The Armed is a band pushing the boundaries of hardcore, math rock, punk, and even elements of pop. Their critically acclaimed 2018 Release, ONLY LOVE, garnered attention across mainstream and niche markets alike. But, through the adoration for their dazzling showmanship, intriguing misdirect, and polished exports, we’re merely touching the tip of the iceberg to the question on everyone’s mind, “Who the fuck are these guys?”
Recently a cult-like website has emerged entirely focused on unconfirmed band member, Dan Greene. In addition, a Discord channel surfaced in which super fans have been engaged in voracious detective work ahead of the band’s anticipated follow-up.
Some of the well-known mythology is included, like how their promo photos contain different folks (examples below) who may have never been members and some who may never have played an instrument. No, I don’t believe “Kenny” in the band’s Gear Gods’ appearance is actually a member. As you can imagine, the fan discussion goes into areas that get out of hand pretty quick.
So why all the fuss? Well, despite the small size of this often-overlooked real-life performance theater, the ONLY LOVE album cycle managed to collect the kind of media attention you’d see from major-label acts, earning praise from mainstream and taste making magazine outlets like The Atlantic, NPR and a front-page feature on Vice. It’s hard to think of another independent band with three thousand Instagram followers making headlines on Pitchfork and NME like they did during the "FT Frank Turner" controversy where they reportedly stole archival vocal takes from UK musician Frank Turner while using Frank Carter on the single cover.
Their music videos have been some of my favorites since the band's inception, and feature higher production value than 99% of visual exports you find in the history of the genre. Outlets are taking notice. Adult Swim broadcasted the premiere to their Tommy Wiseau-starring “Role Models” video, which you can see above.
They also tour very infrequently but get high profile placements at huge European festivals. Their name appeared in earnest in a Ford TV commercial and just last year, one of the band's tracks wound up on the highly acclaimed Cyberpunk 2077 soundtrack.
After diving deep into the the Discord, I have come out with my head spinning but I have identified the most popular theories and laid them out here.
Theory #1 – It’s All Just Kurt Ballou of CONVERGE
Let’s start with the most obvious, and the one most people would probably believe. Why? Because he literally told Noisey it's his band in 2018. The quote that piqued fans' ears was:
“When I started the band I was thinking a lot about how the division between a band (or any known entity for that matter) and its audience has changed in the era of social media. The direct access can build close relationships within a community, but it can also create disproportionate senses of entitlement. My idea in creating this project was to disrupt that culture by forcing people to focus only on the content, not the creators, hoping it would usher in an era in creative culture where the work is more important than the workers.”
He’s engineered The Armed’s last few albums, runs a recording and sonic operation capable of producing high-quality media most small bands only dream of, has the talent to write the songs, and has a Rolodex of punk and hardcore musician friends that he could be calling on to fill out the performances.
This has been circulating for at least the past three years and worked its way to a fever pitch when Kurt went on the record, claiming to have (at the very least) invented the band.
The rumor is the band began as a sort of strange experiment for material that did not fit the Converge mold at a time when the band was touring heavily and another full-time project wasn’t a viable option. Instead, Kurt became creative director.
Kurt is an old friend, so I figured I’d just ask him directly to set the record straight. He responded:
“That’s interesting. I’ve had more than a few people ask me that, but I never knew why. I dug up that original article and I can totally understand how it could be read that way. Journalists always need to edit content, so I think this is one of those cases of “lost in translation.” What I actually meant was 'When I started producing that band…' not 'When I created that band.' Anyway, I think they’re brilliant, and would love to take credit for a lot of what Aaron and company do, but there’s also been a lot of challenging, confusing, and downright frustrating things about working with them.
"First of all, they’ve repeatedly booked time with me, then at the last minute threatened to pull out of the booking unless I provided them with a drummer. That’s why a lot of my drummer friends have ended up on their records. At this point, I’ve come to expect the drummer nonsense, but for the newest record, things went even more sideways. I engineered the drums, they did their own overdubs, then when it came time to mix, they went behind my back and hired Zach, another engineer that works at God City. He went into the studio at night after I was done working on other records and just used all my gear and settings. I knew he was doing something, but Aaron booked it under a fake name, so Zach didn’t realize he was stepping on my toes. Deception and subversion are at the core of what The Armed does, so it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I guess the hijinx are less fun when I’m not in on the joke." Ballou concluded
Uhm, so let’s toss this one in the “WTF” pile?
