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DMA really began connecting with (and confusing) audiences upon opening for Matthew Sweet at the Gothic Theatre in early 2000. "That was our first real show," Collins says. "I thought they were going to throw beer bottles at us."
"I didn't know who [Sweet] was, then I saw him on Ben Stein," says Englund, referring to the Comedy Central game show. "I was like, 'I played with that guy.'" ("He kind of sucked on Ben Stein," he adds.) Likewise, a lot of the potential concertgoers who called the Gothic for show information that night didn't know what a death-metal armada was and probably didn't care to find out.
But something clicked with the audience. "We were shocked," says Collins. "People got it; they laughed at it. It ended up being a great time." Things have rolled right along, as the Armada has played an interesting array of shows -- everything from headlining at the Denver Puppet Theatre on New Year's 2000 to opening for Super Diamond last week -- and honed its approach.
Although Collins's name graces the marquee, he insists the band is "very democratic." Neither Englund nor Kopp has given up hope of eventually getting top billing, however.
"That's an idea of mine: A little bit later down the road, we'll have different weekends where we'll be the Stefan Englund Death Metal Armada, then the Jed Kopp Death Metal Armada," says Kopp.
"They think that," Collins says, grinning.
While the power-trio formula feels good for now, the induction of a full-time keyboardist -- specifically, one who is open to direction -- is at the top of Collins's wish list. (Of course, the addition of a fourth Armada member might further stoke the furor over whose name is in lights.) As it is, DMA isn't short on chemistry, although each member's musical taste is markedly different. Collins says he's "a slut for '50s and '60s easy-listening stuff," while Kopp is drawn to fast and furious punk, and Englund's affinity sits on music's outlandish fringe. The trio's musical leanings intersect at James Brown, though that doesn't mean much stylistically.
"I think you can hear a whole lot of [the James Brown influence] in the music," says Kopp, with as much dry sarcasm as he can muster. Maybe not, but the players share at least one trait with the Godfather of Soul: They work hard to put together a good live set. On stage, the DMA has yet to pull off any pyrotechnic dance moves, but there's a considerable amount of flair on display. "Sometimes, people don't realize how fun a night out seeing a band can be," says Collins. "A lot of times it's just some band playing music, but we try to make it ridiculous and fun."
The band sees its peculiar melodies as merely the starting point for a broader rock spectacle. "Eventually, we want to do a lot more than just music," Collins says. "We want to get a lot of multimedia crap going on at our shows: magicians and puppets and stuff like that.
"Actually, our biggest plan is to write a metal opera," he continues. "We're going to get actors, the whole nine yards...[produce it] off-off-Broadway, maybe Denver Broadway." That work is already in the infant stages: Titled Father, the proposed production relays the story of a teenage metalhead who retreats into a fantasy world after his Air Force colonel dad restricts his Dio and Maiden intake. "At the end, his father realizes that, yes, metal is good," says Collins. "We have to fill in the gaps a little bit."
The Armada men have already got their pinkies in the performance-art waters with their rotating thematic stage garb, which has, at past shows, included milkman attire, stark white jumpsuits and gaudy Christmas sweaters. "We're big into uniforms," says Englund, who has spearheaded the band's chameleon approach. He recently tried to convert a roll of bubble wrap into three matching suits, but it didn't quite work out.
The fringe-theater angle extends beyond alternating avant-garde and blue-collar fashions. At the band's Christmas 2000 show, for example, a mall-style Santa Claus passed out DMA currency (complete with the bandmembers' mug shots). The band also has a performance-art/rock-and-roll extravaganza coming up later in the fall, titled Circus of the Stars, with an exceedingly unusual "Atari rock" act, Mr. Pacman. "It's going to be absolutely amazing," touts Englund.
Translating the creative energy of an off-kilter stage act to an album is a delicate operation, but it's one the band hopes to carry out by next spring. "It's real hard to capture the essence of the DMA on tape," says Kopp.
"If you want musk, you have to pull a scent gland out of a skunk," Collins adds. To do their debut justice, the DMA will carefully extract gems from live recordings and polish them before they're released for mass consumption.
Not that these guys aren't constantly twisting knobs in the studio. Collins creates advertising jingles for a living (including the revamped FirstBank theme), and Kopp labels Englund "the MacGyver of the band" because of his engineering prowess. Both Englund and Collins have independently recorded solo platters: Most Stefanitely is a slab of warped pop ditties that finds inventive uses for everything from heavy-metal licks to sugarcoated choruses. This Is Bobby Collins is more straight up, although not quite serious -- a sharp but groovy collection of unconventional electronica. Once Kopp comes through with his vision of the Jed Kopp Koppulation, all three DMAers will have recorded solo efforts -- à la KISS in the late '70s.