We recently premiered the title track for The Poison Arrows new album, War Regards, which was released on February 25, via Coup sur Coup and File 13 Records. If you haven’t heard it yet, we can’t recommend it enough, and it makes for a great soundtrack while reading this article. For any Don Caballero fans, if you’re unfamiliar with The Poison Arrows bassist Pat Morris, you have some homework to do. While there are mathy elements and odd-time signatures in War Regards that math rock fans can relate with, The Poison Arrows have a diverse musical palette and are much more than the math rock elements in their music. The music is dark, brooding, and tinged with minimalistic post-punk under the surface that pops out in unexpected ways. The 4th studio album from The Poison Arrows shows a lot of growth in the music, and they sound as tight as you’d expect for a band that’s existed since 2005.
We recently sat down to talk with the band about their new album, how they’ve managed to stay together for 15+ years, how they’ve adjusted to becoming a multi-city band, and what keeps them going into the future.
FB: Let’s start at the beginning and how exactly did you guys all meet? Did you
know each other before the band started?
Justin Sinkovich: We did know each other! The band started when Adam Reach our drummer was working on some music with Che Arthur, who play together in Pink Avalanche. I had played with Che in atombombpocketknife and after that band ended we were recording some music for Che’s new project in my basement and Adam had his drum set up and all miked and I said something like, “Do you want to work on some stuff with me?” and Adam said, “Sure let’s try it.” So we started messing around with some music, and then iked the direction it was going and starting to think about bass players.
I met Pat in Chicago in the late 90’s during the What Burns Never Returns era ofDon Caballero, and we struck up a friendship immediately, we became very close.So I thought to ask Pat to join us and we started putting together that first EP, which is the Straight into the Drift EP, and that was recorded in my basement withall the stuff set up for the record Adam was working on with Che. That’s how the band was born.
FB: What timeframe was is?
Pat Morris: Somewhere around 2005. I can’t remember the date exactly. I had quit playing music entirely after Don Cab. I moved from Pittsburgh to Chicago and was living a life without playing in bands. I can remember the day that I wanted to start playing bass again, it was seeing “Buckets of Flowers” by Consonant at the Abbey Pub. After seeing that show, I was wanting to serve up some bass again in a band. Justin and Adam then asked me if I wanted to join this new thing they were doing, and it sounded awesome to me.
Adam Reach: I can remember everything very well. It all kind of started with CheArthur for me really. I knew Che when I was living in Alabama, where I grew up, and we were playing together in Alabama for a long time. I’ve known Che since I was 18 and he’s one of my closest friends. Che moved to Chicago in 1996, and I followed suit moving to Chicago in 1997. I remember coming up to Chicago to visit Che and we went to a Karp show at Fireside Bowl and that was kind of it for me and I knew at that show I had to move up here. Justin and I only found this out years later that when we both moved to Chicago it was literally the same week in 1997. And one of the first things we did was go to a June of 44 show. So we were at that show together, moved to Chicago the same week, but didn’t know each other yet.
Che and I were trying to do this duo thing and we really weren’t happy with the direction it was going. Che got the opportunity to play with atombombpocketknife with Justin, and he went and did that and I had started working with Touch and Go Records, and it was really something that I have wanted to do for a long time. I was really getting more involved with Touch and Go and then through Che joining atombombpocketknife I got to know Justin and we became friends.
Ok, this is where we get to The Poison Arrows. Justin asked me if I could record some songs with him and the old guitar player of Thumbnail, Justin’s old band before atombombpocketknife, and I said sure. I thought I’d show up and it’d be me, Jason from thumbnail, and Justin. I get there and it was actually seven or eight people (at the house). Then we worked on a few things, and I just I don’t know whether I was feeling kind of subpar that day, maybe not feeling so confident, but at the end of it, I remember kind of sheepishly telling Justin I don’t know if I have time to commit to this. It was no harm, no foul, and everybody remained friends.
A few years later and now we’re in 2005, and Che and I go to make a new record. He’s like, I’m going to have Justin record it, and we’re going to do it at his house in Cicero. While finishing up these recordings with Che, Justin approaches me and says he has some songs he’s been working on and since my drums were already in his basement and set up asked if I’d be interested in playing on them. That’s how The Poison Arrows started was in Justin’s basement after Che and I made a record.
Justin had this idea about having a bass player who plays more like a guitar player playing bass. Not in like a funky bass kind of way, but someone could fill up a lot of space and be like a lead instrument. I immediately thought, “Oh, you mean like Pat Morris?!” He was like yeah basically, and I knew Justin and Pat were good friends and let Justin take lead on recruiting Pat into the fold. Justin and I started
playing and then maybe two weeks later Pat showed up and I didn’t honestly know how it was going to go. The first song we practiced, Pat was immediately like, “I don’t have anything written for this, but here we go,” and he just throws it down and it was amazing, which then also kind of become the template for how we wrote songs. I had met Pat through just working at Touch and Go, and I still view so much of the music that I love and the art that I love through the lens of a 15 year old boy who has just discovered it for the first time. There’s still a part of me after playing in a band with Pat for nearly 20 years that’s just like so awesome I get to play in a band with this guy who played bass on What Burns Never Returns.
