The Story Behind Every Song On The Armed’s New Album Perfect Saviors
The first rule of the Armed is: You don’t talk about the Armed.
Well, that was the first rule. For nearly a decade and a half, over the span of five albums, the duplicitous Detroit collective has garnered as much attention for their PR sleights of hand as it has for a lacerating brand of Motor City metalcore that’s as weirdly life-affirming as it is socio-sardonic. Both ungovernable and unGoogleable, the band hit their stride with 2018’s Only Love and its tremendous follow-up Ultrapop in 2021 — which took hardcore’s slate greys and charcoal blacks and sprayed neon silly string all over them — their small but not insignificant footprint on popular heavy music having been magnified 10 times over thanks to their Andy Kaufman-like antics. Names and identities were faked or exaggerated in interviews; red herrings seemed to preclude every move the amorphous organization made. With Ultrapop, whoever was in the band at the time used their COVID lockdown months to get as physically ripped as the music they were making was, further adding fuel to a fire that had devotees, haters, and internet chat forums speculating that, hey, maybe this cool band/art collective might actually be some sort of… cult?
Fast-forward to 2023, and it’s all still hard to say. For a band that’s as known for its deceptive practices as it is for its caustic, terribly exciting collage of punk and slurred electronics and capital-A athletic musicianship, you still can’t really take anything they say at face value. But with their surprisingly accessible, arena rock-friendly new album Perfect Saviors, the Armed are finally pulling back the curtain. So when Tony Wolski — the group’s de facto leader — hopped on a shaky Zoom call (frequently interrupted as a result of the freakish and dangerously high late-July temps Michigan), I prepped myself for a game of wits with Brad Pitt. Instead, I ended up shooting the shit with Edward Norton for an hour or so.
Wolski, 38, laughs a lot. Like, a lot. And it doesn’t seem to be a nervous tick, but rather the natural reaction a person who genuinely finds a joy in his work that 99% of everyone else who has ever lived on planet earth will never come close to even approaching. Friendship, artistic integrity, and the spirit of collaboration seem to be, at a base level, the only things powering Wolski’s skeptical but open-armed approach to making music, and the sometimes self-imaged responsibility that comes with it. In a track-by-track breakdown of Perfect Saviors, Wolski digs into what makes the Armed tick, from fake news to crushing drum solos to semi-famous Midwestern noise provocateurs. That is, at least until someone says “stop,” goes limp, or taps out.
It seems as if you guys are kind of tired of the misdirection, the subterfuge. Perfect Saviors sounds like an arena rock record as opposed to a hardcore release, even a so-called crossover release. Is this who the armed really are underneath it all?
TONY WOLSKI: The reason why we’re putting people’s faces out there is… the anonymity was supposed to allow us to create in an ego-free environment and move the focus off “identity.” And when you’re a new band, it worked really well. Then over time, that kind of mutated into there’s this “mystery to be solved” kind of thing, you know? Over the last few albums we’ve been talking a lot about, like, information warfare, data warfare, the concept of weaponizing information, and information control. So it became this cool meta-layer for us to kind of play into that subterfuge a lot, and those misunderstandings, and amplify them. But then it became this thing where everything was sort of like… it became a schtick that was very hard to communicate sincerity with the actual art, you know what I mean?
For that reason, with this one… at this point, there’s so many people involved in the collaborative effort. Just put all the names out there! Because it’s now just such a weird waterfall [laughing] of everyone doing something different, it’s hard for me to remember all these… I just think this is the way to do this now. It allows us to create art that’s sincere and maybe doesn’t position ourselves as unreliable narrators to our audience. In terms of the sound, I think we’re a band that strives to never repeat ourselves. And I hope — like the last two [albums] — I hope we’ve done a good job at making a concerted effort to make something different. And I think our next record will sound very, very different from this too, but it just felt really cool to make something that felt in the spirit of the rock and roll records we grew up with, which was something big and epic in scope and perhaps more immediately accessible. But I don’t think there’s a lack of hidden madness on repeat with this one [laughs].
I know a lot of Ultrapop songs were written during the time of Only Love, and when you listen to those back-to-back, it makes sense. There’s a harmony between the two of them — burly, yet sparkly, too. Perfect Saviors, even when it’s loud, there’s a tenderness in the songwriting. So why this slight left turn after Only Love and Ultrapop earned you a wider audience?
