There is a very evident artfulness to both the music and presentation of Arma Del Amor, so it’s unsurprising that in discussion with them moody ‘90s dance trio Massive Attack warrant a mention. Beautifully floating vocals were part of that act’s chart-topping appeal, and in Arma Del Amor Martine Harding provides the lyrical and vocal track to Danny Fairley’s synths and beats. The Wanaka duo has released a debut album called ‘Onna Bugeisha’ in May. They talked with Mike Tweed about the album’s creation before the release and just how it might play out live.
The rugged nature and stunning scenery of Wanaka seems the perfect backdrop for the music of Arma Del Amor, the electronic duo of Danny Fairley and Martine Harding who call the small southern hotspot home.
Their soulful ambient sound first came to notice with the release of the act’s self-titled EP debut in 2015.
Now, three years later, a full-length album titled ‘Onna Bugeisha’ (a term for female warriors in feudal Japan) is about to be released. The album’s introductory single Diamond Mine Theory slinks and swells along on the crisp beats and synths of Fairley, with Harding’s natural voice soaring over the top.
Following the recording, Fairley completed a chunk of post-production in his own studio in Wanaka, but as with their EP the duo turned to Wellington producer Benny Tones for the final mixing process.
“This time around I mixed about 80% of the record myself, then took it to Benny for a final polish. He has an amazing ear and was picking up on stuff I couldn’t even hear! He made everything sound huge.”
In live performances, the pair is joined on stage by drummer Ricky Hammond, who has been the third leg of Arma Del Amor since the EP release. With a nationwide tour in the works for June, Harding says they’re keen to add more musicians to their live shows.
“Ideally we would love to get horn and string players on stage. At the moment there are a lot of one shot samples that are triggered. Our current set up works a treat but there’s nothing better than people playing the music.”
Fairley points out the live elements within ‘Onna Bugeisha’, drums and orchestral tracks were recorded at The Surgery in Wellington, with Lee Prebble presiding.
“I’m keen to move towards a more live and instrument-based sound. Whether it be a sort of Massive Attack approach, where there are samples of live instruments, or a totally live band, remains to be seen. We used this approach a bit on ‘Onna Bugeisha’. I have a piano in my studio that is horrible, but I found a way to record it and it features all over the new record.”
The arrival of Hammond established the ‘band’ approach Harding and Fairley are striving for. With a drummer able to cope with their array of complicated beats, Arma Del Armor felt free to focus on making this new batch of songs as expressive as they could.
“Ricky is a phenomenal drummer. He is playing along to 90% of the percussive stuff on our records and can pull off things that you wouldn’t think a human could do!” Fairley laughs.
“This album was just about making a dope collection of songs. We didn’t take a ‘live band’ approach when we made the new record, the tunes came first. There are parts that can’t be replicated live but that’s okay. One track, Warhorse, has a five-minute orchestral outro for instance, which would be impossible to play on stage!”
Harding chuckles when asked about their creative process.
“Usually Danny will create demos, and if we think it can go somewhere then I’ll go away and work on melodies. I’ll come back with what I’ve come up with, he will say it sucks and I’ll start crying. Then we both take it out on poor old Ricky!
“In all seriousness though it’s been an amazing journey, and we produce all the final material together. Any bust up is purely on a brother- sister type level!”
Earlier singles The Watcher and Taking Back The Sea have been accompanied by stunning music videos, and Fairley is eager to incorporate visual elements into their live performances. Trying out new ideas and constantly improving are things he sees as crucial.
“I’d love to come up with a visual thing that accompanies our live show. Some kind of crazy stimulation piece that gets all the trippers into it! I just want to keep creating and pushing forward.”
He expresses relief to have also found a better way to replicate their music live, without the stress and disasters of previous incarnations.
“There has been fine tuning over the years. We are on about the third major revision of our live set up. It used to take at least an hour to set up all our gear, so by the time we got on stage I would be sweating balls and deep in stress city! Now everything fits in a keyboard case, ready to go.
“My rig at the moment consists of an MPC1000, a Moog Sub Phatty synth, Prophet 12 and Nord keyboards and a Cymatic Audio LP-16, which is basically a backing track machine that plays in-ear commands for us. That is really important, especially with Ricky in the live set up now.”
Following their upcoming album release tour, Harding is looking forward to Arma Del Amor heading overseas.
“We did a bit of a mish mash of shows around the first EP release, but this time around it’s more organised. It would be amazing to play some shows in Australia over summer, or even Europe. We want to do it, so we will make it happen.”