First forming a kinship through a love of local raves, Joseph Chung and Joseph Abella’s fusion of dubstep, trance and techno has found favour with millions of listeners globally.
This year the pair, in their guise as ARMNHMR, released their debut album. We sat down for a natter with Abella to find out more…
Firstly, how did ARMNHMR first get off the ground – how did you guys first meet?
“To put it simply, partying. We began as concertgoers. We both met through mutual groups of friends in the SoCal raving scene. We spent many years going to festivals together that we eventually thought it would be a great idea to start something of our own. I started learning first and the rest is history.”
Can you talk us through your (coined term) ‘Hammer’ sound – what are the hallmarks of it and why did you call it that?
“The ‘Hammer’ sound is something of an emotional rollercoaster. We want our music to take you on a journey. By the end of the song we want you to be left feeling pensive and in awe. Hopeful or at the very least a sense of closure.”
Let’s talk about Together as One, which is out now via Monstercat. It’s a really fantastic listen. How long has this album been in development and what tracks are your personal faves?
“The album has been in development for the past couple of years. On and off we’ve been working on each of the tracks since the COVID pandemic. It’s hard to pinpoint a favourite track, because each one shared a special moment during the time we wrote it.”
There are some incredible textures on the album, and some rock-solid hooks. Do you have a tried-and-tested production process, or does your arrangement/mixing approach vary track to track?
“Each track naturally takes a life of its own. We don’t have a plan of attack for most of our music. Some tracks came together quicker than others, but overall it just took time and patience.”
Someone To Forget is a real monster of a song and has perhaps a more poppy vibe. How did that track originate and how long did it take to get the mix right?
“Thank you for the kind words! The song actually originated early on in the pandemic in a little cabin in Big Bear, California. Most of the initial songs on the album began there, after we decided to isolate ourselves for a team writing boot camp. It took a little over two years, off and on, writing and rewriting. Lights [the pair’s collaborator on the track] absolutely crushed it in the writing process. It really didn’t take too long to wrap up the song after that.”
There are some exceptional featured artists on the record. How do you decide who to work with and do you typically build the tracks together with the collaborators?
“We are fans of each one of the vocalists we work with. Much of it began with just cold emails. We start building tracks from the ground up. Much of the tracks begin as stripped demos that eventually turn into full-scale productions by the end of it. We respect working with other creatives and never want to skip corners.”
Who would be a dream collaboration for you?
“Personally for me (Joe Abella) most of my dream collaborations are artists who have come and gone. Michael Jackson, Freddy Mercury, and John Lennon just to name a few.”
There are some interesting blends of instrumental textures on the record, things like acoustic guitar and shimmering piano sit alongside those more classic electronic elements, tracks like September Nights really balance these worlds well. What motivated you to bring in those additional flavours?
“Nothing can replace the warmth of real instruments. This time around we wanted to get as hands-on with the album as we could. Most of the instruments were recorded and written by ourselves. [We wanted] Together As One to be the embodiment of both electronic and traditional music. We aimed to combine and blend the best of both worlds to create something of our own.”
We’re guessing you work in your own studio. What’s the cornerstone of your setup gear-wise and what’s the balance between hardware and software?
“Everything we’ve done has always been grassroots. Every song was written in our small bedroom studios with just our pianos, guitars, bass, and in-the-box plugins. As much as possible we don’t want to rely on one over the other. Our whole goal is to write a good song.”
What software is vital for the ARMNHMR sound? Can you talk us through a few of your favourite DAWs or plugins?
“We’ve had backgrounds in most DAWs, but Ableton Live by far is the most essential. As far as plugins, there are too many to name. Minimal Audio Rift and Xfer Serum are by far the most used in our toolbox. In the end it’s just colours on a canvas and the most important part is us as the writers.”
What software could you not produce without? And what’s on your studio wish-list?
“Ableton Live would be the one piece of software we could not produce without. It has amazing instruments, samplers, MIDI effects, etc. Most importantly, the warp function is by far the best.”
Do you prefer being in-studio or performing live overall?
“Live performances are just as important as the time we put into music. We love being in the studio working on music, but nothing beats being able to see first hand reactions. Also, live performances give us the platform to create new and fun edits that give a brand new life to the tracks.
“We write most of our tracks to be played live because we feel there is an energy in a live setting that you just can’t reach through your headphones. Everyone singing and being together on the same page is so rewarding.”
What are your thoughts on the continuing rise of AI? Do you think it threatens new musicians and the wider industry?
“Overall, I think in our space it isn’t much of a concern. Just like the introduction of the internet and the improvement of creation tools, I feel like it’s the artist’s role to adapt. It’s just another tool in the act of creating. I think most fans support art created by humans because they share a common experience. It’s hard to find connection and relatability in a machine if it hasn’t come from someone who truly understands the nuance of being human.”
What advice would you give to anyone looking to have a career like yours?
“Don’t! Just kidding! If creating music and expression is something you feel destined to do then I would say just start. Create when you’re uninspired just the same way you create when you’re inspired. It takes so much time to get good at something. The more music you make, the more chances you have to gain supporters.”
What’s next on the agenda for you guys?
“We love what we do and want to take it as far as we can. There’s a big world out there. For now, we’re just focusing on touring for the rest of the album and seeing where we go from there…”