Hailing from across Arizona, Arm’s Reach is among the Grand Canyon State’s most vitriolic acts, laying waste to expectations both musically and lyrically. Never backing down from a platform or fight, this quintet recently released their debut album in 2017, the aptly-titled Rotten Earth and with it comes a wallop of the band’s signature candor and bone-crunching heaviness.
To expand on the album and the band proper, I discussed all that and more with vocalist Jairus Sturgeon below.
For the uninitiated, tell us how Arm’s Reach formed?
I didn’t join Arm’s Reach until September of 2015. Up until that point the band existed as Josh Byler, Brandon Shepherd, Steven Jimenez, and the previous vocalist, Richie Luna. As the original lineup, they put out a 4-song demo and played a handful of shows before the original vocalist decided to part ways. Shortly after, I posted on a Facebook group for Arizona hardcore about wanting to do vocals for a band. At this point Arm’s Reach was deciding whether or not to continue and, as a shot in the dark, Josh messaged me to see if I’d be interested. After a short exchange, we jammed and didn’t stop until we put out our first EP release called Triggered on March 12, 2016. Fast-forward to March of 2017 and the final form of Arm’s Reach was manifested through the addition of our second guitarist, Jorge Santacruz.
There’s much that can be gleaned from the band’s name, but as a customary question and in the context of the band, in your words, where does “arm’s reach” come from?
Well, as you already know, I wasn’t a part of Arm’s Reach when they first started, so I wasn’t around for the christening. However, for me, the name is about keeping your enemies within reach. I reject this idea that you should censor your entire life. Blocking those who oppose you on the internet and editing your daily interactions only leads to ignorance and a loss of control over any situation. I welcome the opposition into my life. I choose to keep those who oppose me at a specific distance; away, but within my reach if action needs to be taken.
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There was some bullshit during recording of your new EP, Rotten Earth, when you wore a “Good Night, Alt-Right” shirt, causing some Nazi trash to come out of the woodwork. As a band that never shies away from your sociopolitical beliefs, what is the most important statement you feel can be made in these times?
Oh man, that was insane. First and foremost, let me just say, fuck the alt-right and any other pseudointellectual group that attempts to dress their racist, sexist, homophobic, classist views as a legitimate opinion. What I find most hilarious about that situation is the fact that they lost their minds over a picture. Some mouth breather from their camp saw the post and privately shared it, to what I can only assume was an alt-right-oriented page, on Facebook and they all went insane. Immediately we were labeled as “antifa scum,” and no matter what we said, they wrote us off as this or that. It was impossible for them to grasp the idea that we could be both anti-fascist and anti-communist at the same time. In their simple minds we must be communists because I was wearing a good night alt-right shirt. I find that situation to be a perfect microcosm of what I think is the greater overarching issue. The two party system, the media, and the political elite have created a division in the U.S. that discourages individual thought and perpetuates a team mentality.
People no longer hold personal opinions, instead they regurgitate whatever talking points they are spoon-fed by their respective “teams.” If you are unable to criticize your own side then you are a part of the problem. The reality is that our political system is controlled by two parties that seek to benefit themselves by exploiting the public. As long as humans are in charge of other humans it won’t matter what system is in place, there will always be those who seek control over others. Humans are the problem and we are unlikely to solve it. Always ask questions, be skeptical, stand up against your oppressors, organize, defend human rights, hold people in power accountable, and do your fucking research.
Are there any political commentators, scholars philosophers or otherwise whose writings you’d recommend for those interested enough?
I won’t name anyone specifically because, honestly, I believe people need to stop asking others and should do the work themselves. However I will say this, research both sides. Check out what Fox News is saying and what AM radio is saying. Check out what CNN and MSNBC is saying, read articles from both sides and come to your own conclusions. If you believe 100% what one side is saying or what one other person is saying all the time then you probably aren’t being honest with yourself. I believe we are a tribal species by nature and as such we seek out existing schools of thought to ascribe to. Looking to others for guidance is a natural and often useful instinct of ours but, at the same time, I believe it holds us back. I know what I believe because I spend time researching what I don’t believe.
Your new album Rotten Earth makes several statements from anti-cop, anti-corruption, anti-pacifism to tried-and-true self deprecation. In comparison to your demo, how do you feel Arm’s Reach’s themes have evolved?
