It may have seemed weird to swap out members of our bands and remain friendly, but the music scene in Santa Rosa is pretty incestuous.
Doesn’t it seem like bands just don’t write hooks like they used to? They don’t put a lot of effort into the presentation of their music, or themselves, and there’s no excusing this. All they have to do is check out the New Trust, and it’ll be obvious where their failure lies. It doesn’t hurt that TNT’s members include accomplished visual artists who apply those skills to their musical endeavors. I’m sure it also doesn’t hurt that the band members have close ties beyond music.
One thing that has always stood out is that the New Trust has had vision from its very inception, and has gone about executing it far better than many a band or solo artist in recent memory. They’ve done so without the machinery of the industry fueling their efforts. They have done it on their own terms, and if you’ve been along for the ride, your life is richer for it.
Like few other bands, the New Trust has impressed me with each release, showing their range musically without upending their aesthetic. It’s an incredible testament to the quality of their work when a band can put out an acoustic full-length that features their friends covering TNT songs, and their friends’ performances benefit as a result. It’s easy to connect with their songs; there’s a wealth of empathy and catharsis to inspire an array of emotions.
For those only now hearing about the New Trust, it’s time you got up to speed. It shouldn’t take long, and if you don’t believe me, just reference their first EP. That said, they are heading out on tour this spring with Child Bite, so you can take your newfound appreciation to the show. Ahead of the tour, I was able to interview bassist and singer Josh Staples (who also shares those roles in the Velvet Teen, and, at one time, the Jealous Sound).
When did the urge to make music start for you?
I’ve been playing music all my life in one form or another. My parents have always been musicians as a hobby; when they were married, they used to write songs together. I first played piano as a kid and eventually moved to guitar and bass as a teenager. I’ve always been a huge music fan.
What role do you think your environment—geographical and cultural—played in your earliest musical interests?
I think not just geography, but the time in which I was exposed to independent music and its workings shaped my aesthetics and ethics. In the ’80s, I got into punk and new wave, and learned about Maximum Rocknroll, both the magazine and the radio show, which was on KPFA. Learning about Bay Area bands that would make records and travel around the world made it all seem very possible and within reach. There was no internet, so I would call bands like Sabot on the phone, arrange to go to their live/work spaces, and buy records and tapes. It was definitely a more difficult shopping experience than ordering online, but certainly more memorable.
How has collaborating in creation impacted your interest in music and your creativity? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages in the New Trust, in particular?
To me, there’s nothing like collaborating with other musicians and being amazed at where a different brain or two will take a musical idea. With TNT, I’ll usually bring in a few bass parts and vocal melodies to start, and then Jules [Lancer] and Sara [Sanger] will toughen up and make even darker what are already kind of sad pop songs. Since this has always kind of been our way of writing, I guess a disadvantage is that the girls never want to just “jam out.”
Are there any key moments in your memory where things changed dramatically in how you viewed listening to and making music?
There was a moment where I realized that, because I’ve been writing and recording music for so long, much of the mystery and magic of songs and recordings I’ve always loved has dissipated. I’ve always been a huge Cure fan, and even though I’m still transported to a different time and place when listening, part of me knows the secrets of what makes the music sound the way it does. In much the same way that some of my filmmaker friends can’t watch a movie without knowing what must be going on outside the frame and behind the scenes, my suspension of disbelief isn’t what it used to be.
How has growing up, as both people and the world evolve their ways of life, affected you attitude and approach to making and sharing music?
Being a bit older, seeing bands and musical trends come and go, and at the same time living a rather normal life otherwise have all but eliminated most of my early desire to make a living through music, that’s for sure. At the same time, I feel like I’m personally writing more music than ever, even if the dozens of song ideas sit dormant in my phone’s voice memos bank for a while. I still feel an urgency to getting the best of these ideas out into the world.
Does it feel like a new normal is taking shape for people who are outside the mainstream but committed to making music for audiences?
I think so, and people seem to be making music and records for the same reasons as when I was younger: simply for the fun, art, and travel of the thing.
When you guys put out We Are Fast Moving Motherfuckers. We Are Men and Women of Speed, I remember it being one of the most incredible CD packaging layouts I’d seen in my life. I treated the CD and case like a true artifact; it was so well designed and orchestrated. When Dark Is the Path Which Lies Before Us was released, I recall you talking about the 10-year plan that went into pursuing the New Trust. That’s a long setup, but in saying all that, what was the genesis of writing and recording of We Are…? Was the 10-year plan already laid out beforehand?
That record was really about being immediate and forward-moving as a band. These were our first eight songs, and we kept it short back then. We recorded locally at a studio where Sara and I used to live, and straight to tape. It was Sara and Julia’s first recording experience, and we were done in a few days. We had CDs ready by our second show. We had already talked about how we wanted this band to be around for 10 years—it’s been 13 now—and I can’t remember why we set that arbitrary timeline. Maybe because we thought longevity would equal success? That’s definitely not the case where we’re concerned.
