How Arthur Valentine found joy in Memphis rap & video games

Words: Dylan Murphy
Photos: Nicholas O’Donnell

Words: Dylan Murphy
Photos: Nicholas O’Donnell

Constructed over a number of years and landing with a fully playable video game, Arthur Valentine is on his way to providing one of 2021’s most ambitious projects. On the eve of its release, we spoke to the Hausu crooner about Splitscreen and how shacking up with his friends in a creative hub during lockdown contributed to his increasingly immersive world-building.

You’ve hit the open road, the grey of the city is a mere fragment on the wing mirror, the windows are rolled down and your friend has gifted you the aux cable – life is good.

There’s little else that can grant you the same feeling of liberation and catharsis as a road trip. When you know your options are limited to staring out the window, listening to music and leaning back against the headrest it’s easy to surrender to the familiar escapism of coasting in your friend’s punto.

Arthur Valentine knows this all too well. The Cork-based artist spent the best part of a couple of years cruising up to Dublin and back. In that time he found himself on a creative hot streak, writing some of his most vulnerable lyrics to date which later formed the core of his Splitscreen EP.

Then the pandemic hit.

When COVID-19 restricted movements to the four walls of our homes Arthur Valentine sought to build a new world of his own. Taking the chaos as a new opportunity, Arthur teamed up with his close friends in a house together not unlike Brockhampton’s ‘Factory’. Following multiple revisions and a desire for the project to live outside the confines of streaming services, the dreamy visual language of the EP was accompanied by the creation of a fully playable Daytona-inspired video game.

Ahead of the EP’s release tomorrow we have the first exclusive listen of the project and a link to the video game below. Additionally, we spoke to Arthur Valentine about how his dreamy EP was inspired as much by Memphis rap and Mario Kart as it was Frank Ocean.

Arthur Valentine by Nicholas O’Donnell

The singles have been great so far, are you excited to get the new EP out there?

So excited man. It’s been so long in the works at this stage… The last single, ‘I Dream About You’ is the oldest single we’ve been working on. It’s been there since summer 2019. Before the pandemic hit myself, Jack (Actual Acid), Drew (Automatic Blue) and Matt (Ghostkingisdead) went out to Castle Gregory for a week and bashed through the songs. We thought we had it done. Then we ended up moving in together and started working on a bunch of other music… Then when we started working on the other songs we went back to realise how much more we could do and it just grew from there. Every song on the EP has been worked for 18 months by this stage.

You think as you’ve grown you’ve seen the tracks through a new lens and revised them?

Yeah, especially ‘Dream About You’ because we’ve been looking at it for so long, I’d say it’s gone through ten substantial changes. When Jack, Drew and I moved in together we started to figure out the sound we wanted to make a lot better. We’d spend time on one track and we’d be able to articulate something we have been trying to say and then once we were able to make it on that song we’d go back and replicate it on another track.

Even when we got to the mixing point the first time we thought we were done, the first final mixes were July 2020. We got actual final mixes in February of this year. It was like 6 subfolders of final mixes [Laughs].

Arthur Valentine by Nicholas O’Donnell

I was thinking about how much it lives outside of streaming services with the game, the colours, visuals and imagery. Was that sort of world-building important from the start or was it when you were trapped within for walls you felt the need to expand?

It definitely came from being trapped inside.

The music, we got so insular in creating it, it got to a point for me anyway, when I was listening to the music it stopped feeling like art – it stopped feeling like actual music. It started feeling like a series of ones and zeros. Once we got to summertime last year I wanted to try to bring it back to a place that was more creative and artistic. That’s when I started working on the ideas of expanding the world. It never felt like a concept piece, because there were so many motifs that kept rearing their heads during the track I wanted to represent those in every other part of the project outside of the music itself. So we started building from there.

Was the idea of a ‘split screen’ something that was there from the start?

It reared its head later. Jack released a song, called ‘Heaven’s Gate Nikes’ around summertime last year. There’s a lyric in the song, I’m not even sure if he says splitscreen but it sounds like he says splitscreen. I had kind of been looking for the EP title for a while and I remember hearing the song and that word popped out and it just immediately stuck in my head and represented what I’ve been trying to say and the world I wanted to come up with. 

Was there any references for what you were going for stylistically? 

It’s interesting when Jack, Drew and I hunkered down and started working on the EP we all started pulling from various different inspirations. Ones that Jack would be listening to that I wouldn’t and stuff I’d be listening to and they wouldn’t. So everything kind of came from different sections.

