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After Low Anthem, Adams hits new high with Arc Iris

Shervin Lainez

As a member of the Low Anthem, Jocie Adams dreamed of the day when the band would be successful enough to call its own shots. In her mind, they’d book string quartets as their opening acts.

Classically trained at Brown University, Adams never thought she’d be in a rock band in the first place. Classical music “can be as badass as Led Zeppelin sometimes,” she says. “When you have an orchestra ripping into their instruments, that’s pretty crazy, guerrilla-like human energy.”

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There’s some heady energy, of both the classical and pop variety and so many styles in between, on her debut album with her new band, Arc Iris. The band plays the Sinclair on Monday before heading overseas for a series of dates in the UK and on the European continent.

In college, the multi-instrumentalist — clarinet, organ, bass, and the voice of a thrush — was so deeply immersed in classical composition that “popular” music was the furthest thing from her thoughts.

“I remember one friend saying, ‘You’d have a much bigger impact if you go the pop music route.’ At the time I was like, ‘Ah, yeah, whatever.’ ”

Then she joined the Low Anthem, the indie-folk band founded by intense frontman Ben Knox Miller and multi-instrumentalist Jeff Prystowsky. As the Providence band gained national recognition with its third album, “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin,” and the follow-up, 2011’s “Smart Flesh,” Adams thought maybe her term with the band would be “forever.”

But “things kind of evolved,” she says on the phone from her Rhode Island home. Three years ago she released a spare solo album, “Bed of Notions,” under her own name, “and it soon became clear that was where my heart was. It was surprising to me, but it happened.”

‘Everyone in our band is so independently able. . . . It’s always exciting to discover new things within you that you can bring out.’

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Beginning as a collaboration between Adams and cellist Robin Ryczek, Arc Iris quickly grew into a miniature chamber orchestra of sound, featuring pianist Zach Tenorio-Miller, trumpeter Mike Irwin and the rhythm team of drummer Ray Belli and bassist Max Johnson, who shared a stint at the School of Rock in New Jersey. The music on “Arc Iris” segues effortlessly from brassy to somber, tango to drone to doo-wop twice removed. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Adams says she set out to make an album of songs “cohesive yet free.” In part, it was a natural reaction to the success of the Low Anthem, who became noted for their otherworldly, sometimes stomping folk-rock sound — and, feeling constrained, announced a working “hiatus” in order to define their next move creatively.

Adams says her split from the band was amicable. Yet she admits she had a tough time having her musical voice heard in a group founded by two fellow Brown students — onetime overnight DJs on the campus station together — who seem to share their thoughts telepathically.

“It was less that I was the ‘new girl,’ more so that those guys are mentally and physically attached at the hip,” she says.

Though Adams’s departure wasn’t officially announced until mid-2013, Arc Iris recorded the new album more than a year ago. Since then they’ve been hard at work on an open-ended project, a ballet score for which there is just yet no ballet company.

“It’s a project on the table that allows us to write any kind of music and tap more into classical,” says the bandleader. “We can open up what ‘pop’ music is a little more.”

Adams says she’s loved the ballet since she was a young girl: “Not that I became a prima ballerina or anything — it’s just beautiful for me to watch.”

The ballet work has confirmed what she already suspected about her new ensemble.

“Everyone in our band is so independently able,” she says. “Everyone has, should I say, the balls to try something new. It’s always exciting to discover new things within you that you can bring out.”

Besides the urge to pursue all of her various musical notions, Adams says she came to realize her own voice deserved to come front and center.

“Maybe what I was doing was a little special,” she says, “and I should pay attention to it.”

James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.
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