Last week, we co-released Automata, new EP by Arms That Work. A fun, heady experience, Automata is the perfect introduction to the modern math rock genre. While ATW have been kicking around LA for a few years, they've remained underground, due to their sporadic release schedule and the nature of the genre itself; which is a shame, because ATW is a band all music fans in LA should know. I'd like to argue that in our current media climate, bands who are producing fascinatingly different sounds than the mainstream are what we should be paying attention to. Heather and I are big fans of ATW, so here's a brief interview I did with guitarist Tyler Rogers to give you all a proper introduction. Automata is available now everywhere you get your digital music.
For those who may not be hip to Arms That Work, give us a brief history.
We met through our previous band, which eventually split up, as bands do.. The night that band broke up, the two of us decided to get tacos as a palette cleanser and we discussed starting a project that would be a less serious version (of our previous band). No rules, just bringing all of our influences together into one thing that we could enjoy and challenge each other with. The very first thing we produced was a cover of that Mariah Carey Christmas song, which was a good base point for shaping our sound.
We had a couple years of playing with Wes O'Lee, singer of the now defunct Sunset Drifters, but it seemed to be a constant battle regarding the level of "pop" that would end up in each song. Becoming strictly instrumental gave us a different kind of freedom with our songwriting, some times too much freedom.
Technology seems to be an influence, both in your sound and in the metaphysics of ATW. Where does this stem from?
Justin is the mastermind behind anything involving a computer. When we were first starting out, we knew we wanted to have the ability to trigger samples and have very little limitations sonically. It ended up becoming our third member however, after struggling to find an actual human to fill the low end void of a guitar/drum band. It's a double edged sword really. Having the ability to trigger any sound at any point in a song makes for a very long writing process and lots of hours spent tweaking small details. Very rewarding when everything is in place though.
I know you've worked on and off for Wren & Cuff Pedals. How has being so close to the guts of pedals influenced how you look at playing the guitar?
My knowledge of circuitry is still pretty limited compared to most pedal builders out there, but I do know that I'm capable of obtaining almost any sound I could possible imagine with a couple tweaks to the gear that I already own. Nearly everything is modifiable so if there's a sound I'm not happy with, there are plenty of options before just getting rid of the thing and buying another $200 hunk of metal. I used to have this giant arsenal of pedals that I would swap in and out of rotation, but thankfully for my wallet, I'm in a 'less is more' mindset. I'm purposely limiting my options to get more out of the way I play rather than relying mainly on the effect itself.
What pedal are you currently obsessed with?
A few years ago I got caught up in the 'buzz word' movement of pedals and decided that I needed an analog delay. I chose one based solely on what I could afford at the time and went with an Electro Harmonix Memory Boy. It's a no frills delay sound with all the distressed decay and self oscillation that one could expect but it gives the option of adding chorus to your trails, making everything you play eerie and odd sounding. We used it quite a bit on the EP for all the spacey guitar and noise overdubs. Also tried it on bass for a small section of 'Burgundy Moon Saloon.' Best 90 bucks I've spent in a long time.
I have to be honest, I am mystified how you guys go about your art. Can you take us through the process of making a song? That Scam (my fav) for example...
This one was a little experiment which ended up being a damn good way to write an instrumental song. I had just finished a science fiction book called Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. It had such an effect on me that I wanted turn it into a song somehow. We ended up breaking the story into sections and deciding what each of those sections would sound like musically and just kind of jammed on each idea until we covered our little storyboard. I like to think we did it justice.
I don't know you to be overtly political by nature, but since this blog often talks about social and political issues, is there anything you wanna weigh in on? An issue close to your heart perhaps?
Something that has been pestering me lately is people's liberal use of memes to spread news, while not understanding the agenda behind its creation. I know a lot of people who consider this a reputable source for obtaining facts and might once in a while throw it into discussions (arguments). To me there is fact and there is bullshit. I think people need to put a bit more critical thinking into what they are accepting as 'fact' before basing an entire political argument on something they "saw on Facebook."
What can we expect in the future from ATW?
We starting writing some new material that will be in a slightly different direction. There will hopefully be some stuff we can play without a backing track, as a true two-piece. Lots of dirt and sub-octave. We've got probably hundreds of hours of old jams to go through. The next batch of songs will most likely be lots of riffs from years ago that have been neatly stitched together. I'm also a huge vinyl collector so I'm slightly obsessed with the idea of pressing something onto a nice splattery color.
Tell us about the last thing that inspired you. It can be anything.
I recently went and saw The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with a live, improvised score by Dave Harrington of Darkside. It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. I watch a lot of horror movies and I constantly think it would be fun to reintroduce people to some lost gem with a new spin on it. It's a question of actually putting the effort forth and making it happen though. Harrington did it perfectly that night.