Photo Credit: Andy Alguire
The trio that makes up The Poison Arrows have collectively been making music for years in a myriad of other bands, and have all released a number of records. However, their 2022 release together is a milestone for them. It’s the first time any of them have dropped a fourth album with a band. This momentous occasion is where our conversation started, but as we worked our way through ‘War Regards,’ we rapped about working with someone in a different genre, the mood that swept over them when live music was on hold, and more in this back and forth exchange.
Kendra: Each of you has been in a handful of other bands over the past three decades but this year marks the release of something new for all of you – a fourth album. What do you think was different this time around in this band that led you to this?
Adam: We were all acutely aware of ‘War Regards’ being our fourth record with any one single group! We were joking about it while making the record. We’ve learned to be more efficient, more economical, I’d say. That’s the difference in how the recordings have been approached over time.
Patrick: Stability, friends, a fun European tour. During our “maturing” years, the First Class / New Found / No Known Note days, we all had a lot of change going on. Both positive and negative. So when writing and recording ‘War Regards’ we were in a pretty darn good place. It seemed logical to stick with it as the music was there. And playing with Justin and Adam always feels like wrapping up in a warm blanket next to a fire.
Justin: Taking a break is really helpful. Being in a band is a huge time commitment and often takes over so much free time. We took a few years off from playing before ‘No Known Note’ and then we’ve unintentionally taken a break before the release of ‘War Regards’ with the world shut down, so the positive in that respect is feeling recharged. I’d say the other factor is that we still feel like we are doing something unique that comes together pretty effortlessly. We walk in a room and music just starts coming together immediately, and I feel like that music keeps evolving in an interesting way.
Kendra: We do have to note that this moment was supposed to happen in 2020 but things did get a little pushed back due to, well, we all know at this point. With ‘War Regards’ originally having a release date a couple of years ago, did you go back and rework anything, add any new songs?
Patrick: Nope, Stone is Stone. It also made much more prophetical sense (both lyrically and musically) to keep it as is. Especially after the past two years of insanity.
Adam: Nothing was reworked. We received the LPs just previous to the lockdowns in February 2020. We had a release date and tours planned in the EU, but…yeah. The LPs were excellent house guests for nearly two years at our homes, though!
Justin: Yeah, we were ready to announce the record right when the world locked down. We were advised by many trusted friends in bands and at labels who were trying to release music right then to hold off. I didn’t even really listen to the record for about a year and then when I went back and listened I was totally happy with it. Even if we wanted to change something, we mixed with Brian Deck on an analog mixing board and not on a computer, so there was no memory recall of the mixes, and we would need to start over. Then same with the mastering with April Golden.
Both sounded really great and cost a few thousand dollars, so that wouldn’t make sense. Regardless, I don’t even know what we really would change. Everything was recorded very organically in one or two takes, and with almost no extra instruments. It captured a very specific time. It was nice to come back to it a year later and say “yeah, I still like this, I’m excited for this to come out and for us to play these songs live again.”
Kendra: Were there any lessons learned making ‘No Known Note’ that helped when it came time to make ‘War Regards?’
Justin: We found a nice stride with the straightforwardness of drums, bass, guitar, vocals on ‘No Known Note.’ I laid off the keyboards, loops, effects, and all of the overdubs for ‘No Known Note,’ just to make everything a more organic and simpler process. We ended up liking that process, the songs, and the album. Plus there was less gear to carry around. There is something to be said about shedding technical complications so that you can just focus on writing and playing. Then the other change is that we spent the extra money to go in and mix the record in a studio with a different set of ears. The past three records were mixed by me and Greg Norman in one of our basements after we had both recorded it at Electrical Audio. Taking it to Brian Deck at his studio gave it an extra level of fidelity.