Thanks for the compliments about the art, too. We wanted to keep it minimal, but at the same time unique. Sara shot our portraits on type 45, and I put all of the record’s info on the front cover. It was a short CD so we were able to get weird with the clear-edged CD face of what they call a fan CD.
We Are Fast lives up to its title and flies by, but still manages to show a lot of dexterity in terms of what TNT could do musically. Was the expansion of that which was in full bloom on Dark Is the Path a conscious effort to showcase the talent of the band and the songwriting skills anchoring it all? What was the process like when that album was written and recorded? Side note: Again, the art and layout of the album was phenomenal, expanding on We Are Fast’s design.
Thank you! We had switched personnel a little when Matthew Izen replaced Michael Richardson as our “busy guitarist,” which added a bit of variety to the songwriting landscape, but that’s the bulk of the songs we wrote in the three years after We Are Fast Moving. In listening back, I am fond of many of those songs, but the guitars are all over the fucking place.
Get Vulnerable was the first album you guys did after Slowdance Records ended, if memory serves me correctly. I can honestly say I had no expectations going in as far as what I thought the sound might be. After your departure from the Velvet Teen, and the curve ball roster shift of Izen leaving TNT to join TVT as guitarist while serving as TNT producer. It was a dizzying time for anyone following the band from afar.
Without a doubt, Get Vulnerable is an album that connected with TNT fans and sinks into the listener’s memory in indelible fashion. It’s also a distillation of the band’s sound in a way, a focusing or harnessing of TNT’s powers. The storytelling in the songs feels more inward and self-effacing, as well. What fueled that creative outburst? The results are a high watermark in music as far as I’m concerned.
The music scene in Santa Rosa is pretty incestuous, and it may have seemed weird to swap out members of our bands and remain friendly, but when Matthew quit TNT, we ended up becoming better friends. Also, having TNT become a three-piece was quite nice, even if it did leave us with a handful of songs that we’ll probably never play again. Sara, Julia, and I had been the original three members and TNT will continue as long as we’re all still into it. Get Vulnerable is still our collective favorite of our albums.
I honestly get apprehensive when I hear that a band I like is doing an acoustic release. It could be a matter of post-’90s cynicism against artistic and commercial exploitation, but regardless, for me, there is a chilling effect I have to overcome to give that sort of material a chance. Another reason I have such reticence to humor an effort is because I own Battle to the Death. I don’t think it’s unfair to call Battle to the Death a dramatic turn as far as the sound of the band in contrast to Get Vulnerable.
I also don’t think it’s out of the question to imagine that this was part of the 10-year plan, to release two albums on opposite ends of the sonic spectrum, with titles that could be ascribe to the other and still make sense: Get Vulnerable feeling like a charge into the throes of conflict, and Battle to the Death feeling intimate and unguarded. How intentional was that?
That acoustic album was as much about being vulnerable and unguarded as it was about our love of our musical community. We had been playing some acoustic shows and wanted to document what those sounded like. We had a lot of help from friends in recording the songs, as well as submitting their own covers of our songs. We probably won’t play many more shows quiet like that, so it’s a record for our parents, friends, and family who aren’t really into loud punk shows anymore.
I don’t know if the Kevin Bacon game gets played anymore now that we have the internet, but in the past, it was always fun to connect the dots between musicians in a similar fashion. Keep Dreaming lets people do just that. TNT recording an album with Steve Albini constitutes one of the all-time best first degrees you could have for a few generations of music fans. How did that situation come to be and play itself out? Did it come up that you were working with Albini on the 20th anniversary of In Utero, Last Splash, and Rid of Me?
It didn’t really come up, although Steve had just done a Kim Deal session right before us. It was a dream-come-true, bucket-list type of situation to record at Electrical Audio with Steve. We’re all huge Shellac fans, and I grew up listening to Rapeman and Surfer Rosa. In Utero was a big record in Julia and Sara’s young lives, so we were in hog heaven. I only wish we could’ve afforded more time to record that one, and that I was in better health after our 22-show stretch into Chicago. A great experience, though!
We’re roughly nine months away from a decade of Dark Is the Path, and you just released These Motherfuckers: The Best of Decade One on an 80-minute cassette for a measly $7. I didn’t see that coming, but have come to expect nothing less than such pleasant surprises. What else do you have in store?
The best-of tape was really an excuse to put “The Rest of” on side two, collecting all of the weird recordings that never got released. Julia moved out to Michigan, so we’re all out here now writing stuff for a new album. Hopefully we’ll record that album in the summertime back in California. Other than that, we’re open to going anywhere in the world that people would want to see us play. | Willie E. Smith