After almost hanging up their instruments forever a few years back, the Devonshire rootsy punk collective Crazy Arm are back with their first record in almost seven years, and needless to say, it's absolutely wonderful. Returning to fill the black void they left in the wake of their absence, their comeback record Dark Hands, Thunderbolts reaffirms their position as one of the most brilliantly reliable acts within the UK and contains some of the group's finest work to date. As harmonious and it as expansive and manic, the record see's Crazy Arm crashing through a whole myriad of inspirations and genres in a fashion only they can.
With Dark Hands, Thunderbolts out this very day via Xtra Mile Recordings, we got in touch with vocalist and guitarist Darren Johns to hear the meanings and stories behind the record, track by track.
"We were on tour in 2015 with The Liberation Service and were refused entry into Serbia for our show in Belgrade. We therefore had to drive around it to get to the next gig in Slovenia. We took a short cut through the Albanian mountains at night. Big mistake. But the next day we drove along the stunning Montenegro coastline. We made the show with minutes to spare and played to about 20 people. Was it worth it? Fuck no! I hope never to be in a predicament like that ever again. But this song isn't really about that. Montenegro means black mountain, which is an allegory for how I feel: always trying to scale the heights to find some kind of contentment, and finding solace in music along the way. Musically, the late, great Ennio Morricone's influence shines brightly here, as it does throughout the album."
Blessed And Cursed
"It would be foolish to deny the influence of US gothic-Americana rockers, Murder By Death, on this song, so we won't. We're friends of theirs, so I hope they don't mind that we sometimes flatter them with imitation so brazenly. This was actually demo'ed for our second album, Union City Breath, in 2011. That's how long we sit on songs. I purloined the song's refrain, Strong Hearts Forward, from (part-Native) American friend and lifelong activist, Rod Coronado. With an accomplice, Rod once sank $2M worth of Icelandic whaling boats amongst other extraordinary acts of braveness in the name of animal liberation. Strong heart, indeed. This song features the first trumpet on a Crazy Arm song, courtesy of the genius that is Simon Dobson. Check out his own stuff."
Brave Starts Here
"I'm often reminded of touring with Oregon, US punkgrass legends, Larry & His Flask: the loveliest folks and one hell of a band. Despite the upbeat, bluegrass backbone of the song, it deals with mental illness, loneliness, and feeling too comfortable in that loneliness to ever take risks. It concerns a relationship I was in that challenged and changed me for the better, but only while it lasted. It didn't take long for me to revert back to my old, idiosyncratic, neurotic, incompatible ways. Too much independence can be self-defeating. We have two harmony singers in the band now, Tia Kalmaru and Becky Saxton, and they both shine on this song. The title is lifted from a very humbling TED Talks presentation by Lizzie Velasquez. Humility is infectious."
"Jon (Dailey, Guitar) and I are big Constantines fans and this is our now-customary worship song (much like 'Of The Tarantulas' on Union City Breath). If you haven't heard (of) them, I'd advise you to stop reading this and go listen now! 'Fear Up' is our favourite song on the album and, once again, showcases Simon Dobson's trumpet-playing dexterity. The title is US military slang for how States/authorities use the spectre of violence to keep citizens obedient and afraid. The brilliant Naomi Klein explains its nefarious use in her essential book, The Shock Doctrine."
Interlude - Dearborn
"The first of two instrumental interludes on the album, it features the excellent Samantha Spake on violin, and will probably be a full song at some point. To me, it conjures up cinematic, Southern wonderment but a friend said it reminded her of Poldark. Whatever works! We considered including a few more interludes and songs, and expanding the record to a double album, but thankfully that didn't happen. It took us four years to complete as it is (although only 21 actual days in the studio). Rest assured, all those other recordings/songs will see the light of day soon. Watch this space!"
The Golden Hind
"This is a skewered ode to my Brexit-majority, hidebound hometown. The Golden Hind was the name of the galleon in which the explorer, privateer and slaver, Francis Drake, sailed from Plymouth to wreak havoc on the high seas and pillage from the Spanish in the 16th century. I love this town and I'm a product of it, so it's also a jab at myself. If I left it would feel like deserting a sick relative. We were listening to a lot of Fucked Up and Planes Mistaken For Stars when this was written, hence the gnarly riffage. Although, the chorus is very loosely based on 'Burning Bush' by 16 Horsepower: another amazing band that have often illuminated our path."
