Inter Arma’s music is overwhelming, in the literal sense of the word, and it’s easy to see why. The word “heavy” might float around so often that it can sound redundant at times, but the Richmond five-piece is anything but that. With a discography that underlines sheer progression, Paradise Gallows might be the one that really put the band under the spotlight. Regardless, it’s their most recent Sulphur English which slowburns into a spiral of genius songwriting and craftsmanship. Having highlighted the record in our monthly April overall, we can say this one might take a little while more to appreciate in comparison to its predecessor, but make no mistakes, the evolution is undeniable. Not to mention that this record made it possible for the band to make a wider european tour, and thus including Portugal in their dates!
Their first time playing here was idyllic. Having belonged to an impressive Amplifest line-up in Porto, expectation was higher than ever, and needless to say Inter Arma’s name was present in every instance of the evening. Having played in the biggest stage of the venue, while delivering mammoth stomps like “Citadel”, “Howling Lands” and “Sulphur English”, one could only see jaws dropped on the floor with crushing glory. A while after their performance, we had the chance to speak with a somewhat inebriated but endlessly receptive singer Mike Paparo, alongside guitarist Steven Russell and bassist Joe Kertes. We spoke about a great many things, from being an exclusive local band to a travelling one, to the importance of connecting lyrics to the soundscape and their love for weird line-ups like Amplifest.
Inter Arma is on the verge of turning 13 years old as a band. Tell us a bit about what made the band start, what were the goals in the beginning and are you still to this day amazed with how far you guys have come?
Mike Paparo - I think the idea behind the band was to get drunk. (laughs)
Steven Russell - Not far off. It was a good excuse to party (laughs), but yes we’re still completely amazed. We all like music and we all like to play music, and we like to drink beer so we get along, so like a lot of other rock ’n’ roll bands, let’s do all those things together.
M - Originally when we started playing, we only played our hometown and we were kind of the band that people would ask “Hey, could you come destroy our house” “Yeah, of course we could do that, we would love to go destroy your house”. We played Richmond maybe 40 or 50 times before we ever played out of town, really. One day we thought about buying a van, going on tour and not doing this kind of thing anymore.
S - Yeah, why not? We also always went to shows, we were getting out of town to go to shows, personally, individually, some of us were “fuck it let’s go see this show”. So we started saying yeah, let’s go play a show in Baltimore, let’s go play a show in D.C., let’s go to Philadelphia, let’s go to North Carolina. We have friends there, over time you meet people. It’s like anything else, you know?
M - Yeah. And yes, and we’re still absolutely amazed all the time by everything that people have said.
S - We’re in Portugal playing a fucking show. I’m playing guitar in Portugal! That’s stupid to me. (laughs)
M - Our stupid band has broght us to like fifteen countries in this point. We’re just idiots, we don’t know what we’re doing (laughs). It’s cool.
In 2019 you released your fourth full-length record and third release with Relapse Records. How has the reception for Sulphur English been? Even though Paradise Gallows was such a widely praised album, do you feel you managed to surpass that threshold?
S - Good question.
M - I don’t really measure. To me, every record we do is different.
S - It’s not topping one or the other.
M - Yeah, I don’t measure it that way. It’s like our records are more like a time capsule, the feeling of the time, or the energy that was there. People really like Paradise Gallows, and I’m sure there’s people who like Paradise Gallows and don’t like Sulphur English, and vice-versa. It doesn’t bother me, I don’t really think about surpassing anything personally.
S - Same. I think it’s a good time capsule of the energy of the band and what we’re going through personally or as a band. What we were listening to, what we were doing. They’re completely separate, and we always strive like any band to put out a good record. We don’t necessarily say it in our heads that we want it to sound really aggressive or pissed off, or you have Paradise Gallows with a lot or melodic shit going on.
M - We’re never gonna do the same record twice, for any reason.
