Thursday, May 5, 2022

Extra Arms Ponders "What Is Even Happening Right Now"

Photo by Tim Meeks

We have always been impressed by Ryan Allen's drive and ability to keep creating. He has been in countless great bands, put out some amazing solo stuff, and played in some of your favorite cover bands (obviously I'm talking about the time we were in that Hole band together, but there are many more). He also runs marathons, is a great dad, and is always tableside supporting one of our favorite local crafters, Jodi Lynn Doodles. He is also a musician's musician. He cares about the craft and all the steps and pieces that need to come together to make something great. We've often thought about Ryan and people like him throughout the pandemic. How are they handling this, are they creating or completely drained right now? Turns out, we all handled it differently, but I'm not surprised that Ryan and his Extra Arms found a way to create, produce, and prepare to release a complete album as soon as the tides turned. On top of all that, it's a great album, just like many of the other things Ryan Allen and His Extra Arms have done over the years. We asked him a few questions about how this album came together, how his son was involved, and how he got such great guests on this album. Check out his always entertaining answers and get all the deets about the album release party at the end of the interview!

Album artwork by Ryan Cady

Hip - Where did you record your latest album? Can you tell us a little bit about the process?

Ryan Allen - Long version: The album was recorded kind of all over the place, which was sort of a new process for us, I guess. Because of COVID, lockdowns, etc. we weren't really able to get in the same room with one another until well over a year after plans were hatched to even make a new record in the first place. But once we figured out how we were going to go about putting this thing together in a socially distant manner, it slowly started to congeal into a record. In October 2020 I went over to our friend Chuck Huber's home studio (Drifting Sun Sound in Ferndale) and laid down all the songs just playing guitar and singing to a click track. No amps or anything were used - we just went straight into Pro Tools and laid things down. Very unsexy but necessary. So it was Chuck and I in a tiny room wearing masks hoping we didn't get/give COVID to one another while trying to do something creative (which I think we were both kind of starved for at that point in the pandemic). Once that was done I sent the scratch tracks, along with more fleshed out demos I made at home, to the rest of the band. At that point our drummer Dan got to work writing his parts to the songs, and would periodically send me videos of himself playing along to the tunes (since he didn't have a home recording set up at the time). I would then strip the audio from the video, lay it on top of the scratch tracks I did at Chuck's, and then we would have some semblance of how the songs were shaping up. I should add that it all sounded like absolute shit, but we were working with what we had. Once Dan and I felt like we shared notes with one another and had the songs mostly figured out, we planned for one day of in-person, masked tracking at Chuck's studio. This commenced in February of 2021. It was pretty weird to do it this way, mostly because A) I hadn't seen Dan in person since March of 2020 and B) We hadn't played the songs together yet. That said, he was super prepared and we were able to get all the drums and rhythm guitar tracked in one day. I should add that this all happened in a living room using couches as sound absorption, with some cats creeping around, fueling ourselves with soda water and trail mix. Once that was done, I started going to Chuck's every few weeks to add more guitars, percussion, and eventually vocals. I also took advantage of the little home studio I had built up during the pandemic to do a bunch of odds and ends at my house. So I was in the basement basically fumbling my way through writing and recording keyboard parts - running things through software but then re-amping everything and pumping shit through guitar effects pedals to make it sound weird. I also recorded a bit of acoustic guitar at my dad's home studio, which was great because he has some really nice acoustics that I'm too poor to own. That whole process was incredibly fun, mostly cos I was just dicking around trying to come up with cool little earworms that we may not have had time for if we were recording in a traditional studio over a short period of time. I was ALSO reaching out to musicians - both friends and ones we just admired - to try and convince them to contribute to the album (more on that below). In the midst of all that, our guitarist Michael and bassist Ryan were working on their own parts in their respective homes. We were working from demos but also coming up with stuff that weren't on said demos. At certain points Michael and I would get together, masked up, to write guitar parts. Around March/April of 2021, we were able to record all of his stuff at Chuck's studio. At the same time, Ryan was recording his stuff at home in his sweatpants. It's funny because I never actually saw Ryan once during the recording process. I think he preferred it this way (haha). We wrapped up this whole process around May of 2021, which coincidentally coincided with all of us getting vaccinated and feeling a little bit better about getting out into the world. So with that in mind, we booked time to go out to Paul Miner's studio in Orange, CA to mix and master the record. This was the first time I had traveled out of state or gotten on a plane in well over a year, so it felt like a really fun adventure while also offering a bit of a slice of normalcy that we were all craving. Michael joined me on the trip, and we had a lot of fun hanging out in the studio shaping the record, going on runs, enjoying the California weather, and even ate BBQ with the drummer of My Chemical Romance one day. Paul took everything we had assembled in our shambolic way and made it all sound fucking killer, as he always does. 