WOLSKI: A lot of these songs we were always, always writing. We never stopped. What happens is, a lot of times, these songs exist for years in some form before they find their perfect home, and that’s happened on all of our records, going back years now. And what happens is that patterns emerge while we’re writing, and then we say, “Okay, let’s take these songs, because they feel like a good group.” You know what I mean? And for whatever reason, that kind of happened for this record. When we were writing, we were like, “This song will be the first single.” It’s not even on the album anymore [laughs]! It’s still a good song, and — spoiler alert — it will be coming out in some form or another. It’s a song that we all love, but it just felt too akin to something off of Only Love or whatever.
“Sport of Measure,” the very first song, that was like the “breaking wide open” point. We were trying to be confrontationally tender [laughs], like you were saying. Something like you could see a Muppet staring at the moon and waxing poetic [laughs]. We wanted to do something like that, and then invert that into these really, really big moments of intensity, or emotional intensity. I think the band is always just trying to find something new and unique as a way to express themselves, but at the same time, a lot of these songs — like “Patient Mind” — that song is like six or seven years old. That’s from early Only Love. That one never fit in with the tenor of those songs.
So it’s more so like recognizing these patterns as they emerge, and I’m trying to group these last three records, they’re sort of a trilogy in terms of the concepts of them. And despite people who don’t really listen to us who might think they’re spread out and crazy, they’re actually reasonably editorial throughout [laughs]. We normally get pretty wild, and these are like really, really laser-focused. We employed Alan Moulder, who is arguably one of the most famous and successful rock-radio engineers. The idea, as patterns were emerging, was to create something that is this full realization of our sort of commentary on pop culture, and sort of reverse-engineer a pop album from hardcore. And that’s kind of where it ended up.
As with all Armed records, there’s a slew of outside contributors on this album, like Julien Baker, Sarah Tudzin, Matt Sweeney, and a million others. How do these connections come together?
WOLSKI: A lot of them just [came together] organically. The answer is so much more boring: E-mailing people [laughs]. I think the proposition of the Armed is intriguing to a lot of folks because I think for people who are mired in the business end of music… without getting too deep into it, the Armed is the worst business plan on the face of the planet [laughs]. We definitely anticipated people going, “Oh! They’re selling out!” with an album like this. But that irony of that — if you look at any of our other releases — is just staggering [laughs]. The Armed is built in a way where, to put it lightly, no one is getting rich off [of it]. And I think that very proposition, it’s very childlike. Like when you would be 10, and you got your Star Wars figures and you’re calling your friend down the street and you want to make up a story with them, you know what I mean? [laughing] That’s basically what it is, but on a much larger scale. When you’re talking to people, it’s almost the lack of ability for it to be successful [laughing]. In a traditional sense, that really appeals to some people, because I think it feels very, very pure. They can believe what our intentions are because it is so outlandish and it’s, “Hey, let’s get together and make the coolest thing we possibly can.”
So a lot of those connections come from… we’re a big group, we’re a diverse group with a lot of “friends of friends,” so we’re kind of always just like, one person away. One degree away from someone we want to hit up. Obviously Troy [Van Leeuwen] has been immensely helpful with getting guys like Eric Avery and stuff like that. He knows people that we didn’t have access to before. And when we’re making these songs — like all the other albums — we’re always just creating with the idea of like, “Who could execute on this the best?” That’s it. It doesn’t have to be this person playing guitar or that person playing guitar. “Who would be the best person on this song?” And then we go from there.
And it’s really cool though, you know. Ninety-five — probably more—percent of the people that we’ve reached out to for this totally were in, and played on it, which is like really, really, really cool and flattering. And we also just found out that some people were aware of us. The joke is that the Armed only has very few fans, but almost all of them are very good musicians, or seemingly in the press [laughs]. But like, it’s cool to find out Justin Meldal-Johnsen was aware of us, and we just reached out like, “Hey, you wanna play on this?” That came together really, really organic.
I have to ask, because Iggy Pop plays God in the “Sport Of Form” video: Is he a god to you? Especially being a Detroiter.
