With vocal comparisons to Janis Joplin and Grace Slick and guitar work likened to Jimi Hendrix and David Gilmour, Jocelyn & Chris Arndt took their new record to #1 on the Jambands Top 30, cracked the Billboard Triple A Top 40, and earned a national TV debut on NBC’s Today Show. The siblings, both recent graduates of Harvard University, have balanced college with performances coast to coast and recordings featuring special guests G. Love, Gov’t Mule’s Danny Louis, and Cory Wong of Vulfpeck. They’ve been featured at Sundance, Summerfest, SXSW, and Mountain Jam Music Festival, to name just a few, and garnered coverage from Baeble, Huffington Post, NowThis, Paste Magazine, People, Jam in the Van, Hollywood Reporter, and numerous others.
The ties that bind any siblings vary in strength. For brother-sister rockers Jocelyn & Chris Arndt, those ties are made of carbon fiber. “He’s my best friend,” says Jocelyn. “Maybe that sounds a little cheesy, but it’s true. And to be able to chase this shared dream with my best friend, well, that’s everything.”
And chase it they have, with honey-badger tenacity, from their first concert in elementary school all the way to their position as nationally-known touring and recording artists today. That determined spirit is stronger than ever on The Fun in the Fight, Jocelyn & Chris’s third full-length album. The title, a line of lyrics from the stomping, unapologetic “Kill in the Cure,” is also a reference to the idea that defined Jocelyn & Chris’s experience writing this record: “Things get hard, and it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re working toward. The best way to get through it is to find enjoyment in the struggle itself. You’ve got to find the fun in the fight.” They’ve certainly had their share of struggles; over the past 5 years, they’ve balanced hundreds of shows coast to coast with an aggressive recording schedule, all while completing studies at Harvard (yep, that Harvard). For these two, their greatest source of strength is their original music, fueled by their love and admiration for the artists in their parents’ CD collection who first inspired them all those years ago. In the Arndt’s own words: “The Fun in the Fight is our love letter to classic rock.”
The album opens with “Witness,” an explosive homage to the spirit of rock n’ roll. “We owe so much to the artists who came before us,” says Jocelyn. “We’re inspired by them every day.” The album continues as an emotional whirlwind, examining themes of self-expression, anxiety, creativity, and love in all its conflicting forms. Raw feeling and compelling storytelling are the common thread. Leadoff single “Outta My Head” is an exploration of the fine line between attraction and fixation, set to an infectious guitar riff and dark, escalating orchestration. Says Jocelyn, “We’ve all got something we can’t get out of our heads. It’s up to us whether or not that becomes a motivation or a problem.”
Jocelyn & Chris analyze these ideas with earnest ferocity, equal turns swaggering (as on “Sign” and “Problematic”) and vulnerable (look to the romantic, sincere “Things I’ll Never Know”). “Be That as It May,” a jammy, playful track featuring special guests Cory Wong of Vulfpeck and Gov’t Mule’s Danny Louis, is a celebration of indelible creative spirit. Chris puts it this way: “We love what we do, and no one can ever take that away from us.”
There are outliers too, songs that defy categorization. The deliciously weird “The Western” would be right at home in the soundtrack of a classic cowboy flick, complete with whip and whistle. “We started calling it ‘The Western’ before we had a real name for it, and then we could never seem to come up with a better name than that,” Chris laughs. The album’s closing track “The Weatherman,” a gentle, pining ballad with a decidedly 70s vibe, is also refreshingly unique. This is music for music’s sake, not beholden to algorithms or formulas.
Such a diverse record might seem overly ambitious if it weren’t for the sincerity of the Arndts’ performances. Jocelyn’s voice is a vehicle for unrestrained emotion; she whispers, she belts, she tells each story with penetrating honesty. Listen closer to her lyrics and observe a profound depth of meaning, especially evident in songs like the heart-wrenching ballad “Don’t Hang Up”: “I’m selfish and I’m sorry, there’s nothing you can do / And I should never share my darkness with someone as bright as you.” Chris’s guitar playing is the perfect counterpart, aggressive one moment and delicate the next, building tension to work toward a satisfying resolution.
With all this talk of maturity, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that Jocelyn & Chris are millennials with less than 50 years’ living experience between them. Their live performances exude an easy confidence, a skill they both attribute to years of practice. “When we were kids and we first started out, we’d play anywhere we could get permission and a power outlet.” says Chris. Jocelyn laughs in agreement. “It was this big joke when Chris finally turned 21, because we’d already been playing bar shows since we were in 7th grade.” Onstage today, Jocelyn smoulders with intensity, reaching frantically to the ceiling one moment and then folding herself onto the floor in the next. Chris exudes a less frenzied energy, delivering effortless riffs with an enigmatic cool-guy half-smile hidden behind his shoulder-length hair.
The familial resemblance is there, all right. So is a deep bond forged over years of shared experience. In conversation, they often glance at each other, fluent in sibling telepathy. A stark contrast from their fierce performance personas, offstage they’re both warm, humble, understated, and maybe just a little goofy. Ask them about music, however, and watch as both pairs of eyes take on the same razor-sharp focus. Says Chris, “We’re so, so proud of this album. We love this music, and we’re going to do our best to share it with as many people as possible.”
They’ll get their wish; the spirit behind The Fun in the Fight is undeniable. These two are analog souls in the digital age, proof that rock n’ roll is definitely not dead. In fact, it just got its Harvard degree.