If you don’t recognize Donovan Arthen ’11 from one of the many bands he plays in or his various jobs interviewing high-schoolers and dressing up as a troll, you’ll probably recognize his hair pulled back in a long ponytail and the tattoos he sports. Arthen sat down with The Argus on a sunny afternoon to discuss his dream of owning a home in Georgia (the country, not the state), his religious beliefs, and getting paid to throw mud.
The Argus: When I was researching for this interview I saw some photos on Facebook with you in face paint in the forest this summer. What was that all about?
Donovan Arthen: [Laughs] I was hired by the New York Fairy Festival to come and be a troll at their fair. So four of my best friends and I went there and made tusks and painted ourselves with paint and mud. We were asked to guard a bridge and ask for tolls, and then we made art in¬stallations with nature—stones and branches and trees. The most fun part was all the mud fights we had with the kids there. We definitely scared people as we carried a few we knew off into the woods screaming as we threw mud at them. The trolls might actually make an appearance here at Wesleyan around Halloween.
Currently the troll is on Facebook—that’s how we do bookings now.
A: How many bookings have you been getting?
DA: After that I got like 30 requests for different events. We were very, very popular. There are some videos on Facebook too.
A: Does it pay well?
DA: Uh, it can. [Laughs] It depends on where we’re going. When we had to drive out to Binghamton in a pick-up truck, it was pretty expensive to get out there but, yeah, they gave us a good $600 or something like that.
A: So one of the first things I’ve no¬ticed about you is that you have tat¬toos. How many do you have and can you tell me the stories behind them?
DA: Sure, I’ve got two, and they both come out of my spirituality, out of my spiritual work that I do back home particularly with a group of guys I work with including my older brother and other friends of mine. I guess the one most people see is the one on my forearm that has a stag and a Scots Gaelic prayer that says, ‘I come with heart in hand, I come with peace in mind, and I come with soul on fire.’ That’s a family prayer that has been handed down for gen¬erations through my dad’s line. The stag is an iconic thing that I work with in meditation and is a spiritual icon seen in a lot of traditions as a guardian or as something that walks in two different worlds or in mul¬tiple worlds.
A: You mentioned your family and your religious background. I hear you are a pagan.
DA: Yeah. I am a pagan, but it’s a really big blanket term. I’m more of an animist than anything. And animism is this belief that all things have a soul. Whether it is a rock, a tree, a person, or an animal—they all have a spirit and a soul and ev¬erything is alive and has a con¬sciousness. But my family in general is a pretty well-known pagan family. We run an organization called The EarthSpirit Community which is a non-profit that is centered around the preservation and cultivation of pre-Christian tradition of Western Europe. So things like the Druidic traditions, the Celtic tribal tradi¬tions, the Viking traditions, they all fall in there, and we try and pro¬vide a container for those things to flourish, be learned about, and cel¬ebrated.
A: I hear you are very involved with the music scene at Wesleyan.
DA: Yes, I do a lot of things with music. I play in a bunch of bands on campus. I play in Mad Wow, which is a sort of funk, Mo-towny band. I play with Wordsmith and the Concert Gs, a live hip-hop band, and play, or I guess, played with Orquesta Fiebre, a 13-piece salsa band on campus, but we’re not sure that is going to keep going this year. But besides that I take a lot of music classes, as I’m a music major. I play in a lot of performance ensembles here. I work on the Crowell Concert Committee so I help to bring peo¬ple like Zakir Hussain and Le Vent Du Nord here, this year. And then I chair the Concert Committee for the WSA. I am also doing both a performance and a written thesis for my major, so I do a lot in the music scene for sure.
A: What are your theses going to be about?
DA: The performance is go¬ing to be a choral performance that involves songs from South Africa, the Republic of Georgia, Bulgaria, the UK, American gospel, American shape note, maybe some Appalachian songs and maybe some medieval Spanish songs. So songs from all over the place. We’re actu¬ally teaching a student forum on it this fall. My written thesis is going to be about oral and aural education in music and how it is used in New England liberal arts schools.
A: You mentioned the Republic of Georgia. I heard you took a trip after high school to several countries all over the world. What was that like?
DA: I took a gap year between high school and college and the first place I went was the Republic of Georgia, and I was there for about a month and a half. And I was there studying music with a group called Zedashe, and that was incredible. I was liv¬ing in a village in Georgia working with this choir and a bunch of other Americans. We got to learn a lot of music from them and tour around the country singing with them. Then we got to take a trip up into the mountainous regions that bor¬der Chechnya and see the remote areas and mountain culture. After that I went to Amsterdam. I lived in Barcelona for about two months and then I went to Senegal for three weeks to study African drumming and dance there.
A: You are quite the music aficiona¬do. So if you were stranded on a des¬ert island and could only bring three CDs with you, what would they be?
DA: Okay, um…hm…definitely
Dougie MacLean…um, that’s really hard. [Long pause] Jimi Hendrix, “Axis: Bold as Love,” and The Beatles “Abbey Road.”
A: So after Wesleyan are you plan¬ning to travel anywhere else in the world?
DA: I definitely plan on traveling more, but I’m not sure when. I am actually thinking of applying to grad school here at Wesleyan to study ethnomusicology. I really want to go to Guinea in Africa and Ghana and study two different forms of drumming there that I feel very con¬nected to and passionate about. I’d love to go back to Georgia. Some day I would love to buy a house in Georgia, but I guess that is sort of a pipe dream.
A: So among the other things you do at Wesleyan, you’re a senior in¬terviewer. How do you like your job?
DA: It’s awesome– one of the best jobs on campus easily. Interviewing these kids who are coming in from high school now, it’s ridiculous. If I applied to Wesleyan right now I don’t think I would get in. These kids are amazing. They do everything under the sun and some—they’re super smart and super talented, and I am consistently blown away by the peo¬ple I am interviewing.
A: Do you think you have to win a Nobel Prize and write a book to get into Wesleyan at this point?
DA: [Laughs] Maybe. It’s definitely hard.
A: And my last question. It’s out there, but I like to think we are a little out there at Wesleyan. If you could be any fruit, what kind of fruit would you be and why?
DA: [Laughs] I always had a thing for blackberries. They are sort of understated in their appearance, but they are really juicy and potent.