Going into Sulphur English, one feels that it’s a bit more of a slowburner compared to past releases. It extends much more in a less urgent manner and more like the “still witnessing of a massive storm unveiling”. Do you usually paint the tempo of the record beforehand or do you just let it play out as naturally as possible?
M - These are good questions man.
S - There’s an idea, but it always changes when you’re actually start laying stuff in the studio, like the vibe, the feel of something else might start to change a little bit, and just the natural progression of the record as well. You think you know what it sounds like when you’re practicing, well here’s the song. But then you start tracking stuff and sometimes it turns to something else a little bit, you know?
M - Certain songs come to life and certain songs change when you record them. So TJ writes most of the stuff and I don’t think he has a grandiose idea of how he wants track listing. But sometimes I think he does, sometimes I think he’s got an absolute idea in his head but he never gives in. Of all the times that we’re mixing it, it’s kind of like “How should we track this song?”, and there’s definitely certain things with record labels now, certain things you have to do, unfortunately to put a track listing of a record , especially in the United States now, because streaming is such a big thing, so you kind of have to do things a bit differently now.
S - We want a hit at the beginning. (Laughs) Everybody’s so boom boom boom on their phone, there’s a lot of short attention span in America.
M - We’re a band with long songs. I know it with us, people want in the beginning of the record something that’s BAM. Something’s gonna hit really hard. But this is the whole cellphone, spotify generation where it’s like skip skip skip, I’m not enjoying this skip skip. So the next record is gonna be a grindcore record, every song is gonna be ten seconds and you can’t skip it. (Laughs)
Not only lyrically but musically as well, Inter Arma feel like a novel, an odyssey of enormous proportions. How important is it for you for the lyrics to draw inspiration from the music itself and vice-versa?
M - It’s very important. There’s certain songs where I actually build lyrics based on the music. Like, for instance, a good case of this is “Howling Lands”, the pounding of the drums, where that is literally the song. I get feelings from the songs and I build lyrics that way. I have to do it that way, unless TJ writes a song before we record and I don’t have a choice. It’s almost always a feeling. It has to be, or else It feels that I’m not connecting with it.
Inter Arma is simultaneously predictable and yet very unpredictable, in the sense that the sound is constantly massive yet nothing feels old or overdone. What is something you’d love to do with the band, musically, that you haven’t tried yet?
S - I thought about this! And I haven’t answered yet (laughs), and I don’t have an answer. (laughs) That’s a good question though.
M - There’s a lot of things, a lot vibes. Like experiment with some electronics sounds and points, shit like that. We’re very much in the idea of pushing the band as far into the realm. We don’t like being comfortable. Being comfortable for us is like a scary thing. We could’ve absolutely, after the first record, written “Long Road Home part. II” and I’m sure people would’ve loved it, you know? But we’re not gonna do that. There’s always a constant of let’s push ourselves this way. As TJ says, the riffs on Sulphur English are dumber, but at the same time, there’s a lot of this crazy discordant shit. We’re just going to keep doing weird shit, if people like it they do, if not, fuck’em.
You're currently on a massive european tour all over the continent. Some places you’ve never been to, like Amplifest, and others you’re well familiar with, like Desertfest. What are the expectations?
S - Still zero.
M - Yeah, none. If you don’t have any expectations, you can never be disappointed.
Joe Kerkes - As far as everywhere that we haven’t been, it’s been way exceeding anything that we could expect.
M - Madrid and Portugal were great. Amplifest has been great. I mean, there’s gonna be some shows that are gonna suck, there’s gonna be some that will surprise us, some that we know are good. It is what it is, we’ve done this a long time. We’re a weird band, we know what goes on.
J - It’s definitely cool that people have been so excited to have us in new places and then ask for us to please come back. It’s like, wait a little bit and the sweet ones happen. Now when we come back to Spain and Portugal, people will be really excited.
M - Yeah, I’m really excited to be here.
On one side you have a doom/stoner/post-metal line-up and on the other you have a more diverse line-up while pretty much being the heaviest band on the bill. How important is for Inter Arma to be in a line-up you guys can relate to?