WOLSKI: Yeah. So Iggy played a few of our songs on his radio show on BBC. And that was just like… the most mind-blowing thing to ever happen [laughs]. As someone growing up in Detroit, all of our parents’ generation has stories of seeing Iggy at the Grande Ballroom. Iggy is an icon to so many people, but there’s an added layer when you’re from Detroit, because you know a lot of people with personal stories. It’s so funny — he is who he is — but, like, he legitimizes you to your parents and stuff. “Oh, Iggy thinks you’re cool, that’s cool” [laughs]. Bowie’s gone. Iggy is the top of the top. So that was probably the craziest thing ever [laughs]. Very, very cool. He’s the sweetest, nicest person ever, but he is so aware of art. He knew what the Armed was. By all accounts, the rumors are true. That guy, if he’s not creating, is observing and appreciating art all day, and I just think that’s really neat.
1. “Sport Of Measure”
You mentioned with “Ultrapop” opening Ultrapop, you wanted a full-on assault, to make sure your audience knew exactly what it was they were getting into. This doesn’t feel as confrontational of an opener, but first impressions seem important to the Armed. So what were we trying to say here?
WOLSKI: I don’t know, I think it is confrontational in a different way, you know what I mean? I think we wanted to go right out of the way to say, again… this is a very almost, dare I say, bordering on saccharine kind of emotion, and we wanted to come out to bat and really put it all out there like, “There’s gonna be stuff like this. Deal with it” [laughs]. So that was kinda the vibe. And the Armed, like on Ultrapop, we like showing the scope in there, so we had these like… something we’ve never done before are just these organic acoustic instruments, for a variety of reasons. Frankly, I hate the sound of an acoustic guitar [laughs]. But we challenged ourselves to find a way to make multiple songs that use it because of that very reason, to try to find a way to successfully use something that was unappealing in a traditional sense. Because it’s harder for an artist to find something you like in something you dislike than to just say you hate it and that’s the end of it.
So for this song, the idea was to start off with real glockenspiel, real horns, just this nice soft bed for the singing and then this twisted electronic thing and then there’s that absolutely ripping Mark Guiliana drum solo in the middle of it over the electronics. It’s really disorienting. And there’s just this end, like, space jam that frankly is just like me and Kenny [Syzmanski], who plays bass in the band. We grew up on a lot of like — when we were kids — like a lot of anime. There’s was very little of it available at the time, so you coughed up like $35 to get two episodes on a VHS tape of a random Gundam thing at Suncoast in the mall. I think the end is very influenced by the scores and the music that was in there. It sounds like robots fighting in space to me [laughs].
But I also think the interplay between Kenny on bass and Mark on drums at the end is just really, really beautiful, and incredible and energetic. But we just wanted to cover a broad scope of things, and then the end kind of with some dissonance in that undertone that’s rising up, because the Armed always have a little bit of “threat” looming in the distance, and that’s what that is. Lyrically, it’s just about that thing that I think everyone struggles with which is, you want to want something more than you want it, so a lot of times, you kind of dream about it and you don’t take action. And it’s a very, very simple human thing that all of us kind of deal with, and it’s just that repetition. And it starts out beautiful, you’re dreaming, and then it gets a little bit wilder, and a little bit more violent, a little bit more threatening as you realize you’ll never, ever act on them.
2. “FKA World”
Some of the lyrics struck me here, especially “I want to sing you lies,” “I want to sell you lies.” Is this an acknowledgment of what the Armed were, or used to be?
WOLSKI: Yeah! And I think the Armed was always a reflection of things that were going on, you know what I mean? A lot of this album, as with our last couple albums, has to do with that concept of what is truth. “I want to sell you all the tonics you need to cure yourself,” that kind of thing where it’s like… sometimes useful tools come from being fibbed to. It’s a weird and interesting dissonance in our lives. But then a lot of times, a lot of damage comes from that, too. I think we’re in a weird world where a lot of people see conspiracy where… it’s not necessarily conspiracy, it’s just how the world has worked for a long time, but they’re seeing it for the first time. So they’re seeing conspiracy in certain things when there’s always been marketing efforts behind things. There’s always been people making money off of tragedy. It’s a weird and scary world we live in [laughs]. And I think that concept of selling people lies — we’ve been singing about that frankly for 14 years since the song “Liar.” It’s just a continuous theme that definitely gets hit upon a lot on this record.
JMJ, Justin Johnsen lays down an absolutely crushing bassline in that song, too. Just a very exciting song.
I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call the Armed a political band, but you’ve been poking at institutions all along the way.
