An Interview with Portland Musician: Nick Arneson

Portland has been my home for 20 years. Every year it’s the same …. when spring hits I can’t believe I get to live here. Can’t believe how happiness just floods in and seems to be everywhere I look. There is a time in Portland, maybe May-ish, where things are so green and bright that it’s actually painful to go outside without sunglasses. Like someone turned the saturation knob all the way up and left it there as a joke. Things aren’t supposed to be this brilliant. It’s a glorious time of year. Conversely…..


We discovered Nick Arneson while scrolling through TikTok. His voice was what caught our attention. He’s a singer/songwriter who knows how to sing. Where other musicians deliver a preciousness with their voice, Arneson reaches way down where it counts and pulls out the good stuff. The stuff that makes you want to hit replay. We asked Arneson ten questions (plus one)… about Portland, music, life, etc…. and, just as he does with his voice, he delivered. Read on.

An Interview with Portland Musician: Nick Arneson

Bridgeliner: What has Portland meant to your music?

Nick Arneson: Portland has been my home for 20 years. Every year it’s the same …. when spring hits I can’t believe I get to live here. Can’t believe how happiness just floods in and seems to be everywhere I look. There is a time in Portland, maybe May-ish, where things are so green and bright that it’s actually painful to go outside without sunglasses. Like someone turned the saturation knob all the way up and left it there as a joke. Things aren’t supposed to be this brilliant. It’s a glorious time of year. Conversely, every January or so I question all of my decisions. Why am I still here? How can I possibly make it through another couple months of this grey and mundane place. You can feel it on people. Clothing even gets more muted (I swear, I’m not making this up). It gets dark at 5. There will be weeks where the sun never breaks through and the clouds are at least a mile thick and basically touching the ground.

Long story long, this dichotomy fuels my creative process. I always end up releasing albums in August and I think it’s because it allows me to capture both sides of this coin. I start writing in the winter, when I can hunker down and don’t feel like doing anything else. Then I use the energy of Spring and Summer to mix and edit and promote – which is a totally different energy than the initial creative process requires (at least for me). I titled my recent album “Sunshine Guaranteed” partly due to the split worlds of living in Portland.

Bridgeliner: If you could go to one spot in Portland and write a song, where would that be and why?

Nick Arneson: I’m actually very content in my basement music space where I write. I surround myself with all the instruments, set up a drum loop and go to town. I try to have everything armed and ready to record so as ideas come I can immediately capture them. I’ve recently been producing other people’s songs and I fucking love it. They send me a scratch track and I arrange and play all the instruments and try to articulate their vision. It might be my favorite thing right now. Basically, I make it so all my instruments are within arms reach and I don’t have to struggle to get ideas down. My space looks like a mad scientist’s laboratory when I’m deep in it, I wouldn’t have it any other way though.

Bridgeliner: If you could play with another Portland band you haven’t yet
played with, what band would it be and why?

Nick Arneson: Damn you’re gonna make me choose? There are so many. I’m going to say Helio Sequence because their drummer is so good, and I could just sit backstage and nerd out watching him play. His groove is so effortless. He played on the Modest Mouse album that had Float On – and that groove is arguably the best ever played. Prove me wrong.. you can’t.

Bridgeliner: Other than the obvious, how has COVID affected your music?

Nick Arneson: I separated from my partner of 20 years 2 months before covid so it was the darkest couple years of my entire life. I went in and recorded an EP in February of 2020, right before everything shut down, and it’s still too dark for me to listen to. I might release it someday. It might also just die with the grief of that experience, chalk it up as therapy.

The entire album “Sunshine Guaranteed” is basically a quarantine album. It’s about grieving and surviving. Growing through turmoil and coming out stronger on the other side. Rebirth. Dramatic, yes. True, yes. Life is fucking hard without divorce and quarantine. I didn’t think I’d survive at a certain point, I was so goddamn sad. I literally had a crying corner in my house where I’d just go there and get it out of the way. I can say that now because I’m on the other side of it. I’m with someone who supports me creatively and my music and creative output is starting to pick up steam. It feels like I’ve made it out of the woods (at least these woods, I know there are more woods coming).

Bridgeliner:  Climate change, homelessness, the 1%ers, how has that influenced your music?

Nick Arneson: Thank you for bringing this into the conversation. Honestly, before the divorce, I had a much more macro view of things in my writing. I’m really political and vocal about my extreme liberal / socialist views – especially on social media. I was out protesting during the BLM explosion in March 2020. I care deeply about these things but also carry a fair amount of guilt for not feeling like I’m doing enough. My goal is to have a big enough platform eventually to impact change through the message I put out to my fans / those watching me.

The Portland houseless population has exploded in the last couple years. It’s so alarming and sad. Burnt out cars and RVs are everywhere. Tent cities are on every available piece of public grass or mulch. I don’t know what the answer is, but my hunch is that it’s more government aid. Places in Europe, like the Netherlands don’t have a homelessness crisis – yeah everyone pays more in tax but also everyone is taken care of. Our country is in a rough spot – the uber rich control everything and the lower class continues to get fucked. Billionaires shouldn’t exist and capitalism is broken. Typical liberal musician viewpoint I know, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. We as a society have the means to fix all the problems that we’ve created but the selfish mf’ers at the top are preventing this from happening. This will change in my lifetime, just hoping it’s a peaceful transition.

Bridgeliner: What’s a mistake you’ve made that turned out to be great for your music?

