Armadilla is their name and absurdity is their game. That is, they combine absurdity with music to reflect each personality within the band. Their dynamic includes high-energy, witty stage banter and “odd decorations.”
The five-piece out of Asheville is as visually captivating as they are musically. Just check out their shows and tour on Instragram, or in music videos like “No Hands Please”—released on their 2016 self-titled EP. Filmed in guitarist Gabe Smiley’s bathroom, viewers join the band for an intimate bubble bath while they serenade the camera.
“Bassist Harrison inexplicably carries around a camel suit in his car, so that was put into the video immediately,” lead singer and keyboardist Galen Stickels adds. “It definitely fit our goal of absolute absurdity.”
Armadilla’s show at Satellite on Saturday is their last trip to North Carolina’s coast for a few months; they’re preparing to head back to the studio to record their forthcoming full-length album. encore interviewed Harrison Johnston and Galen Stickels to learn more.
encore (e): Tell us about the full-length album; is it a continuation of sorts of your EP or a departure in some ways?
Harrison Johnston (HJ): The style of music is a continuation of the indie-inspired sound on our EP, but the addition of our second guitarist, Chris Wallen, has made the music more intricate and added layers. The EP was recorded as a four-piece, so the addition of a fifth member, whose playing style compliments the original members perfectly, has filled out our sound and made more things possible from a songwriting and recording standpoint.
e: Can you tell us about a couple of new songs—their origins and such?
Galen Stickels (GS): “Yawning” and “The Smells Themselves” were written on guitar by Harrison, who was originally a funk- and blues-style guitarist before joining Armadilla on bass. A third new song “S.O.S.S.” (an acronym for the Son of Sam Serenade) was written after watching a documentary on the 1970’s murders in NYC.
e: Are you road-testing any for us to hear at your Satellite show?
GS: There are several new songs we have been working on over the last several months that we can’t wait to record. We will play all four new songs at Satellite, including “The Smells Themselves”—written just over a week ago and making its live debut.
e: Tell us about your songwriting process. Are the lyrics, music, melodies a shared endeavor?
GS: Most of the earlier material (the EP) was written by me and were originally just vocal and piano pieces. As the band added more members, they wrote their own parts based on the existing framework I had already written. The new material varies in how it is written. Some songs are born out of random jams at rehearsals, some are still written by me and brought to the band to “fill out,” while others are written by bassist/guitarist Harrison Johnston, who switches instruments with Gabe for a few tracks during live performances. Gabe and I write the majority of the harmonies.
e: Tell us the evolution of the band from acoustic to what it is now—was it a purposeful progression, as in seeking out new players, or more happenstance?
HJ: After months of songwriting and playing small shows around Asheville, Galen and Gabe decided they wanted to transition the project from acoustic duo to a full-fledged band. Galen first wanted to seek out a drummer to add a rhythm section to the group. He started jamming with local drummer Hagen Johnston and immediately thought their musical styles worked well together. Hagen’s younger brother, Harrison, normally a guitarist, happened to stop by the studio while they were playing one day and was convinced to pick up a bass. The instrument stuck, and the two Johnston brothers filled out the original Armadilla lineup.
Guitarist Chris Wallen was brought in to sub for Gabe in the summer of 2017 while he was biking across Europe. He fit so well with the group, we decided to add him as a permanent member upon Gabe’s return.
e: What have you learned since releasing the EP—whether about the songs, your overall sound or as a band? Any lessons learned to be reflected on the upcoming record?
HJ: Since releasing the EP, we feel we have progressed drastically both as individual musicians and a band. Over the last two years (our first show was March 2016), we have dialed in our overall sound—in terms of dynamics, harmonies, songwriting, and how to compliment one another’s sound when we write. We also have added or changed a few things from a track or two off of the EP, so they will be rerecorded and released along with our new material. As mentioned above, our EP was recorded before Chris’ addition to the band, so our sound on the new album will have more layers and intricate guitar parts.
e: Tell me more about the “No Hands Please” video; looks like you guys like to had fun!
HJ: We have a band policy to never take ourselves too seriously. We love to joke around and be generally ridiculous, as is evidenced by our music video, our song names, our stage banter, and our Instagram feed (@armadillamusic).
Along those lines, we have two band mascots. They are stuffed raccoons, Kelly and Columbus, and they can often be found guarding the tip jar or just hanging out looking cool. Songs like “The Smells Themselves,” “Penny Adjacent,” and “Good Call, Bad Times” were chosen either because they sounded odd or because they have some hidden meaning to the band (ask us at a show).