By now you should know that we are more than a little entusiastic about The Armed’s quite stunning debut album, These Are Lights, which you can download for free. FREE. Why haven’t you download it yet, idiot? We tracked down band members Chris Elkjar and Tony Wolski, to get the skinny on what they’re up to.
The obvious opener: why call the album These Are Lights?
Tony: “I can’t really remember the specific genesis of it…but our live show has a lot of bright flashing lights. So that’s where it came from. It was the working name of the album for a long time and we thought it sounded cool so we kept it.”
Chris: “I honestly don’t even know what the album title means.
How did you hook up with Kurt Ballou of Converge to mix the album?
Tony: “We just emailed him and asked. He listened to our demos and help set up a game plan for the mix. He’s a very nice dude. Aaron [Jones] and me used to send him old demos in other punk bands we were in and he’d respond with like…reasonably in-depth advice on improving our recordings and stuff. He’s kind of always been a hero in terms of both his playing and his production, which I think is literally second to none, so we figured we’d ask him first…and it worked out.”
The give-stuff-away-for-free model is generally pioneered by bands that got previously rich’n’fat from the benefits of long associations through major labels – as an unsigned band, what made you decide to give your album away for free?
Tony: “Wanting people to actually hear the music made us give it away for free. We’ve all played in other bands for a while now, and whether it is good or not, it is undeniable that for the most part young people do not place the same sense of monetary value on recordings as they once did. People can argue about the ethics, but that is the fact. So you might as well try to adapt to that and control the situation on your own terms. Why let someone posting a horribly compressed torrent of your material dictate what most people are going to hear? Releasing it on our own allowed us to exercise some level of quality control. Also, we’re able to reach a lot further this way…for example, I doubt you guys would’ve heard our album if we were just shelling out half a dozen CDs at shows back in the States. And people actually hearing this stuff is by far the most important goal.”
Chris: “Seeing bands trying to sell their CDs at whatever hole-in-the-wall bar they are playing at in Nowheretown USA makes very little sense to me. If there were venues that would let us play without making people pay to hear us, we’d be there as well. We just want as many people to hear the music as possible and there is no better way of doing that than just giving it all away.”
Watch the vide to ‘Party at Pablo’s’ by The Armed
While we’re on the subject of former major-label acts endorsing the free-download model, you’ve covered ‘Gave Up’ by the biggest exponent of that, Trent Reznor. What was the thinking behind that choice of cover?
Chris: “We all really love Nine Inch Nails, and obviously also completely endorse Trent Reznor’s moves towards a free download model of distributing his music, so covering a NIN track just made sense.”
We’re not going to ask you how much people have donated, but part of us suspects people are generally greedy fucks who’ll take anything for free if they can get it. Are we wrong to hold that opinion?
Tony: “I don’t think anyone is greedy just because they took the album and didn’t give us anything. We are giving it away for free after all. We’re not like trying to guilt people into giving us money…although we do greatly appreciate the donations that have come in. To answer the question though, of course there have been plenty more downloads than donations, but we honestly appreciate both a lot. Telling your friends to download is helping us out too because our main goal is to get people to listen to the music, talk about it, and come to the shows. If people wanna give us money and help us out with our next release and funding our shows, that’s amazing too.”
Have you been surprised at the reception the album has gotten? We heard about it from a blog post of Terrorizer, but since we’ve started putting these questions together, we’ve found people all over the world going apeshit over this album.
Tony: “Ha ha! This is kind of a hard question to answer and not sound either full of ourselves or like we don’t think we’re very good. I think our goal was to create an album that we all really like. We were successful in that. I really like our songs. I am very pleasantly surprised that a lot of other people share the same taste for sure though. Seeing people respond positively to our work is an amazing feeling and we appreciate everyone who takes time out of their day to blog or post on a forum about it. We are a completely DIY operation right now so when people help us spread the word it is the biggest help we could ask for. I also think that a positive mention on a forum or blog, which is essentially the closest thing to a real community of like-minded people the internet has to offer, is one hundred times more effective than a really fancy Flash-based Myspace banner ad or something like that. Word of mouth can still work in 2009.”
Chris: “I think we’re just glad that people are listening at all.”
Our lightweight internet research leads us to believe that a couple of songs (‘Terrordactyl’ and ‘Buy A Snake’?) were songs by an some of you guys’ previous band (please correct us if we’ve been misinformed). Do these songs feel like they “belong” to The Armed, or are they something you’re just “borrowing” in The Armed’s early stages?