Nick Arneson: Putting out work too fast. When I first started recording myself I would put out songs that weren’t nearly finished and feedback was pretty harsh (as it should be). A lot of creatives have a hard time letting go of work and putting it out, I’m the opposite. I have had to train myself to be pickier, not listen to the little ego voice that says “this is the next hit!” – it’s not…. It’s something people new to this space likely don’t realize – you don’t know what you don’t know, and the experts out there can tell. THAT SAID – it’s something we all need to go through. Your work gets better and your ear gets better and the songwriting process gets smoother. Everything improves with time and diligence. I still put out work fast, it’s just my process, but I’m better at it. Also, I have a trusted circle of sound nerds / musicians who will honestly tell me if something sucks.

I used to feel almost guilty for how I approached my work, because it didn’t seem like how others did it. People romanticize certain processes, like the detail nerds who pour over every single lick until it’s perfect. That’s not me. I like to get things done and out. I have a hard time staying in one place, I have pretty bad ADHD, so I need to keep moving in order to maintain momentum. That’s the great thing about the creative process though, there are no rules – only suggestions. Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of shit and you should tell them so. The artists who stand out do their own thing regardless, but they also know when to listen to those around them who have more experience. The great artists and experts who intentionally break the norm, not rookies who break the norm because they don’t know any better.

Bridgeliner: Name some of the people who have made big influences on your music.

Nick Arneson: Oh shit so many.

First, my brother. He’s been there since day one. Supporting me, telling me I’m good before I was, listening to my music and telling everyone else to do so. I honestly couldn’t have done any of this without him. He’s talked me off so many cliffs.

Producer and good friend Jon Guisbert. He’s a designer by trade but ended up producing Sunshine Guaranteed with me. I just trust him creatively. He has good taste and is one picky mother fucker. He always gives his honest opinion and it makes me trust him.

My friend Justin was one of the first dudes to really listen to my work critically and offer up both positive and negative feedback. I trust him wholly with my music because he’ll tell me if it sucks. My dear friend Mike Barnhill has had the biggest impact on my motivation to keep going. Every time I post something he comments and sends me love. I try to do the same for him. He’s a brilliant songwriter and singer.

I have a new girlfriend who supports me creatively more than I could have asked for. She’s critical and loving at the same time, actively seeks out anything I put out and offers up (good) ideas that push me to get better. Never thought this was actually possible.

I have a new-ish circle of musician friends here in Portland who are just pivotal to my creative output. Tommy, Jaime, Michael, Zach – new friends just this year but I feed off of their love for the process. I’m reluctant to expand too much on this as I’m sure to forget someone.

Bridgeliner: What was something someone in your band suggested you add to a
song that you disagreed with, but it turned out to be the right thing
to do.

Nick Arneson: Hahaha band? I currently play everything on the work I put out. Jon Guisbert produced Sunshine with me though, and he really pushed a lot of the songs to be more intense. Faster, bigger, more emotional. He challenged me to make sounds that I didn’t know how to make and it really pushed me forward as an artist.

Bridgeliner: What’s the worst and best thing someone has said about your music?

Nick Arneson: I got a review recently where the author said my music “drove him crazy” because my drum sounds were cheap sounding. I understand that he has a job to do, but couldn’t he just not listen? It’s hard not to be frustrated with critics – sometimes it seems like they are taking the easy route by just sitting on the sidelines cutting everyone down. It’s so subjective, but they present their opinion as fact. If you can’t think of something nice to say, maybe don’t talk? Hahaha – yes, it hurt my feelings. I come from a long line of sensitive men… my dad is a poet, his dad was a poet. Nothing I can do about it.

Honestly, your (Sarah) review of Holding On was one of the nicest things anyone has said about my work. You can drop the link in here. It choked me up a little. I’m a pretty emotional man though hahaha.

Bridgeliner: Let’s bring it back home…where’s your favorite place to eat in
Portland and what do you order?

Nick Arneson: There’s a place by me called Tamale Boy. Maybe not my absolute favorite but it’s always good and I know it’s quick and not too expensive. Go for the Tenga de Pollo tamale and you’ll be stoked I promise. I’m not a foodie, even though I should be because of where I live. Most of the time eating is utility, something I forget to do until I’m hangry and starving. Don’t be like me kids. Eat your vegetables.

Bridgeliner: What’s something you just want people to know?

If you’ve listened to my music or podcast or watched my music videos and engaged with me in any way, thank you. I love this work, love writing and performing music and will keep doing it until the day I keel over. My dream is that my reach gets wide enough to impact a lot of people, that I have enough of a voice to spread my message to enough people to really change the world. We all should be chasing our dreams, passions, and not settling for average. I’m only happy when I’m deeeep in this process, anything else feels like settling.

There’s so much in the world to be thankful for. I have spent so much of my life depressed as fuck, feeling hopeless and terrible about myself. I’m finally in a place where this seems to be fading away. I know who I am. I know what I’m supposed to do. I have a vision. Have I fully realized my vision? Not by a long shot, but I will. You should too. It’s not some miraculous unicorn that only a few people get. Everyone has something they’re supposed to do, something that lights them up. That’s the message. Go do it. It feels so goooooood. Trust me.

By Bridgeliner Creative Studio
The Bridgeliner Creative Studio helps clients big and small engage locals, through campaigns that use creative marketing, storytelling, events, and activations to build community, conversation, and impact.