Light”
by Arthur Alligood
I’m waiting for the morning
Waiting in the night
When that sun comes over the mountain
She gonna turn this darkness to light
Now its been a long throw
since we first took to this soil
We found an itch to scratch real quick
and called it war
All this fighting it ain’t nothing, but
a symptom of our sickness
and we still ain’t found a cure
We keep walking down that same path
that worn out, crooked way
Stepping over all of history’s little tracks
Falling it don’t come first
pride will push you to the edge
and once you start falling
can you ever go back?
How do we answer our children
when they wonder what went wrong?
Do we scratch our heads and tell them
no one really knows why?
Do we go back to a garden, a perfect little world
to two lovers who couldn’t keep it right?
Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.