Interview : The New Trust [ENGLISH version]

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13 août 2012 par Vincent Mondiot

   It’s been about eight years that I listen to a band called The New Trust. Eight years that I put them in my « my favorite bands » lists. Eight years that none of their songs has ever disappointed me.
   Eight fucking years that I feel like I’m the only one around to know about them. I feel alone. I need friends. I need to share this awesome rock band with as much people as I can.
   Recently I wrote a piece about them (readable here, but only in french, sorry). But it was not enough. So I’ve sent an e-mail to Josh Staples, the singer and bass player of the band. And he answered me. The e-mail was full of questions. His, full of answers.
   Here is the result. Long read. Worth it.

1) Hello Josh! This is the silly automatical first question, but can you introduce The New Trust to the readers? I recently wrote some kind of bio about you guys, but i feel like it’s hard to get it without already knowing you…

   Sure. We’ve been a band since 2003, founded by me (Josh Staples), Sara Sanger and Julia Lancer. We’ve had a few other members over the years, but the three of us have been constant.

2) You’re from the Bay Area, in California. A lot of bands that i love are from there too. Some of them being friends or musical brothers and sisters of yours (recently, i dig Survival Guide a lot… I guess you know them!). Am i fantasizing this thing of « Bay Area scene », or do you confirm it exists? If so, what are its specificities?

   Yes, I think the Bay Area music community is a real phenomenon, much like many other regional scenes (Minneapolis, Chicago, Omaha, etc) but unique in that it’s been going on so long with so many great bands of all styles making great albums and working hard to make their music heard.
I grew up in a small town in Northern California, but my parents grew up in Berkeley and I was born in Oakland. Being a teenager in rural Sonoma County, less than an hour from San Francisco and The East Bay, made for a great stop for touring bands, aided by local bands, such as Operation Ivy, Victims Family, Green Day, Primus, (keep in mind this is the late 80’s) and many other great bands. As a young dude, I got to see The Beatnigs play, have seen Neurosis countless times, and at small places like The Phoenix Theatre, a building I literally spent every day in growing up, you could see these bands casually interact, hang out and support one another. I think it was an environment that really illustrated to me that with an interwoven network of support, motivated young people can create an actual musical movement.
When I first started playing in bands, I was always aware of this special place, and sought to create something unique within it, and after 22 years of playing in bands in the Bay Area, it’s really amazing to still be playing and hanging with a lot of the same people from Santa Cruz to Eureka with whom I have formed so many great relationships along the way.
Specifically, take a band like Survival Guide, a band made up of our great friends, Emily Whitehurst and Jaycen McKissick, both of whom have a long lineage themselves, with personal ties to both The New Trust and The Velvet Teen (my other band). Emily is the sister of The Velvet Teen’s original drummer and solo artist, the late, great Logan Whitehurst. Also, she was the singer of world famous Tsunami Bomb, as well as The Action Design, who went on tour with The New Trust in 2009. Another example is ‘Classics of Love’, a the new band featuring Jesse Michaels of Op Ivy. We’ve gotten to play with them a couple times, and as cool as it is to play with a Bay Area icon like Jesse – who is truly in top creative form, by the way – it’s equally as cool to play more shows with Max and Morgan, the other two dudes in the band, who were formerly in Pteradon, who The New Trust released a split a 7-inch record with in 2009. It does feel like a very tight knit community whose history goes back decades…

3) I would like to go back to the past a little bit, if you agree! I discovered The New Trust when the records label Slowdance Records was still up and kicking. But, later, i was struck by discovering that you, Josh, used to be in a band i already knew: The Wunder Years. My meeting with The Wunder Years happened through the long-time gone zine Section M, who used to cover the Bay Area scene in the late 90’s! Remember it? I was and still am a big fan of The Wunder Years, and since my first encounter with « Pitstops on the road less travelled » (the one and only real album of the band), i’ve dug a lot in its history and its members’. Can you tell me more about these days and ages? About your own version of the musical late 90’s?

