Who the Hell Is Dan Greene?
The Armed may be the most mysterious punk band in the world. The anonymous Detroit collective has collaborated with movie stars, finagled its way onto national TV, and duped media publications. Various semi-substantiated rumors identify the band’s puppet master as either Tony Hawk or a shadowy corporate ad agency. As a private detective who has unmasked instances of corporate malfeasance, hidden assets, and political corruption, I’ve seen my share of convoluted cases. None are quite like this band. When I trailed them in 2018, a carousel of “members—”some real, some fake— led me on a tour of midwestern fish markets, gambling dens, and ice cream parlors.
While stitching together various new threads of inquiry into the Armed, I stumbled upon a tape-recorded interview with their enigmatic ringleader Dan Greene. Greene has been the subject of much speculation—some believe he’s a shell spokesperson, or a character played by various people, or someone actually named Dan Greene who performs an exaggerated version of themselves, like a punk-rock Nathan Fielder. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
I would best describe my relationship with “Dan” as fickle, and my opinion of him as “suspect,” particularly as over the years, the band has presented multiple people as “Dan Greene.” But leading into their new album ULTRAPOP —a terrific blend of hardcore punk, noise, and yes, pop—I promised I would try to write a story dedicated to craft, rather than characters. Unfortunately, many of the recordings I made of those conversations were lost in a late night cell phone robbery outside of a McDonald’s (a story for another time), but these excerpts survived. As with many of my experiences with “Dan Greene,” within moments, this train is off the rails.
MAX FRANK: ULTRAPOP is not just a musical statement, but also an extremely detailed nutrition and training program that made the Armed capable of “physically destroying all other bands.”
DAN GREENE: The goal was nothing short of creating literally the most invincible, ridiculously jacked, healthiest, disgustingly hot band of all time.
GREENE: Did I stutter?
FRANK: But you’re the supposed ringleader, and you’re not jacked, but rather, like, a relatively normal-sized, somewhat desiccated—
GREENE: I like eating pizza and being in bed by 10:17. Rock music concerts start far too late, and it’s way too physically draining for me to diet and exercise while touring with the Armed.
FRANK: You’re not even going to tour with your own band?
GREENE: ULTRAPOP is an entirely new way of thinking about the presentation of our art. And it demands the utmost physicality. A sort of superhuman avatar for the viewing audience. We have people for that.
GREENE: You didn’t ask about this, but a key to superhuman physicality is proper GI motility. In the diets our performing members undertake, we have a lot of protein and very few carbohydrates, in particular, almost no refined carbs or sugar. Also, and perhaps kinda counterintuitively, an increase in use of sea salt. The more salt in your system, the more fluid you have in your body. There’s an osmotic effect that keeps fluid in your vessels, which means you don’t have as much of a need to absorb water from the colon.
GREENE: A lot of water is reabsorbed from the large intestine into your body through the gastrointestinal epithelium. So if you are more fully hydrated through having more salt, that water remains in the large intestine and in a weird way, helps the process of preventing constipation. So now everyone in the Armed poops tremendously easily, almost artistically.
FRANK: Got it.
GREENE: I personally do not defecate at all, though.
FRANK: I’m going to just completely ignore that and move on.
GREENE: Are you writing this down?
FRANK: like to talk about how the Armed is often compared to a cult, then maybe discuss people like your alleged keyboard player, a local Michigan bodybuilder supposedly named Clark Huge, who you are surely paying to say is in the band.
GREENE: I don’t know what you mean by “alleged,” because Clark Huge is our very real keyboard player.
FRANK: Sure. So on the cult thing, your members are on the same workout and nutrition regimen, you live in the same compound, you deploy cryptic messages through the media…
GREENE: We’re structured more like the underground operations of the French Resistance, in that there are many rings of collaboration, secrecy, and trust. There are members of the band who have never met one another. There are members I’ve never met. There are also “supernumeraries” with highly specialized skill sets outside of music. And other cool stuff like that.
FRANK: I’ve always thought of the band more like an art collective, with you as the de-facto ringleader by nature of falling into the job. The natural distribution of labor within a punk band.
GREENE: What distinguishes us from a cult or a political operation is our agenda, one of infinite, impossible love. To be a fan of the Armed is to be a fan of yourself.
FRANK: Isn’t that a Kanye quote?
GREENE: Listen, what I’m getting at here is that there are “fans” of the band, who I really consider more like collaborators, whose contributions can rival those of traditional “band members,” such as the group of people acting fully outside of my purview who designed and erected billboards in Times Square and beyond. This is a wonderful indicator of the viability of my ultimate dream: that this operation one day becomes fully decentralized and outlives my involvement.
