Under the Gun Review is very pleased to bring you this exclusive interview with New Jersey’s genre-defying indie outfit, Trophy Scars!
It’s been nearly a year since the last time we checked in with the boys after the release of their well-received EP, Never Born, Never Dead, and they’ve been keeping themselves quite busy in the meantime. We recently got caught up with vocalist Jerry Jones as he gave us a lot of insight about the intricate themes of their forthcoming full-length album, some intimate details about his inspirations and the plethora of side projects the members have been involved with. Read through and take advantage of the opportunity to get some inside information from Jerry Jones and Trophy Scars!
Can you reveal a set release date for Holy Vacants yet?
I can’t. Not because it’s some secret thing but we really don’t know what approach we should take to releasing it. The lid has been sealed extremely tight as far as anyone outside the band/studio guests hearing the songs. We are about to start the mixing process and then assemble a pretty thorough plan, which will most likely include shopping it to labels.
What can we expect from Holy Vacants that differs from your previous releases?
It’s heavier. It’s more beautiful. It’s more intense. It’s a very visual album, maybe more so than the last three releases. There is a full girl choir and some serious girl features on most of the tracks. This record allows a bit more of the female perspective and I think that is really going to help connect people to the story and concept. The scenario is truly a nightmare and heavily details the intimate relationship between two villainous, but redeemable, characters. You get to hear the grit from both of them, sometimes in dialog form.
Also, this record really concentrates on dynamics so there are moments where almost all instrumentation is stripped away and moments where it will seem difficult to breath. There is a lot of Moog and some Mellotron in there. A lot of organ, horns, a huge string section. A lot of texture. I don’t want to give too many secrets away because I really want listeners to digest Holy Vacants completely fresh.
So there is a concept to the album?
The whole record is a concept. The storyline is completely linear, much like the “assassin lovers” arch in Bad Luck. It follows a romantic couple that has discovered the Fountain of Youth in the blood cells of angels. The album doesn’t specify how old the couple is but it is safe to assume that they were in their twenties at the end of World War II and they look exactly the same in present day, 2012. I approached writing the story like I do when writing screenplays. After 8 years of Catholic school I felt confident enough to explore the mythology of a little known conspiracy dubbed the “Hashilim Project.” Some Catholic priests believe that the prime objective of Hitler wiping out the Jewish people was to extinguish the Nephilitic gene – essentially the angelic bloodline. Nephilim, persons born from the union of an angel and human, and Jews were thought to be carriers of the gene as God’s chosen people. Apparently the only way to kill an angel is with an ancient Egyptian perfume called “qeres,”which was used in mummification rituals. The internet hardly has any information on the subject which I love as it allowed me to really build from my imagination. So in my story, this once-religious couple has discovered the lost recipe for qeres and plans on outing and killing angels; not as anti-Christians but because they realize that drinking pure Nephilitic blood keeps them from aging. They feel justified, as they believe their “mission” allows them to eternally love each other in physical form. They swear their love is “pure and true,” however, it is revealed instantaneously that they are corrupt and vain. They struggle with petty insecurities and an obvious insatiable lust for youth. The female character is no longer in love with the male but enamored with the Fountain of Youth. The male character realizes this but his adoration of her is too strong. They both won’t leave each other out of convenience. The male begins to feel their life together is an abomination and an affront to God. The story takes many twists and turns from there on out.
Although this is a major story and one I hope to adapt to film sometime, it’s heavy on metaphors and symbolism. Romanticized youth becomes a direct correlation to loss of innocence, loss of identity and a paranoid fear of time. It is probably my final tribute to my muse and ex-girlfriend, Lauren. We are still very close and love each other a great deal but I need to put this material to bed. She has been responsible for everything released after Bad Luck; we began dating immediately after the mixing process for that album. Needless to say, she is not only able to inspire a vast spectrum of art and literary themes but she is single-handedly the most significant person included in my writing.
Besides Lauren, what major influences have come into play for the new album since Never Born, Never Dead?
If reincarnation and being in love forever was Never Born, Never Dead, I wanted to delve into the opposite for this one. I chose the Holy Vacants concept because it was so definite and final. There is no redemption or “next life” for the couple in this story. It’s pretty much a blood bath all the way through.
I think, whether or not everyone in the band agrees with me, me moving to Los Angeles for a brief amount of time was a huge influence on this record. For all of us. They missed me and I missed them, but I was doing my selfish thing. They knew I’d be back, but they wanted me back sooner than later. John set out to write a record that wouldn’t allow compromise; he made it so I had to come back. He knew I was going to love it too much… and I did, and so I moved back [laughs]. John is always trying to outdo himself, but this time he had to really blow my mind based on some rough demos. I think that pushed everyone into full gear. It’s the first record Andy has contributed entire songs… which rules. Brian wrote another banger for the end of the record (he wrote “Time in Heaven” on Darkness, Oh Hell). It forced me to be really thematic with the lyrics.