M - We would much rather be with weirder bands. For instance, for a long time in the States, people just thought we were a stoner doom band, even though we’re not. We have elements, absolutely, I’m not gonna argue that, but in every town we would play with like the fuckin Fu-Manchu horse shit band and it was fucking agravating. They would be called like Weed Cobra or some shit, and it was so fucking maddening. So we really enjoy playing in line-ups where the bands are radical, like industrial bands or fucking whatever. Black metal bands or noise bands or some shit like that.
J - I think we kind of thrive on that with the tracks that are so different from typical metal. Those are the things that people don’t normally know about us, and maybe on the surface all you see is this metal band, where when we play for this broader audience, people go “shit, this band does things we can get in”.
M - I feel that we’ve always excelled when we’re on tour with weirder bands like we’ve done tours with Deafheaven, and it works really well. There’s a little bit of similarity, but there’s much more opposites, but they do weird shit too, and we do weird shit so it works.
J - It’s more fun to play with a wide spectrum anyway. I mean in the States, sometimes in our town you can’t have a thrash metal band play with a death metal band. Because they’ll say that’s too different.
M - It’s ridiculous. I hate that shit.
You’re no strangers to touring. In fact, you’re heavyweights in the art of travelling to play. You’ve been doing it for years now, and touring can feel both chaotic and redundant at times. What are some of the things that shocked you the first time you came to europe and what really important things have you learned along the way?
M - Man, there’s a lot.
S - I think people in Europe listen a lot more attently than the majority of the people in the U.S., especially here. They digest your music way stronger than the people in the U.S. do.
M - The attention span in the United States is being lost I think. I feel like people still want to buy t-shirts and things like that, but because of the way that music is, it’s like next week they’re on something else. They’re not really sticking with it. When we were kids, you had to get a cd, you had to get a record and we all loved it, we worshipped it. There’s definitely exceptions.
J - When I was nineteen or eighteen years old, I would start going to the local record shop, and you had to have somebody at your local record shop that liked cool shit and would order the good stuff in and give it to you. Now music is more a novelty in the States.
M - You have more people having a conversation in the crowd than you do people watching the band.
J - You might play an hour somewhere in Europe, and people will go “you only played for an hour?” and people want you to play for an hour and a half. “I could’ve watched two hours”. Goddamn. People are more focused on the music and in that regard when you come to Europe you know you’ve got to bring your game, because people will actually pay attention to it.
M - Not that we don’t bring the game in the United States, but you have to bring your game here. And I feel that people really appreciate your music as art here. In the U.S. they don’t give a fuck. You get here, here’s food, here’s this and can we help you? In the U.S. they’re like “hey fuck you man, I didn’t even put up a flyer, or here’s two drink tickets, I hope people show up dude, why didn’t you put 50 dollars to push your facebook event, ow and there’s no flyer whatsoever.” It’s kind of a bummer, and here it still feels that people give a shit. It’s nice to come here. Beer, food and good vibes.
How about a portuguese meal?
M - It’s fucking good!
S - The wine I had upstairs was amazing.
Last question, what have you been listening to lately?
S - That’s easy!! Lots of Freddie Gibbs! It’s actually funny, but not funny, the band that’s playing last tonight, Deaf Kids, is a band that I’ve been meaning to catch for a long time. I did get to glance their record like a week and a half ago, so I’m stoked to actually see them live. Freddie Gibbs though!!
M - I just saw Massive Attack last week, and that just restarted me to listen to Mezzanine again for the next two years, which is definitely gonna happen again, over and over again. I wanna go beat the shit out of Deafheaven when they get playing tonight, fuck you!! (laughs)
S - I might stage dive naked in Deafheaven. (laughs)
M - No but they’re our friends and we’re just fucking with them! (laughs).
J - We don’t have to beat Pelican’s ass because they’re already old and beaten down already anyway. (laughs)