Theory #2 – ANDREW WK and INZANE JOHNNY are Involved
Out of the gate, this theory seems suspect. Although the bands stand apart sonically, there are numerous similarities, namely the overwhelming usage of major, diatonic scales in heavy, aggressive music. Superfans on The Armed’s Discord page also dug up old Instagram posts on the profiles of known collaborators suggesting the two parties have recorded music together before… but the paper evidence trail curiously dries up before ONLY LOVE came out.
The Armed collaborators have also appeared with some regularity, either pictured, or as contributors to the popular meme page of InzaneJohnny. InzaneJohnny is a well-known friend of WK's, and a member of the Ann Arbor noise staple Wolf Eyes, a band who is also cited by The Armed as key influence.
The 9-minute TV broadcast debut of “Role Models” on Adult Swim and the release of “FT FRANK TURNER” through the Adult Swim Singles Program always seemed like a peculiar feat for an unknown hardcore band, but it makes a lot more sense when connected to Andrew WK, who has a long history of Adult Swim collaborations.
When diving into conspiracy theories, one tends to make connections where they may not exist. But, the fact Andrew WK was featured in a Ford online video, reviewing the Ford Fiesta months before the Ford commercial that name dropped The Armed was aired, and that Andrew met up with a known contributor of The Armed at a Ford product launch definitely gives this theory some weight.
Perhaps these theories are finally in my head!
Theory #3 – It’s a Corporate Ad Agency
With all the media attention, connection to Ford, cable TV networks, incredibly high production value of their content, the fact the “POLARIZER” video featuring supercuts of hundreds of pop videos has not been flagged by the copyright-stringent YouTube platform, not to mention their PR company who handles artists tiers above their level of popularity, all feeds the conspiracy machine on this one.
This theory also revolves around the ubiquitous nature of The Armed’s logo, an almost primitively simple design used in mathematics and artsy take on the infinity symbol. Once you know to look for it, you really start to see it everywhere. From multi-media franchises and marketing agencies, to CBD gummies and cruise ships, the symbol pops across all things culture and business.
Here are just a few samples the forums have dug up, as well as some random sightings around NYC that Max Frank, who wrote the Vice story investigating the band, sent me…
If you couple this in with the the band’s esoteric aesthetic and have to wonder, could this all be an experiment? Perhaps we’re part of some sort of data harvest focus group targeting extreme counter culture niches!
Let’s call this one “unresolved at best, ridiculous at worst.”
Theory #4 – Tony Hawk is Creatively or Financially Involved
This theory began with the release of the “FT Frank Turner” video, which features a collection of ghillie-suit donning skateboarders wreaking havoc through the city. Tony Hawk posted the video on his Instagram feed, and yet another can of worms has been open, slithering its way through the message boards since. A handful of seemingly insider comments on both Tony’s and the band’s post seemed to allude to Tony himself appearing as one of the characters in the video.
Tony Hawk has long been a booster of the city of Detroit, home-base for the band, and even bought a home there in 2016. He’s a skateboarding icon who’s also known for imparting his expansive musical influence on generations of people via his legendary Tony Hawk Pro Skater video game series.
Just like any successful celebrity looking to diversify, Tony has a massive portfolio of creative and business endeavors, including (ahem) an advertising agency and a production company (see theory #3).
It’s also worth noting that Tony’s friend @CameraJesus seems to bear a striking resemblance to “Kenny” from the aforementioned Gear Gods video (I think we can close the chapter on this mystery). Tony also made a music video in quarantine with Urian Hackney, who seems to be The Armed’s new drummer.
This is all circumstantial evidence, of course. But when you start putting all of this together, it starts to become reasonable to believe that Hawk could work either as a creative director or even some sort of silent partner in the band. The plot thickens…
Theory #5 It’s Dozens, If Not Hundreds of People
There’s a long history of bands with ever-changing lineups and lengthy lists of collaborators – King Crimson and Steely Dan of course come to mind. The Armed have already enlisted members of Baptists, Converge, Rough Francis, and more publicly. Who knows who else might have been on an album, uncredited?
Once you consider the possibility that the band’s hidden members could number in the dozens, if not hundreds, everything else starts to make sense.
In a way, this last theory sort of encompasses all of them. The Armed could be anywhere, but also nowhere. I think? Maybe, one of them has family money that bankrolls the videos. Maybe, another has big TV and corporate connections. Maybe, yet another is the offspring of some famous rock or extreme sports icon. The possibilities are mind-boggling here.
Fuck, maybe I’m in The Armed? I don’t even know anymore!
I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the superfans and internet conspiracy theorists turn up next. In the meantime, ONLY LOVE is available via Sargent House.