   Wow! The Wunder Years are a band that was a lot of fun for me, although I was only in the band for a little over a year. Brian Moss, the singer of The Wunder Years was previously in a band that often played with my older bands as well. He was a young kid from Berkeley when we met and became fast friends. I was at the first few Wunder Years shows in 1998 and thought they were great! Later, in 2000, Brian asked me to join and I was all about it. My old bandmate, Shane Stevens was on guitar and the best drummer in Santa Rosa, Caitlin Love was gonna play drums in this new lineup, too. We practiced at Caitlin’s house and her friends would hang out while we played. That’s actually how I met Julia Lancer! Wunder Years did 2 big US tours and recorded an EP with Bill Stevenson (of The Descendants and Black Flag) before breaking up in 2001. Our band name actual comes from a song Brian Moss wrote back in the 90’s called « New Trust« . I did a cover of it, and I’ll send it to you. You can post it if you want!
[this song is freely available here]

4) Now, let’s go back to present time… But slowly! Your first recording as The New Trust was an EP, in 2004. How did the band started? Were you long-time friends, Sara, Julia and you?

   Well, Sara and I have known each other since we were teenagers and we were married in 2000. Like I mentioned before, we met Jules when she would hang out with The Wunder Years, and she was playing drums in a punk band called ‘Dirty Together’ and working at the coffee shop Sara goes to. Our good friend Michael Richardson from a band called Benton Falls also would hang out at this coffee shop. While I had my crazy fantasies about starting The New Trust with Wunder Years ex-members, Caitlin & Shane on drums and guitar (who each lived 500 miles away in opposite directions), Sara had the smarter idea of asking Julia and Michael to start the band with us. Sara’s sister also played piano in the initial lineup of The New Trust and I had another fantasy of setting the band up on stage in a Pentagram shape! Drums and keys as the two back points, guitars as the side points and me on bass at the forefront. 666! Anyway, Danielle was too busy to stay in the group, so my satanic vision was crushed.
One of our initial goals was to get stuff done quickly, so we started playing a handful of songs that I’d been sitting on for a few years in February of 2003, and having already recorded our first EP, we played our first show in May. A couple weeks later, we played our second show and had CDs of our EP for sale. We sold and gave away about 500 CDRs of those 8 songs (entitled « We are fast-moving motherfuckers. We are women and men of action.« ) before pressing 1000 CDs on our own. We did our first tour of the US with that release in 2003, playing most of the shows with The Jealous Sound. Slowdance Records in Portland, Oregon eventually picked it up and repressed « …fast moving » to a slightly wider audience.

5) Then, three years later, you released your first album, « Dark is the path which lies before us ». This album is one of my all times favorites, and we will go into details, but first… This album is also the beginning of a quite incessant changing of second guitar player! Since then, you never had the same one for two records in a row. What’s the fuck with them, do you tie them in the trunk and use them as ashtray when you’re on tour, or what?

   Well, Michael wrote many of the ‘Dark Is The Path’ songs with us (I’ll actually send you a couple versions of songs we recorded with him [You can download it here, for free]) and also played on our ‘Wake Up It’s The Nineties‘ 7-inch. He also came with us on a 3-week European Tour with Benton Falls’ labelmates, Red Animal War from Texas. He wanted to split from the group to focus on his own music, but we convinced him to stay for one last tour in 2005 with Minus The Bear, after which he left the band. We’re still great friends and recently he and I played in The Jealous Sound together. Our friend Matthew Izen from ‘Polar Bears’ then took his place on guitar, and ended up playing on the full-length album. That’s him on the cover of our « Wake Up It’s The Nineties » 7-inch cover along with Zack from ‘Dirty Together’.

6) Ok, so, « Dark is the path which lies before us »! First: amazing cover, amazing package for the vinyl version. The latest being composed of four 7″ in separated sleeves. On each of them is printed a photograph of one of the four members of the band holding a machete and surrounded by people. Who are these guys and girls? What was the ieda behind this awesome artwork?

   Thanks! Our album concept is an extension of one of the songs on the album, « When The Dead Start Rising » which is an appeal to people in our immediate community to settle our differences and focus on larger problems… in this case, zombies. Essentially, the photographs are about who we keep close and bring with us when serious shit goes down. We asked many of our friends and family to appear in the album artwork and each member chose their posse. So in Julia’s portrait, there’s her mom, her boyfriend at the time, our recording engineer, Dan Kelly, and friends Alyssa and Brian. In my crew, there’s our friends and travel companions, Kristof (sadly, no longer with us) and Anna, Jerry Ilkenhons (name-dropped in the song) Josh from Pandacide Records, Ezra from Slowdance, and friend, Jef. With Sara is friend and journalist, Marc Hawthorne, our merch girl, Jenn, dear friend Gabe Meline, artist Jared Powell (name-dropped in song as J.P.) and friends John Navarro & Carmen Dehlinger. Matthew is surrounded by Jake Powell, original guitarist Michael Richardson, Matthew’s girlfriend-now-wife Kerri Valentine (name-dropped in song), and friends Liz and Casey. In each portrait, the band member holds a machete and wears a white bandana. Sara took the pictures inside the large and historic McDonald mansion in Santa Rosa.

