Sometimes I'm an idiot. I quickly skimmed through two songs from Ferndale, MI's Extra Arms one night last week and was on the fence for some reason. Fine enough, but they didn't quite click. Thankfully, I'd heard enough of "something" to revisit the tunes the following afternoon, at which point I almost immediately questioned my own stupidity, because both songs are pretty fuckin' great.
As it turns out, there's not a bum track (far from it) on the entire 11-song, 36-minute album: Headacher, due out October 12 through Get Party! Records. Limited to just 300 LPs (pre-order now via the band or the label), Headacher is the fourth Extra Arms full-length overall, but its first as a true band (having formerly operated as more of a solo effort under the banner of Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms). Dare I say, this is another possible year-end favorite for me, damnit. It's just that good.
Despite my penchant for infectiously catchy jams, I'm not terribly well-versed on certain precursory staples of this niche, and very much lack the confidence to accurately peg where acts of this nature are coming from, so… Extra Arms bills itself as a "loud pop band… known for writing crunchy rock songs in the vein of Superchunk, Sugar, and Teenage Fanclub." I'll take it.
Even though it's the fourth Extra Arms album, Headacher has been my first exposure to any of your musical efforts. As Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms, your prior work with this project had more or less been "solo," so this is actually the first album that's been a full-band collaborative effort. Talk a little about how that came to be, as well as how it affected the process and the outcome…
I've always enjoyed being in bands, mainly because I feel like it gives you the opportunity to take the nugget of an idea in numerous different directions. That said, I'm also kind of a control freak, and I just kind of know what I want to do. So, initially doing solo records where I wrote everything, played everything, and made every decision was a fun experiment. But, I also don't like to repeat myself, even if it's a slight change… it makes things feel fresh and exciting again. When I released my last album, Basement Punk, a lot of the songs really lended themselves to the loud rock band format, so I rounded up the guys in the band—Michael Gallacher on guitar, Ryan Marshall on bass, and Sean Sommer on drums—to bring the songs to life. We were having fun and vibing off the songs, but eventually it starts to feel like you're a cover band of your own music. All the guys in the band are really creative and have great ideas, so it only felt natural after a while to bring new songs to them to see what we could do with them. After a few songs started to come together, we realized we were on to something, and kept cranking away over the last year. On my own, I worked up somewhere between 20 – 25 songs, all with the idea that the guys in the band would sort of guide the ship to determine what songs we would end up working on and eventually recording. That method worked out great, as everybody was able to pick the songs—almost like a mix tape—and curate the end result into something we were all into. I wasn't really keen on pushing a specific agenda; we just let it sort of happen organically, and I feel like the end result is a really cohesive collection of tunes that showcases everybody's abilities in the best possible way. We are all super proud of the record.
I always like to get some information about the specific track being premiered—in this case "Under Surveillance." Musically, I'd say there are definitely some unique attributes to this one, so what can you share regarding the composition's place amidst the surrounding album, lyrical direction, etc.?
"Under Surveillance" is basically a song about feeling vulnerable while you try and navigate social situations without the aid of alcohol. I quit drinking about a year-and-a-half ago, and for me, drinking was always about loosening up in social situations. I wouldn't call myself overly socially awkward, but there are times when the fear of having to interact with people who might not "get" me would be dealt with by drinking—and oftentimes way too much. So, I decided to quit. The early days of sobriety were spent having to do things for the first time without drinking—go to a wedding, have a BBQ in the backyard, go to a show, play a show, go to holiday events… the list goes on. So, the song is about trying to navigate through those situations—the song's first verse specifically references a party where I didn't know anybody and felt super out of place. I usually would just drink until I felt comfortable (inevitably drinking too much and often embarrassing myself), but now that I was committed to staying sober, my experiences in those types of situations were naturally going to be different. Ultimately the song is a message to myself to just let go of that fear and embrace the clarity that sobriety gives you, even if you feel super weird and awkward sometimes.
Musically, the song is our attempt to meld a sort of dreamy, shoegaze-y thing with something more crunchy and powerful. The verses are heavy-handed on the atmospheric guitar stuff Michael and I are doing, and Sean and Ryan kind of lay back a bit; then the chorus hits and the energy gets amped up. I love bands like Ride and My Bloody Valentine, so I always look to incorporate some of that sound on my records when I can. I think this one came together nicely with nods to that kind of sound—perhaps the best comparison I'd make to that song is that it's like a less-busy Swervedriver tune.
You self-released the last two Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms outings on CD, but Headacher will see a limited edition vinyl release through Get Party! Records out of Ontario, Canada. How did they get on board?
Eric from Get Party! reached out to me when Basement Punk came out. I think he just dug the record, and he asked me to do something for a Spotify mix tape thing he does called Bullying the Jukebox. He's a really nice guy (he's Canadian, after all!) and we have a lot of similar tastes in music. We kept in touch and kind of batted around the idea of maybe releasing the last record on tape or something, but it just never happened for whatever reason. When it came time to do this record, I started sending him demos and he was really into what we were working on. Once the record was close to being done, Eric and Dennis (who also heads up the label) were into the idea of releasing it, so that was pretty much that. We're excited to be working with such nice, supportive folks who seem to be connected to a really rad scene up in London, Ontario. Also, Eric's wife is from the town I grew up in, weirdly enough, so that's a nice little connection as well.
Extra Arms has a solid handful of shows lined up in parts of the midwest over the next few months alongside the likes of Cloud Nothings and a recent favorite of mine, The 1984 Draft. It's perhaps too soon to tell, but are you thinking much further out beyond the November dates?
We're still trying to figure out what that looks like, but I'm sure we will try and play some gigs around Detroit during the winter, which is not a great time to hit the road. We've thrown out the idea of maybe trying to go down to SXSW this year, so we'll start working on that soon. If anybody is reading this and digs the band and wants to put us on a party or showcase down in Austin, holler at us!
As is often the case, many of the acts that Extra Arms has been compared to or cited as influences—The Replacements, Superchunk, Teenage Fanclub—are bands that I've heard, but never really delved into for whatever reason. If you were going to school an old fool like me who listened to Headacher and was like, "Damn, this is pretty great," what are a handful of classic records (in your opinion) that I should make sure to investigate?
Man. So many. These are all great to start with:
- The Replacements, Let it Be
- Doughboys, Crush
- Superchunk, Here's Where the Strings Come In
- Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque
- Superdrag, In the Valley of Dying Stars
- Sugar, Copper Blue
- Buffalo Tom, Big Red Letter Day
- Lemonheads, It's Shame About Ray
- The Nils, The Nils
- Ride, Nowhere
- Sloan, Navy Blues
- Hüsker Dü, Candy Apple Grey
- Poster Children, Tool of the Man
- Swervedriver, Mezcal Head
- The dB's, Stands for Decibels
- Tommy Keene, Strange Alliance
- Guided by Voices, Isolation Drills