Today marks the release of genre-smashing hardcore collective The Armed’s new album, ULTRAPOP, via Sargent House. Why not check out this interview with vocalist and lyricist Cara Drolshagen, while you’re giving it a spin!
Interview by Thomas Pizzola
The Armed are a collective of musicians, based out of Detroit, who aim to upend the conventions of extreme music with every album they release. On their new album, ULTRAPOP, which is out now on Sargent House, they manage to do that, by mixing sunny pop music with noisy metallic hardcore to create a mutant sound unlike anything likely to be heard this year.
It’s their way of challenging the status quo in loud rock.
“What is supposed to be a subversive genre—aggressive, hardcore, extreme music—has turned into a complete caricature of itself,” vocalist and lyricist Cara Drolshagen says. “We wanted to confront that.”
In fact, they started down this road with their previous album, 2018’s critically acclaimed release, Only Love. ULTRAPOP sees the band taking themes explored on that previous album and pushing them to the forefront, creating another unique listening experience.
“It’s an exploration of a different pattern, and the intent of breaking it,” Drolshagen says.
ULTRAPOP is an album that will equally surprise and delight, as well as confuse many listeners. Its mixture of pop music with extreme music makes it one of the most unique sounding records released this year. It will definitely ruffle a few feathers.
But that’s the point.
“We’re trying to rid the playing field of expectations,” Drolshagen says. “As far as an artform is considered, music in particular is filled with predictability. Standards to be followed. We wanna keep people on their feet. When you become aware of the patterns, you can break them. That’s what we set out to do.”
To that effect, the band enlisted noted producer Ben Chisholm (Chelsea Wolfe) for this album. For past releases, Kurt Ballou was the main producer. This time, the band decided to change it up a little bit, though Ballou still had a part in the album’s creation.
“Kurt is still very much the executive producer of this album,” Drolshagen says. “So, that hasn’t changed. As for Ben, he’s a genius who understands the math behind the music, and the opportunity to reconfigure its numbers in new ways, to find different solutions.”
Drolshagen contributed to the new album in a variety of ways. In fact, her fingerprints, or shall we say voice prints, are on almost every song.
“I wrote lyrics and sang in some capacity on every song,” she says.
In addition, ULTRAPOP was created and produced in a variety of locations, which just fits the unique approach The Armed take towards creating music.
“[It was recorded] pre-pandemic,” Drolshagen says. “All over the globe. I was living in NYC at the time, and when I couldn’t make it to Detroit, I would go to Rivington Music in the East Village, scream in the basement, and send tracks to the guys in Detroit. The first sessions were recorded at Electrical Audio in Chicago. Some of it was recorded in a variety of hotels and places we stayed on our last European festival tour, which had a giant week-long gap between shows. And then some of it was recorded at God City as well.”
The album also contains a variety of guest performers, including Mark Lanegan, and Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist and multi-intstrumentalist Troy Van Leeuwen, among others. Though, given the fluid nature of membership in the band, Drolshagen doesn’t necessarily look at these performers as “guests.” They’re part of the collective now.
“We are all The Armed ⋈,” Drolshagen says.
It’s interesting to note Drolshagen’s answer, because, since their inception, the band has operated under a shadow of mystery. People didn’t know who was really in the band and who wasn’t, which led to a lot of speculation and theories online. Judging by the above answer, anybody who performs with the band is now part of the band. The Armed are many different people—though Drolshagen has a more down to earth explanation for all these questions and crazy theories.
“It’s weird, the more direct we are about who’s in the band, the more people think we are lying,” she says. “I remember when I joined, everyone kind of laughed and thought it was a joke, but I’m actually very much who I ‘claim’ to be.”
Images courtesy of The Armed. Featured image credit: Aaron Jones.