While many artists are inspired by relationships between both friends and lovers, math rock outfit Arma Secreta, which is Portuguese for “the secret weapon,” tends to cover more imaginative territory. Their forthcoming album A Centuries Remains contains songs covering such a wide array of topics as a brainwashing operation disguised as a hair salon, two aspiring ninjas working a at car wash, and a song about an amateur astronomer obsessed with premillennialist eschatology – which is the study of the end of all things (not to be confused with teleology which is the study of final things). If the content of their music seems a little off-kilter to most, well maybe that’s exactly what they were going for.
“I don’t write music to be understood by other people, I write music that I think is fun to play, and I write it for my own benefit,” explains singer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Wark. “I try to write stuff that doesn’t sound like anyone else, and I don’t listen to a lot of new bands because I don’t want to be influenced by them.”
Arma Secreta was formed in 2003 by high school friends Wark and drummer Brad Bean after stints in other local Memphis bands, including Staynless and Doubt, respectively. And while it’s certainly not out of the ordinary for a group to want to sound original, Wark’s particular place in life while recording last year was not necessarily run of the mill. Shortly after the conception of the band, he was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. He was 26 years old.
“It was actually in my large intestine,” Wark is quick to point out. “It wasn’t rectal, put it that way.”
The illness took his band mate by complete surprise.
“I was really scared, heartbroken, and I mean I guess all of the normal things when people find out that someone they know has cancer,” says Bean. “I mean it was kind of surreal because he was so young.”
After seeing a brigade of doctors, having surgery and being prescribed chemotherapy, Wark, and his wife decided to take a leap of faith and treat his illness with little more than the food he ate.
“The thing about chemotherapy is it kills the immune system, so if the cancer comes back, well, you’re dead,” says Wark. ”So I went to an entirely vegan diet, and ate only raw fruits and vegetables, and drank so many carrots I turned orange for a year.”
“And all this time I thought it wasn’t easy being green,” jokes Bean.
Miraculously, Wark’s body was determined by doctors to be cancer-free in 2004, and very quickly afterward he became determined to get back into the swing of making music.
“Once it became apparent that I was gonna live, then it became clear that we had to make this record, so we stopped playing shows to focus on writing and recording,” says Wark.
Bean and Wark began recording with producer Kevin Cubbins at Easley McCain Recording and were lucky enough to have copies of most of their music before a fire destroyed the vaults in the studio in early March of 2005. In another positive spin, Wark and Bean took the loss of the Easley as an opportunity to build their studio, Missile Silo, in the rear of Bean’s family furniture business.
After finishing the record earlier this year, Wark and Bean set out to find a bass player to enable them to play their songs live. After being introduced to bassist Michael Brandon, they realized that he held the final piece to the Arma Secreta puzzle.
“There are really six things that you look for in someone before you ask them to join your band,” explains Wark. “They need to possess the skill, personal style, commitment, dependability, personality, and the last one is, ‘do they have a van?’ – and he did, so he was in.”
Now that their team is complete, the band has gotten back into playing live shows, preferring all age venues like The Complex on Madison and The Skatepark in Cordova.
“We just like to play to new people, we don’t want to play to the same mid-town crowd every week,” says Wark. “We play in Southaven, Bartlett, Nashville.”
Odd time signatures, weird song structure, and a lack of the same verse chorus verse structure that is the signature of most rock albums are not the only ways the band has set their debut album apart, and it has already sparked interest from three independent record labels.
“This band allows me to open up my pallet a little more, it’s allowed me to integrate a lot of styles that wouldn‘t be allowed in a different situation, artwork,” says Bean. “We have an open dialog about what we’re trying to put across which helps us write the music.”
“The theme of the album is two things,” explains Wark. “One is the artwork for the album is a photo essay done by an aerial photographer – basically what was left over after a century of industrialization, junkyards, strip mines, iron ore, and process plants, but it also refers to that the songs are a lot of ideas I had before the cancer, before the turn of the century .”
Arma Secreta plays with the Lights at The Young Avenue Deli on December 22nd. Their forthcoming album is due to be released in March 2006.