How does an up and coming young band in America keep their sound fresh and their spirits up? “We arm wrestle daily…hourly, really.” (Frank Porcaro)
Suburb born and now Chicago housed, Truman and His Trophy is a plucky group of four musicians doing their best to bring a good time and just a hint of music nerdy-ness to our local scene.
Formed through the classic story of “We met in high school” that fills VH1 band profiles every day (or would if they covered people who weren’t once part of the Mickey Mouse Club) combined with a go-getter attitude, Truman has been bringing beats brimming with fun and quirk since roughly 2007.
“One day Chris came to my house and said, “I’ve got two new songs that I want to record.” And I had some equipment, so over a weekend we recorded these two songs. By that Tuesday we were offered a show which we booked without having a band, and within a week called everyone we knew and were just like, “Hey, we’re starting this band out of no where.” We ended up with six members.” (Frank Pocaro)
Since then the band has been whittled down to include a quartet comprised of the aforementioned keyboard and guitarist, Frank Pocaro, bass and little bit of everything-ist Jake Levinson, drummer Ryan Wizniak, and frontman-guitarist Chris Sutter. This past summer Truman released their debut full-length, Springinsguth– an eleven track tribute to all that is dancey in the world of pop-punk, with just the right amount of slightly reckless “we’re young, let’s have fun” attitude to make sure no one takes it too seriously.
As an album we can comfortably say that Springinsguth is the most fun we have had in a long time- and finding these songs in the stout center of winter could not have been more perfect timing. To anyone who hasn’t heard the infectious intonations of Truman yet, we’d like to suggest you nab the record, grab your head phones, and stomp your way through some slush with the sense of unbridled blitheness it is guaranteed to deliver. From the get go the songs on this album have a zeal for the eccentric, delivering dancey sort of powerpop/pop-punk that we put in the same category as Piebald, Say Anything, and early Weezer.
But behind the fast paced fun of songs like “Tomato Feet” (“You may not throw /tomatoes up at me /you may not make me feel/so inferior/I’m no jester /I will not be made a fool”) and the synthy-shout filled “Beardy Tastes” (Back and forth through my mind/automatic see-saw of the greatest times/sea and air its all the same/ we’ll lose our innocence but who’s to blame?), lie lyrics of a well thought out and relatively clever proportion, taking a shine to the beauty of subtle rhyme and use of alliteration that such lyrical greats as Ben Gibbard tapped into early on.
One of Springinsguth’s great strengths is it’s cohesiveness in it’s style- an uneasy feat for any musician, let alone a group making their debut. While all these songs have an element of happy-go-lucky-good times to them, Truman slows things down with tracks like “Whale”, where they implement what sounds like some flute, horns, and accordion along with an acoustic. As well as the more subdued “No Forks, No Spoons” who’s slow bass line and random tinkling are eventually replaced by a hard hitting combination of drums and yells, which we found to be impeccably paired with it’s lyrical content.
“Elmaira” offers a more straight up pop feel to it, with a slightly beach rock vibe in it’s guitar and background vocals, while “Peach Tree” feels like a premonition for what Vampire Weekend was going to do with Contra– which at the time of Truman’s debut was still unreleased. None the less, the rolling surfer drums, twitchy guitar and vocal pattern would not have been misplaced alongside tracks from the XL-Recordings group.
Of course Truman and His Trophy offer nonsensical sounding songs as well, like the clubby “Flower Man Party”, who’s lyrics we aren’t even going to question- this song is just too rhythmically infectious for us to want to analyze why the government would care about their living room parties. “Plain Brains” let’s us know the bands feels “monstrous/like a monstrous being/like what you see on your ceiling when you’re home at night, alone/just be fearful of /the nightmares you’ve dreaded the ones that stay in your head and/never let them go” which may seem neither here nor there, but listen closely and you’ll fall in love with the true rock and roll riff rolled under it’s ending chorus and drums.
Though there have been some naysayers about certain aspects of this band, and more specifically this album, with them, we have to disagree. Truthfully, yes, we could go ahead and find weaknesses, like the fact that if it were up to us, we might rearrange the song order or omit the quirky sound bites following a few tracks, lest they dissuade the listener who doesn’t appreciate their free-spirited DIY-ness. Perhaps we could say something about how we’d prefer it if the jumbled, raucous ending of “Beardy Tastes” were just a 5 to 10 seconds shorter (though we do give the band points for tying their roughly recorded intro song in with a track ending in the same rowdy manner), or point out the albums short comings when compared to this band or that.
But what we feel is so important when listening to this album is that the listener realizes that not all music is meant to be a grand or epic artistic gesture. Sometimes a good record is just a good record because of the way it makes you feel, and there’s no denying that Springinsguth worms it’s way into your most thoracic of cavities and starts to rewire your inner rhythms until the only information being passed through the synapse is “Go have fun”.
