slack armada

We had the chance to speak with Chicago’s James Hrabak, a solo musician that recently released his debut EP under the moniker Slack Armada. Melding post-rock elements with ambient tones, Slack Aramada, for now, provides a 4-track instrumental effort comprised of true beauty and excellent influences.

Below, you can read through our interview as Hrabak discusses his new EP, his plans for the future, and even shares with us his top albums of 2013.

Can you tell us first about the name you chose for this project and your history with music that led to Slack Armada? You’ve claimed this to be somewhat of a “rebirth,” so I’m curious as to what you’re reawakening from.

First, I’ll tackle the name. I’m somewhat bashful to say that it’s like the Seinfeld of project names. It really has no meaning as it pertains to the music. I coined the name while watching footage of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations a couple of years ago. I thought it had a nice ring. Kind of silly, honestly!

As far as my musical journey goes, I played in a Helmet-inspired noise-rock band as well as a more electronic noise-pop band in college. All the while, I scrounged together whatever recording equipment I could and helped as many bands record demos as I could. After college, I left music behind for many years and I recently caught the bug again somewhat unexpectedly. The first track on the EP, “Rebirth,” was literally the first track that came together for me as Slack Armada, so the name felt fitting to me on a few levels.

What is it about the shoegaze, ambient, and post-rock elements that made you want to work within those parameters?

My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is one of my favorite albums. It’s still a mystery to me how Kevin Shields created some of those sounds, so it is a natural touchstone for my own recorded work. My biggest hero in music is [Brian] Eno, so it’s inevitable that ambient music will impact the music I’m making. What I love about these genres, post-rock included, is the freedom to experiment and blur the edges. Writing the 3.5 minute pop song is probably not in the cards for me. I like to build and shape sound and the sounds that resonate most deeply with me are core to these genres.

I’m a huge fan of bands like Hammock, Lights Out Asia, Boards, God Is An Astronaut, This Will Destroy You, etc., so naturally I really enjoy your music. What bands would you say have inspired your sound and ideas for this project?

Some of the names may surprise you. I started this project with beat programming. I was trying, for whatever reason, to cop some of Dave Grohl’s beats from The Colour and the Shape. “Rebirth”‘s beat is very close to “My Hero,” if you listen closely. While “Escape Velocity”‘s beat is very reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem; I was really trying to steal the vibe of “Start Me Up” by the Stones. I hope I’m not giving away too much here… Anyway, I was also listening to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis quite a bit as well as Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens. “Your Majesty” was definitely inspired by that record!

I love Oblivion Hymns, by the way!

Initially it wasn’t planned for your new EP to be instrumental, so what would you say led you to omit vocals and keep it as is?

Probably my own technical limitations as a vocalist. I was having so much fun working on the instrumental tracks, that I didn’t leave myself much room to put vocals down. Really, it’s due to the fact that I couldn’t figure out a way to make vocals mesh well with the instrumentals without compromising the whole project. I plan on approaching the writing for the next EP with vocals top of mind.

Is this EP your first work released under this name?

It is.

So will you be doing the singing yourself or do you have plans to collaborate with others on the future projects?

I’m planning on handling the vocal duties on the next EP. I want my creative endeavors to be a challenge, and writing good tunes with strong vocals will certainly present that challenge for me.

Do you think you’ll do any more instrumental work like this still in the future?

Absolutely! Again, Loveless, as well as Another Green World are perfect records to me. I like the idea of short instrumental interludes between vocal songs. I’m not sure if I will alternate vocal and instrumental EPs going forward or alternate songs on the EPs themselves. Too soon to tell.

Are you currently involved with any other projects (or plan to be), or is this your primary focus for now?

This is my primary creative focus. I wish I had more time to devote to creative endeavors, but for now Slack Armada is the focus. I do dabble in digital art and video editing, but that work is done with Slack Armada in mind.

I’m always curious as to how artists are affected (or not) by their surroundings. Does Chicago have any kind of influence on your work?

Growing up in New Mexico, from my high school days listening to Wax Trax acts to my college days listening Thrill Jockey bands, Chicago always seemed like music Mecca. Funny how I stopped playing music as soon as I moved here, but that had more to do with losing the scene I was a part of than anything else. Today, I don’t think that Chicago has a specific influence on my music, but I do enjoy living here.

Do you have any plans currently to take this on the road for touring of some sort?

Not at this time. Too many obligations and not enough time to leave home for long stretches.

As the end of 2013 nears, do you have any choices for your favorite album(s) of the year?

Sure! Here are my top 5:

Repave by Volcano Choir
Trouble Will Find Me by The National
Memorial by Russian Circles
Yeezus by Kanye West
Sunbather by Deafheaven

Impressive choices! You’d fit right in with our crew! So, ultimately, what can we expect to see from Slack Armada in 2014?

I hope to collaborate with some visual artists for videos for the EP as well as finishing this round of promotion early next year. I plan on writing and recording the next EP in early spring for release in late summer/early fall. I plan for the new music to be vocal-based and also a bit more streamlined. We’ll see though. I may end up with another kitchen sink record, who knows?


Written and conducted by: Brian Lion – Follow him on Twitter

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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