"I think that our preoccupation with Baroness got the better of us here. They should sue. The main riff was one that Jon and I would knock about in soundchecks. I'm very glad we turned it into a proper song. It features the first drop-C tuning in a Crazy Arm song which is something that I'd love to do more often as there's something carnal and deeply fulfilling about playing in low tunings. Lyrically, it's a hodge-podge of refugee support and crippling anxiety. I wrote another verse railing against the odious Proud Boys but it didn't make it into the song. I'll save it for a rainy day."
Mow The Sward
"This song has been doing the rounds for a few years now. It's a kind of Springsteen-ish heartland punk rock celebration of difference. Lyrically, there are nods to indie-punk trailblazer, Ted Leo, and anarcho-punk luminaries, The Mob. Ted Leo is to thank for the power-pop dynamics of our most popular song, 'Still To Keep'. It features the first, and probably last, cowbell on a Crazy Arm song: a little doff of the cap to Grand Funk Railroad's 'We're An American Band'."
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Meds
"I've lived with depression for nearly four decades, and have taken anti-depressants, on and off, for over twenty years. I tried to taper off them for good in the winter of 2015 (and a few times since), alongside reading Anatomy Of An Epidemic by Robert Whitaker and confiding in good friends. Despite the effort, I just couldn't handle the huge drop in serotonin levels so was back on the pills by April. Therefore my advice is: take for short periods only or they'll dictate your life. For those who don't know, the title is a play on the name of brilliant Texan post-punk band, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. The main riff in this song started life in my former post-punk band, The Once Over Twice, about 17 years ago."
Interlude - Paradiso
"This is the second of the two instrumental interludes and features Simon Dobson on trumpet for the third time. I wrote the melody on guitar but the move to trumpet made all the difference, and Simon's one-take improv in the middle is sublime. The idea was inspired by Gustavo Santaolalla's soundtrack to the film Amores Perros. Meanwhile, the title is a nod to another flick, the wonderful Cinema Paradiso, for which Ennio Morricone composed the score. Needless to say, Jon and I are very fond of, and influenced by, seminal soundtracks."
"I was trying for an Arcade Fire vibe with an epic rock sensibility here, so this song had the working title 'Epic Fire'. Which, pretentiously, pointlessly and enjoyably, became 'Epicurean Firestorm'. I'm sure Epicurus himself would've cracked a smile. It features Sam Spake on violin but I initially intended to have a bunch of acoustic instruments on it, and for the song to fade out to leave the acoustics playing on. This didn't happen but I can still imagine it. We also asked the incredibly talented Sarah Balliet from Murder By Death to play cello on this song (and a couple others) but Covid and logistics inevitably put paid to that idea."
Howl Of The Heart
"Woven Hand, Fugazi, The Band, The Clash, Murder By Death, Neil Young and Morricone all figured in the construction of this song, in some shape or form. There's no shame in not (always) covering one's tracks but I still like to think it sounds like us more than the sum of its influences. Oddly enough, it started out as a really fast, banjo-led, bluegrass song but mutated beyond all recognition over the few years that I kicked it around. There's a brief X reference (“...hungry wolf”) and a Clash reference (“...crooked, crooked beat”) in the lyrics. Generally-speaking, it's another one of my over-romanticised, under-developed streams-of-consciousness."
"Sonically, this is an homage to the Washington DC underground, especially the likes of Fugazi and Bluetip. Originally, I had a completely different vocal melody for it but it was so difficult to weave words around that I had to ditch it. We actually started out playing this kind of post-punk/hardcore stuff in 2005, so it's very enjoyable to revisit now and then. Lyrically, it's both an admission/acceptance of weakness, and a subtle nod to John Stoltenberg's radical book, Refusing To Be A Man, which I absorbed in my early-20s and which revolutionised my gender politics."
Health Is In You!
"La Salute è In Voi! (translation: Health Is In You!) was a bomb-making manual written by Italian militant anarchist, Luigi Galleani. The infamous Sacco and Vanzetti were followers of Galleani. Here, the phrase is redefined to denote a rejection of patriarchy, a celebration of sensitivity, and a refusal to stay silent in the face of everyday sexism. It's also about unlearning my own socialised behaviour (“Tear these terms and conditions right out of me / Consign these terms and conditions to history”). The end section of the song pays tribute to the likes of Hot Snakes and Rocket From The Crypt: a rock'n'roll stompalong rather than the kind of slow, moody dirge on which we usually end our albums."