Rainbow Arabia are the husband and wife team of Daniel and Tiffany Preston, and they are single-handedly making music great again by combining the lush tones of bands like Soft Circle and High Places with the sort of exuberance, energy and – most importantly – catchy hooks that’re often missing from their perma-stoned peers.
Of course that’s a bit of an exaggeration: The Prestons aren’t doing things single-handedly. Their debt to Sublime Frequencies favourite Omar Souleyman is something they wear on their sleeve (the duo recently said on their blog that he’s the reason they started the band) and whether intentional or not, there are massive links to be drawn between them and Gang Gang Dance. But still, their Basta EP from last year was great, and its recently released follow-up Kabukimono is even better, so we thought it was time to get in touch with Daniel Preston to talk microtonal keyboards, Japanese street gangs from the 1500s and all sorts of cool shit that I didn’t even know existed.
Hey Daniel, tell us about Rainbow Arabia. How did it all start?
“We first began recording together dabbling in different genres of music. I was really into the Sublime Frequencies comps at the time. I learned about these microtonal oriental keyboards from the Middle East, and ordered one online. Once we started jammin’ with it, the clouds parted for the sounds of Rainbow Arabia.”
What’s been your story to date?
“We’ve done a lot since we started in February of 2008. We wrote and recorded our first EP The Basta within the first couple months of our existence and had it released immediately by Manimal Vinyl. Also, Tim Jones from TerrorBird PR was really excited about it and really helped get the sound out to people’s ears. We made the ‘Let Them Dance’ video. We then did a DIY tour in the U.S. for the CMJ festival and then did a 2 week tour with Gang Gang Dance. We made the ‘Omar K’ video. This spring we did a European tour and we’ve released our second EP Kabukimono. It’s kind of a grocery list instead of a story but it has been more about the accomplishments then a story right now. The story will flourish throughout our existence.”
Any particularly significant developments, pitfalls or peaks along the way?
“We haven’t hit any peaks and valleys as of yet. It’s been a non-stop train to somewhere we don’t know of. But the European tour was a pleasant peak of our lives.”
You’ve said you started making music because of Omar Souleyman. Can you elaborate on that?
“When his CD, Highway to Hassake, came out it blew me away. I thought it was so punk and raw but festive all at once. I didn’t think any of that at first, then I saw the video for ‘Leh Jani’. It showed someone playing the microtonal kanoun and mizmar parts on a keyboard. I told myself that I had to have one of those. The first song we wrote used a built-in beat in one of these keyboards called ‘Omar K’. This was the same debke-like beat as ‘Leh Jani’.
What other reference points do you think there are with your sound? Gang Gang Dance get brought up a lot.
“We never intentionally tried to sound like Gang Gang Dance but I definitely see how we are referenced to them. We didn’t know much of their music when we toured with them, but seeing their live show really inspired us. It’s hard to give reference points when we are jumping around so much with our sound. But you can probably tie us together with many people and places on the map.”
Is there an improv element to your songwriting like there is with theirs?
On Basta we wrote and played everything live. We would sync together different keyboards and drum machines and play other guitar and synth lines over them. We would jam things out in the beginning process, then work out parts and structure after. On Kabukimono, there was more thought put into the song writing and arrangements. We’ve yet to find what works best for us.”
What other contemporary bands inspire you, and who do you consider your peers?
“There are a lot of bands coming out now that are changing music. They all have their own sounds and look, but all share a united creative universe. There a bunch of bands here in LA that are in our community of the L.A. Anti-Scene. Hecuba, Fool’s Gold, Warpaint, Pit er Pat, Lucky Dragons, High Places, We Are The World, Megapuss, Weave, Haunted Grafitti….all these bands are awesome and good friends of ours. We are so lucky to have a slew of great bands to play shows with here. Other bands we love right now are Micachu and the Shapes, Wildbirds and Peacedrums, The Very Best, Mahjonng, Gang Gang Dance, These are Powers, Pictureplane and many many more.”
Tell us a little about the artwork you use for Rainbow Arabia’s stuff…
“All the artwork is done by a Japanese artist named Hideyuki Katsumata. He started as a fan who sent us a drawing he made; the two monsters with the rainbow Arabia lettering on top, also all over our myspace. We loved it so much we asked if we can use him for our album covers, t-shirts and stage props. He really captures of our sound in a visual medium.”
Likewise, your song titles I think are really great, and add to the songs. Stuff like ‘Kabukimono’, ‘Haunted Hall’, what are they about?
“Kabukimono came up after Hideyuki had already finished the artwork for the new EP. His drawings inspire our music. We tried to think of an EP title and came across Kabukimono. Apparently, in the 1500’s there were commoners who formed gangs who wore flamboyant colors and unusual hairstyles and facial hair. They were rude and violent, even said to kill people just to test out a new sword. ‘Haunted Hall’ was simply just an evil, dancehall inspired song.”
What have you got planned for the future?
“Right now, we are working on a full length album. Also, we’re doing a song for Manimal’s next tribute album. Last time it was The Cure, this time David Bowie. We are in the works of our next video. And some tour plans as well, but nothing confirmed. That’s far enough in the future to think about now.”
And if you don’t mind me asking, obviously, you’re a married couple with pretty discerning taste. What song did you have your first dance to at the wedding?
“‘Across the Universe’ by the Beatles. Nothing too exotic.”