Melbourne lo-fi indie duo Armlock share debut EP ‘Trust’: “Music is always there to scream into”

Simon Lam (of Kllo) and Hamish Mitchell, former bandmates in I’lls, unpack their new collaborative project for NME

Today (June 25), Simon Lam and Hamish Mitchell release ‘Trust’, their debut EP as the lo-fi indie duo Armlock.

Lam, a sound engineer and also one half of electronic duo Kllo, and cross-medium creative Mitchell have been collaborators for over a decade now. Finding their feet in electronic trio I’lls and later building on their sound with UK garage-inspired duo Couture, the pair have now come together again for the aptly named ‘Trust’, a record born of a maturing friendship. The raw, guitar-centric sound of the EP is a far cry from the polished electronics of Lam’s most recent major release, the 2020 Kllo album ‘Maybe We Could’.

Lam and Mitchell join NME on a chilly winter solstice morning for a winding conversation about their friendship, music as a coping mechanism, and more.

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Congrats on the ‘Trust’ EP – how did you approach creating sonic cohesion throughout the record? Did one song act as a domino that led to the others?

Simon Lam: “In this Armlock world we’re creating, we’d already been through two iterations of the sound beforehand. The first was super noisy and really folky and much sadder, and then we did more zany stuff. When you talked about the domino effect, I feel this whole record is the last domino.

“We did a lot of acoustic guitars back [in our early collaborations], but then we started messing around with the electric guitars or trying to work synths and electronic elements in there. And we were like, ah, there’s a combination here that can work. The sound of this whole record came together quite quickly once we felt that we had the ingredients, or discovered what ingredients we wanted to use.”

What were those ingredients that were really crucial to you?

Hamish Mitchell: “I think there was a large [research and development] period. Plus, admittedly, Simon and I can barely play guitar. So there was that learning hump as well. So it was just a trial and error thing until you have something you think is, I don’t know, maybe slightly proprietary or something that you can latch onto. As soon as we got something we thought we were both excited about, I think we just tried to bring everything in line with that kind of vision.”

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Simon: “It’s funny, once you feel like you’ve got onto a thing, you just kind of want to rinse it for all it’s worth. You just want to like, squeeze every idea you can once you’ve got like, the vibe.”

Do you have any cherished memories of making this record together?

Simon: “I really liked when we made ‘Power Of A Waterfall’ – that was one of the first songs on [‘Trust’] we made. We’d do our jobs during the day and Hamish would come to my studio at night. We had a melody for the chorus with no lyrics; so, we’re kinda walking through the streets at night singing this melody, singing it the whole way to Woollies and back. It was so natural and loose and funny walking around the aisles, trying out different lyrics as we were picking our block of choccie – it just felt so innocent.”

This lyric from ‘April’ sticks with me: “Found a way to be a part / of the story that you told” – what does the lyric mean to you, Simon?

Simon: “That song is about a fight or flight thing. It’s about something that wasn’t quite working out or [about] fitting yourself into someone else’s narrative or being like: it’s their vision and I can mould myself into that thing – it’s a submission to a situation, basically.”

This is a bit random, but I went to a Buddhist meditation thing yesterday and the monk shared a story about a couple in an argument. A guy hears this bird as a chicken and his partner hears it as a duck and they’re arguing over who is right. The implied moral is somebody has to concede they’re wrong rather than admitting there are two realities happening at once.

Simon: “That lyric is exactly that. It’s on the side of being like, ‘Okay, look: I hear it as a duck, but let’s call it a chicken.’ I’m gonna use that, if you don’t mind.”

[laughs] Go for it. Seeing as this record is called ‘Trust’, how do you both foster trust while you’re making music together?

Hamish: “As a caveat, the name of the record is more an aesthetic decision than anything else. Simon and I have been working together for a long, long time. We know each other inside out as people, let alone musicians: we did jazz together, we did sound engineering together, we’ve produced records together; Simon’s mixed projects I’ve worked on, I’ve made artwork he’s worked on, we’ve toured together.

“There is this comfortability that we have. Even if we both find each other to be frustrating sometimes, we understand where the other’s coming from. And at the end of the day, I know Simon wants to make the best record possible, and so do I. And that’s incredibly valuable, to know that if someone says: ‘This part rocks and you’re wrong’, you go: ‘Well, maybe it is a chicken’ – just to bring the metaphor full circle.”

What motivates you both to make music?

Simon: “Of late, especially through the last year, that’s been a wavering set of ideals. Why? It’s like, one: it’s the only thing I can do. So that’s what motivates me, I’m not very good at anything else. ‘Music is my life’ is something other people say. But now I’m realising: ‘Oh, God, music is my life’. Like, I’m one of those people now. And if I feel shitty, sometimes making music makes you feel better. I guess it’s always there to scream into or whatever. I don’t know if that’s a motivation or more of a coping mechanism.”

Hamish: “All right, before Simon has an existential crisis here… Simon’s got a session today. [laughs] He’s gonna walk into it and have a meltdown.”

Simon: “I’m sorry, guys.”

Hamish: “In regards to what motivates me, I echo some of what Simon says, but not all of it. I’ve built a life over the last decade in the industry just making art, designing a cover here and there, making a record and getting the odd royalty check. [I don’t have to work] the standard nine-to-five job, which is actually totally fine – I just can’t do it. I’m not built that way. Like, my mental health will just crumble. I’m extremely lucky to [work this way]. [Music] gives me a lot of purpose and drive.”

Simon: “Just because I’m sounding like the sentimental one here, we were in the studio today and Hamish was sitting there with a smile and he said the words: ‘Making music is the best feeling ever’.”

Aw.

Simon: “It was funny, it was hilarious.”

Hamish: “You’ve thrown me under the bus yet again in another interview.”

By saying you like music?

Hamish: “Yeah, well… I can’t be vulnerable.”

Simon: “He was so happy.”

Hamish: “You’ve exposed me.”

There’s a lot of exposure going on in this interview.

Hamish: “Simon’s having an existential crisis, you’re a closeted Buddhist, and I’m vulnerable: everyone’s compromised.”

Armlock’s ‘Trust’ is out now via Spunk Records

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