The Ark (band)
The Ark are an English pop rock band formed in 2012 in Rochester, Kent. The band consists of lead vocalist and instrumentalist Jimmy Kaga-Ricci, multi-instrumentalist Rowan Omondi, and drummer Lister Bird.
School and YouTube origins (2012)
Kaga-Ricci, Omondi, and Bird began their musical career by forming a band when they were in Year 9 at St Thomas West Comprehensive School in Spring 2012. They began by creating and recording inventive covers of existing songs before moving on to their own original material. The name of the band, ‘The Ark’, was conceptualised by Kaga-Ricci, who got the inspiration for the name from what was his favourite Bible story as a child, Noah and the Ark. That same year, the trio launched a YouTube channel under the name thearkplaysstuff. Their first video was a live cover of ‘Losing Streak’ by Eels, recorded in Kaga-Ricci’s garage.
For several months that followed, the Ark posted at least three videos per month, averaging two hundred views per video. In the summer of 2012, The Ark began performing weekly at the pub local to Kaga-Ricci’s home. Kaga-Ricci attributes these early pub night shows to building his confidence as a performer, however the Ark ceased these shows after the passing of Kaga-Ricci’s grandmother.
In September 2012, Kaga-Ricci, Omondi, and Bird moved into Year 10 at St Thomas West and began recording their own original songs with the assistance of the music technician at St Thomas West, who allowed them use of the school’s one recording studio. Omondi was the primary lyricist and Kaga-Ricci was the primary composer and vocalist. Early versions of later hits ‘Jinx, You Owe Me’ and ‘I Thought I Saw You Smiling’ were among the many original songs recorded in this school recording studio. That month, the Ark competed at a ‘battle of the bands’ competition in Rochester, ‘RochFest’, placing fifth.
One of the Ark’s videos went viral for the first time in October 2012 when they posted a cover of ‘Blue (Da Ba Dee)’ by Eiffel 65. After the video was shared on Twitter by popular beauty vlogger KieraLikesMakeup, the video surpassed ten thousand views within twenty-four hours of it being posted. Within a week, this shot to over sixty thousand, and The Ark’s subscriber count moved into the tens of thousands. Liam Wojcik of Uncut magazine described the Ark’s initial viral video as ‘an utterly unique reimagining of a song so ridiculous that it’s almost meme-like – somehow, a group of fourteen-year-old boys transformed a terrible nineties club tune into a song that makes you want to gaze out of the window of a moving car and think about your future.’
After this initial viral fame, the Ark’s videos regularly garnered tens of thousands of views. The trio also expanded their content to include vlogs. Some of these vlogs simply featured the trio sitting down in front of the camera to talk or take part in various YouTube games and challenges. Many other vlogs took the viewer behind-the-scenes of the Ark’s recording process and concerts. By the end of 2012, The Ark had almost 100,000 subscribers.
Discovery by Fort Records and EPs (2013)
In early 2013, soon after their rise to YouTube fame, the Ark – now aged fourteen and fifteen – attracted interest from British record label Fort Records, leading to them signing a large publishing deal in February, which included two EPs and three albums.
Throughout 2013, the Ark still attended school. Rather than immediately embarking on their debut album, the Ark worked with producers Sean Morrogh and Cillian Kenny of Irish indie rock band Just Amy to create their first music release, an EP entitled Kill It, which was released in June 2013 and reached number 2 in the UK iTunes chart. All three boys sat their GCSE exams a year early, though Bird failed several subjects and had to retake them in August.
After the release of Kill It, the Ark saw their first UK airplay on national radio when the lead track ‘I Thought I Saw You Smiling’ was played on BBC Radio 1. The Ark continued to work with Morrogh and released a second EP in November entitled Make Me, which debuted at number 1 in the UK iTunes chart. Throughout the autumn and winter, the Ark played several gigs, including supporting Just Amy in several shows of their UK tour.
By the end of 2013, the Ark’s audience had grown. The Ark, now aged fifteen and sixteen, had a strong fanbase, and though they could not perform regularly due to school commitments, they were able to put on gigs at big Kent venues and small London venues, which always sold out. Their YouTube channel surpassed one million subscribers on December 3, and they livestreamed a concert from Kaga-Ricci’s grandparents’ garage to celebrate. Several tracks from Kill It and Make Me saw placement on various official Spotify playlists, which substantially increased the Ark’s listenership. The eponymous lead single from Make Me reached number 23 in the UK Singles Chart and received airplay in several other countries including France, Australia, and Japan.
