The five members of Arms Exploding are serious about making music, and it shows.
The sounds emanating from Ruminari, the band’s debut album for the local Phratry label, are intense and harrowing, a melodic Post Punk/Prog cacophony of double clutch drumming, heart attack bass, delicately thrashing guitars and unhinged vocals. And their songs are inspired by the shallow conceits of the cosmetics industry (“Dancing Lepers”), compulsion (“Cross- Border Tunnels”), father issues (“Measure of a Man”) and morality struggles (“Cupertino”), among other sobering topics.
“I try to think of things that basically upset me,” lead vocalist Nick Thompson says of his passionate lyrical themes. “I’m not going to scream about going out to get ice cream with my grandma.”
The quintet is less serious when it comes to talking about themselves. In the spare comfort of Thompson’s Norwood living room, the quintet begins the interview by interviewing themselves.
“What is it like to be in a band with your idols?” inquires guitarist Tim Ambrosious, to a burst of laughter.
“A nightmare,” Thompson says. “Dreams Exploding, more like.”
When it’s noted that this could be the moment in the VH1 Behind the Music special when the band spiraled out of control, Thompson is quick with a response.
“That started the day we formed the band,” he notes with a wry laugh.
In fact, that day marks the spot when Arms Exploding began spiraling into control. With the bands TSF, UNX, East Arcadia and Based in Theory on their resumes, longtime friends Thompson, guitarist Mike Short, bassist Mike Baker and drummer Jon Goodrich launched Averroist in 2004, which morphed into the concept of Arms Exploding with the addition of Ambrosious in ’05.
“We met at Don Pablo’s to plan our world takeover,” Goodrich says. “And then I moved to Lexington.”
Although Goodrich returned for practice (and softball, as Baker notes) every Monday, his absence prevented the newly minted band from playing gigs for the first year. But they did write a batch of songs, most of which comprise Ruminari.
“Our original plan was to not play a show until we released an EP or an album,” Short says.
“However, it did not work out that way. We wrote the songs and it took forever to record, and then we dropped songs.”
With Goodrich’s return to Cincinnati in 2006, Arms Exploding began a concerted effort to play as many local shows as they could schedule. The quintet started rebuilding the fan base that had followed their earlier bands and working on the frenetic and visceral sound that defines Arms Exploding now. They managed to record a demo in their practice space in Thompson’s basement, but their collective perfectionism kept them fussing over the songs for the next year or more.
“The songs we were happy with, we went through the parts and made sure everything sounded the way we wanted it,” Thompson says. “There are a lot of intricacies in these songs, and it’s basically because we worked on them for a year, touching up things here and there and being way too picky. We were not progressing the way we should have.”
The attention to detail paid off on Ruminari — the Latin root for the word ruminate, which means to go over repeatedly — a title suggested by Baker.
“It basically means to overthink shit and never come to a conclusion,” he says.
“It was going to be self-titled,” Short says. “Baker called me and said, ‘What do you think about Ruminari?’
And I was like, ‘That sounds alright.’ Then he told me what it meant, and I was like, ‘That’s the name of our album.’ ”
Regarding musical influences, Thompson notes that everyone likes different bands within the same general parameters, so each of them brings a little something unique to Arms Exploding, resulting in a mix that suggests everything from the Refused to the Mars Volta. But, as Goodrich points out, influences aren’t really the story.
“I think more than influences, it was just the excitement that we were getting together and what we were going to make,” he says. “We were influencing each other. It was a fresh start.”
“We definitely had a vision,” Baker says. “That was the whole part of us sitting down that one night — we wanted to take the band in a certain direction. Whether or not we got there with the songs we wrote, I don’t know, but we spent a lot of time working on it so we actually accomplished something.”
One of the band’s greatest assets is its dynamic range, bridging the gap between relative whisper and spine-shattering scream. Given the constant needle-pegging quality of Averroist, subtlety was an immediate concern for Arms Exploding.
“When we take it down to a fragile or simplistic part of the song, we wanted to make it extremely fragile and extremely simplistic,” Thompson says. “And when we have heavy parts, we want it to be extremely heavy. I’ve never been in a band that’s focused on dynamic songwriting as much as this band.”
With each successive show, Arms Exploding converts a few more new fans with their incendiary presentation, clearly not an easy task for a band that doesn’t sport any gimmicks or fit in any preconceived pigeonholes.
“What did that dude say two or three shows ago?” Short asks.
“We got done playing at the Mad Hatter, and I unloaded equipment and I came back in, and this guy comes up to me and says, ‘Great show,’ ” Ambrosious says. “Then he was like, ‘Really, though, when I saw you guys walk on stage, you looked like a bunch of dorks, but you turned out to be really cool.’ That was the best compliment ever.”
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