Pat: I really trusted Justin and Adam and they had a vision of what they wanted in the music, and it was really fun to play, and it’s still fun to play all these years later.
FB: Can you talk a little bit about your song writing process? Justin, the band started with music you brought in, is that something you still do or is it more of a collaborative writing process?
Justin: After the first EP, that was kind of the end of me just bringing in written songs to work on. Some stuff we just kind of put together on the fly, and I think it’s important for the three of us to just be in a room together playing and working our way through a song. The music has been very collaborative for all the full-length albums, and usually just starts with us jamming together and see where it goes.
Adam: The process of how we come up with music as a band has changed a little over time, but feels very efficient now, and I think the results are a lot better. The parts feel really organic as compared to a band where one guy just brings in completed song ideas all the time, and on drums I’m listening to Pat as well as Justin and I’ll change subtle things in my hi-hats or ride cymbal based on what they’re doing and it is something that comes out of playing through an idea together. Especially now with me not living in Chicago anymore, having moved down to North Carolina, our process works really well with coming up with good ideas fairly quickly and making the most of our time all together when we can get together.
FB: With War Regards is all the music starting from jamming together and forming songs that way?
Justin: I think so. Yeah, I think it’s weird how we can just get together and play for a couple days and write half an album’s worth of stuff and demo it out. The music just seems to flow once you get kind of locked out of the thoughts of the outside world, it just starts flowing. Yeah, it’s odd that it does flow.
We just did three very short rehearsals because we’re moving into a new practice room, and we were doing soundproofing and everything. It was like maybe 90 minutes to two hours or three times a row and the music was just flowing and we already have some new song ideas for the next album.
Adam: And I think it’s because we’ve been playing together long enough and now each other so well that we can just get to that point where we’re like, “Hey, this sounds cools we have a good idea here let’s pursue it!” And sometimes those times where you don’t have multiple weeks or months to pursue an idea, lead to those moments of improvisation becoming songs, and I think we all enjoy keeping the songs truer to that moment of improvisation.
Justin: I think the only time I actually brought in parts for the band after the first EP was when we restarted in 2015. And that was 10 years after the band started and after we took a break.
FB: How long was the break?
Justin: Four years. Yeah, we did a double album right before Pat and I made an Acquaintances record and at the time we just kind of needed a break. I kind of started off with hey, here’s a couple songs or at least parts of songs. And that was what was needed to get everything going again.
FB: How many days were you in the studio recording War Regards?
Adam: We were there for I think three days. We were tracking everything live in the studio, and by the third day we only had one song left to record. And the one song was the last song “Altered Medication.” Pat’s playing the loop in that song, that’s the baseline and I’m playing along to the loop while he does everything else on top of it, which was way easier to do in studio than I thought it was going to be. I remember that third day recording and that song more than anything because initially I was just gonna play to a click, and Greg Norman was like, “Wy don’t you just turn everybody down in your headphones and turn up Pat’s loop”? So I just did that and closed my eyes and just played along to the loop. It was different than any other song on the album how we did it. It’s interesting, because I’ve talked with John Stanier (Battles) about playing to loops. I asked him, “Why are you always looking down when you play?” John told me, “I look at my monitors because if I look at those guys, I’ll lose my spot.” When recording that last song in the studio I was thinking of that and trying not watch Pat.
FB: And so one question I have going off of hearing how you guys write songs. I think one thing really interesting about the band are the lyrics. The song “Shallow Grave” on the new album has the lyrics about the debt collector and going to their grave after they die, and who can’t relate if you’ve ever dealt with a debt collector. Since the music is coming more from an improvised standpoint, where is the source of the lyrics? Are the lyrics written before or after the music?
Justin: Pat will come up with a lot of the song titles. He’s kind of the head of the naming department. That’s where the name Shallow Grave comes from, and Pat just says these names joking around and I think, ok, I could write a song about that.
Pat: You’re usually the guy with the two word song titles, and coming from the Don Cab universe, I always had the sentence long titles or weird stuff like “Peruvian Mountain Fight.”
Justin: Yeah, I like the challenge though. I remember with “Peruvian Mountain Fight” thinking how am I supposed to write a song about this? “Shallow Grave” that was you though, you came up with that song title. You said we should write a song about a shallow grave.
Pat: Still love that title, I remember the reason I called it that is I was watching on the Discovery Channel about these two towns in Peru, located up on mountaintops, and they throw rocks at each other once a year. In that context “Peruvian Mountain Fight” makes a lot of sense haha. Still a fun one when we play it from time to time.