Three of the four that make up Truman and His Trophy met with Reviewsic to talk shop earlier this month. Check out what Chris, Frank, and Jake had to say about their musical influences, best band moments, and the plot of the inevitable Truman biopic.
Reviewsic: How did you get your start in music as individuals?
Frank: I started to play guitar when I was 10 because I had no friends. I had to figure out what would make me cool, and I thought guitar would do that. It didn’t, unfortunately, but I did learn how to play guitar.
Jake: I started on saxophone in 8th grade, so I’m probably the only classically trained one in the band. One day I was sitting in the band room, just a lowly freshman, and this kid Pete, who actually engineered our record, is sitting on a stack of chairs and has this red, shiny, Washburn guitar and is playing “Enter Sandman” and I was just like, “Holy Crap, I want to be that guy.” So that’s how I got started on guitar, but I played saxophone all through college, so that’s kind of my first love.”
Chris: When I was 9 or 10 I wanted to play the drums…and I still want to play drums. My Dad got me an acoustic guitar as a gift, and along with it an AC/DC tablature book, which sounded AWESOME on the acoustic…so really I guess our influences should say AC/DC, Metallica: unplugged.
Reviewsic: What goes into your writing process?
Jake: Chris usually writes the lyrics and chord progression-he’s our little songwriter. Sometimes it’s a more collaborative effort, like with “Nails”. But usually it’s that Chris frames out the skeleton and we add on our own parts. With this album there were five or six songs we just tossed out because they’ were…well…embarrassing. I think Springinsguth has a certain poppy cohesiveness to it- the other songs were too dark or punkish, just not fun.
Frank: Brooding drone metal…
Jake. Yes. 17 minute, Dreamtheater, Chris just soloing.
Frank: I wish that were true.
Reviewsic:Who are your biggest musical influences?
Frank: When we first started we were listening to Of Montreal quite a bit, and Troubled Hubble- Everything Truman came out of was almost directly influenced by those bands. It’s kind of grown and changed but those are the initial ones. Personally, I grew up on a lot of punk, but I also really like jazz and early 20th century blues- but mostly punk.
Jake: One of the first things Frank and I bonded over was the fact that we were the only people in our school who knew and loved bands like Yo la Tenga and Pavement. I listen to a lot of different music, but when I’m writing for Truman I think a lot of The Kinks because I think Chris’ writes in a style that is similar to them. I really like Tegan and Sara, they’re one of my guilty-ish pleasures and influence my guitar playing. And KaKi King, I don’t really do anything like her in the band, but I do stuff on my own that tends to sound like her.
Chris: I don’t really know…I guess my personal influences are bands like Spoon or Pixies. Lately I’ve been writing this really weird music and I’ve been influenced by bands like Deerhoof, Talking Heads… and Smokey Robinson, actually.
Reviewsic: If you were to make an album of strictly covers, what are some of the songs you’d have to include?
Pillar of Salt- The Thermals
I Want You Back- Jackson 5/Sly & The Family Stone- Every Day People medley
King of Carrot Flowers- Neutral Milk Hotel
Reviewsic: What is the best show you’ve ever played?
Jake: There’s this band from Elmhurst, IL, called Pisces at the Animal Fair that are real DIY and always playing these crazy house shows. This one show we were invited to play was Asian Fest, in this guy’s basement that had a dropped ceiling. It was winter so the heat was turned up to be like…70, and on top of that, you’ve got all these sweaty 16-18 year olds dancing and jumping into one another, just being really enthusiastic. So eventually the ceiling absorbs so much moisture between the heat and the kids that it just collapses. And these kids just kept…dancing, even though a ceiling had just caved in.
Chris: We also had the pleasure of playing another Elmhurst show, and that time I was wearing footy pajama’s and Frank was mostly naked, just in his tighty-whities.
Frank: I wear really nice underwear.
Chris: And I got my tooth got chipped that show because I was singing and these kids sort of rushed up and hit the mic. Also, recently my other tooth got chipped at Sub-T. But that, was my favorite show ever.
Jake: That show was so tight that I was literally standing against the wall. Not like tight- cool, but tight packed. That’s how many kids were at that show.
Frank: My favorite show ever, it was our third to last day of the tour we went on this past summer, and we were playing in Howell, Michigan. It was the strangest thing because, people don’t really know us outside of Chicago, but we’re in Howell, Michigan and the place is just packed. It was in this 120-year old Opera house, just a huge room, and we’re playing, everyone’s getting really into it and the thing that freaked me out more than anything else is that we start playing one of our songs, a song called “No Forks, No Spoons” and some kid just yells out the name of the song. Then as we get farther into the set kids are singing along, and it was like “…How?” That’s just a show that sticks out in my memory because it was so unexpected, and it just feels good when stuff like that happens.
Reviewsic: Would you count those shows as your best band moment?
Chris: Well I think maybe playing the Metro would be the best one, right?
Jake: Which time?
