Photography by Dan Kendall
THEIR DEBUT ALBUM TOOK A LONG TIME COMING, BUT WHAT DID WE EXPECT FROM A BAND WITH SUCH A CLEAR VISION OF HOW THEY WANT TO SOUND?
Three years ago, Trailer Trash Tracys spoke to us about the virtues of good sound men, good equipment and their ambition of making a great debut album. Now signed to Domino imprint Double Six, and with the lustrous analogue beauty of ‘Ester’ impressively lingering a month after its release, the debut album is one thing the band can confidently chalk off that modest list.
Treating us to a gloriously low-lit journey drifting between Twin Peaks, reverberating pysch-pop and prettified B-Movie isolation, ‘Ester’ is a prominent statement of Trailer Trash Tracys’ early evolution. Melding a range of disparate influences – the black and white static of the Jesus and Mary Chain, submerging production of Phil Spector and an array of ’60s girl group pop melodies – there’s a depth and intricacy to the album few bands attempt to incorporate into a debut, never mind successfully accomplish.
“That was always what we wanted to do: the dream of creating a great album,” singer Suzanne Aztoria starts.
“That’s quite a big statement though, isn’t it?” ponders guitarist, Jimmy-Lee. “I think the songs are strong and, for me, all the good records I really like have that enduring structure. You can colour it anyway you want, and perhaps two years ago we were associated with something that was more lo-fi, but not so much now. We could polish this album and Britney Spears could cover our songs,” he smiles.
“Probably not Britney,” Suzanne interjects. “Who would it be now? Rhianna?”
“Yeah, any of our songs covered by Rihanna would be huge hits,” Jimmy laughs.
Behind this light-hearted comment, though, there’s also a straight-laced confidence that’s difficult to judge, particularly considering the band’s explanation of their name, inspired by everything from recycled East German cars to a Japanese love hotel or a blow up doll, depending where you read it. With music writers desperate to assert some kind of knowledgeable authority, Suzanne, Jimmy, bassist Adam and drummer Dayo figured it’d make sense to have some fun.
“Trailer Trash Tracys…the three ‘T’s represent the three crosses of cavalry,” Jimmy explains. “The three ‘ra’s’ represent the trinity of the sun god Ra and the ‘iler ash cys’ is Latin for ‘good spirits win’. The hardest thing about it is keeping a straight face,” he smiles. “These guys [points to the rest of the band] are cracking up and the challenge is to make it up on the spot.” True to his point, Suzanne, Adam and Dayo are all grinning away.
“I think there are about ten different versions now,” Suzanne laughs. “It would be so boring to have a name we actually sound like. I think it’s the Trailer Trash bit that bothers people. It’s so easy!”
It doesn’t take long to understand that the band are happy to have fun, but also that their music is a point of intense sincerity. Buoyed by the positive reaction to their debut but determined not to rest on it, they’re a band driven by a fierce perfectionism and exploration. Utilising the benefits of both analogue and digital sound to create, record and master ‘Ester’ it was an intensive, intricate process, but one Jimmy feels stands the band’s progress in good stead.
“I think where we are now, there are definitely advantages to using analogue and digital. Analogue gives us the warmth but digital allows us to be a bit more creative. We recorded a lot of stuff on tape but we had to make it digital to edit it. The warmth is the feeling, overall, that we want but I like the sharpness of digital; this really high-frequency edge and brightness that we try to get.”
“With analogue,” Adam continues, “the sound can sometimes be a bit too soft around the edges, so it’s a case of trying to balance both together.”
“I think for this album it was a case of discovery,” Jimmy states. “It’s never going to be perfect and you can just keep playing and playing with it. Maybe we’d have liked it to have more live drums but then some days I wake up and like that metronome heaviness. It’s a learning curve and we discovered how to do a lot of things we’ll end up using in the future a lot quicker than if we hadn’t tried different approaches, but at some point you just have to let it go.”