Jack is massive into Memphis rap and would spend hours scrolling through Soundcloud listening to Memphis rap. In the drum programming he was doing he was pulling a lot from that. Drew studied music in college so has great theoretical knowledge.

In terms of what I was listening to at the time when I was writing it originally in 2019, I was listening to an awful lot of bedroom artists at the time… an awful lot of Roy Blair and a fair bit of Clairo and choker. But what I would always go back to was Kanye, Frank Ocean, Brockhampton, actually, i was listening to a lot of the Kevin Abstract album that came out that year. Once we actually got into production I don’t really remember listening to music. For the few months of lockdown, it was wake up in the morning, turn on the computer and make stuff so there wasn’t a huge amount of referencing tracks and pulling them into the songs. 

There’s also tracks like ‘Rainbow Road’ that are on the nose with the video game influence. Was that a random pick or were you playing much Mario Kart?

So that song, I named it ‘Rainbow Road’ before the Splitscreen idea reared its head. The idea of using the racing game aesthetic or building a racing game hadn’t come into it. The name ‘Rainbow Road’ came from the fact I was living in Dublin for the year before I moved back to Cork. My friend Cian who I was living with, he’s a drummer, we’d play a ridiculous amount of Mario Kart on the switch. There were a few aspects of the song when I was writing it that were in relation to him and our relationship and different ideas were popping up.

When we started producing the track we downloaded a … I know there is a mario kart coin ding somewhere in Rainbow Road. We downloaded like a pack of Nintendo Mario Kart sounds…

I was thinking about was how the songs were written in buses and cars. Some of the greatest music ever comes from those experiences, what do you think it is about it that encourages great sounds?

It’s kind of like when I’m driving a car, it’s an intense feeling of solitude whilst also being able to experience the world around you. Most of the journeys were long journeys when I was driving for Cork to Dubin, or around the country so I was never in the hustle and bustle of cities for the most part it was often on long open roads. I spend the whole time inside my head and when I get in that mood or place it’s generally the best place to write from. You aren’t trapped in a room where you are forced to think or trying to escape your own thoughts. Being able to drive and see around you, it’s a place where I’m maybe more reflective and feel like a fly on the wall.

I think you nailed it when you said there’s less pressure when you are in your room. When your mind can wander a bit and you’ve got nothing else you can do apart from enjoy the journey.

It’s always been a place where I’ve been comfortable doing it. I would have a demo of a track that I put together myself or maybe Jack and Drew put together and I could just play it on loop and drive. We’d just be humming and singing different melodies or random hooks. The amount of times I was pulling over to write lyrics on my phone [laughs].

Stills from ‘Splitscreen’ video game.

The last thing I wanted to ask about was the video game, how’d that come together?

When I kind of came up with the idea of using splitscreen to represent both the theme of duality and juxtaposition that I had been feeling writing it coming up to the project, the transient stuff being on the road, I brought those two things together and I heard that lyric that may or may not exist in jack’s song and thought of the split screen and it got stuck in my head. That represented perfectly what I was trying to do – the duality, the transience, having the racing game. I thought it’d be really cool to get somebody to design a still image of the driving racing game and we’d have aspects related to the project in it. The leaderboard is the name of the tracks the cars are sponsored by Arthur Valentine and Hausu. There’s a mini map which is a hand drawn map of the outline of the estate Jack, Drew and I grew up in.

So then I came to Neil with the idea cause he’d been working on some of the 3d art with Ghostkingisdead. I had the idea , could he build a 3d image and then he was like ‘why don’t I just build a racing game?’

It just kind of ran from there. He was ridiculously on board and ridiculously willing to do it. He’s so talented I let him run. I sent him a bunch of photos and inspiration from other games I used to play and what I wanted to look like. Then a bunch of the elements I wanted in the game so like the leaderboard and map. Then he sent back iterations every few weeks… it was blowing my mind what he could do. Every single step I was like ‘surely he won’t be able to do this’ and he’d be like ‘oh yeah no problem’ and he’d send me exactly what I wanted in 30 minutes. Then also the second Colm found out we were making a 90s Irish arcade racing game to complement it, his eyes widened and he was like ‘alright I got this’ and once Colm gets on a roll he’s unstoppable like.

Get the first exclusive listen of Arthur Valentine’s Splitscreen below:

Click here to download the Splitscreen video game.

Click here to pre-order the EP on Bandcamp and purchase merch.

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