Arm’s Length: The Small-Town Emo Band Proving Imposter Syndrome Wrong

Canadian quartet blew up on TikTok; now they’re channeling the bleakness of their upbringing into a cathartic debut album
Danny DeRusso

While recording their debut album, Never Before Seen, Never Again Found, Canadian emo band Arm’s Length were acutely aware that they were rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s biggest artists. The spot where they tracked drums, Toronto’s Noble Street Studios, has hosted sessions for Kanye West, The Weeknd, and Justin Bieber, among others. Only a year prior, they were just kids from a small rural military town, dreaming of emulating the success of their favorite bands.

“It’s always been one of my biggest dreams to pursue [music], but there were definitely points where I thought it wasn’t gonna happen,” says singer-guitarist Allen Steinberg. “To take our small-town emo band to one of the premier recording studios in Canada — that was like imposter syndrome. Like, why are we here?”

The answer to that is hard work, and a stroke of algorithmic luck. There’s no punk music community in Quinte West, the home city of Steinberg, guitarist Jeremy Whyte, and drummer Jeff Whyte. (Bassist Ben Greenblatt is from New Jersey). The band had to get creative to get their foot in the door. “Bands release music all the damn time, and it’s just like, how are we gonna get people around here and beyond to give a shit about Arm’s Length?” says Steinberg. “If no one else is gonna lay the foundation for you,” adds Greenblatt, “you have to lay it for yourself.”

They recorded two scrappy EPs — 2019’s What’s Mine Is Yours and 2021’s Everything Nice — off their own bat, shooting music videos with their phones. When they started posting musical snippets on TikTok in 2021, a clip of their song “Watercolour” unexpectedly skyrocketed — as of this writing, it sits at nearly 70,000 views. It brought them new, fervent attention from the wider industry: Everything Nice was favorably reviewed at Pitchfork, and after its release, they were approached by several high-profile labels, including current home Wax Bodega. At that point, the band had only played six shows. “It was a really weird feeling,” Jeremy Whyte recalls. “I remember the Zoom call [with the label], being so nervous. [We] definitely felt out of place.”

On Never Before Seen…, their music channels the loneliness and gloom of their small-town upbringing. “I guess it was the same as any other small town — cornfields, mean bullies that made fun of my skinny jeans,” says Steinberg with a laugh. “It was bleak, feeling like you don’t have like-minded people around you easily, and the inescapable cold winters we get.”

It makes for a darkly anthemic album on which Steinberg explores depression and generational trauma. Take lead single “Object Permanence,” where textural guitars lead into an explosive, urgent chorus: “My dreams have been so fucked, and I don’t know what it means,” Steinberg cries. That raw, genuine catharsis highlights why Arm’s Length has made such an immediate impression on modern emo.

It’s also clearer than ever that the band’s imposter syndrome was unfounded – still, they aren’t taking their blooming success for granted. “It’s insane that we get to do stuff and a lot of people care about it now — I don’t think it ever fully registers,” says Steinberg. “We should all be thankful because that doesn’t happen to any ordinary artist.”

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