by Gemma Laurence
With their hushed vocals and understated sound, the Melbourne-based duo know exactly when to draw back and when to lean in – engaging their listeners with unexpected vacillations between open space and layered, heavy instrumentals, Trust is only the start of the Armlock journey
Fans of Alex G and Sufjan Stevens need not sleep on the new Australian band, Armlock. Their debut release, Trust, combines nuanced lyricism and tasteful production for a DSU-meets-Carrie & Lowell foray into the indie scene. And they have left quite the first impression.
Poignant and vulnerable, Trust is a record that explores trials felt in personal growth – from resentment, to submission, to complacency. The record, as a whole, has a somewhat restless feel to it: a lingering anxiety rattling deep within the beautifully crafted layers of vocals, acoustic guitars, and electronic soundbites. The songs delve into moments of insecurity and disillusionment, second-guessing and anxiety with an almost innate familiarity with the listener.
‘The process and inception of the record, and the project really, came from a desire to just write some straight up songs like we did when we first started making music,’ the duo of Simon Lam and Hamish Mitchell explain with a hint of nostalgia. ‘When you make music or art in the music industry as your “day job” as we do, over time, your practice has a tendency to become tedious, predictable or at the very least formulaic. I think we were both becoming victims of that. So we both stole our Mum’s nylon string guitars that hadn’t seen the light of day since their childhoods and we began just sending each other extremely rough voice memos. The creative process is essentially us making music on instruments that we can barely play, and that is not us being hyperbolic – we can’t even play in standard tuning. But this new process is fresh, without expectation and most importantly fun!! I believe that that combination of things is when we are at our best.’
Trust has a very unique sonic palette – tastefully stripped back, but holding space for all sorts of little earworms. Do they have any favourite sonic elements on the record?
‘The embellishments have always been our favourite part of making music,’ Armlock share, before adding that ‘often it feels like a race to put down the main guitar and vocals just so we can move on to the fun bits; ad libs, harmonies, a weird stretched glitchy sound. We love embracing the faults in equipment. Like there’s this sound on April that is a software plugin that is completely broken and freaking out; when it started doing that, we scrambled to record it before it fixed itself, and now it’s an integral part of the song.’
I couldn’t help but ask more about their production process, and how they captured that unique grainy sound. The answer? They didn’t use much equipment! Recording pretty much everything on a cheap SM57 mic, Trust became a project that revelled in its simplicity.
‘When you return to the bare essentials, the quality of sound you can achieve is capped,’ they share. ‘This in turn completely removes the trap of getting completely obsessed over the recording process and we can just focus on the song. At least initially. Once the bare bones are in there, we can do whatever we want. Process it, reharmonise it, deconstruct it and completely rebuild it if the song warrants or will allow for it. Coming from an electronic background and just because of who we are, using the computer as an instrument, arrangement tool and a signal processor is a huge part of the process.’
Above all, what sets Armlock apart is their exceptional songcraft. So let’s talk about songwriting influences.
‘The songwriters that initially sparked this project were DIY artists like Alex G and Grouper. Alex G’s album, DSU, was definitely something that inspired us to pick up the guitar and try and write with it. Whilst Grouper’s stripped back droney harmony with really fidelity conscious records laid a formative backdrop to us working out what we wanted to do. Then if you slightly zoom out from there, we are both pretty big Yung Lean fans. There is definitely a broad conceptuality and intentionality which his projects embrace that we definitely find inspiration and influence in. Even if the direct pararall isn’t immediately identifiable to the listener.’
And the classic question… if they could only spin one record for the rest of their lives, what would it be and why?
Hamish shares sheepishly, ‘Unfortunately, my choice makes me come off as both totally basic and pretentious.’ (Note to the reader: Hamish is anything but! And Music Has The Right to Children by Boards of Canada is a tad niche, but I wouldn’t call it overly pretentious). ‘As a 16 year old who had really immersed himself in jazz, I thought of electronic music as “cold, unintelligent, garbage”. That record completely changed my frame of reference with music. It introduced the notion of things I hadn’t even considered as a part of making music namely production, fidelity and even using a computer as an instrument. However, the pivotal thing that record did was completely reform my harmonic choices and changed the way I played piano. It developed my ear and taste in a way that wouldn’t have otherwise. It also opened a Pandora’s box for me – discovering a ton of great electronic music, krautrock, a bunch of outsider artists etc etc. I find the album to be always thought provoking, inspiring and affirming. In short I just never get sick of it.’
Simon adds, ‘I’d imagine you’d get pretty sick of that record if it was the only one you could spin, so for that reason it would have to be Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell.‘ (Excellent call, Simon!) ‘It’s not my favourite record of all time,’ he adds, ‘but it is beautifully simplistic and prime for repeat listening. He really was on a roll with this record – every song is masterfully written. Sufjan has been a long music love of mine, and, for me, this is him at his best. Hopefully we can make something on this level one day.’
So, with the world slowly ebbing back into some kind of normality…what does the future hold for all things Armlock?
‘Gigs! More music! More videos!’ Simon exclaims eagerly. ‘We are very much seeing this record as the first step in the project – we’re really itching to get into phase two. We’re reading about angels, Hamish just bought a new guitar, our friends Georgia and Jim are playing with us live .It’s all coming together.’
Trust is out now on Solitaire Records / Spunk Records.
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