Justin: So thinking about “Shallow Grave.” I was starting to write short stories about things related to the lyrics. And I wrote this story about being harassed by this debt collector. He was really making our life miserable. My wife and I would just get knocking on our door and like not just knocking like pounding on the door. It was like one of those things where they didn’t know that the issue was being resolved by my lawyer. So I got this debt collector coming by and just pounding on our door. It got really stressful and was a terrible situation. I wrote this whole story about the guy dying, I mean, finding out about him dying, not killing him or anything like that, and then driving down to his grave walking past all of his friends in the graveyard and just spitting on his grave and then driving straight back home.
Pat: As a very non-violent guy, those lyrics were quite surprising.
FB: I’ve asked about the music and lyrics and how they come about, but I’m curious with the pandemic of the past two years now, how has that changed how you listen to music or what you’re listening to? Any interesting pandemic music finds?
Justin: Actually, recently I went through a little moment of not listening to a bunch of music. Yeah, but that was more like over the past six months where not like you’re in the height of the pandemic. During the pandemic, my wife and I bought this little house out in the woods, and we moved out there in the woods and I would commute back to the city for work. It’s two and a half hours away and kind of far out in the corner of northwest Illinois in Galena. It’s at the corner of Wisconsin and Iowa, and I spent like 70% of my time out there in the woods. You know what I listened to because I was out the woods? Honestly, I started listening to a lot of The Grateful Dead. Yeah, I think there’s just something about sitting around a fire in the woods and that’s what I was listening to.
Adam: I’ve just continued to add to my already kinda large record collection, and I love listening to records. I still love listening to the records I grew up with and all the Touch and Go stuff and everything from Idles to Iron Maiden to Clyde Stubblefield killing it on James Brown records.
Pat: My record collection is kind of all over the place. Growing up in Pittsburgh I grew up listening to a lot of blues and jazz stuff still have that mixed in with all the rock stuff you’d expect in there.
FB: Pat, that’s interesting you mention blues and jazz and any specific blues or jazz music that influences your bass playing and the looser improvisation approach to part writing?
Pat: The first thing that comes to mind is old Robert Johnson and some Miles Davis stuff and funk with Betty Davis. I don’t know if that really influences my playing, there are a lot of different records I listen to. I think the improv stuff is just kind of how our brains work. It’s usually just Adam playing something cool and I’m just trying to come up with a bassline over it. Me being a project manager, I then like to make some changes and try to do some cool phrasing and extra stuff. We just don’t really spend the time thinking like, “What should I play here? Should this be loud or distorted?” The parts just come together while we’re playing them.
FB: If someone listens to War Regards and likes it and wanted to hear something similar to it, who would you recommend to check out? Are there any bands you see as contemporaries to you guys and what you sound like?
Pat: If you took Voivod and Sufjan Stevens and put them in a blender, then what’s blended would be completely off the chain… Sorry if I fucked up that question.
Justin: No, keep going more blender talk. I’d say Facs is a really great band we have a lot in common with. We used to share a practice space with them, and we were supposed to play with Facs along with Girls Against Boys, but that show just got postponed to the Fall.
Adam: Honestly, this probably sounds cliche, but the bands that I think of the most are really our friends’ bands. Like, we played shows with Battles and kind of akin to them. We fit with Shipping News, even though they’re sadly no longer around. Parlour is a really good band and friends of ours. Newer music I think of a band like Flatworms would be a good one to compare to. I would like to think if you like Hot Snakes, you would like us. I can’t get enough of Facs and Brian Case, ever!
I’ve known Brian Case for a really long time. When I worked at Touch and Go Records, Brian was the first intern I hired. We lived across the street from each other in Chicago on California Ave. I saw Brian all the time, loved his band 90 Day Men. And he’s someone that I think of as being touched, like, musically, he’s one of the few people that I can think of as having a truly unique sound. Every time Facs puts out a record, it’s one of my favorite records of that year that I have to obsess about.
Pat: Before Don Cab, I used to play in a band with Noah Leger (drummer of Facs) in Pittsburgh in the late 80’s called The Northern Bushman.
FB: Whoa! I gotta ask, is there any music of The Northern Bushman out there?
Pat: I don’t know, I’m sure something is out there. We had a bunch of reels and tapes and stuff… then (Pat’s) basement flooded, and there’s always talk about doing something. But I don’t know. I can say that 30 years ago, Noah was an amazing drummer. He’s only more amazing today. I think I was a terrible guitar player 30 years ago, absolutely terrible, and I was a terrible bass player 30 years ago, so there’s that.
War Regards is out now, and we recommend checking out the band’s full catalog here. You can also check out their website here. Keep an eye out for a chance to catch the band live later this year – not too many current bands have the collective music history, and roots in the golden era of the Chicago 90’s music scene such as The Poison Arrows. We’re excited to hear what they come up with next.