FRANK: You realize you’re kinda making the case for the Armed being a cult, with followers executing your propaganda mission.
GREENE: I think it’s less Ma Anand Sheela and more Rick Rubin. Like, I’m the one who leans back on the couch and tries to come up with insane, delusional ideas that the 50-odd members of The Armed must then execute.
FRANK: There are interesting parallels between the band’s ULTRAPOP evolution and conspiracy in general becoming more mainstream.
GREENE: Conspiracy is basically pop culture now, right? Like the whole ‘COVID vaccine as a mind control device from Bill Gates’ thing. Wouldn’t you find it weird if you made a Bill Gates vaccine joke to someone and they didn’t get it?
FRANK: Quickly though, I just don’t believe that even the rest of the “live band” is in on this bodybuilding thing. I think you put a couple of the most jacked members, or just bodybuilders you found, out in front to confuse the press.
GREENE: Every single member of the touring version of the Armed is utterly and incredibly ripped.
FRANK: It’s like a carrot on a stick. I see two or three jacked people and I’m told they’re in the Armed, that visual stimuli informs my perception of the band at large.
FRANK: It’s a pedestrian tactic, but one that has certainly worked to your advantage.
GREENE: I reiterate: we are all jacked like Marvel Superheroes.
FRANK: You seem interested in moments where a revolt becomes entwined with the aesthetics of pop spectacle, and thus open to artistic or cultural cannibalization.
GREENE: Sure. So a great example of that is Patty Hearst. The granddaughter of publishing tycoon William Hearst gets kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Then she’s arrested for bank robbery in San Francisco in the mid-70s. There are famous images of her carrying a semi-automatic into the bank that were taken from security camera footage, which I believe is the first time “automated” film became an aesthetic event.
FRANK: That’s a really specific example.
GREENE: Do you remember a couple years ago, how fast the assassin of that Russian diplomat became a “steal his look” meme? Another prime example of how modernity can render anything “pop.”
FRANK: You mentioned ULTRAPOP being ultimately a mirror to all things, from SOPHIE to Repulsion on the sonic side to information warfare on the messaging end of things.
GREENE: Using strategies informed by warfare is endlessly fascinating to me. We’re a band of course, so the stakes are different, but in the Armed, we view literally everything as an opportunity to advance our agenda of uncompromising love. We face every single decision or obstacle with an approach of, what do we have to do to accomplish the task at hand? You know, what better way is there to reclaim power from the world’s villains than to use their tactics in service of making the greatest art of all time?
FRANK: You’re really calling your own album the greatest art of all time?
GREENE: Are you familiar with the micro-generation of “geriatric millennials”?
GREENE: It refers to the oldest millennials, those who have one foot in the door of both analog and digital eras. You make me think there should be a new micro-generation called “geriatric zoomers,” which combines the worst elements of the youngest millennials with the worst elements of the oldest zoomers.
FRANK: All right.
GREENE: Next question.
FRANK: When it comes to information deployment, the Armed seems to operate less like a resistance group and more like a political power player, in the vein of a Richard Daley and Robert Moses in that they could organize a pretty vast machine, harness influence from all these players, unions, contractors, voting blocs, independent fundraising, the press.
GREENE: Hang on, it’s one of our collaborators. They’re, you know, somewhat more important than, whatever it is that’s happening here.
FRANK: For the record, you were the one who would not stop bothering me about doing this.
GREENE: If I told you what’s in this text, your brain would literally explode.
GREENE: Seriously, I just received a galaxy-smashing text.
FRANK: The bigger you get, the more celebrity fans like Julien Baker or Tony Hawk pop up.
GREENE: Did you know Steve Jobs’ favorite book was about a yogi who could drink milk through his penis? Sucks it up into his bladder.
GREENE: I learned that on a podcast, Beautiful Day in the Gulch, a local Indiana podcast mostly about bugs and trees. Most podcasts are like listening to someone read a Wikipedia page but that one’s good.
FRANK: You’re doing the carrot on the stick thing again.
GREENE: No, I’m making a point about culture. Think about what I just said. Steve Jobs, arguably one of the most influential people in history, idolized a yogi who could drink milk through his penis. In art, you should do whatever you want. Pull from anything. Be who you are as opposed to what the antiquated rules of some scene or media environment tell you is the most brand-appropriate.
