By Brian Kindle
Photo by Zack Gross
Can The Armchairs be trusted?
It’s a thorny question. But the four members of this local shambolic indie band come across as the types who might not let veracity and accuracy get in the way of a good time.
After all, they claim to base all that they do on the on the mysterious and ill-defined scientific principle of “number flow theory.” They may possibly write anyone their very own song, about any topic of their choosing, for the rock-bottom price of five dollars. They might also be inventing a new sub-genre called “yogurt rock.” Oh, and the band’s origin story may or may not involve the horrific, accidental deaths of the drummer’s parents.
If one wanted to be circumspect, one might call the Armchairs “unreliable narrators.” If you wanted to be a little more direct, perhaps more accurate, you could call them “merry pranksters” or maybe just “four guys who like to B.S. a lot.” And happen to be great at it.
Which is no insult. Andy Molholt, Michael Chadwick, Andrew Morris and Mike Harkness of The Armchairs seem as though they’re on a quest to create adroit, massively entertaining foolishness and avoid self-seriousness in any way possible. They’ve succeeded on both counts, and it makes their music a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.
“I just want to terrify people,” says Andy, the Armchair’s guitarist and occasional keyboardist, of his goal for the band, “but in a good way. I want to run up to like, soccer moms, and scream right in their faces, but then tell them that it’s all going to be OK. And then run away.”
The Armchairs play loose, rhythm-led rock that’s openly indebted to Ween and the Mothers of Invention, but stylistically diverse enough to include heavy doses of indie touchstones like Pavement and Olivia Tremor Control and hints of any number of late-60s garage, rock and pop bands. It’s a fine combination, it sounds fresh, and it makes you wonder why more bands don’t try it.
Songs range from the spazzy, hugely enjoyable shout-along of “Nebraska” to dreamy, downright pretty melodies like “Solar Puff.” Every track is bolstered by the band’s rambunctious energy and surprisingly tight musicianship, especially apparent in a live setting. Almost every song clocks in at three minutes or less, and that’s all that’s needed: the band manages to pack quite a lot of their goof-off charm into that brief runtime.
Part of that combination of anarchic energy and professionalism undoubtedly comes from their living situation: the entire band shares one house in Fishtown, and prior to that, the members were college roommates at separate arts schools- Andy and Michael at Columbia College in Chicago, and Mike and Andrew at University of the Arts in Philly. “Two sets of college roommates became one set of college roommates,” Andy says. “We’re technically our own college.” All the members have musical training, making it less of a surprise that they can pull off their whiplash start-stop tempo shifts and skillful instrumental jams during their live shows.
Molly, their non-band roommate, describes it somewhat differently, saying that living with them is like, “If you’ve ever seen the movie Groundhog Day: Like that. When you’re in the same day over and over again, except you’re also in the book Where the Wild Things Are.”
Though they’ve been known to perform dressed as hotdogs and take band photos wearing nothing but tighty-whities and layers of spaghetti sauce, the merest mention that they might be, well, a little silly, triggers an outpouring of mock outrage from Andy, Michael and Mike. The three shout over each other in an effort to express their displeasure:
“How dare you! HOW DARE YOU!”
“I’m done. I’m done. That’s it.”
“If you could see me right now, you’d see that I look very upset.”
“We weren’t trying to be ridiculous! We didn’t do that on purpose! Can you write that like 20 times?”
Moments later, Andy admits, “No man, you’re right, we are ridiculous,” and the band (minus Andrew Morris, who unfortunately couldn’t make the interview) instead suggest that they be portrayed as complete jerks. “The Armchairs didn’t even answer any of the questions we asked. They were rude people,” Mike offers as a possible line, while Michael adds, “Just, like, talk mad shit on us. We’re giving you permission to do that.”
But that’s the thing about The Armchairs, one of the best things about them: for all their artifice and invention, they don’t really need any of it. They’re not using weirdness to cover for weaknesses in their sound, or as some kind of hip ironic pose. It’s just second nature to them; their idea of a good time.
“So many people [in bands] take themselves so fucking seriously,” Andy says, with a combination of amusement and frustration. “‘Oh, I’m in a band, I’m so important.’ You’re not! You’re not important! Your band is not important!”
Sure, Andy might claim that he’s going to stand in the background and eat yogurt the whole time during their live show, thus inaugurating “yogurt rock,” and Michael might joke that Andy struck and killed his parents with a car on the first day they met (he didn’t, but he did back into their car). And for the record, you really can commission a song from The Armchairs for bargain prices (“people always think we’re joking about that,” says Andy. “We’re not”). There’s always tomfoolery to spare when it comes to The Armchairs. But the one thing these guys seem to take truly seriously is the pure enjoyment that comes from creating, playing and experiencing music. Well, that and number flow theory.