This Musician Is No Idiot

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Aaron Sarlo had given up on music. The former member of Little Rock’s beloved 90’s alt-rockers, Techno Squid Eats Parliament, had just spent five years in Boston, playing in the more experimental Slept, a band that produced one album and an EP.

But Sarlo had had enough of the music business, so he headed back home to Arkansas, eventually selling all of his musical gear, and marrying his “best friend,” Sarah. His self-imposed exile, however, did not last. Sarlo had been playing guitar since he was 13. He was 16 when he had written enough songs for his first album. Making music wasn’t something he could just shrug off like a bad habit. So in 2004, he dipped his toe back in the musical waters with a ukulele.

“It was like an alcoholic taking that first drink,” Sarlo laughs — something he does quite often. Soon, he had an entire album’s worth of songs written, and eventually he became a Dangerous Idiot. Teaming with former Techno Squid mate, Shayne Gray, and Paul Bowling, formerly of Little Rock punk legends, Trusty, Sarlo formed the Idiots and set about recording.

The self-titled result, which was released on Mostar Records of England last month is a thoroughly enjoyable rock collection that ranges from the 70’s FM rock vibe of ‘Amerijuana,’ to the impossibly catchy ‘Can I Get a Role Model,’ and the moving, acoustic ‘Sad,’ which is about the 2007 death of Sarlo’s mother.

“The whole album is the most autobiographical I’ve ever done,” he says.

It didn’t take the folks at Mostar long to realize that Sarlo, who was born in Chicago and moved to Little Rock at 11, was a unique talent. “The album has a rawness about it; a compelling, stripped-back sound that feels like you’re simply discovering a great, great band,” says Luke Manning, Artist and Repertoire representative at the label. “Dangerous Idiots are a clever band — and lyrically and musically they’re sharp as a button.”

That cleverness is perfectly displayed on ‘Can I Get a Role Model,’ a song that, at first, seems a bit cheeky and sarcastic, but upon further listen opens up to reveal something much deeper. The song begins with Sarlo bemoaning the lack of good examples to live by, whether it be parents (“Dad is a mom, and mom is a dad,” goes the first line), teachers, friends, or some similarly traditional figure, then finally arrives at the cathartic conclusion that, to heck with this mess, I’ll be my own dang role model. “It took about 30 minutes to write,” Sarlo, who graduated from Little Rock Central High, says, “I wrote it as an instruction manual to myself.” It’s a perfect mix of goose-bumps-inducing sincerity and pure pop-rock ear candy, roaring from a simple introduction to become a gloriously loud and ballistic anthem.

There’s even a video that was filmed in Little Rock and Levy. Helping cinematographer Christy Ward on the video was longtime pal and documentary filmmaker, Mike Poe (Voices for Justice). “It was Aaron’s idea from the get-go,” Poe says of the video, which intersperses shots of the band and Sarlo with those of a chubby, tattooed, bearded fellow (musician Jonathan Dodson) getting ready for his day and then drinking liquor and popping pills while running through the streets and, finally, in a cemetery — in slacks, a button-down shirt, and a tie. “Aaron is one of the smartest, funniest people I’ve ever known,” Poe says, “He’s like half musician, half comedian.”

Manning writes that the Idiots have received radio airplay in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, and even Indonesia. “Dangerous Idiots,” he says, “deserves to be heard by as many people as possible, so we’re promoting it everywhere we possibly can.” And Sarlo says he’s happy with Mostar’s help. “I really like the label and we’ve got a good contract.”

In the meantime, Sarlo is practicing with new drummer, Leewood Thomas, after Gray and Bowling left to play in the band Glittercore. Thomas “is an incredible drummer. His timing is flawless since he plays to a click. He’s made me a better guitar player,” Sarlo says. The search is on for a new bass player, and whoever gets the job will be in for a surprise. Sarlo has at least another album’s worth of material written.

The guy just can’t quit.

— Sean Clancy, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Aug. 9, 2011