7) Two things struck me when i received my album back then. The first being the type of your music: i’m not capable of identifying your direct influences. I cant throw some guessing (the first one coming to my head is, strangely, Archers of Loaf, even if you don’t sound like them), but none of them seems pertinent. Can you help?

   We have been compared to bands like Archers and Superchunk in the past, which is awesome, but we only started really listening to them after we started this band. Sara and I grew up on 80’s English goth music like Siouxsie, Bauhaus & The Cure, and also are very influenced by smart, angular punk bands like Nomeansno and Shellac, as well as indie classics like Karate & Promise Ring. Jules has a great knowledge and appreciation of all kinds of music, but mostly punk, indie, screamo & hardcore bands. My years of working in record stores and listening to music of all genres tempers the band though, and ultimately, musically, makes us a pop group.

8) The second things who made me falling in love with your band is your lyrics. You have a very rare kind of writing, and never goes to vague and general lyrics. Your songs always give names, places, weathers, times… There about specific people and places, and you don’t try to hide it. It’s not easy to get for someone who is not in the inside story, but it’s here anyway. Is this something conscious, or do you just let the words go on? What is your writing process? Really, some of the songs on « Dark is the path… » contain some of my favorite lyrics ever. Jus one of the opening line MUST be quoted: « Dark is the path which lies before us / The stoic older folk adore us / For we brave the odds with something special / A certain « notgivingafuckness » »… Fuck, that’s good.

   Thank you! I try to write exactly what’s on my mind, and not consciously broaden and generalize the scope to the words to appeal to more people. Just the opposite, usually. I’ll write about specific people, and share a lot of details, which I feel gives direct credit to the people in my life who influence it. This being said, I hope that these lyrics might speak to many people, as every one of us must feel great, sweeping, epic majesty in our lives, caused by the people and details that make up our every day experiences. Plus, there are little jokes and puzzles in there that I hope people enjoy putting together.

9) Another related question about the lyrics in this album! The repetition of some sentences and themes through different songs makes me feel like you tried to draw a bigger story behind this collection of songs? Am i right, or was it just a ponctual playing with words and music?

   The songs were written over a period of a few years, so while there is no great concept tying them all together, there is a recurring theme throughout. Notably, the line « Dark is the path which lies before us. Songs of the siren sing the chorus. » which happens in the first song, a song in the middle, and (if you have the vinyl version) the last song on the album. This is also the most general theme on the record. The times ahead will be trying and laden with perilous temptation.

10) After this masterpiece, you released very fastly a second album, « Get Vulnerable ». Excellent title: while « Dark is the path… » was a complex album for the listener, with a lot of inside secrets and things to get used to, « Get Vulnerable » is shorter, simplier, more nude… And darker, at least to my opinion. The opening song, « The suffering of fools », is almost macabre, in its sound.  Was there a special state of mind behind this, and behind the fact it has been released so early after the previous record?

   Well, Matthew left the band after our US tour for ‘Dark Is The Path‘ (maybe we’re hard to get along with?) and we decided to not replace him, carrying on as a 3-piece. This was scary for all of us, and the resulting music was simpler and darker. Matthew and Michael contributed very stylistically similar guitar parts, and although very nice at times, could be generalized as ‘noodley’. Once we started playing old songs without the complicated guitars, I began to appreciate the room that this left for vocals. We took cues from our favorite 3-piece bands: Shellac, Nomeansno, Helms, etc. and, in true TNT fashion, kept it incestuous, asking Matthew to record ‘Get Vulnerable‘. We didn’t want to wait too long between albums, and many of the lyrics are very direct and unconcealed in poetry. There are songs about jealousy, playing music, infidelity, leaving your friends out to dry and stealing from them. Really, the album’s title says it all.

