If the hundreds of subjects I've interviewed is any indication, Chris Wark, guitarist/vocalist of Memphis band Arma Secreta, is a rare breed among musicians and music-related personalities. The way Wark talks about his music and his band is free of delusion, name-dropping, defensiveness, negativity, resentment, or apathy.
Wark's first band, Staynless, was a very special, not to mention wildly energetic, example of what most people were then calling "math rock" or "post-hardcore" (or "noise-rock" or even "screamo"). Staynless released three seven-inch singles and a full-length album recorded by post-punk producer Steve Albini. A mid-tour meltdown spelled curtains for Staynless at the tail end of the last decade. But Wark reemerged a couple of years later with Arma Secreta, less a logical extension of Staynless and more a major maturation, with a noticeable production polish.
Arma Secreta's 2006 debut was a split release between local rock label Smith 7 and rthmtc (the band's own imprint), and the pressing of 1,000 copies sold out. The album holds the distinction of being the last recording completed at Easley-McCain before the legendary studio burned down.
Five years later, Arma Secreta is returning with the vinyl-only Dependent Lividity LP. Although the five-title track list and 45 RPM playing speed suggest brevity, the album clocks in much longer than your average EP and is pressed on 180-gram white vinyl in a one-time edition of 500 (which also comes with a download card).
I talked to Wark about the release:
Flyer: Did pressing 500 copies at 45 RPM save some money or seem economical in any way?
Chris Wark: No ... definitely not [laughs] ... in no way did it seem or feel economical. It felt like the opposite.
Well, it looks and sounds amazing. This was done with a mobile studio setup. Were the instruments separated, or did you guys play together for the recording?
We recorded as a band, and we did separate takes. Nick Suffield recorded it with his mobile setup, and Kevin Cubbins mixed everything. We sent it off for mastering. Then it was off to get pressed about a year after we finished the songs. We are a very nonprolific band. We move at our own pace.
Well, it did seem like there was a time when you were playing quite a bit.
Yeah, we played 50 shows in 2010, but this year we will only play six. We've done some short tours, usually weekends, and we did a two-week tour.
What is your writing process?
I'm not one of those guys who separates from the band for two months, holed up at home, writing songs to take back to the rest of the band. I write songs as I play with those guys.
The instrumental that closes side one, "Kilowatt Lake," is not only named after Memphis' most fascinating body of water but the liner notes state that "This is an instrumental song about a lake." How did this tribute of sorts happen?
Years ago, I was flipping through a map of Memphis ...
You're kidding ... that's how I found Kilowatt Lake, too. I had my dad's old Handy Map of Memphis, and I used to be both scared and attracted to it.
Yeah, me too. I saw that there was this huge lake in the middle of the city, and I couldn't believe it was named Kilowatt Lake. We needed a name that fit the mood of that track perfectly, and at some point, I just said, I've got it.
Do you have material ready for the next record?
We almost have an album's worth ... It's getting close to being a full album.
What do you suspect the future will hold for Arma Secreta?
Arma Secreta is in a very comfortable place. We do what we want, when we want. There are no external factors at work to pull it apart. This band is not my number-one priority. So many bands stay together long after the fun has gone, and I never understand that. Arma Secreta is not lucrative, so the band is not anyone's number-one priority. I am not a career musician, and neither are my bandmates. Even before Staynless formed, I knew that the music I wanted to make, then and in the future, would never make any money. I am able to love and enjoy making music without all of the things that normally corrupt the process for those who rely on it to survive.
Arma Secreta Record-Release Show
Thursday, November 24th 9 p.m.; $7