WOLSKI: I don’t think that’s particularly… I don’t want to say that it’s fully pedantic, but I don’t think it’s exactly veiled. I’m sure you can get what you need to get out of that one if you didn’t know what we were talking about there [laughs]. We’re not shying away from anything; I just think that sometimes overt political cues can sometimes be interpreted as insincere. And we’re definitely trying to avoid that because I don’t think we’re a band that everyone always trusts. So we never want to be doing anything that people think could be reading the wrong way. But that’s a pretty overt line in there. I think “Clone” is definitely about the idea of being really proud of yourself maybe when you shouldn’t be, when there are people struggling out there. I don’t know [laughs].
“Hot typeface lies” refers to everyone’s propensity to post things on their Instagram on their stories to their friends who have the same opinions as them and think that is, like, activism [laughs].
Oh yeah, armchair activism.
WOLSKI: Exactly. There’s a lot of that going on, a lot of mall socialists, a lot of armchair activists. This album, honestly, as pretty as it is, it’s a bit more cynical than we’ve gotten recently, lyrically [laughs].
Hard to avoid.
4. “Modern Vanity”
There are more patient tempos on this record. “Modern Vanity” strikes me as a psychedelic rock track.
What brought about slowing things down a little here and there?
WOLSKI: Okay, so that’s sort of the same thing as the acoustic guitar challenge. Like a lot of what we do is sort of rooting around, finding ways to get novel… you know, we’ve been saying for a long time, subversive elements — in the form of an art piece — they’re only subversive so long as they’re novel. And when you repeat them and repeat them and repeat them, they become expected. Art exists within the context of which you consume it. A tri-tone chug in 1999 is going to have a different effect on an audience than that same thing right now, which is now almost like comfort food to an aging metalcore dad [laughs]. So that’s why we’re trying to keep things novel. “Modern Vanity” was the idea of trying to slow down the tempo. Like you said, we just don’t have a lot of songs at a slower tempo, and that was one of our challenges for a long time.
That song is very old, though. I wrote that song when my wife had gifted me a beautiful… like the St. Vincent guitar, you know? I was really influenced by the kind of sleazy slink of a St. Vincent-y kind of song. I put that together in GarageBand on my iPad. And we didn’t pull it out until it felt right years later. With Troy Van Leeuwen involved… no one can play around a note like Troy. That whole riff is rooted in these just trashy slides. And it just seemed like the perfect opportunity to pull that song out and really give it to someone who could let it sing.
So we started recording that one actually in the studio when it was unfinished, just because we were having fun. And then Randall [Lee] and I went back to our hotel and Randall wrote, like, that whole middle section, and then the next day we finished it in the studio. It was a very, very rare case. We don’t usually have the resources like the advantage of writing in the studio. So that was a very rare case of starting on a song that seems promising in the studio, and then being able to kind of finish it, to great effect, right there. There’s some really cool guitar playing on there, some really wild solos at the end, and then again Mark Guiliana’s drums are so blinky and in-the-pocket and trashy in that whole song, you just want to take a shower after you hear it, you know?
5. “Everything’s Glitter”
Armed songs, to me, at least, seem to always have some kind groovy undercurrent, but this seems pretty upfront here.
WOLSKI: Yeah. Yeah. Another JMJ jammer on the bass, he is absolutely pulsing on that song. I also want to point out Urian Hackney’s drumming. Again, the thing about getting older is at first you’re like, “Look at all these polyrhythms and the speed with which I can play them!” And now, it’s more like, “Do you know what’s one of the hardest drum parts on any of our songs? The fucking chorus of that song” [laughs]. And the pre-chorus, where Urian is open-handedly playing a hi-hat groove that is against the floor tom groove and hitting the snare. It’s not showy, but it’s hard. Those blistering hi-hat sixteenths, like to play as robotically as those are purposefully sounding, that’s kind of a lot harder than playing our real, real, real aggro sort of ragers.
I don’t know, that one just felt good from really, really early on. Randall wrote the majority of the instrumental to that song actually just on a keyboard. And it sounded very, very different. When I heard it, I heard something very different because that keyboard version is spectacular, but it didn’t sound like the Armed to me, so I was like, “What if we did this, and had those big hits on the verses, and that weird kind of Kevin Shields-y guitar wandering around?” We’re playing a lot more with microtonal dissonance and stuff on this album. It sounds beautiful, but we’re not using tri-tones and a lot of dissonant second harmonies, we’re more so playing around the notes themselves, these sort of cascading waves. A more psychedelic influence. That song is groovy as fuck [laughs].