Tony: “Really they were probably moreso ‘borrowed’ by our old band, Slicer Dicer in a sense. The Armed is really just an evolution of that band. There’s only one member in The Armed who wasn’t in Slicer Dicer. We only changed the name because we felt that we were kind of moving in a different direction with the material.”
Chris: “Those songs were great as Slicer Dicer songs but it also just made a lot of sense to re-record them when we started working on These Are Lights. Our Slicer Dicer releases were really just nicely packaged demos and we all agreed that the songs were good enough to warrant being re-recorded. As an aside though, Tony wouldn’t let us keep the incredibly awesome 808 drop that we originally had in Terrordactyl. You can probably find the original version online somewhere.”
In the age of downloading, one thing that is increasingly getting sidelined and lost is album art – but your download includes a full booklet’s worth of artwork. Firstly, why did you decide this was a necessary addition to the download package? Secondly, how did you come up with the theme? And thirdly, what was the reason for settling on the cover image?
Tony: “I’ve always had a big thing for album art. That’s what makes vinyl so cool to me- the real big imagery. I also like when bands provide a nice overall package for their albums. This doesn’t have to mean super expensive die-cut custom booklets and everything, but just a nice, thought-out companion piece to the songs. So even though we were releasing the album digitally, we wanted to provide what would feel like a full album experience…not just a cheap download. Also, we would never have been able to fund releasing a physical booklet of that size on our own so it gave us the opportunity to really ‘do it right’ in terms of putting everything in that we wanted.
“There honestly is no real specific theme. We used the disorienting crops of a larger shot of us on the train in order to provide some kind of unifying touch but each lyric card is basically reflecting some kind of theme in the song…not any overall message.
“Lastly, as for the cover, we wanted something kind of unbranded and hopefully a bit, as lame as it is to say- timeless. It was our hope that it won’t look “so 2009” in a few years.”
Is that a clarinet solo on ‘I Steal What I Want’ – now that was unexpected. Where the hell did that idea come from?
Tony: “Ha ha, yes it is. The songs we create as The Armed probably accounts to about 10% of the collective musical output of the band’s individual members. We’re all involved in some stuff most people who would hear our album wouldn’t really peg us as being into so it honestly wasn’t some idea to have a really whacky or jazzy or arty track or anything like that. We just wrote it like we did any of the other songs. That’s actually Aaron’s dad playing on the track who is an amazing player. He has played on a lot of stuff we do outside The Armed, so writing stuff with woodwinds in mind isn’t necessarily something we do to try to be really wild or unexpected or anything.”
Watch some more live antics from The Armed
What bands do you consider as part of your scene or as your peers?
Tony: “Whenever we book our own shows, we try to set stuff up with bands that might not sound exactly like us but are doing something really unique and sincere. Music that isn’t created by focus group data.”
Chris: “Bands who write music for themselves. Also bands who don’t use autotune or reference their band name in their lyrics.”
What marks you out as different to other bands around at the moment?
Tony: “I think we’re trying to focus on making the music as accessible as possible to everyone and focusing less on putting our individual pictures and twitter feeds on our myspace. We purposefully don’t credit individual band members on These Are Lights because we want people to be into the band and the songs and not all the other superfluous stuff. We’re not the only ones out there doing this but it just seems that, especially in terms of young bands, there’s more focus on the idea of being in a band and not just putting out quality stuff.”
Chris: “We also try to put as much energy as possible into our live shows. Any money we earn from shows or donations goes back into trying to improve that aspect of the band. Our recorded music is really just an attempt to capture the feel of our live show. It seems to be a trend with a lot of bands spending a ton of time trying to create this perfect album and then following it up with a very lacklustre live show. We want to avoid ever doing this.”
What can we expect from you in 2010?
Tony: “A new set of four songs early in the year in the form of an EP, or a really special split. Since a lot of people seemed to want a physical version of These Are Lights, there is a significant chance that there will be some kind of limited press physical product associated with this release, but we will of course still provide it online as well. It has a heavier punk sound than stuff on These Are Lights. It’ll have three really angry songs, and one very happy song. We will then play some local shows starting in February and hopefully hit up some US East-coast stuff by mid-year. Beyond that is still a mystery!”
Chris: “We’re looking into doing some pretty interesting online distro for the new release as well. Kind of expanding on the concept that everyone who listens to our band is just as important as anyone who actually plays in the band.”
And finally – should people into math- and hardcore bands really stop name-dropping Botch all the time?
Tony: “It doesn’t really bother me. People live to compare stuff to other stuff.”
Chris: “The DVD they released with their last show is really cool. I guess they had a big impact on the scene at the time. No matter what we do or how our records sound we are going to be compared to the same half dozen bands that everybody name-drops. We want the airwaves back.”