By Casey Rafter
Artemis Arthur has felt those flames of passion for art breathing down her neck for most of her life.
With musical roots that began with singing in a church choir as a child, Arthur’s most loyal connection to the creative life has been through music. That’s where she shines the brightest now, though she has serious photography and crafting chops, too. For the last year-and-a-half, the Nevada City musician has been flooding her Bandcamp page with new singles, as well as dominating the stage with her group to share her soulful voice with helplessly enthusiastic crowds.
Arthur’s band will perform next at Gold Vibe Kombuchary in Grass Valley on Friday, Feb. 3.
Alex Scribner, who books for the Gold Vibe, knew Arthur would fit well on his stage after seeing her perform at the Iron Door bar beneath the historic Holbrooke Hotel. Scribner said that watching Arthur create magic with her band was a remarkable thing to witness.
“Grass Valley [has] a really tight-knit amazing musical and artistic community that I’m very fortunate to be a part of,” Scribner reflected. “It’s really just a groove. She shares the stage really well; she’s just a phenom, doing an R&B and soul cross genre with alternative feels in the area. It’s certainly fun to watch.”
Arthur’s most recent single, “Never Say No,” hit streaming services on Jan. 14. It was co-written and produced by her guitarist and bassist, Joe Carlson. The track’s spacey groove could easily lend itself as a theme (in both sound and name) to an upcoming bond film.
When Arthur and Carlson take the stage, they’re joined by a lineup of talented jazz musicians. Arthur says that, in her experience, if a musician knows jazz, they know everything else.
“Joe also plays bass and can swap between guitar and stand-up bass or regular bass — definitely a very good asset,” Arthur observed. “It tends to rotate, but Kit Bailey has always been my drummer. He is a drum teacher and a jazz drummer. Tunde Milliner is on bass, influenced by funk, Prince and George Clinton — and he can sing.”
Arthur added that when she thinks she’s writing a challenging bass line, Milliner digs in his heels and tears it up. Throwing a middle finger to ageism, Arthur proudly boasted that her pianist, Alan Fenney, is 81-years-old.
With years of experience as a photographer — a path Arthur abandoned in 2012 to join her first band in Brooklyn — she still finds ways to create tangible art through her Etsy store, Stoned Fox. Since she’s well-practiced in calligraphy, Arthur creates stationary for her customers in addition to wax seals and origami. The artist explained that, like music, the crafts she specializes in become more and more fine-tuned with practice.
“That’s like my outlet for all things paper,” Arthur said. “I try to put original art in there and get that going, but just pumping out color and it keeps my hands moving. I love folding origami and things like that, calligraphy that, even though you’ve done it a bunch, you refine it every time. It can always be sharpened, every time. Calligraphy is the exactly the same way — and music.”
And music is the spot where she’s been most energetic of late.
Collaborating with Bay Area hip hop performer Señor Gigio in 2021, Arthur released “The Letter,” a song that features striking key changes between its verses, chorus and bridge, rivaling the creativity that Shirley Bassey blasts in “Goldfinger.” Arthur obviously has an appreciation for Bassey’s talent, having covered the ballad acapella on her youtube channel.
“I do like more interesting melodies that aren’t that easy to predict,” Arthur noted before mentioning that Señor Gigio is quite a character. “He’s really good at what he does and unapologetically in your face about it; but he’s got chops. I was taken by how he’s really ambitious and tenacious. I’m drawn to that, because it’s kind of lacking sometimes in a small town.”
Arthur admires how much Señor Gigio produces on his own, which is all original music.
“I sent him [the track] to listen to,” she recalled. “I think the next day, he sent me back all the stems of his vocals and his part was done. The verse he added assures the other character in the song that, regardless of adversity, love will pull them through.”
Señor Gigio has a mutual respect for Arthur. The Bay Area rapper and producer said that when he and Arthur first met, he was on tour in Northern California and landed two shows sharing a bill with her.
“We’re kindred spirits: she loves music, I love music — both just good people and we just clicked and kept in touch with each other,” Señor Gigio told SN&R. “I look to us as being high vibrational people. It’s not often that I get a chance to work with a strong soul singer. I rap and I just, I love making real music and it was really, really cool to make some real music.”
Lately, bringing real music to a growing list of venues has been a top priority for Arthur. She mentioned shedding any semblance of stage fright early on while performing at church, later flexing her abilities while singing on the Universal City train in Southern California in the late 2010s. Sometimes the only accompaniment Arthur had was an iPad and her velvety voice, though she was never sure if she was upsetting the nine-to-fivers when she belted out Stevie Nicks covers at 8 a.m.
“The doors close behind you and everyone’s just staring at you, so you better hope you’re charming,” Arthur stressed. “It’s really just an adventure in breaking down stage fright. That was the thing in Hollywood: Always be in that space – ready to do that stuff.”
Being in such an intimate space, Arthur was often facing an audience unsure of their safety or peace. She remembers passengers worrying they’d either be accosted, robbed or serenaded. Arthur admits that, in L.A., any of these were a possibility. Even with all the awkwardness, her occasional connection with her audience became an addiction.
“You get used to pulling people out of mundane life,” Arthur explained. “Getting on the train is very mundane — just passing through, it’s very mundane … To have it in a space that’s unexpected, as quickly as it surprises people, they’re just as willing to be like, ‘Oh, hell yeah!’”
The songstress acknowledges that it can be easy to slip into the routine of only doing covers, allowing one’s self to feed off the energy of a crowd hearing their favorite songs with a new flare. Nevertheless, Arthur has begun to gain a heart-felt appreciation for originality in musicianship as she builds a list of her own songs.
“When I see someone who has an original music catalog, all I think is what this person’s brain is like; literally just braiding the stuff out of nothing?” Arthur said. “Certain things can be so mundane. And then you’re involved in music and suddenly everything’s super colorful.”