Mystique tends to encircle the Detroit hardcore collective known as The Armed, but that’s not the only draw.
The group’s music—including their latest full-length album, ULTRAPOP, an April release from Sargent House—lands like little else. The Armed mash galloping hardcore together with disorienting blasts of pop, crafting a sound that feels like a blissfully delirium-inducing carnival ride that just doesn’t stop.
With their relentlessly unpredictable music, The Armed sound like a frenzied embrace of being alive. Their creations rattle on par with a neon-colored firestorm, with songs that are so thickly interwoven that they seem like two—and maybe even three! –bands playing at once. None of the elements of the ULTRAPOP sound feel tempered down.
Within the electrifying instrumentals, there’s a crystal-clear forward-moving rush, but the songs still come across as a dizzyingly intricate musical tapestry. Ultimately, The Armed feel pummeling—but diving into ULTRAPOP also feels like entering a sweat-soaked dance party.
The Armed began amplifying the poppy element of their sound on 2018’s Only Love. That album kicks off with the absolutely scorching single “Witness,” interweaving meteoric riffing with a tidal wave of poppy noise, and those vibes extend across ULTRAPOP.
Below, check out what vocalist and bassist Jonni Randall has to say about the creation of ULTRAPOP, ranging from the artistic influence of “guilty pleasure” music to the eternally guiding light of Dan Greene.
Thank you for your time! ULTRAPOP rules. How would you describe any sort of central thread of the songs? What are any sort of guiding artistic principles that come to mind?
Thanks for taking the time to interview us!
I think a lot of the concept behind ULTRAPOP confronts the ways people have to justify their appreciation of certain media. People have to say something they really love is a “guilty pleasure,” because certain things are corny or are perceived as less “authentic” in some capacity than something else. Amongst other things, at its core, ULTRAPOP is sort of a reaction to this.
In terms of a guiding artistic principle, it sounds fucked up to say now, but we really wanted simplicity to be at the foundation of the aesthetic form of ULTRAPOP. The idea that everything needed to be distilled down to its most potent form was really important to us. In the past working a song out with the entire arrangement in mind has worked well for us. But starting with Only Love, and now to a greater extent ULTRAPOP, we really forced ourselves to break songs down to their most basic levels before even considering a larger arrangement. Keeping things simple paired with an unwillingness to move forward with something until it was exactly what we wanted kind of became the ULTRAPOP mindset.
In the past, The Armed have shared their attachment to pop music on social media, and a crossover, genre-obliterating vibe definitely appears on ULTRAPOP. Is there some particular core of pop that you really wanted to carry over on this record? What tended to guide the development of the synthy side of things?
To be honest the thing I like best about pop music is how truly broad its definition is. Pop music, especially today, allows artists to explore a larger range of sounds, styles, and attitudes, and I find that really attractive.
People seem to think that we are dead set on obliterating our genre. I think I can speak for everyone and say that we love heavy, aggressive music. It’s what brought us all together in the first place, and I think our records, ULTRAPOP included, still convey that love. Pop music just seems to come with less preconceptions of what’s acceptable to the greater audience. So, with ULTRAPOP we are more set on creating new spaces within or outside our genre that are heavily influenced by a pop sensibility.
There are, quite simply, some sick grooves on ULTRAPOP. How did you, personally and as a group, tend to approach the process of interweaving those elements with the rest? Is there some element or aspect that you really wanted to emphasize in the songwriting and mix?
From a songwriting aspect, it’s kind of tough to answer this. We’ve been writing together for so long that it all seems to happen pretty naturally. There’s really not one approach that we take.
I will say that we all work with the understanding that nothing is sacred, and anything can be sacrificed for the greater good of a song. We just move forward with the understanding that 12 songs out of 200 are gonna make the record, and we won’t stop until we get exactly what we want. It’s a ton of work and it takes forever, but it makes us all happy and that’s the only thing we give a shit about.
In terms of the mix, for ULTRAPOP we really wanted to take the maximalism we found in the mix for Only Love and refine it through a broader, more separated mix. We wanted the bombast of hardcore mixed like a pop record—while still retaining that harsh undercurrent. I think it’s allowed this record to sound really tough while leaving the necessary bandwidth for the more unbridled beautiful sections.
ULTRAPOP is ferocious. In addition to the other elements, did you work to write things that really hit hard, in a sense, and would translate well live?
We are always conscious of how a song will translate live, but for ULTRAPOP we were more interested in servicing the songs first.
We wanted to make a record that felt like it was not at war with itself or with anyone’s expectations. We are super grateful for our past, but we didn’t want to be beholden to it. We wanted to make shit ferocious only if it needed to be. I think overall that makes the aggressive parts in ULTRAPOP really fucking aggressive because they’re earned in a unique way.
The visuals for The Armed have always been great. Are there any sort of artistic guiding lights from outside of music specifically that factored into the creation of ULTRAPOP?
Dan Greene is our only source of artistic light. Refract.
So, notwithstanding any possible remaining bits of subterfuge out on the Wild West of the internet, the video for “All Futures” provided a particularly clear image of the group. What sort of underpinned the thinking around putting faces to the music, so to speak? Is there something that comes to mind?
I think there was a definite underpinning that was behind the overall concept to put faces to the music, so to speak. What comes to mind is how the faces that are put to the music really underpin that thinking.
So, a lighter question—and, considering the cross-pollination of the sound of The Armed, it seems particularly relevant here—what music, of any sort, have you really been connecting with lately? What’s been on your heavy rotation?
AM talk radio and Arca.
Listen to ULTRAPOP below, and pick up a copy/add it to your favorite streaming service here.
Grab a copy of New Noise Magazine #57 featuring The Armed here.
Images courtesy of The Armed