Adam: Our approach was far more expedient and economical as I mentioned. Instead of recording all of the basic tracks 1 after the other, we tracked the basics for two at a time. We found this to be immensely helpful in keeping the focus on each track as a whole completed composition/unit (save vox and a guitar part here or there). After running through as many takes as it took to get the one we were all happy with (none of the songs had more than 3 takes), we’d have Patrick lay down his overdubs, then Justin would track his final guitar parts and a scratch vocal. It really kept us in the moment of each song, kept our ears fresh, and sped up the process such that we had a finished version for two songs at a time (sans vox) every few hours. This also allowed my hands to rest between each! We’ve made so many records with Greg Norman at Electrical that it was already going to be a breeze, to begin with even before we hatched the two songs at a time idea.
Patrick: Careful with how many buttered chickens one eats. Lamping at Electrical Audio and trying not to eat too many chickens. Honestly, one of the best times I have had making an album. As we then nearly all lived close and had no real-life crises (again, yet, again).
Kendra: You had a guest on this release, Chicago rapper Sterling Hayes. Rap and rock have a long history, and when you strip both genres down – a lot of similarities at their bases. What was it like merging those two sounds though on “We Are Collateral?”
Patrick: I love the way this turned out. We did not really have a particular song in mind for Sterling that I recall. He had his choice of nearly any song on the record to blast off on. For me, this was the ideal one to have him collaborate with and we kinda knew it after the first “rehearsal.” It just clicked and really rounds the song out musically and fits the theme.
Adam: Watching Sterling create the rhymes while we were playing the song was awesome. We played this for him maybe five or six times in a row at our rehearsal space one evening and he just started scribbling, asking Justin questions about what the overall flow/concept of the track was…then left. A few months later, our minds were blown with the final results.
Justin: I met Sterling maybe a year before we recorded ‘War Regards.’ We immediately hit it off, largely because our experimental aesthetics were so complimentary, so we vowed to collab pretty quickly after becoming friends. He came into a rehearsal right before we recorded the album with a couple of producer friends he makes a lot of his tracks with, RickettoFromDaGhetto and TresMortimer. We hung out for a few hours with Poison Arrows running through our songs and with them making notes and discussing. Sterling jumped on the mic for a couple of the tracks to test out some verses.
After we ran through everything, Sterling asked what “We Are Collateral” is about. I handed him my lyric sheet and explained that it was about how big business uses humans as consumers, followers, users, audiences… just numbers to boost their profits and their value. He connected with that theme and the music which has a steady tempo and some nice space in the bridge for him to record a verse. We sent him the music after we went into Electrical and he went into his own studio then emailed me the verse. The Poison Arrows had started backing him up at live shows after that on his own songs and playing “Collateral,” then the world shut down. We still text a lot and I went to his record release show a few months ago. We are planning on touring Europe with him next time we are there, whenever that can happen again. Definitely something to look forward to in these messy times.
Kendra: Were there any rap/rock collabs you drew inspiration from on this track?
Patrick: No, yes, everyone?
Justin: Not really. I just knew Sterling understood what we were trying to do artistically and that he could figure something out that would work, that would not sound contrived or out of place… Something that added to the song and album overall, and he totally did. As the person who records all of the final overdubs and vocals, I’ve learned not to micromanage any guests. You invite them to be on your record because you trust them to add something to the album, and even if it is not what you expect, they always do. On past albums we’ve had quite a few guests on each record, this one was just Sterling, and again, he made it work without really any input.
Adam: I love collabs, especially when all parties involved share the same sort of work ethic. Sterling is a stellar human. I actively tried not to associate this track with any previous rap/rock collabs so as not to lead it into any one direction vs the other. I was trying my best to play a shuffle ala Led Zeppelin. No kidding!
Kendra: Another song that stuck out to me was “Mood Swings I Don’t Know” just because over the past…almost two years, my own mood has been so up and down. I’d like to know how you felt as musicians when live entertainment was taken off the table in 2020, and how you’re feeling now that it’s slowly being allowed back into our lives?
