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EARLY WORD: Brothers In Arms


BY ZIVIT SHLANK Sometimes you listen to music and can immediately identify what you’re hearing. Other times, you’re better off trying to define it by what it’s not. For the guys of Many Arms, it’s most definitely the latter. Formed in Philadelphia in 2007, this power trio’s natural bent is constantly evolving. Admittedly, they’re influenced by so much music and combined, have worked in a myriad of settings from jazz to prog rock to punk and so on. With each new tour and recording, the main objective has always been to progress and synthesize those musical experiences into one dynamic and raucously intense whole. What it’s not is straight ahead; it’s straight in your face. Their latest self-titled beast, thanks to support from John Zorn’s label Tzadik, is ready to rock out of its cage. With a committed spirit and (maybe) some earplugs, come celebrate their record release, along with Heavy Medical and Color is Luxury, tonight at Circle Of Hope in Fishtown. Phawker recently hung out with the band in Center City.

PHAWKER: What got you all on your respective paths to making music?

NICK: Actually it was when I saw Waynes World in 1992.

JOHNNY: “No Stairway? Denied.” (laughs)

NICK: (laughs)…that got me really stoked about guitar. I think I probably talked about it a lot, so my mom signed me up for guitar lessons. I was 8 years old. I was a music major for a hot minute in college, but I ended up studying history. I taught guitar while in school, but I didn’t really like that. After college, I got accepted to law school but I decided to defer that for a year and practice. I met Johnny and Ricardo when they were playing in a band that I really liked. I’d always ask the saxophonist if I could jam with them, but he would never have me. They broke up and so we started playing together and that’s how our band got going. I still had teaching obligations, but once we got to touring and I got this packet with the bill for law school, I decided I no longer had any interest! Going on tour was way more exciting than going to college. I wanted to be a rock and roll star (laughs)…but then I picked the wrong music to play (laughs).

RICARDO: In the 5th grade I decided to be in school band. I was between choosing the sax or the drums. I picked the drums because of Nirvana. On my 10th birthday, my brother bought me Nevermind and a Primus record. I saw the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” one morning when I was getting ready for school and that was it.

JOHNNY: That’s like a mirror image for me. I saw that video in 5th grade and said to myself “Oh! Rock and roll. This is it.” (laughs)

RICARDO: I started in the school band, and then in 8th grade I started my own band. We played original songs. In High School, I played in a Rush cover band. I think Johnny did, too (laughs)

JOHNNY: Yeah, it’s true. I was in a cover band that played Primus AND Rush (laughs)

RICARDO: And also, the weird thing is that I studied with a drummer in college named Ralph Peterson that played with Johnny’s base teacher…

JOHNNY: …The late, great Charles Fambrough.

RICARDO: It’s strange the parallels between Johnny and I. There was never any doubt that I wanted to do music. We played for the first time, as a group, when we made a demo tape to be in a wedding band (laughs)

PHAWKER: I would’ve never guessed that in a million years. Many Arms isn’t exactly wedding band material. Post-demo, how and when did it become clear you all were, musically, on the same page?

NICK: It was around December 2007. At the time I was playing in a band called Capillary Action and we went on tour. I was booking shows for Many Arms from the road and we were all collectively writing music together. We rehearsed a bunch of times, and then went on a 10-day tour in January and it was awesome. We recorded our first album, and then an EP at a college Internet radio station, which I don’t think anyone heard. The Deans office was next door, so we were only able to play, like 3 or 4 songs.

JOHNNY: Hey, we at least got something out of it!

PHAWKER: You guys have primarily been DIY, but this latest disc got the attention of Jon Zorn’s label Tzadik. Do you think having label support gives this one an advantage?

NICK: We had already recorded it before Zorn and his label Tzadik came into the picture. We had sent him, as well as a bunch of labels, our first two albums, told Zorn we were recording a third one and he really liked it. He said send it to me when you’re done. The thing that helps coming out on a label is that people pay attention to it more because there’s already an audience for that label. We put a lot of energy into this to make it really meaningful and our best work to date.

PHAWKER: What makes this album stand out from the previous two?

JOHNNY: We already had the whole concept of the album laid out. We’d been working on it 4 months before we recorded it last summer. I don’t live in Philly, so we bursts of rehearsals when we can. It came together really quickly and the music felt really good. Our idea was like ‘Ok, we’re gonna put out 3 really massive songs’.

NICK: It was the most concentrated thing we did in rehearsals. We had done a bunch of tours, which totally got our band chops together.

RICARDO: This is the first album we did where we hadn’t toured playing any of the material prior to recording it. The vibe was really great from start to finish, and we really worked our asses off.

NICK: And true to form, with improvisation, we recorded it in 4 hours.

JOHNNY: It felt like we were on tour playing a show.

NICK: Yeah, our friends came. My guitar amp broke and we had to rush to find another one. It was all the pressures and fun of playing live.

RICARDO: Earlier on, all the music was notated when it was notated. We all are composers and with this album, we each contributed a song of our own. It’s kinda always been like that though.

JOHNNY: The kind of music we’re focused on is mostly improvised. It’s kind of beneficial because it keeps it really fresh. We’re all really good at working on our own and we’re all really good friends, so that vibe is there. It helps with the creative process.

NICK: Each piece represents a different cycle. We each have 1/3 of a record to flesh out our own ideas, how can we manipulate it?

JOHNNY: Nick and I wrote very improvised pieces, but Ricardo’s is totally composed. It creates a nice contrast and balance. The forms are all different, but that’s also the common thread that binds the record together.

PHAWKER: So for the uninitiated, what might we expect from the record release show?

NICK: We’re pretty much going to play the whole record and it’s going to be really loud. We’ve got bigger amps and bigger drums, but Heavy Medical might still be louder than us (laughs). Be prepared for that and to stick it out. Maybe we’ll play a song for 20 minutes but maybe it won’t feel that way. We have an album called Missing Time, and that’s the best way to put it. Expect to miss some time.

[Photo by MEREDITH KLEIBER]
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