Q&A with Armed In Advance frontman
Auckland rockers Armed In Advance have just dropped their debut CHANGE-EVOLVE. Frontman JP Carroll talks through the band’s journey of change and evolution, which has taken them from their top 20 rock hit Stay to their first full-length album.
You were known as Stitches, why did you change your name to Armed In Advance?
Stitches was a band but it actually just started out as me writing songs and the band grew around that. The name change was prompted by the simple fact that our writing process had changed - everyone was getting involved. Also, there was a rapper in the US called Stitches and one day our Spotify account ended up under his name because of a coding issue. We wanted to distance ourselves from that a bit.
At what point did you start working on the CHANGE-EVOLVE album?
The project began in earnest when we changed our name. We had already written an album’s worth of material under Stitches but we weren’t in love with the material, so we scrapped it. We thought we could do better, so we knuckled down and wrote another 20 or 30 songs.
From there we recorded a single or two, including Stay, which made it on to radio. On the back of that song, we thought, ‘We’ve got the material, we’ve found a great producer that we work well with, let’s make an album’.
Was it all smooth sailing?
Half way through the planning, recording and the pre-production, the studio we were working in closed down. From there it became a bit more of a clandestine operation of recording guitar parts in the producer’s bedroom. But we were up for anything. So long as it ended up sounding good, we were happy. We tracked the guitars and then we re-amped them through a proper guitar amp in the studio. From there we waited on mixes and masters for a few months. And that was that. That’s kind of where the album name CHANGE-EVOLVE came from – throughout the process we changed the name, then there was the studio change and then after our producer finished mixing the album, he moved to Dunedin!
There were loads of sleepless nights, then?
It was an evolution but the thing is, it was never really stressful. We were never really panicking about it. Even as plans changed, things just ticked along and we ended up with an album we are happy with.
In the process of this evolution, how has the band’s sound changed?
There hasn’t been a sound change as such. We’ve just gotten closer to finding our sound through the process. But there has been a change in dynamic – the phrase I’ve been throwing around is the ‘democratic process’. So rather than it being ‘my’ vision, it became ‘our’ vision. It was like, if we’re going to make something we’re all happy with, then everyone has to get something out of it.
So how would you describe the Armed In Advance sound?
In layman’s terms it’s heavy rock. But I think it’s an interesting mix of big guitars, big drums and ambitious vocal lines but it’s also quite direct in a sense that we try and work one good idea and make it really clear. It’s vast but at the same time it’s very direct.
You mentioned the ‘democratic process’ - how does that work when it comes to writing?
We are definitely all involved in the writing. I bring the majority of the ideas to the table, but they only exist as an idea until we thrash them out. For instance, a song like Change-Evolve, I probably brought the majority of that song to the table. But it had two or three extra parts that we cut out and streamlined. The guys would say, ‘I like this part and not that part’. Then there are songs like Mistakes and Memories, which started out as Hugh playing the bass riff and then us working together to mould a song out of it. We don’t have one writing process anymore.
What was it like working with your producer, James Alexander Boyd?
We describe it as a co-production, because we went through so much structural refinement with the songs before we brought them to him. It was kind of like we all produced it. But he certainly had a lot to do with helping with the tone and the sound of the album, particularly regarding guitar sounds. He’s got an astute ear and attention to detail.
Basically he really just crafted them into shape once we got tracks down and it was a really smooth process, we never really butted heads on anything. I think he kind of understood what we were trying to do and he executed that. He’s an amazing guitarist. I learnt a lot about guitar teching and tracking and things like that. I’m definitely a better a guitar player now.
A debut album makes a big statement about a band, what does CHANGE-EVOLVE say about Armed In Advance?
We have worked really hard on song crafting and making 10 really good songs. There’s no preconception to it, we just wanted to make the very best record we could and the way we approached that most vehemently was how we approached the songwriting. We were very critical of ourselves through that process.
Did you set out to make an album that could be listened in its entirety, from beginning to end or a bunch of singles?
We’d had singles out before we even talked about the album and because of that, we wanted to make sure the other songs were good. I don’t know if sounds like an album or if it sounds like 10 songs.
The album kicks off with a banging tune, Running You Down. Talk us through the tracklisting:
That’s probably one of the reasons why we chose Running You Down because it was kind of like we wanted to just get down to business. With the listing we wanted to put a couple of our best songs after that and then with Mistakes and Memories, it’s a short and sweet number, which we thought would fit there. Number five seemed like a good place for a title track and then we placed songs where they fit best.
When you’re in the studio, are you thinking about how the songs will work live?
It’s probably always in the back of your mind. But personally I tried not to discuss it at all. Our producer was probably trying to talk more about it than we were. We just wanted to make the best songs we could. But the live show is something we take really seriously and we work really hard to make sure it’s a great live show.
Also, the majority of the songs we were working on were already in the live set, so we were working backwards in that regard. You get a real feel for songs and you know if they’re connecting with the audience. If people are stoked on it, you know it’s going to go alright.
Have you achieved what you set out to do with CHANGE-EVOLVE?
Yes I think we did. We had pretty simple plans for it. We never had any pre-conceptions of where it would go and what it would sound like. I just wanted it to be exciting, I wanted the songs to sound really great and I think we achieved that.