FRANK: You’ve successfully got me thinking about Steve Jobs idolizing the image of a yogi drinking milk through his penis.
GREENE: What an absurd world! And, I would argue, one that demands an absurd response. the Armed embrace confusion and disorientation as a medium of expression. We deliver mp3s, .movs, IRL performance, and confusion.
FRANK: Do you want to address the rumors that you’re a shell spokesperson for Tony Hawk, Phoebe Bridgers, or Andrew WK?
GREENE: Nice try. [lighting second cigarette] Want one?
FRANK: Man, quick sidebar, did I ever tell you about the time Ben Affleck tried to bum off me the day after I quit?
GREENE: Oh yes! Ha. He was super jacked too right, was that around the Batman period?
FRANK: I bet you’d love for people to think Ben Affleck is in on the Armed’s training program. But yeah, my buddy snuck me backstage at the Gone Girl premiere, so he was probably prepping Batman v. Superman.
GREENE: He was wearing like a $20,000 suit I imagine? And you were probably in a Jawbreaker shirt or something.
FRANK: I had a black eye and duct-taped glasses, and asked him if he thought I was dressed cool in case Trent Reznor walked by. He said “You look like the eighth nail.”
GREENE: What a story.
FRANK: Anyway, we should talk about the confusion part.
GREENE: Right. In our art, by purposefully trying to make certain timbres sound like others, and then place them in the mix in a way that is atypical for that instrumentation, ULTRAPOP is constantly confusing people who subconsciously harbor all these specific expectations for how an album should sound.
FRANK: Hence why Pitchfork names it Best New Music while Anthony Fantano says it is literally unlistenable.
GREENE: Confusion in terms of the mix, presentation, and sonics thus becomes both a priming technique as well as a format. Both the method of convincing as well as what it is trying to convince you of at the same time. Some people immediately hear or see things that trigger them to think “NO! This is wrong.”
FRANK: Like Cara [Drolshagen, vocalist] writing and singing the heaviest tracks on the album, the ones you would normally associate with a “tough” hardcore guy.
GREENE: Well, it’s complicated, because Cara might be physically tiny compared to your typical punk or hardcore singer, her voice is ridiculously, impossibly, brain-explodingly loud.
FRANK: Do you have any theories as to why heavy music has stagnated so much?
GREENE: Well I think the problems have always been the same, basically. Broadly, many who have vision have no craft, and vice versa.
FRANK: OK, so what’s wrong with craft?
GREENE: Well, because of how easy it is now to create art with a professional sheen, you can make something that appears aesthetically complete enough that people could be tricked into commenting some shit like “flames bro,” contributing their views or likes, and moving on. And some who do develop craft, do so almost mechanically. Like, it is crazy to me that it’s 2021 and guitarists still perform solos exactly the way they wrote on record.
FRANK: Clocking in, performing the same task every day. Kinda sounds like a job.
GREENE: Yes. Art driven primarily by security and viability within capitalism is not art. It’s a job.
FRANK: Does being an anonymous collective help you avoid that kind of stagnation?
GREENE: Well so ego is entirely removed from the process. I think Cara told you a few years ago that anyone within the Armed universe is invited to make a contribution or not, however large or small. ULTRAPOP is the sound of an immense, oddball group of people, all of whom are incredibly jacked and none of whom care what anyone thinks.
FRANK: Who are you in all of this?
GREENE: I’m Dan. At least, I’d like to think so.
FRANK: No, seriously. What would you want yourself and the Armed to represent?
GREENE: Here’s the thing. the Armed are bigger than any one person. It’s not me, it’s not the collective, it’s not a song we made. It’s not even really real. It’s an idea, an emotion. It’s not an ideology or an “ism.” I’m against “isms,” by the way, a person should not believe in an “ism,” they should believe in themselves.
FRANK: Is that a quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
GREENE: We are infinite. We are the greatest band on Earth and probably actually literally the entire universe. And now, with our training and nutrition regimen, we can actually physically destroy every other alien band once we’re done with all the Earth bands.
FRANK: What is after ULTRAPOP? DOUBLE ULTRAPOP?
GREENE: Space. Now it’s time to make our space album.
FRANK: Seriously though.
GREENE: You know how there’s no sound in space? Not the case for our space album.
FRANK: All right, let’s bring this home. What are you afraid of?
FRANK: That’s it? Not even like, getting eaten by a lion?
GREENE: Nada. Always remember, even if a lion could speak, we wouldn’t understand them.
FRANK: I hope you know I’m going to catch you one day.
GREENE: I’m counting on it.