I’ve always been an over-opinionated, argumentative, and politically charged individual ever since I was a kid. Undoubtedly, I get it from my dad. So when I sit down to write lyrics for Arm’s Reach I typically listen to a song over and over then write about what’s been pissing me off at the time. Whatever I find myself obsessing over. When I wrote the lyrics for Triggered, it had been 4 or 5 years since I fronted for a band, so naturally I hadn’t written in years. Also, at that time in my life I was struggling to pay my bills, was living in an empty apartment with no furniture, and was sleeping on an air mattress. The themes from Triggered were more general and big picture, American apathy, cultural obsession with money/celebrities/entertainment, the lie of the American Dream, greed, and the social cancer that is fake social justice warriors who actually damage progress with their fake concern for social brownie points. Rotten Earth, in my opinion, is much more specific and to the point. In a way, I think the themes describe what it is about society and human nature that I despise. First and foremost disgust with myself, disgust for passivity in the face of oppression, disgust with the police as an institution, disgust for the insidious prison industrial complex, disgust for humanity as a whole, and utter disgust for the lie that is god. Arm’s Reach is not a positive band and my hope is to highlight the darkness that is human existence with every song that we write.
To expand, what influences went into writing Rotten Earth? I hear traces of Blacklisted in your vocals, for example
To be honest, I didn’t really have a set vocal style in mind when I joined Arm’s Reach. Typically, I prefer to hone in my vocals to whatever comes out during the writing process and while jamming. Truthfully, I didn’t land on a vocal style until we went into the studio to record our first EP. In fact, it wasn’t until after Triggered was recorded and finished that I really found my sound. In contrast, when we went in to record Rotten Earth, I knew exactly what I was going to do vocally and I think that comes through in the recordings.
I really don’t have anyone in mind when I do vocals for this band but I have been told it reminds people of other vocalists. The most common ones I’ve heard are Bracewar, Blacklisted, Bitter End, Colin of Arabia, Expire (yikes), and Have Heart, which are all bands that I listen to but certainly aren’t in mind when I write. As far as the music goes, we’ve never talked about wanting to sound a certain way or ever had anyone in mind. It makes it difficult when people ask us who we sound like. Usually we want to know what people associate us with because obviously there are influences, they just aren’t conscious influences.
Accompanying the EP was a video for your song “Human Shit.” Done by Jungle Pop, the band’s playing is interlaced with old footage of war and famine, ending with a spray-painted “Death is Peace.” What led to this song being chosen for the video and how did the ideas contained therein come to fruition?
We chose “Human Shit” to shoot the video because, thematically, we think it captures the overall voice of Rotten Earth. Lyrically, the song is about how the human experience is tragic and overall one negative event leading to the next. We chose to insert images that represent the worst of humanity because let’s be honest, the history of humans is filled with death, suffering, torture, sickness, tyranny, genocide, etc. let’s face it, the systems in place to enable atrocity change over the course of time but the evil that is humanity persists. Simply put, existence is torture...death is peace.
The artwork for Rotten Earth has a 1950s Americana feel to it, albeit subverted with horror motifs. Where did this visual come from and how did its inclusion as the cover come about?
Our drummer, Josh Byler, designs most of our merch and did the cover for both of our EPs. The idea behind the cover for Rotten Earth is to capture a 1950s dystopian feel. It’s no secret that the '50s are regarded as the golden years of the US yet, in actuality it was a time period filled with racism, sexism, and overall ignorance. Our album cover seeks to capture the idea of happiness and bliss at a glance while at the same time, upon further examination, capturing the unhappiness and negativity that is being alive.
The Southwest scene is in bloom right now. In addition to Iniquity, whose vocalist John Weiler appeared on Rotten Earth, what other bands should the rest of the world be listening to?
You definitely aren’t wrong, I truly believe the Southwest is on the verge of breaking out as a scene on a national scale, but, as an Arizonan, I’m going to put my friends on. Obviously we have the bands that have already broken out. Gatecreeper, Easy Money, Sex Prisoner, Get A Grip, The Beautiful Ones, and Beg For Life. But there are countless bands from AZ that deserve attention that run the gamut stylistically. Check out Pig City, Ugly, Reasons, Withered Bones, Sore, Divine Hammer, Minor Morals, Woundvac, Trench, Territory, End Result, Blackened, and Crossfire. Check out Homewrecker Studios, Catalyst Studios, and Jungle Pop Studios. There are so many talented people in Arizona that all deserve your attention.
Any parting words?
Stop being a witness and start being an actor.