Short version: We recorded it at Drifting Sun Sound in Ferndale, as well as a little bit at home, and then mixed and mastered it at Buzzbomb Studios in Orange, California. Lots of time passed between when we started it and finished it, then more time passed from finishing it to releasing it, and we all got older in the process. The end. :)

Hip - How if at all has COVID/Lockdown/ the weird world we live in influenced your writing, your music, your attitude towards music?

Ryan Allen -Well if you just read everything above, you can certainly see that COVID had a HUGE impact in how this record came together. Some of the songs were actually written in a small window of time between our last album coming out in November of 2019 and the whole world shutting down in March of 2020. I had actually been writing a lot around then, and when COVID happened, it only influenced me to keep writing more and more. I wrote more songs for what ended up on our new one, but also wrote multiple solo records and EPs that have come out, have done some fun little side projects, and just kept myself busy in general. It's probably way too much music for any single person to care about or keep track of but it kept me sane and motivated through a truly insane and anti-motivational time in pretty much everybody's lives. So in that sense, COVID made me fall even more in love with music that I already am/was. Not only did it influence me to write more and gave me new things to write about, but it pushed me to try new things, to learn how to make better-sounding home recordings, and to feel that freedom of just releasing something whenever the fuck I felt like it. I certainly missed playing live and having band practice, but ultimately I tried to channel that restlessness into creativity rather than just check out completely. 

Hip - What did you miss most about playing live/seeing live music?

Ryan Allen - I think more than anything I missed the release you get from playing and singing your heart out for 40 minutes in front of living, breathing human people. I mean, let's face it, the older you get the more of a drag it is to play live music. The loading in and out of equipment can be aggravating, the waiting around can be mind-numbing, and the anxiety that I get over worrying if people are going to show up can kind of kill the fun sometimes. But nothing compares to finally being able to get up on stage, plugin, and just rip through a set with your volume and energy maxed out. That's an adrenaline rush like no other, in my opinion.

Hip - Your album bio says some of the artwork was done by your son Emitt, can you tell us a little about that? Does he have a favorite track? What is it like sharing music with the next generation?

Ryan Allen - Haha, yes it does. He got into photography a little bit during the early days of the pandemic. We bought him a camera and would go out and take photos at Cranbrook or wherever we were hiking or walking around that day. I wouldn't say he's stuck to it, but we did have him help us out a little bit when we took some photos for the artwork. I'm not sure which ones he took that were used, but he helped with the set up and just having him around making us laugh was enough to merit giving him some credit on the album. For what it's worth, I think Extra Arms and Nirvana are the only rock bands he likes. He's more into, like, Juiceworld and Ski Mask the Slump God, or whatever the fuck. But that's cool by me - he is 100% his own person and I would rather he be into his own shit than having me force-feed him, like, the new Spoon album or something. Maybe he'll get into that stuff in time, but aren't you supposed to hate what your parents like? I remember HATING Paul Simon's "Graceland" until one day it all just clicked and I fell in love with it. But even then I wouldn't admit that to my parents. I had to wait till many years later to come clean about loving "The Boy in the Bubble" and "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes". But yeah, I always play him my new songs and he loves them because he's a good boy that loves his dad, even though he probably wishes I could rap instead of play guitar. I CAN rap pretty good, though, for what it's worth.

Hip - You have a few guest appearances on this album. Can you tell us about them and how they came to fruition? 

Ryan Allen - We do! I basically spent weeks reaching out to anybody who I could think of and asking them to play/sing on some of the songs. We got some rejections, some non-responses, and some things fell through, but we ultimately amassed a great cast of cameos that adds a special extra element to the record. We are super grateful we were able to get some more known folks like Matthew Caws from Nada Surf, Bob Nanna from Braid, and Gregory Macdonald from Sloan to do a little something on the album. But we're also really stoked that our friends like Scott Allen, Chris Hatfield, Matt Jones, and Lily Paul were able to contribute as well. It makes the album feel almost like a bit of a party. Honestly, it gets boring hearing the same 4 people do the same stuff on an album. With female vocals or wacky synth stuff we can't play, or even adding a saxophone, we were able to add elements to spice things up and keep it feeling fresh for both us as a band and the listener as well.

Hip - Is there anything else you want our readers to know?

Ryan Allen -We'll be having a release show on June 10th at UFO Factory in Detroit, joined by the Casket Lottery, Kind Beast, and 84 Tigers - all amazing bands. Then we'll be up in Flint the next day at Flint City Hard Cider joined by Singing Lungs and Sleepology - also great bands. We hope to play here and there throughout 2022 to promote the record, so hopefully, the world stays somewhat stable and we can play these new tunes in front of people without too much stress or anxiety. So yeah, we're looking forward to hopping back into the saddle and rocking for the people soon!

The new album is called "What Is Even Happening Right Now?" It will be released on Forge Again Records on June 3rd, 2022. It will be celebrated with a release party at UFO Factory on Friday, June 10thThe Casket LotteryKind Beast, and 84 Tigers will also be performing. Tickets are $10 in advance and they can be purchased here.


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