11) Ok, so now, we’re almost back to the present! Last year, you’ve released « Battle to the death », which is more or less your third album… Can you explain yourself why i say « more or less », by talking about this record and the people playing on it?

   « The New Trust & Friends: Battle To The Death« , our last release is more of a side-note or mixtape than a real album. It consists of 5 older songs and 5 brand new songs, performed acoustically and recorded ourselves. Also included are 8 TNT cover songs performed and recorded by our friends, including Brian Moss, Judah from The Velvet Teen, Matthew Izen and more. We quietly released it ourselves and it’s kind of for fans and family only. My mom and sister love it.

12) Back in the days, you were released by Slowdance Records. Now, you’re on with Side With Us Records. Both ot them are labels i love a lot. We will let the past be the past with Slowdance (they’ve closed some years ago), but can you tell us a little bit about Side With Us? Are you friend with the other bands of this label?

   We are friends with most of the bands on Side With Us, and Leslie, the woman who runs the label. We enjoy working with her, and think she has a lot of great ideas. She definitely does what she does for the right reasons – the love of music and its process, alone. We really do miss Slowdance, though. We would have made records with Ezra until the end of time.

13) Ok, the interview is almost over, so, some questions with no specific link between them! First, in several of your songs you seem to be very defiant, or even agressive, against religions. Can you develop your relationship with religions?

   I am very set in my atheist ways, and feel that Atheist ideas are underrepresented in music. Many people in the world are closeted Atheists, but won’t talk about it for fear of offending someone’s religious beliefs, while the vast majority of people (at least in the USA) could care less about trampling the feelings of non-believers. The more people discuss their ideas, the better in my opinion. Knowing that there are more people who think the same way that you do is helpful in general, I believe.

14) Sara, the guitar player of the band, is your wife. Is this making playing in a band together easier? I’m, once again, mostly thinking about lyrics… Is it hard to write something dark, or depressive, while your wife is one of the firsts to hear your inside?

   We’ve known each other for almost 20 years, so there’s really nothing I could sing about that she doesn’t already know about me. In fact, she is always very complimentary when she hears lyrics, because she is always surprised I am smart enough to write! I’m kind of a forgetful, spacey, mumbling slob in real life, so I think it helps us, really. We also always carpool to practice and get to casually play at home, which is also helpful.

15) You always seemed to me to be a very discrete band. You don’t do a lot of self-publicity, and it looks like you don’t really care about commercial success, not even on a small scale. Can you tell us the ambition of The New Trust?

   We’ve done many large shows and tours, which have always seemed to barely move us forward at all, so we just keep it small and comfortable… Our goal these days is to just do what we do for the small audience that may care. To do anything more ambitious, like try and appeal to a larger audience, could only hurt what we’ve been doing for nearly ten years. We’ll be touring the US in October and recording our new album in Chicago with Steve Albini (something we’ve always wanted to do, so we’ve been saving up!) and probably quietly releasing the new album next year. We bring our dogs on tour, spend time with our friends along the way, hopefully get these songs tight enough by playing them every night for 3 weeks to record them in a quick few days, and then we’ll come home and live our lives again. Julia manages a coffee shop in San Francisco, Sara is a Professional Photographer, and I am a Print Designer who works part time in a record store. That’s as much who we are as the musical part of The New Trust is.

16) Before writing these questions i’ve repeated to myself: « it’s a New Trust interview… », but i have to ask anyway! Is there some news under the sun for The Velvet Teen, your other band?

   Yes! The Velvet Teen is recording our new album in early September, and will surely tour a lot next year.

17) Before we part ways, can you give us the last record, last book and last movie you’ve dug?

   Last book I read that I really enjoyed was Haruki Murikami’s 1Q84. I’ve read all of his books, but this one might be the best. The last record I’ve been into is the new album by Starskate, a band from Santa Rosa / Oakland (like us). It’s called ‘Goodnight Nobody‘. I watched the movie ‘Dogtooth‘ last night and it blew my fucking mind. Pretty intense, but check it out!

18) Thank a lot for your time. That was a lot of questions, sorry! If you still feel like you want to add something, go on! This last one is your free speech! Thanks again, Josh.

   Thanks so much in you interest, Vincent. I hope these questions are easy to translate! Maybe I’ll see you next year…


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