Calvin Arsenia was raised in Olathe, but anyone familiar with his music will be forgiven for first assuming he arrived on this planet via a fantastical starship from a distant galaxy.
The artist—for that is the only word that aptly describes Arsenia, who is a singer, songwriter, producer and classically trained harpist, among other things—first interrupted our consciousness with his 2018 breakthrough debut, Cantaloupe. His 2019 follow-up, Honeydew, took the introverted beauty of that first album and spun it into a decadent dancehall remix. If you’ve been fortunate enough to see Arsenia live, you know that he also has a talent for world-building, merging mediums like video, dance, high fashion and fine art to create an experience that gives new meaning to the phrase “in concert.”
We caught up with Arsenia about where he finds inspiration in Kansas City.
How do you think living in Kansas City has shaped your music?
Living in KC allows me to truly be an artist. The cost of living is quite low compared to other cities, and that allows me to be creative and try more things. I’ve gotten to take a lot of risks in my short but deep career so far, and I think that’s because it’s not as competitive or cutthroat here. You’ll see sharing of talents between projects. I love the collaborative aspect of this town. I made my creative debut through a series of album release shows, and the first one was grand. I took a Tuesday night at recordBar and filled it with a cast of fifty different players, including eighteen musicians and models, all dressed in costumes. There were stilt walkers and harpists and opera singers. I don’t know that I would have been able to pull that off anywhere else.
What do you like most about Kansas City audiences?
The audience in KC tends to be forgiving and open. I always feared that if I were to express myself on stage, it would not be welcome. Each time I’m on stage, I’m challenging my own social norms and pressures and feeling that the audience has the opportunity to accept or reject me. I’m sharing in that opportunity to accept or reject myself, and as I’ve seen audiences accept me and take me in, I’ve been able to accept myself as well.
Do you have any favorite local traditions?
Our Mardi Gras community is the reason I still live here. There are parties that happen over the whole course of Mardi Gras. My favorite part is the sunrise march that happens in the Westside. Everyone is in costume and we march for a mile, from West 18th Street to East 18th Street, and party all day long. It’s a very sincere love of decadence and pleasure and dressing up and being together.
Day in KC
Ritual: “I live close to the Missouri River, near Riverfront Park, and it’s such a beautiful space—peaceful and calm and hidden in plain sight. That’s where I would start my day.”
Fab Finds: “I love shopping at Boomerang on 39th Street. I’ve used their costumes over the years for different parties and events, and I would love for people to find something new there and unleash their inner glam.”
Fish Food: “When I want to splurge on a celebratory meal, I go to Jarocho in KCK. It’s a beautiful Mexican seafood restaurant.”