Interview: The Poison Arrows

The Poison Arrows © The Poison Arrows

Chicago-based three piece The Poison Arrows delight us with their tales of midnight dodgeball and near-death flu catastrophes. Be sure to take a listen to their latest EP No Known Note, released through File 13 records.

Dash Majesty: Please introduce yourselves.

The Poison Arrows: Hi! We’re Adam Reach, drums; Patrick “Manuel” Morris, bass and Justin Sinkovich – I play guitar, do the vocals and play some keyboards sometimes. I record a lot of our music as well.

DM: You’re a true musical chef! For those who don’t know, how would you describe your sound? Is there a particular genre you ascribe to?

Patrick: Post-gregorian industrial street rock.

Justin: I’m honestly not quite sure. We are a rock band, but I think that we are pretty hard to pin down style wise. It’s pretty complex and simple at the same time. There is a darker artistic aesthetic. There are a lot of unorthodox arrangements that come from us just playing music together until a song comes out of it.

Adam: My wife says we sound heavy, but not metal; dark, but not brooding.

DM: With those kind of adjectives, we need to have a serious discussion about recruiting your wife to write for Dash. How do you find the scene in Chicago?

Justin: Chicago is amazing. Everyone is so incredibly supportive and down-to-earth here. That’s why I moved here in the first place. A couple of my favorite bands in town, musically, and as humans, are Bloodiest and FACS (formerly Disappears). I feel like they are the two bands that are really delving into new territory, which I find inspiring. We share a rehearsal space with FACS. There are many other great rock bands here as well. I’m also a big fan of the hip hop scene, especially my friends’ label Closed Sessions, with artists like Kweku Collins and Jamila Woods.

Patrick: There are a lot of great people here making some fantastic music. A lot of us tend to play in each other’s bands, here and there, so there is a feeling that we are all kind of on the same ship.

DM: Do you have any plans to pursue music outside of the US?

Justin: For sure! We’ve always had a lot of support from listeners in Europe and also Japan. We are planning to go to both for the first time within the next year.

Patrick: First SpaceX in-flight band.

The Poison Arrows - No Known Note
© The Poison Arrows – No Known Note

DM: We once saw Elon Musk, although it might have just been on a YouTube video… either way we can definitely try and get you that SpaceX hook up. Do you think your work has matured since your last record?

Patrick: Matured? Don’t know. Changed, I would say yes – with each record the sound changes a bit. This record has very little keyboard, and sounds a lot (instrument-wise) like a traditional three-piece rock band. I think these songs are possibly more accessible than some of our past approaches. Not that it was intentional, but we were all kind of on the same page there.

Justin: I wouldn’t say matured, but I would say it’s more focused. Reflecting on the last album Newfound Resolutions, I’m proud of it, but it was pretty complex, long, and dark. I was personally trying to push boundaries in terms of production, including different instruments and textures that I could thread together, on that record.

My goal for this album was to simplify what I was recording to let the drums, bass, main guitar, and vocals do most of the work in telling the story. On the last album there would be five guitars, several keyboards, multiple drum kits and the occasional drum machine. For this record, Adam and Patrick created an interesting foundation with the drums and bass, so I could keep it simpler on guitar for this record with very few extra instruments. I wouldn’t call it minimal, but I think we created a more sonic focus, which helps each instrument and the vocals to stand out. It sounds like us playing live in the studio almost.

DM: Yes, you seem to have a really tight sound – how long did it take you to get your performance so sharp?

Adam: Practise, practise, practise.  We started prepping this new LP in early 2015, after not playing together for 5 years (though we all still saw each other and were friends – our personal lives just took over). I think we spent that long writing and practising before recording in March 2016.

Justin: All three of us have been playing music for a long time, but we really only practise once a week, and they are relatively short rehearsals, like an hour and a half maybe. I think we really have a mental telepathy at this point, where, when we are in the spirit of it, songs come very easily and quickly for us. For the most part, we make them up in the practice space with very little discussion or planning. We just record on our phone or whatever, when we have some interesting parts, and then eventually write out a quick order of what we think should go where.

Patrick: This is the natural groove – we barely look at each other while playing.

Practice Space Face
Practice Space Face, by Colin Cubr

DM: Which other musicians do you draw inspiration from?

Justin: For this album, I purposely went back over a lot of the older rock bands that first influenced me to make records. Bands like Come, June of 44, Sonic Youth, Unwound, Girls Against Boys, Dinosaur Jr., Drive Like Jehu, Lungfish, Polvo and many more in that vein. I tried to study them from a writing and production standpoint, so as to understand what made their records so special.

