Many writers have tried to crack “The Armed Code.” They speculate one who is in the band, what is the intent behind it, and how it operates, among many other questions. Well, Adam Vallely is here to shed a little light on how the band functions, and his role in the functioning of said band.
“The Armed is a large collaborative effort between many people,” he says. “And the vast majority of them are multi-instrumentalists. So, there’s sort of a wildly different approach, and drastically different personnel, from track to track. That said, I sang a majority of the vocals on this album—along with Jonni [Randall, bass and vocals] and Cara [Drolshagen, vocals and lyrics]. I wrote some of the songs. I played guitar and synth on a few of the takes that made the album. A little bit of everything.”
In fact, everybody involved with The Armed plays a part in the creation of their music.
“It’s definitely a group effort,” Vallely explains. “Even lyrics for specific tracks are often shared and collaborated upon between numerous people. But it’s not at all some sort of “committee think” type of approach. We’re not trying to make everyone happy or appeal to everyone’s egos. Much the opposite, no one is too precious about anything throughout the entire process. It’s more so just how the creative seems to work for us.”
“Lyrically, sometimes, Dan [Greene, guitar] for example will sing an entire song on a demo, and send it to me or Jonni or Clark and ask us to write what we think he’s saying. So, then it becomes this sort of game of telephone. Then we’ll utilize what comes out of that and integrate it into a more focused, more intentional narrative. So yeah, it’s sorta just very different track-by-track! Some songs are almost front-to-back one person. And plenty others have the fingerprints of, like, 16 people. Whatever services the end product best.”
The fruits of this collective’s unique approach to creating, is, well, the creation of unique music, as new album ULTRAPOP sounds like nothing else you’re likely to hear all year. Its mixture of sunny pop and noisy hardcore might be jarring to some, but to others it will be manna from the gods. It’s as if they took the pop flirtations of their previous album, 2018’s Only Love, and pushed them completely to the forefront, to create the glorious, musical mutant that is ULTRAPOP.
“I think we try and look at our output as one holistic project happening over time,” Vallely says. “Dan has been adamant about this approach. About ‘earning’ what comes next. And about expanding territory in a way that retains novelty and individual point of view. I think ULTRAPOP is definitely built on the foundation of Only Love.
But it’s almost like Only Love was the experiment, and ULTRAPOP is the full realization of a theory, in some way. Only Love used pop vocabulary and sensibilities juxtaposed on a hardcore album. ULTRAPOP uses hardcore vocabulary over a pop framework. It sounds like a small, perhaps bullshit thing to say. But it is, in my assessment, a super important distinction between the two.”
ULTRAPOP will definitely get people talking. Some might be turned off by the odd juxtaposition of sounds, but others will be likely enthralled. Either way, it will get people talking. It’s The Armed’s intent to create a piece of music that will get a reaction from the listening public, good or bad. Or more than likely, both.
“We wanted to rustle some feathers,” Vallely says. “We wanted to confront the importance of authenticity and authorship in art. We wanted to confront the value sets people use to measure the validity of music. Most importantly, we just wanted to challenge people in an unexpected way. To try and move the needle with some contribution toward novelty of thought and creativity in a space that is woefully stagnant most of the time.”
One can’t talk about The Armed and not discuss their unique take on membership. Many people make up The Armed, some are more visible than others. Regardless, of who is in the band, this fluid approach to membership leads to a unique experience for all involved. It informs to their approach to music. They are not a traditional hardcore band, making music that doesn’t sound like a traditional hardcore band. It leads to a sound all their own.
They wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think, overall, it leads to a thoroughly unique end-product that couldn’t exist any other way. A giant, formless collaborative leads to plenty of logistic challenges, as I’m sure you can imagine. But it also opens us up to so much more creativity. It opens doors to more collaborators. For every negative, there are two or three positives, I think. It also leads to this strange kinship in the group. A weird familial, militaristic vibe where ego is sacrificed to the greater good. The Armed is not a band of best friends. But in another way, there’s this incredibly deep bond, because it’s such a unique experience. Again, overall, I think it’s the only way to produce the end-result—which is the greatest music on earth.”
One can’t mention The Armed without talking about the many theories behind who is in the band, who is behind the band, and what their intent is. As stated in the opening paragraph, many people have tried to crack “The Armed Code,” and have only come up with more questions. Maybe the point isn’t to crack anything, but to enjoy the glorious, bonkers, and unique music they put out.
At least that’s what Vallely thinks. For this part, he’s doing his best to “demystify” the mystery of The Armed. He’ll set you straight.
“I think the ironic thing is that initially, the idea of anonymity was supposed to completely remove the consideration of membership for the audience,” he says. “And what it ended up doing was inadvertently creating a “mystery” that people seemed to think should be solved.”
“But the mystery wasn’t, and isn’t, supposed to be solved,” he continues. “The Armed is a big group of a lot of people. Sometimes, some of those people write music. Then sometimes, different people end up performing it on the record. Then, a different configuration of people will play that song live. It’s not supposed to be the conspiracy it ended up being. It’s just not a very typical arrangement for what most people think of when they think of a ‘band.’”
“So, the focus, first and foremost, is always on the art. But the art, to us, is everything. The music. The visuals. The way it’s delivered. And how much you understand about how it was created.”
“Maybe we’re not trying to ‘mess with you’ so much as we’re challenging you to question why you care about certain things,” Vallely says. “Why is authorship important to the media you consume? Why is authenticity integral to your enjoyment of a product? Would we be less good, or would the art be less valid, if all of this was paid for by Coca-Cola?”
“Enjoy Coke. Enjoy confusion. Long live The Armed,” he finishes.
Images courtesy of The Armed. Featured image credit: Nate Sturley.