Interview and text by Joey Dizon
A single spin of Hong Kong-based ARKM’s self-titled full-length is enough to both command your unbridled attention and, oddly, provide an almost-soothing and zen-like atmosphere amidst the chaotic sonic web the band spins: machine-gun drumming, dissonant, detuned riffage and disturbingly spastic guitar solos that seem to spiral out of control. To the uninitiated, it would probably be called noise. But to those who know and like their heavy music, it’s easy to tell that there’s a method to all this mayhem. A method that the band—guitarist/chief songwriter/de facto band leader JR Gabuya, guitarist Samirze Kong, bassist Bryan Mendoza, drummer JM Inot, and vocalist Allison Gentry—have been refining and perfecting these past years.
But it’s always hard to nail the point with words, so it’d be best to check out the band’s debut album and read the chat PULP.PH recently had with Gabuya.
PULP: Feel free to give us a basic history of ARKM. How, when, and why you got together, and what your original goals were at the time.
JR: It all started around early 2018. I got in touch with Sam as he was the first guy I thought of when it came to guitars: we had known each other for several years and had a great bond while he was still playing for the band PARALLEL HORIZONS. We’d message back and forth about song ideas, guitar tones, and guitars we liked and disliked! We also talked about how we liked moving around onstage, being in the zone, and crazy funny stories from our previous bands and how we were both going to start projects of our own, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity and chance to get together and come up with something crazy.
So, one evening, we decided to write some songs and see how we felt about them. We gathered our thoughts and came up with an idea to create crazy speed riffing and lead guitar extravaganzas! We were so inspired that we wrote two songs within a month. He wrote with his seven-string, and I wrote with my eight-string, as I had gotten used to its versatility, tone, and the unconventional way of playing it (which was pretty much what I was doing with my former band, BLACK NIGHT RED SKY). In short, we just stuck with what we had—and Sam never hesitated once – so I just said, “Fuck it! Let’s do this!”
Soon after, we talked about who else could join, and I had two guys in mind whom I trusted when it came to having great ideas and who played their hearts out live: JM Inot and Bryan Mendoza, who were both from my previous band. So I called Bryan up and asked if he could head out for a drink and talk, and he didn’t hesitate. It took JM some time to think about it, but after a few emotional talks, I was very straight with them and said I couldn’t promise anything except that we’d do things right this time. So we got together and wrote music until we could find a singer, and eventually, that was Allison Gentry. She was formerly a member of a band called PRAY FOR ME. Even though she admitted to being more accustomed to singing than screaming, she decided to give it a shot and practiced for months. Now, she’s one of the most ferocious vocalists we’ve ever worked with!
The rest, as they say, is history—and we’re still writing and creating music today.
PULP: Describe the band’s sound: What influenced the band and its members primarily, and how have your collective and individual tastes evolved?
JR: The band’s sound was inspired by various artists from Industrial metal, Nu Metal, Metal core, Thrash, Hardcore, and Progressive Metal. The idea was to sound as different and unique as possible and not have limitations so we could be as creative as possible. I’m very heavily influenced by Nine Inch Nails.
As far as being progressive goes, it shows in how we do things. The tuning with our eight-string guitars is very unusual. Rather than tune it how our favorite artists did, we just figured it out by basing everything on the guitar’s scale length and how far low it would allow us to go! We wanted dissonance and clarity, but the playability had to be there!
We love the chaos and unease we create as an answer to people’s expectations; everything we do is for the creativity.
PULP: How has the heavy music scene in Hong Kong evolved from the time ARKM started compared to the current players?
JR: The heavy music scene in Hong Kong has indeed evolved in terms of subgenres coming from left and right—it’s quite impressive. New and fresh is always good, instead of simply playing the same music and changing the band’s name. Many bands nowadays are starting to believe and understand the freedom that music represents. It’s always about doing what you love and getting your art out without fear of criticism. What’s happening now in Hong Kong is very inspiring.
PULP: What can you tell us about the songwriting process and how the album came to be? Were there various ideas or a singular concept that ties it all together?
JR: Regarding songwriting, the concept and basic structure of the song primarily started with me, then I presented it to the rest of the band to hear their ideas and see what they felt about the track. I tried to stay away from re-doing parts too much and tried to capture that spark. It’s all about that one moment. I avoided discarding parts and recycling them as well, so I kept as much as I could, and when a song was done, I left it alone and moved on to the next.
It wasn’t like we had a singular concept for the entire EP, as each written song had its own story of tragedy, misfortune, sadness, and darkness. But we did realize that all those feelings sort of tied the entire thing together. So you could say that these feelings of darkness did become the theme, but it certainly wasn’t planned to be from the start.
PULP: Sonically, the opener “Phantom Pains” and closer “Corporate Closet” sounds amazing. Where did you record the album, and who produced the track?
JR: Thank you, that means a lot! We tracked all the guitar and bass parts at Sam’s studio. We used the Axe Fx 3 (Fractal Audio) and various plug-ins for all guitars and bass parts. Our good friend Zerron of Hybrid Stereo then produced all the tracks.
PULP: How was the recording process? Care to share any noteworthy stories?
JR: Because of technology, the tracks already sounded great. It’s awesome that dialing in the exact tone you want is possible, so tracking our parts individually was not a problem. The drums were recorded at Battle Stage by our good friend Chapman So, who we worked with previously during my Black Night Red Sky days. Naseem Khan of Parallel Horizons recorded the vocals.
The EP was mixed and mastered by our buddy Zerron of Hybrid Stereo. We spent months listening to all the tracks, and on the last week of production, we mixed all the tracks over at my place with my Yamaha HS8, which sounded amazing. We are grateful and fortunate to have someone like him to help us. Talented gentleman indeed!
PULP: Now that the album is out, what is the immediate plan for the band? What would you like to accomplish next?
JR: We are currently working on developing our pre-written material. Allison got married and left Hong Kong for good and is presently in the US, so we’re currently working with a new singer named Nyx (of PERISH OF EMPYREAN) and are planning on how to move forward with her. We call the upcoming songs ARKM 2.0, and we’re all pretty psyched because they are the hardest and most challenging songs we’ve come up with by far.
PULP: Which artists are your current contemporaries in the Hong Kong heavy music scene?
JR: To be very honest, I’m not sure. Or maybe I haven’t heard or watched any bands that sound, write, or at least play music in the same vein as we do, save for Perish Of Empyrean. But seeing more diverse bands and sharing the stage with them would be nice.