Adam: Once the lockdowns happened in 2020, it wasn’t long before my wife and I left Chicago for North Carolina. It was a huge strain emotionally to move during a pandemic to a new town but to leave my brothers-in-arms so to speak, was an extremely tough pill. There definitely were times that I didn’t know if we’d be able to play again, much less if we could (as a unit) play again since so much time had gone by since we stopped rehearsing. I started returning monthly in July 2021 to Chicago to see if we could entertain moving forward…and voila! I’ve been returning every month since. It took a few rusty practices to get back into the pocket, but once there, it was as if no time had passed, really. The feeling? Overwhelming. Joyous. Humbling. The same thing goes for the live acts I have managed to see as venues have reopened. Nothing but gratitude and genuine excitement.
Patrick: Did these last two suck, yes. For 30 years now I (we’ve) had shows, tours, bands, and full-on years of music that were canceled, collapsed, or just did not happen. Yeah, this was a setback for our 10 songs. But they will always be there and keep pushing forward knowing you can take the hit. Eventually, that’s always the story of any life effort.
Justin: Interesting question and takes from my bandmates here… Just as a quick background, this song stems from me working with a therapist almost every week for the past five years. We’ve been working on understanding how and why my thoughts and emotions work, and why everyone else thinks the way they do. In working with her, I started to realize how much people’s moods are constantly affected by lack of sleep, stress, trauma, whatever. And how drastically that changes how humans react and interact with each other without even realizing it.
Anyway, for sure, it was a huge bummer to cancel our Europe tour and US live dates, put the album on hold, and stop playing for over a year. But honestly, after I got over the initial shock of everything being put on hold, I just looked at it as another break that might be healthy for us. My wife and I actually bought a house in the middle of the woods out on the border of Wisconsin and Iowa, in Galena IL. It was in rough shape, so we did a ton of work on it, so the move and the construction of the house definitely kept us distracted. Then I was so preoccupied making sure my friends and family were OK, and dealing with when things on that front went bad…Plus just keeping my day job together during all of these drastic changes, I was too distracted to think a ton about the band and what I was missing. I worked on quite a bit of other music as well.
I’ve gone to several shows over the past few months, and we’ve played once, and all I can say is that I feel incredibly lucky to see talented musicians live again, and can’t wait to start playing more myself. That being said, I’m not going to rush it. There are a ton of artists who pay their bills by touring and I’m going to let them have the stages for a while and let all of this pan out before getting too aggressive about booking shows. We have plans that we are psyched about though!
Kendra: Bit of a side note, with it being February I’m asking everyone to please share what they believe to be the best love song and give us a little insight as to why they believe that song is top-tier…
Patrick: Nearly anything Melody Angel is doing right now.
Justin: Right around the time that we recorded this album, our friend Chris Brokaw played at our wedding. My wife and I picked out a few of his songs for the main ceremony including “I Remember” from his album ‘Incredible Love,” which we walked out to. Have to pick that, no doubt.
Adam: The best love song is P.W. Long’s cut “Aw Bruiser” – from his 1997 classic ‘We Didn’t See You On Sunday.’ It’s about his dog, and it’s heart-wrenchingly bittersweet. Humans don’t quite provide the sort of unconditional love that pets do, y’know?
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘War Regards’ out February 25th, what else can fans both new and old be on the lookout for from y’all?
Patrick: Fantastic and fun live shows.
Adam: More shows, attempts to cross the pond to Europe when things seem (ahem) “safer,” continued visits to Chicago to make up for all of the time we lost during these crazy times…maybe even the kernels of Album No. 5!
Justin: We are starting to work on a new album, this month actually. We have a new studio/rehearsal space that is all our own, despite Adam living in North Carolina, and me living out in the woods half the time. And we are going to make some touring in the US and Europe happen as well. Then I’ve been working on some music on my own and with some other folks. Adam and I have a new project with Yukio from My Way My Love called Forever Era with an album we are about to announce. 2022 is going to be really busy musically, and I’m excited. No matter what happens, it’s time to put all of this music out this year. Thanks to everyone for sticking with us to listen.