Patrick: This is a tough one as there are a bucketload of great artist I love. Favorite recent local Chicago record, Bloodiest. Favorite recent non-Chi band, War On Drugs. Favorite genre this weekend, Nigerian garage rock. Favorite bass player of all time, Cliff Burton.

Adam: I draw a ton of inspiration from my friends, Jason Kourkounis (Bardo Pond/Hot Snakes), Matt Schulz (Holy Fuck/Enon), Cayce Key (Bloodiest, 90 Day Men), Chris Wilson (Ted Leo & The Pharmacists), Mario Rubalcaba (Earthless, OFF!, Hot Snakes, etc.), Alexis Fleisig (Girls Against Boys), Noah Leger (Disappears, Electric Hawk, Thee Speaking Canaries, Hurl, etc.) and Todd Trainer (Shellac, Rifle Sport, Bricklayercake). In terms of other drummers, I don’t know personally well, Paul Bostaph (Slayer) is a big one… Nico McBrain (Iron Maiden), Peter Prescott (Mission of Burma) are both right up there too.

DM: Talk us through your songwriting process. Do you create melodies or lyrics first?

Patrick: We usually start by one of us noodling a groove and then the other two pile in and boom, a song is born. There are always a few songs on each record where Justin, Adam or I will come in with an idea or structure which will get blended into rock soup by the time we are ready to commit to tape.

Justin: We typically just start playing music and that becomes an unstructured song. Then I start singing random lyrics over the music until we can write out a structure of what part should go where. I start actually writing lyrics based on a title or a basic theme and then different little parts and accents come by playing the songs for a while.

Occasionally Patrick or I will write a part at home and bring it into rehearsal. He usually makes up his songs on the bass with no planning though, he’s good at that.  Then I will write the guitar on top of it, with Adam figuring out the drums.

DM: What does the future look like for

The Poison Arrows?


Patrick: First SpaceX in-flight band.

DM: Your track Derailmentship has a notably different sound to the rest of the record. Can you talk us through this?

Adam: It’s got a shuffle beat(!) – and our friend Tony Lazzara (former drummer of Atombombpocketknife, current guitar slayer in Bloodiest) adds super-rock guitar over a few sections. But I maintain, it’s the effect of the shuffle beat you hear!

Justin: I actually had that basic guitar part written at home. Adam added awesome heavy drum parts to it. Meanwhile, Patrick added a lot of very nuanced melodies locked in with the drums. I started singing over the music based on that name I had written down. It turned out to be one of the darker and heavier songs on the album. Then I felt like it needed a couple of additional guitar ideas, so I had Tony from Bloodiest come in and add some, which lean toward more of a metal aesthetic. I was recording his guitars and after they were done, he asked if they were too heavy, I said “Definitely not, they rule…” or something like that. I remember playing it for Adam and Patrick for the first time and they were really stoked about it.

DM: Tell us about your most memorable show.

Patrick: Has to be the time in Charlotte when we had a day off and Adam was near-death flu sick. We stayed at a motel and Justin and I spent the day drinking beer by what we coined the “Misunderstood Pool”, as it was filled with dirt and had a mattress in the middle of it. Then it was off to midnight dodgeball. Nothing to do with music, but my most memorable day.

Adam: Opening for Drive Like Jehu in October 2015 was a “pinch me” moment, for sure. Being asked personally by John Reis was beyond flattering. They are one of my favorites of all time, and I never thought I’d see them live. Also, when Patrick played the wah-pedal with his knee while playing bass during one of our older songs in Nashville in 2015. If there’s audio of that show, I’m positive that it captured both Justin and I bursting into laughter.

Justin: We’ve been so incredibly lucky to play with some of our favorite bands. Yes Jehu, and also Polvo, Shipping News, Soulside, Bellini, Battles, Mission of Burma… I could go on and on. I’ve had some of my favorite musicians on the planet come up after our show and say they really liked our set. That is the best. I always feel like, “Wow, you actually thought that was good?!”

DM: Do you each have projects outside of the band? If so, could you tell us a bit about them?

Justin: Yes, Patrick and I have a band called Acquaintances that is going to start recording again soon. I’m really excited about the songs we have so far. I have some other recordings I am working on. The Poison Arrows is by far our main focus though. I love playing in this band so much.

Adam: I play drums in a band with Che A.H. Arthur called Pink Avalanche (note: Che is Justin’s former bandmate in Atombombpocketknife). Our last tour was in 2014 with Survival Knife (Justin Trosper/Brandt Sandeno’s sadly belated post-Unwound outfit) and we’re currently working on a new album.

DM: What does the future look like for The Poison Arrows?

Patrick: First SpaceX in-flight band.

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