[Lyrically] it pulls out that really interesting tension that in order to eventually become an artistic genius, you need to be willing to look like a complete jackass clown [laughs]. And it’s kind of using the framing device of when Bowie came on his press tour without even playing the US, and how he was performing that entire time despite not even playing an actual concert, you know? It’s that razor’s edge between rock god and clown that I think is such an interesting bit of tension. And that doesn’t just apply to rock and roll, it applies to so many people who are seen in that light. They gotta be willing to do something so new and outlandish that it freaks people out, and if it’s wrong in any particular way, you’re just going to look like a total asshole [laughs]. But if it’s right, people will look back at you as the most brilliant person who has ever existed.
6. “Burned Mind”
I have to ask, because it stood out to me — you being interested in all things noisy, and being from Detroit, is “Burned Mind” a Wolf Eyes namecheck?
WOLSKI: I mean… are you a lawyer [laughs]?
WOLSKI: We fucking grew up on Wolf Eyes! Wolf Eyes is our generation’s Iggy Pop, as silly as that may sound. That band is everything to me, and that album is a spectacular thing. It’s funny, because in the noise community, it was — at the time — viewed as their sellout album.
Well, it came out on Sub Pop.
WOLSKI: It was viewed as being, like, “too commercial.” There seemed to be a great irony for an album that we anticipated a lot of people having the same judgement for [Perfect Saviors] to call that out, so that is definitely what that is.
But fortunately, that record really introduced me to noise stuff. I can remember playing it in my dorm room my freshman year of college and just being blown away. Had that not come out on Sub Pop, I don’t know if I would’ve found them. And countless other things connected to them.
WOLSKI: That album is very influential. I know it sounds very different, but that album is actually very brilliantly mixed. So much has changed now. So much like in hip-hop, starting with some Drake songs on the radio then going through, like, modern SoundCloud, people are really open to these, like, very minimal and dismal types of sounds now. You get shows like True Detective on HBO that basically sound like they were scored by Wolf Eyes. These things are far more in the pop lexicon as acceptable sonics. At the time, they were not.
And similarly with how we wanted to mix this album, that album is mixed in a way that you’re hearing some pretty fucked-up shit, but it’s actually being presented to you in a really chill, palatable way. Not unlike [Nine Inch Nails’] The Downward Spiral. The Downward Spiral is a weird album for 1994 or whenever the fuck it was, and the way that it was presented sonically, it’s not that it sounded like Red Hot Chili Peppers, but it sounded like it could be presented on the radio next to them, and a bunch of normal people would still appreciate it. So Burned Mind is definitely the reference there, and a massive influence to the approach of Perfect Saviors, even though that might sound silly just right off the top of your head.
7. “Sport Of Form”
Julien Baker shows up here. Her vocal is quite noticeable, but on other Armed songs—including ones on this record—contributors often seem obscured to the point of unrecognizability. Is this often intentional? Or am I just not listening close enough?
WOLSKI: The point is that the Armed should sound like the Armed, and I think what you’re calling out is a very specific situation in which the performer themselves is so specific sounding. Julien, boy, Julien sounds like Julien sounds like Julien. And it’s being presented at a point in the song where there is one acoustic guitar playing [laughs]. So when Mark Lanegan — who is another absolute legend — was on Ultrapop, he was on a song where there were the loudest drums you’ve ever heard and not like these big drones. When things get loud, our tendency is — perhaps annoyingly to some people — to have vocals mixed quieter so that the comparative thing sounds loud. I think the very specific thing with Julien is that she is on a record that is mixed more traditionally in a part where there is nothing else going on, and her voice is so easy to pick out. So it’s sort of a boring technical reason why that phenomenon is the case. Because I think we’re always trying to write music that everyone sounds like they’re on one team. And I think we sound like we’re on one team. And I think her voice and my voice together sound good, it’s just that hers is particularly easy to pick out. But man, she transformed the hell out of that song.
8. “Patient Mind”
We talked briefly about this song earlier.