Born from a simple desire to do things differently, Trailer Trash Tracys’ lust for exploration has served them well. After attracting attention way back in 2009, it’s a testament to the band’s commitment of creating music to endure, instead of simply satisfying, that they weren’t washed away by the ever-rabid hype machine. Disillusioned with the music landscape at the time, it proved to be a welcome spur according to Suzanne.
“When we did ‘Candy Girl’, we were so sick of all these bands like Bloc Party and we wanted to do something different. Then we put this song out and kind of got lumped with everyone else.”
“We were really bad at the time, but Adam had a studio so we took what we had and he was like, ‘the reason you’re falling for this demo is because…’ and he just rammed up the distortion and we all went, ‘Oh yeah, we like it now!’ Jimmy laughs.
“It’s like we were talking about earlier: it’s the nature of the press beast in London. It’s always hungry and when someone finds something, everyone wants a piece of it and hurtles it into space. I think there are a lot of casualties as a result of that but we’re always going to do music so it doesn’t affect us. Looking back, it was fashionable at the time to do homemade recordings but we weren’t engineering it to sound shit…”
“We were just shit,” Dayo chips in, grinning with perfect, deadpan timing to the great mirth of the rest of the band.
“We didn’t know the attention would happen,” Suzanne picks up, “we had no expectations and put the song on Myspace thinking five people would listen to it.”
“Most of us had jobs at the time so we were limited with what we could do. It was kind of frustrating but we probably got about 50 songs out of that time and put a lot of the best ones on this album.”
“We’ve still got a lot of material,” Jimmy adds before Suzanne jumps back in:
“We should have released our second album already.”
“The anthology’s already right there. It’s all been planned,” Jimmy laughs.
Having worked tirelessly to get the album to a place they were happy with, and emerging from a difficult period with a wealth of material, Trailer Trash Tracys aren’t about to let themselves stagnate in any aspect of their music. Balancing the richness of the record with the rawness of the live show, using equipment that still isn’t quite at the level the band needs, is an aspect Jimmy is excited to hit head on.
“The live aspect is a whole new challenge,” he says. “Making the album, I never thought about playing it live, properly, but it’s a whole new game. When we’re trying to make the record translate live, there’s a dynamic I almost prefer compared to the recording. Sometimes, live, you can’t get the subtleties and it can be painful playing with a tiny amp and speakers. Our equipment isn’t the best at the moment but it’s getting there as we go, and I think until we get to a level where we’re like, ‘Fuck, we sound really good, live’, that’ll be our focus. I’m enjoying it.”
“In general, when it’s loud, it’s good and when we get that volume, it does justice to our songs,” says Adam. “When it’s too quiet, it loses that edge it has on record.”
“We post-produce a lot of the guitar and there are a lot of very subtle intricacies around that. For example, I used to have one speaker and two pedals, now I’ve got three outputs on my guitar: one reverb, one echo and one dry signal. So it’s three outputs from just me playing…” Jimmy tries to explain,
“…and he’s got an amp that goes up to 11…” Adam interjects.
“…that’s on the old amp…” says Suzanne.
So from Spinal Tap amps, global pop star covers, a premature anthology via a dislike for the Bloc Party generation and an arresting debut, Trailer Trash Tracys’ next steps are sure to be as grandiose as the noise they make…with or without that ever elusive sound engineer.
“I think it’s more about the journey and making it so that it doesn’t get boring,” Suzanne starts.
“I think our sound translates to a bigger stage,” offers Dayo, “probably not an arena but it works better in places where the sound can build.”
“We played Brixton supporting the Maccabees to about 1000 people and if you play to that many and 10% dig it, that’s still 100 people,” Jimmy reasons. “I think we haven’t lost focus of that and we won’t lose focus of that.”
“I’d like to take our little amps to arenas,” Adam grins.
“Yeah, but only if we can get our own sound guy,” Suzanne laughs.
By Reef Younis
Originally published in issue 35 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2012