The year spent working on Kill It and Make Me with more experienced songwriters and producers had prepared the Ark to begin work on their debut album. Omondi said of this first year in the industry, ‘We needed that year to, like, develop as professional musicians and songwriters. It’s one thing to be making cool sounds out of broken instruments you found in your school’s music cupboard. It’s another thing to learn how to properly produce music to a high standard and to start coming up with stuff nobody has heard before. We knew from day one that we wanted to be songwriters, not boyband puppets singing other people’s songs. We needed Sean and Cillian to sit with us and be like, okay, here’s how you use a mixing desk and all that, you know? And with that new knowledge and that new sound, we needed to figure out who we were as a band too. Like, what we wanted to put out into the world.’
A Place Like This and UK tour (2013-2014)
Between Winter 2013 and late Spring 2014, the Ark recorded their eleven-track debut album, A Place Like This, at what would become their home studio, London’s The Sound Box. It was co-produced by Sean Morrogh in what would be his final collaboration with the Ark. The three boys were still enrolled in Year 11 at St Thomas West but were allowed to take two days off per week to record at The Sound Box, while also using their weekends.
The Ark were unable to embark on a full tour due to Kaga-Ricci, Omondi, and Bird still being in attendance at St Thomas West, but they continued to perform as support for various other bands to build support and momentum for the album.
The album was released on 3 April 2014 to strongly positive reviews from critics. The eponymous lead single premiered two weeks prior on BBC Radio 1, with a music video released the next day on the Ark’s YouTube channel. The album premiered at number three on the UK Album Chart.
After the release of A Place Like This, the Ark began to receive mainstream attention, with several subsequent singles from the album seeing UK chart placement and international airplay. The album was reviewed positively across many mainstream publications, including Rolling Stone, who praised the Ark’s ‘emotional maturity, technical musical excellence, and uniquely edgy aesthetic’. The album also received an assortment of average-to-negative reviews, including NME’s Paul Marks who described the Ark’s music as ‘if Justin Bieber had been an emo in his early days’. Many publications drew the connection to Justin Bieber, despite their very different musical styles, due to Bieber and Kaga-Ricci’s boy soprano voices and their respective places in the canon of teenage pop stars, leading Kaga-Ricci to tweet Bieber to jokingly ask for ‘career advice’, to which Bieber replied ‘lol’.
By July 2014, Kaga-Ricci, Omondi, and Bird – now aged fifteen and sixteen – had left school permanently, and the Ark embarked on their first headline tour in August, ‘Noah’s Tour’, which lasted until November. They performed twenty-two shows in mid-size venues around the UK and Ireland, all of which sold out. The trio vlogged the tour, producing sixteen YouTube videos during this time which showcased behind-the-scenes content and their everyday activities outside of performing. By the end of the tour, the Ark’s YouTube channel had over two million subscribers.
Magic 18 and international tour (2014-2015)
The Ark’s first tour ended in November 2014, and by December the trio were back in the studio, writing and recording new music. During their UK tour, the Ark teased some new music, which created considerable online buzz. In February 2015, now aged sixteen and seventeen, the Ark teased the new album on their social media with cryptic tweets and Instagram posts, leading fans to discuss various theories on sites like Reddit and Tumblr. On February 28, the Ark officially announced the upcoming release of their second album, Magic 18.
On March 6, the Ark released the song ‘The Door’ alongside its music video. The Ark simultaneously announced an upcoming international tour to promote Magic 18. In March and April, the Ark collaborated with various high-profile YouTubers and online content creators to promote the album, including popular makeup artists, dancers, and other musicians. One particular video, in which Bird performed in a dance class at top London dance studio Centurion Dance Complex, garnered over fifteen million views and brought the Ark a wave of online attention.
Magic 18 was released on 5 June 2015 to mostly positive reviews. The album was nominated for the Mercury Prize.
The Ark embarked on their first international tour, ‘The Magic Tour’, on June 11. They began with various UK shows before touring fifteen countries – mostly Europe, but with several dates in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The tour lasted five months in total, the final show taking place in Paris on November 8. During this time, The Ark also appeared on various UK chat shows, performed live on The X Factor, and performed at Pride in London. The Ark released seven behind-the-scenes YouTube videos of their time on tour, including their current most-viewed video (with the exception of music videos) at over twelve million views, ‘sleepy boys in tokyo’.
During this tour, in July 2015, Kaga-Ricci was outed as transgender accidentally by Bird. The fallout of this incident, which Kaga-Ricci described as ‘traumatic’, garnered the Ark international media attention.
The Ark returned to the UK in November 2015, now aged seventeen and eighteen.
Joan of Arc and ‘The Ark Tour’ (2015-present)
After ‘The Magic Tour’, the Ark went on a three-month hiatus from touring, writing, and recording. They were largely silent on social media from November 2015 to February 2016 until their appearance at the BRIT Awards, in which they won Best British Group.