David Lynch was again a huge influence on my writing for this record. Motown, Sabbath, Beatles, and Kimbra were major sources of inspiration for the arrangements. There is a lot of psychedelic ear candy and those who partake in that sort of ritual will receive a major pay off. I think we just sort of influence each other now too. We all have our own autonomous style and each member feeds off one another.
Last time I talked to you, you had said “’Good Luck’ holds the most personal weight I’ve ever put into a song.” Has this changed at all?
“Good Luck” is still one of the most personal songs I’ve ever written for sure. The last song on Holy Vacants, “Everything Disappearing,” is also extremely personal. I explicitly narrate recent real life events between Lauren and I and apply it to the characters in the story arch. It’s my aside to breaking the fourth wall, except my only audience member is Lauren. I’m really speaking directly to her but not truly breaking away from character. In the final moments, the general listener can apply the lyrical mantra to the story or even to his or her own life. I am obliged to have others participate in the feeling of it all, but in full disclosure, I wrote a love song for Lauren. There have been several (namely “August 1980”, “Time in Heaven”, “Never Dead”, and “Sad Stanley”) but this is really the death rattle send off.
Any plans to tour in support of the new album?
Yes, we do believe so. Hopefully with our friend Adam from Fear Before’s new project, All Human. His new record is wonderful. We spoke briefly about doing a stint next summer.
Any new music videos in the works from Holy Vacants?
Oh yes. There will be a few videos I believe. Our director, Joshua Weinstein, has expressed some major interest in doing some beautiful things with the visual aspect of these songs.
What have been the biggest obstacles for you as an independent band?
Well, keeping day jobs makes it extremely difficult to tour as much as we’d like. That’s for sure.
Although the press has been extremely kind to us, we would love to sign with a publicist who understands us to really push this record into places who have yet to hear Trophy Scars. I think one of the biggest obstacles for us is shaking the “post-hardcore” tag. We don’t really fit in with any post-hardcore band that I know of and the genre is over-saturated with bands I literally can’t tell the difference between. We have no interest being pigeonholed into some nostalgic niche. It’s frustrating to see kids just slap that label on us. I feel like it’s just such an ambiguous thing to say, as if it really could apply to any type of music that has melodic electric guitars and crescendos. Some of our earlier records were definitely influenced by hardcore, but those days were long ago. Maybe it’s because I’m in the band and I know for a fact hardcore was never considered when writing the last four records. I’m not trying to deceive anybody or sound pretentious – I think our sound has a broad appeal to those who like all types of music, and that certainly includes heavy music. Our music is intense and sometimes flies off the handlebars, but it’s really just the blues! Even my vocal inflections are heavily influenced by standard blues songs. I understand that we have long time fans that have experienced a range of material from us and early in our career experimental post-hardcore was an aptly applied genre, but it simply just isn’t what we are anymore. The problem with this genre identification is we keep getting mixed up with “scene” bands or whatever they are. Promoters, press, record labels and even some of our own fans are trying to force a square peg into a circular hole. C’est la vie.
I can’t imagine that no labels have tried to sign you guys. Is there any specific reason you’re still unsigned?
Labels have tried. We just weren’t into it at the time. We had a very solid thing going with our own label, The Same Ghost Collective – we didn’t owe anybody money. We owned all the rights to every piece of art we made. We controlled our tour schedule, our release schedule and our wealth distribution. However, Holy Vacants deserves to be pushed. I think it’s absurd but labels give credibility to bands and kids legitimize music by seeing distribution, publicity and backing. I think it really boils down to getting the right people behind us; we want a label to love the record as much as we do. We want the amount of attention paid to us to equivocate the amount of attention we paid to the recording process and art.
Do you have any special vinyl plans?
I have to discuss with our good friend Alex DiVincenzo of Simply Legendary Records and AbsolutePunk – but I think Bad Luck will most likely be pressed next with some really gorgeous packaging and a very unique limited edition option. I would really like to see an embossed gatefold, matte reverse cardstock, 180g double vinyl… and hopefully different artwork for the limited and standard jacket.
We also plan on releasing Never Born, Never Dead and Darkness, Oh Hell in a double vinyl gatefold format. The presentation will be much a like a full-length record opposed to two separate EPs. The artwork will be cohesive and sequenced a tad bit differently as “August 1980” will be included on the vinyl as well.
What have you guys been watching on TV since LOST ended?