Chris: I don’t know…anytime!
Reviewsic How about the worst?
Chris: Well, we took this little, 3-4 day tour and ended up at a venue in a little town outside Detroit. Initially, it looked awesome, it was this thrift/record store and they had a pretty big room for bands. Before we even got there though, our drummer was pretty sick, I think he had food poisoning.
Frank: We get to the venue and we’re about an hour early, so we knock on the door and someone just opens it up and snaps at us “We’re closed!” and we’re just like “um..we’re playing tonight? We just got here from Chicago.” They shooed us away and said to come back at 6pm, so we just went to this Meijer and killed time. Then we came back and essentially no one at the venue talked to us, it was us, our friends Pisces, a local band, a band that never showed, and this other band that had come from a couple hours away real last minute. The local band brought a couple people, but in all honesty there was literally no one there. All in all it was just a really unpleasant experience, the people at the venue just kind of stared at us as we packed up, looking at their watches, and really weren’t very pleasant themselves.
Jake: The one good thing that did come out of that night was doing Where’s Waldo? books in the Meijer, that was fun.
Reviewsic: Who are your top three favorite Chicago bands?
Frank: Dr. Manhattan, Troubled Hubble, Brokedowns.
Chris: I’m going to have to agree with Frank on this one.
Jake: Those three yes, but I also have to say Gaberdine and Buddy Guy.
Reviewsic: If you could work with anyone in the music industry, who would it be and why?
Jake: I think this might be because of Jookabox, but I think Asthmatic Kitty is a cool label, and they’ve got Sufjan there too. If I could, I’d say Circa-1992 Look Out, because Kerplunk! Is one of Frank and mine’s favorite albums.
Frank: I would want to work with Look Out Records because some of my absolute favorites of all time are on that label. I’d also like to work with Steve Albini.
Chris: Maybe with the label Kill Rock Stars, they do Deerhoof and The Thermals, two of my favorite bands. If I could I’d like to work with Radiohead or Deerhoof too.
Reviewsic: What if you could tour with any three bands, who would those be?
Chris: I have to still say Radiohead and Deerhoof. Oh and St. Vincent for sure.
Jake: Neko Case because she does really cool things with her live band, Frightened Rabbit because they’re jus awesome live, and Kaki King-she’s got an amazing voice.
Frank: Greenday in 95’ right before Dookie came out, so the songs were written, but they were still playing small clubs. Built to Spill, The Thermals and maybe Lemuria.
Reviewsic: If Hollywood were to make a movie based on your band, whom would you cast as yourselves and what would the plot be?
Frank: Well I would have to cast myself as Chris, first off.
Jake: Then Nick White as everyone else haha- Nick’s a friend of ours that’s been in a lot of videos we’ve done. But really though, Joe Pantoliano (Frances, from the Goonies) as Frank.
Frank: Or Ringo Starr. Chris, even though you’ve grown out of your Michael Cera looks, I still think you are him.
Chris: Yeah, I get that a lot. Jake would have to be Richard Grieco.
Jake: Who would Ryan be?
Frank: If Ryan were here it would involve sea monsters.
Chris: Oh, okay get this: We would befriend a sea monster, then ride the sea monster to New Jersey from Chicago. Buy the house. But, the house gets repossessed. We sold our house in Chicago, we have to nowhere to go. We die. The sea monster lives.
Jake: And enrolls in Princeton.
Reviewsic: Is there any specific creative direction Truman is headed toward?
Frank: As a band we’re really goofy overall, but we do try to focus on being very personable, we like when we get to talk to people, people come up and say hi and all that. A lot of what we do is based on energy, just having a good time. Bands try to hard to create a persona, and I think that can be attributed to the online persona people are tempted to make on all these networking sites, where they put on certain airs about who they are and what they do. What we want to portray and what we’re kind of all about is just being sort of…anti-that, and pro-real human being.
Chris: We just like to have fun, that’s what it’s all about.
Jake: Our music really is like our individual personalities, I think. Chris plays really simple guitar lines that let the lyrics come through, with the occasional AC/DC riffs, like in Elmaira. Frank’s keyboard is really quirky and sometimes a little obnoxious, but work in the larger context. Ryan’s drums are really busy and energetic, and most of the time totally unpredictable, which is Ryan to a T.
Frank: Definitely. And when I listen to Jake I hear his knowledge of music theory. He’s probably the best actual musician out of all of us-there’s just a serious logic behind every thing he does.
Reviewsic: What are your plans for Truman in the next year?
Frank: Well, The Cure will be opening for us soon. Tomorrow, actually.
Chris: For now there aren’t really any big plans. We’ve been writing a lot, and would like to have at least an EP by the summer, before we head out on tour. Right now we have more than an albums worth of new music, it’s just a matter of figuring out what to do with it. The new music is definitely different, but we really like where it’s going. Besides that we’ll just be playing a show or two a month probably, and keep writing.