The Ark returned from their hiatus with an Instagram photo of the trio in the studio. By this time, each member of the Ark had multiple million followers on their various social media accounts. Little more was heard from the Ark until May, upon which they released a YouTube video teasing new music, which garnered international online attention with the Ark trending on various social media sites due to their noticeable new sound and more mature aesthetic. ‘#TheArkGrewUp’ was reported on by a variety of high-profile news sites and publications.
The recording of Joan of Arc was the first time The Ark had recorded music after Kaga-Ricci had begun hormone replacement therapy, which had lowered his voice. Kaga-Ricci revealed later that he had worked for several months with Italian vocal coach Valentino Iannucci to combat the vocal challenges of, as Kaga-Ricci described it, ‘going through puberty part two.’ Kaga-Ricci shared in an interview with Vice that ‘there were many weeks where [he] was convinced [he’d] never be able to sing well again.’ Kieran James of Pitchfork described Kaga-Ricci’s new vocal style in Joan of Arc as ‘undoubtedly matured, but still with the gritty desperation that pierced our hearts in The Ark’s sophomore album.’
The Ark officially announced their third album, Joan of Arc, on July 4, and released three singles from the album, along with music videos, over the next two months. The album was released on 5 October 2016, by which time the trio had moved into a penthouse property together in Chelsea. The album topped the UK Album Chart for five weeks in a row and was nominated for various British and European music awards.
The Ark began their international tour, ‘The Ark Tour’, on October 22, with the Ark trio now aged eighteen and nineteen. This tour was to be the Ark’s biggest tour to date, spanning just over ten months of regular sell-out shows at large venues. The Ark spent four months touring the UK and Ireland, before touring twenty-three countries, mostly across Europe but with the addition of several dates across Australasia, Asia, and America. The last show took place at London’s O2 Arena and drew media attention after a fan attacked Omondi during the before-show meet-and-greet.
Despite their international success in the years leading up to the release of Joan of Arc, the Ark had struggled to make an impact in America. While they had a cult audience there, Kaga-Ricci revealed in an interview with Vice that their American listenership was not anywhere near as large as it was across Europe. The Ark played only one show in America – in New York City – during ‘The Ark Tour’. After this show, the Ark’s presence in the US music industry noticeably increased, resulting in chart placement and their nomination for ‘Best Newcomer’ in the West Coast Music Awards, which they won.
In late August 2017, days after the final show of ‘The Ark Tour’, Bird was taken to hospital and treated for multiple injuries as a result of an accident while walking in the woodland near Kaga-Ricci’s childhood home. The Ark were silent on social media until a week later, upon which Kaga-Ricci and Omondi released a YouTube video stating that Bird was recovering well, but the Ark would be going on hiatus due to collective exhaustion after several years of non-stop writing, recording, touring, and promoting. Several days later, it was revealed by Buzzfeed that the Ark had severed their ties with Fort Records, citing differences of creative vision for their music. The Ark’s head manager, Cecily Wills, also left sister company Thunder Management to work independently for the Ark.
As of winter 2017, the Ark have shared no plans to release new music. The trio have been largely silent on social media, with the exception of several tweets by Bird and one Instagram post from Kaga-Ricci in which he shared photos of a family trip to Gujarat.
Musical and visual style
The Ark has been classified as a pop rock band.
The Ark are known for their distinctive visual style in their live performances, music videos, and media appearances. Since their first international tour in 2015, The Magic Tour, The Ark have only worn black on stage and in interviews and other appearances, with only a few notable exceptions such as their live performance as part of Pride in London 2015. In The Magic Tour, Kaga-Ricci wore black angel wings for each performance – a tradition that has continued ever since. Vogue fashion writer Justine Clement described The Ark’s style as ‘a balance of angel and demon – The Ark look like the rebels you’d want to stick with if you landed in Hell. With religious imagery that no doubt derives from Jimmy and Rowan’s Christian upbringings, they reject the ‘good boy’ aesthetic of most classic boy bands of the twenty-first century and instead look like mystical beings from a violent nineties anime.’ NME writer Trent Moore wrote, ‘Millennials wanted pretty boys in cardigans and suits, but Gen Z want The Ark, who look like they’ve returned from The Matrix to film viral videos and smash some stuff.’
Jimmy Kaga-Ricci – lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, synthesizers, sampler
Rowan Omondi – guitar, bass guitar, backing vocals, keyboards, piano, synthesizers, cello, violin, saxophone, sampler
Lister Bird – drums, percussion, synthesizers, backing vocals
Kill It (2013)
Make Me (2013)
A Place Like This (2014)
Magic 18 (2015)
Joan of Arc (2016)