WOLSKI: That song was actually written years ago. Kenny, my cousin, who plays bass in the band, and I took Dan Greene — the real, actual person Dan Greene, not the character from the videos — he wrote that whole song via MIDI. And he sent it to us, and Kenny came over, and we recorded it, and then we went bowling. And when we were bowling, he was complaining that his knee was burning. He then lifted his pants up, and there was like this gigantic crater [laughs], and he had cellulitis in his knee. While we were playing. It was really, really fucking bad [laughs]. So he had to go to the hospital. So that song was called “Cellulitis” for a very long time.
A demo version was released as a Dan Greene & The Greenies secret track that you could only access if you bought Only Love on vinyl, and you used the newspaper that came with it, there was a hidden YouTube URL in that. And you can go and hear that original demo version of that song. But it’s a song that we’ve always loved and we wanted to be a full the Armed song. A lot of times there are hidden Easter eggs from future albums in previous albums for the Armed. Other bands do this, and it was something we were really intrigued by, having the throughline go, and that was one of them. So we always wanted it to become a full-fledged the Armed song, and this seemed like the right spot for it to happen.
I think it’s very representative of the record because it sounds like something you’d play standing out of the top of a Jeep with your arms outstretched.
WOLSKI: [laughing] Yeah! That’s awesome. Absolutely. Unabashedly and unapologetically, my friend [laughs].
9. “Vatican Under Construction”
I think this one is probably my favorite one on the record.
WOLSKI: Oh thanks! So that one was the last song that was added to the record. The song that we removed to put that on there was the song I was telling you about earlier, which we initially thought would be the first single. But it just didn’t fit. And it’s still a beautiful song. You’ll hear it eventually. But it just didn’t fit on the record, and we replaced it with “Vatican Under Construction,” which came together, really, really quickly. And I love this song too. Both Kenny and Eric Avery play bass on this, which is really cool because Eric Avery is just a fucking legend and an absolute inspiration. The song is sort of about, like, that need to constantly be ascribing too much meaning to something, whether that is art, or whether that is your own personal actions. And sometimes it’s just… you just want to feel alright, like the chorus [laughs].
10. “Liar 2”
This is, I assume, a sequel to “Liar”? This record sounds like one of the more “electronic” tracks that you guys have ever released. Are you considering going even further in that direction? It feels like over the past few releases, you lean harder into electronics. Are you considering going even further? Because it feels like on Only Love and Ultrapop, you were gradually leaning into electronic sounds. I know that there’s a lot of acoustic stuff on the record as well, as you’ve been mentioning, but…
WOLSKI: We always write what just feels good and what feels new and exciting. And I don’t want to make a bold declaration here too much, but I think that after what has boiled down to essentially a decade of very focused… again, totally cool if the listener disagrees, but on our end, this shit has been razor-focused on this concept of — again, with Only Love we started with metal compositions that we were imposing simple pop formats, like writing in a major key, using ABAB structure over the metalcore. Then we turned that on its head for Ultrapop, and now we’re kind of meeting in the middle for Perfect Saviors. We executed this, like, pop culture dissection for so fucking long [laughs] that we…
I don’t know how super familiar you are with our output, but our first album These Are Lights was a record made by me and Kenny, my cousin. We started writing music and just got a bunch of our friends to start playing on it, and it was just 100% an experiment by children, and I think that’s what’s gonna happen next. I think after three albums and a decade of saying one very specific thing, I think after this one we might afford ourselves the little bit of flexibility to just go fucking apeshit, and make something that’s just very urgent and crazy. And by that I don’t mean that’s it’s gonna sound like a thrash album, I think it’s going to be all the craziest shit we can muster up. So I don’t think we’re scared of electronics, but I also think we’re more than ever not scared of other instruments and acoustics. With Patrick Shiroishi kinda being full-time in the band now, I mean it’s pretty amazing when you have a full-bore music savant genius who can play anything, any horn or keyboard available to him. I think in general it’s just going to get a lot fucking weirder, that’s for sure.
“Liar 2” is our dance jam though, man. It’s a dance jam that is, again, kinda talking about… in those moments of desperation, is false hope a good thing if it pulls you out of it, you know what I mean? It’s actually an incredibly dismal song [laughs]. An incredibly serious song, and it relates to the first “Liar,” but aesthetically couldn’t be any further from it. So if people accuse us of being trolls, maybe there’s a little bit of that in this one [laughs]. Not the song style, but the name. But yeah, I love that song, and it will be the next single that comes out with another video.
