While multi-instrumentalist/singer Ryan Allen has been mind-bendingly prolific over the past few years, his latest 10-song LP will mark the first full-band Extra Arms outing since 2019's Up From Here. It should be no surprise, then, that I'm pleased to report that the result, What is Even Happening Right Now?—out June 3 through Forge Again Records (limited to 300 copies on white vinyl, so pre-order now)—just might be the group's finest to date, taking their brand of hook-centric, alternatively rockin' power pop into even more dynamic pathways. While flirting with wider-spanning influences to keep listeners on their toes, driving guitars and catchy choruses are always sure to win you over in the end.
Stream "Big Dogs"—which only scratches the surface of the album's earworm gems—below, followed by a catch-up chat with Ryan as to how the new material fell into place:
You've personally been insanely productive with assorted solo releases over the past few years, so what made now the right time for another full-band Extra Arms release?
This record has honestly been in the works for quite a while. We started working on it in October of 2020 in a modified, socially distant fashion—essentially sharing files back and forth and working in small pods to learn the songs and get it tracked. It took us until May of 2021 to get it all tracked, mixed, and mastered—mostly because of the unconventional (for us) way we wrote and recorded it, plus other life responsibilities that needed tending to. Then you add the fact that vinyl manufacturing has been pretty backed up for the last two-and-a-half years, and, well, you have a record that was started in 2020 and not released until midway through 2022. In the interim, more songs, projects, and ideas have cropped up, and since I'm the type that just likes to keep working and grinding away, there's been a slew of other solo-type releases that have seen the light thanks to how easy it is to get stuff out there digitally. But we've been focused on this record the whole time, despite how long it's taken, and are super excited to finally get it out there and into people's ear holes.
Without deviating from the core Extra Arms sound, What is Even Happening Right Now? as a whole feels a little more direct and immediate—and perhaps even hard-hitting—than past efforts, which is saying something considering that every Extra Arms release is generally loaded with memorable hooks. There are scattered bits of wider influences creeping in, though—the keys in "Click Wars," horns in "Denial," etc. Talk about where everyone's heads were at in terms of the energy and tactful experimentation of the new material.
Well, it was pretty weird for such a live, energetic rock band to make something where we almost never were in the same room at the same time. That said, I think we did a really good job of bringing our signature energy and enthusiasm to the project. It sounds like a band playing in a room, and that's exactly what we wanted. At the same time, given that we made the record in fits and spurts, it afforded us the opportunity to add some embellishments that we may not have if we just had four or five days to track the record. Lots of the bells and whistles were recorded at home—including most of the keys, the harmonies, and other earworm types of sound effects. The pandemic also afforded us this notion of time, which—if you've ever made a record in a studio—you sometimes don't have if you are on a budget. It also encouraged us to reach out to friends and musical heroes to ask them to contribute to some of the songs, since most people were stuck at home during the time of the recording. So, we were lucky to get Matthew [Caws] from Nada Surf and Bob [Nanna] from Braid to sing on a tune, Greg [Macdonald] from Sloan to add some very Elvis Costello & The Attractions-style keys to a song, and our friend Matt Jones to rip some killer sax. We tried to find the silver lining in such a shitty time and make something that was unique and different for us.
The track we'll be premiering, "Big Dogs," is a pretty straight-ahead rocker with a driving pulse. Share a bit about this song in particular.
I've always had an interesting relationship with dogs. I didn't get a dog until I was about 12, and that dog was a total asshole. He bit me and a bunch of other people until we had to send him to the great beyond. I've been fortunate to have a few dogs afterward that were great buddies, but I've always had a bit of an apprehension toward them. I mean, at any point a dog can turn on you and just tear flesh from your bones, right? Anyway, when I started dating my partner, she came with a dog named Willie Nelson. He's a very vocal hound dog bursting with personality, and I have to admit, I fell in love with the big dummy pretty quickly. So, this is—on the surface, at least—my ode to finding my dog-soulmate in Mr. Willie Nelson. Dig a little deeper, and it's really about living entities making strong connections between one another. It can be human to dog/dog to dog/human to human... anything with a beating heart, really. "Big Dogs" attempts to encapsulate our need for that connection, and how we all maybe have a soulmate out there—whether it has four legs or two (or none).
I haven't seen many concrete details about the release yet, but how did you get hooked up with Forge Again Records, and what (if any) physical formats are planned for the album, etc.?
We've known Justin Wexler from Forge Again Records since we were teenagers, basically. He's put out some releases for other bands we have been in, friends' bands, bands we like, etc. It just felt like the right time to ask him if he wanted to do something with Extra Arms, and he graciously agreed. Justin is a huge music fan, and while I'm sure he wants to make all his money back, he's also just into the idea of putting out cool shit and amassing a catalog of diverse releases that are all over the "punk" spectrum. Justin and I also align when it comes to fuzzy, '90s-style power pop like Superdrag, That Dog, and Veruca Salt, so it seemed only natural for him to back an Extra Arms record. In short, he's the best. In terms of release details, it'll be out June 3 on vinyl and digital... possibly other formats after that, but that's the deal for now.
Extra Arms has probably been slightly more careful than most in terms of the pandemic, but you do have a couple of killer release shows booked for June. If all goes well, do you think you'll get out there a little more often, or are you just as likely to hole up a bit longer and put together another slew of solo works in the meantime?
The plan is to try and do weekend gigs throughout the summer and fall—hopefully we can stay healthy and things can get a little better/safer/etc. when it comes to being out in the world. We love to play and think we're a pretty damn good live band, so the plan is to bring the rock to the people as best we can.
Pre-order What is Even Happening Right Now? from Forge Again Records. Hear more from Extra Arms on Bandcamp, Spotify, etc. They're also on Facebook and Instagram. Forge Again also has quite a discography on Bandcamp and Spotify, and can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.