TV has been pretty killer for us. It will be tough to top LOST but there are plenty of great shows out there. This series ended before LOST but I ended up watching it early this year – The Wire. Andy had already seen it and described as the best show he’s ever seen, and he was spot on. What a delight. Otherwise Game of Thrones, Treme, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Eric Andre Show, Veep, Sons of Anarchy, Check it Out!, The Newsroom and the NFL have all been part of our night time/Sunday rituals.
Have Super Snake and the other projects been putting Trophy Scars on hold at all?
No, not at all. Holy Vacants has been a very time consuming project. It’s been in the works for over a year now and we’re using every ounce of creativity we’ve got to put into that project – so it’s actually extremely beneficial to take a break and look at the whole picture fresh. I take Super Snake very seriously though, and that project is also pretty grueling. We are heading into Portrait Recording Studios in late October to record the next seasonal EP. John Ferrara is actually the producer/engineer for that as well so we both get to redirect our energy to something more lighthearted and sexy (albeit still psychedelic). Super Snake will release a 12” vinyl in conjunction with the next EP that will include both EPs in a deluxe package so I’m really stoked on that.
Andy is putting the final touches on his project, Sea of Glass, and gearing up to record mid-October. That’s going to be nuts. It will feature vocals from members of The Same Ghost Collective: Nigel Silverthorn, Trickster Fox (Haley Morganne Hancock), me, and Andy himself.
Brian is in the writing stages of his project, Empty Moon. He has been recording a lot of middy demos through Garage Band lately. I think he will be singing and playing mostly all the instruments himself.
The Same Ghost Collective will also be putting together a recording featuring co-owner/president (and our manager) Aneel De Albuquerque as the sole music writer and guitarist. The members will include a giant amalgam of friends and members of The Same Ghost company. Everybody will share in the vocals and eccentric instrumentation. We have one song in the bank that is going to make people flip.
Even though we are all always busy with work and music we wouldn’t have it any other way. Music is our first true love and we just can’t stop writing. It makes it really easy on us since we are all best friends. Trophy Scars will always be top priority for all of us – and it will make sense when you hear Holy Vacants.
Any lesser known bands that have been on your playlist a lot lately?
Birds in Row is currently in heavy rotation on my playlist. I think they are reinventing aggressive music as the world knows it. They’re not really “lesser known”, but Grizzly Bear’s new album, Shields, is wonderful. I’ve been listening to a lot of Nick Cave and Wanda Jackson lately. Swans, The Seer – hell yes. Aesop Rock and El-P both dropped incredible albums this year. Skelethon is probably my favorite record of 2012 so far. Father John Misty’s Fear Fun – beautiful stuff. All Human’s Catholic Guilt or the Queerest of Thoughts is phenomenal! Adam is a genius, really. Kimbra – Vows; gorgeous and perfectly mixed.
Our friends in Jacobi Wichita started a new project titled Yew. It sounds great. I’ll be recording some vocal tracks for that very soon. I also lent some vocals to Reese Van Riper’s upcoming EP, Ghost Oil Revival. I’m sure you will be hearing a lot about them in 2013. Trophy Scars plan on playing a bunch with them – they are some spooky, swampy, bluesy, creeps and we love it. The entire EP slays! Also, Man on Fire (NJ) is doing some wild stuff as an intelligent, noisy punk throwback. France is another New Jersey group switching it up and playing some dark 70s psych type stuff. My roommate and Super Snake guitarist, Gregg, plays in I Am Heresy with Nathan from Boysetsfire. They do some really awesome metal.
What are you guys going to be for Halloween?
I’ll be dressing up with the dudes in Super Snake for a Halloween party/show as the Channel 4 news team from Anchorman. I’ll be dressed as Ron Burgundy… and very drunk. Andy will most likely be something offensive…and very drunk. John and Brian will probably stay home and hold each other until they pass out at 9PM.
So all in all, what do you hope listeners will gain from the forthcoming Holy Vacants experience?
John and I spoke about this question and had a few laughs for a while. We want people to feel loss in a whole new way. It’s kind of an oxymoron to say the listener will be gaining loss, but that’s what the record is set out to do. It is extremely theatrical and I would consider it our version of The Wall, so we do want listeners to gain the insane visual experience from this album. The end is uplifting but just barely; it’s an incredibly sad concept. As the final vocals build to triumph: “You are not alone,” they are sucked out into a vacuum of space and emptiness. The song just vaporizes itself, and that’s it! There are no feelings, just heavy loss. Holy Vacants should be played seamlessly and the listener will be confronted with lots of color and texture and different moods and songs, but almost after every one – you might want to keep a cigarette on hand. Even if you don’t smoke.
Written and conducted by: Brian Lion – Follow him on Twitter