11. “In Heaven”
So if “Liar 2” is your dance jam, would you say that “In Heaven” would be like your slow jam?
WOLSKI: [laughing] “In Heaven” man, holy cow! That song I could have never come up with in a million years. Randall came over, and he just played it on a really untuned guitar. Randall’s voice — again, not sure how familiar with us you are — Randall’s a big guy, you know. Randall’s fucking huge. And he is scary. And he runs around yelling, but he also has the actual voice of an actual angel. And that’s what you’re hearing on that song. And I think the idea of collaborating on that one with both Matt Sweeney and Julien Baker should be obvious to the point that it’s maybe too on-the-nose, but those two are just perfect. Matt, with his gentle finger-plucking kind of understated guitar abilities and then Julien’s voice, again they just really, really, really pulled it together, and the lyrics are absolutely heartbreaking. That is something unlike anything we’ve ever done. Just going way, way back to Common Enemies, we had an acoustic jam on that one. But this is the closest we’ve come to that in probably a decade.
12. “Public Grieving”
You mention the terms “sport of measure” and “sport of form” in this song, both of which are the titles of earlier tracks. You’ve mentioned that “sport of measure” would be like something you could measure with points, like in team sports, whereas “sport of form” would be something like bodybuilding, or —
WOLSKI: Or gymnastics, yeah, it’s interpretive. Or dance, yeah.
How would you say those ideas inform the larger work?
WOLSKI: I think that’s the thing where a sport of measure has a binary component to it, and a sport of form is fully open, multidimensional. And there’s a layer of… over time, the standards of them change. It’s a whole thing. Not like it’s a bad thing at all, but you’re still looking at points. Who had more fun? I think the overarching theme to a lot of this, if we could make a sincere path forward to an overarching theme on this record, it’s that the idea of people considering too many things as they would a sport of measure versus a sport of form. Whether it’s their life, whether they’re too afraid of failure, because the idea of moving somewhere exotic and then having to move back is too embarrassing. When really, that’s just you figuring shit out in the process.
I mean, in bodybuilding, you cannot go without reaching failure every single day. So failure isn’t a bad concept, it’s a good concept. I think a lot of people could learn from something like that, because in life, we’re so typically guarded, and we’re not open enough. And we’re so averse to what could be perceived to be embarrassment, what could be perceived as failure. When really, it’s just you iterating and becoming better. I think that’s sort of the overarching theme here, the way people view art and stuff, the expectations for these type of things. So the sport of measure/sport of form is a huge sort of theme throughout the record. And this part kind of brings that home. It also has an absolutely breathtaking bass solo by my cousin Kenny, it has incredible drumming by Mark Giuliana… I just fucking adore this song.
Finally, I want to talk about the term “perfect savior,” what it means to you and the band. Aren’t saviors somewhat inherently “perfect”?
WOLSKI: Right. So I think that’s the thing. We were just talking about the sport of measure and sport of form stuff. It’s this concept that if you don’t allow yourself failure in any capacity, you’re basically insisting that you are… a god? Do you know what I mean [laughs]?
It’s one of a handful of things that is truly, truly universal, something that everyone has to reckon with, no matter where they’re from or —
WOLSKI: Exactly. And I think these concepts of making everything so binary and so simple, it’s really… well, social media is hard because now everyone’s a broadcaster. Everyone has to have a take, everyone has to feel the need to televise. I think that’s what makes people more fearful of these perceived failures. But then the reverse side of that is, sometime mutating into something like we were talking about… you know, activism is a wonderful thing. There’s a lot of fucked up things in this world, but there’s also the armchair activists [laughs]! Who might not really be doing too much, but… there’s a lot of stuff in this world that—because we’ve reduced things in certain ways—the standards we hold ourselves to are so, so high, that you’re either absolutely perfect, or you’re not, and you’re a failure, or the devil [laughs]. There are shades of grey in here, and nuances that are getting lost… I think that’s the Perfect Saviors kind of message. The name is incredibly ironic in that capacity. And I think framing it as this big arena rock record to save the world, and calling it Perfect Saviors, that is damning the idea of not being open to failure is all meta and ironic and semi-confused in there [laughs].
Perfect Saviors is out now on Sargent House.