In the middle of a set at Brighton Music Hall on October 24, Josh Arnoudse unplugs his guitar and jumps off the stage.
His bandmate, Raky Sastri, reaches behind his drum kit to retrieve an accordion, and together they drag two chairs out onto the floor. The crowd hushes its drunken patter as the two strike up an acoustic rendition of one of Josh’s songs: “Who Knew.” For a moment, the humid, beer-sticky club recedes as he wails over stridently strummed triplets about love lost to bad timing. The song is at once sweet and sardonic in its deliberate misunderstanding of the phrase, a wry meditation on a missed opportunity: “If I was Marty McFly / I would go back to when we were 9 or 10 / And I’d be your best friend / Say that I knew you when.”
Josh, 27, and Raky, 30, both have a rumpled, slouchy quality that is at odds with their grown-up subtlety and wit.
The two have been performing as You Won’t for the past two years, but they met more than a decade ago in a Lexington High School musical production of My Favorite Year. “Raky was one of the kings of the drama department, and I was a terrified underling,” remembers Josh, as he sits hunched over a chocolate croissant at Cafe 1369 in Cambridge.
I first met Josh in 2010 when we were co-workers at a local bar. At the time, You Won’t’s debut album, Skeptic Goodbye, was being mixed, and it wasn’t clear yet that the project (which Josh wrote and Raky produced) would become a band.
The record was made in Raky’s home studio and is a testament to a painstaking DIY process.
Once the band hit the road, the challenge became translating those intricate, purposeful arrangements into a convincing rock show. Josh is a sharp vocalist of startling range, while Raky is a precocious percussionist and multi-instrumentalist. Together they have settled into a comfortable rapport that’s both minimalist and cacophonous.
Still, even as they mastered the form, they found it stifling. “Both of us feel quite boxed-in with the format of playing in rock clubs, you know?” says Josh.
“Slowly but surely, we’re trying to find ways to break out of that, and engage people in a different way.”
The effort has paid off: You Won’t garnered mentions on NPR and the New York Times for their recent appearances at the CMJ Music Marathon, and they are up for a Boston Music Award for Folk Artist of the Year. They’ll be splitting a bill with Lucius and headliners Pearl and the Beard at the Middle East Downstairs before hunkering down in their home state to record a second album.
For Josh, the “folk artist” label is a dubious one, mainly because his earliest influences were in rock ‘n’ roll. But as the band’s live show demonstrates, it may not be an unfitting denomination. Standing on those chairs, stripped of their electronic trappings, You Won’t seemed less like rock stars
and more like apostles of a lost religion, singing some long-forgotten tune.
MIDDLE EAST DOWNSTAIRS
472 MASS. AVE.