No Lies with Truth Club – Show Review
NO LIES WITH TRUTH CLUB
by Nick Jacobyansky
I spent a Wednesday evening in June inside of a small indoor batting cage in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. While smackin’ around the old twineball is a great stress reliever, not to mention a layman’s way to enjoy the Great American Pastime, I wasn’t there to practice my batting stance. Instead, I found myself shuffling about with my hands in my pockets, eagerly waiting to see a band play. You wouldn’t guess it from the outside, but this space, Everybody Hits, is a hub for DIY music in Philadelphia. I felt like an outsider, not really connected to anyone there, but that feeling quickly dissolved after Philly act Spin Off’s performance-art-rock spectacle, telling a fantastical tale of inviting one Mark Zuckerberg over for dinner. This off-the-wall set reminded me why it’s hard to feel like an outsider for a long time: no matter if you’re there alone, or you know everyone there, the music really has a way of bringing people together. The wacky Zuck-fest was one of many memorable moments of the night, from NY’s Washer’s minimal punk cover of the musical motif from Lost, “Make Your Own Kind of Music,” to the hazy, sugary indie rock of So Totally (Philly). However, sandwiched between the bread of these acts was Raleigh’s Truth Club, the real motive behind my guise of a late-night craving for that sweet, sweet, baseball.
Truth Club, consisting of Travis Harrington, Elise Jaffe, Fernando K. Alejo-Vann (Kameron), and Yvonne Chazal, have made a name for themselves with their modernized slacker rock. Their honest lyrics and cathartic delivery combine with these slick instrumentals to create some incredibly powerful indie rock. The Raleigh band recently released their debut LP, Not an Exit, on Tiny Engines. Although their set was brief, it was one of the more impactful sets I’ve seen this year, and I saw Mitski do badass interpretive yoga and witnessed an emotionally visceral John Maus solo show. Truth Club’s live presence is a true embodiment of the DIY sprit. I was blown away by the fact that they’re in college making incredibly mature, moving music. A few things hit me in that moment, as if I were the baseball, slugged into left field by the “Tethering” lyric, “My mom cooks breakfast while I sleep in:” This poignant yet simple line caused a wave of nostalgia and homesickness to rush over me, but I was too drawn to the explosive chorus to bat an eye. Music’s ability to ease discomfort, transmit shared experiences, and exist as raw, unfiltered emotion is unparalleled. This fostered humanity is why I’m so drawn to music, yet it still blows me away when I witness it in its purest form. This quasi-human aspect of music allows you to connect to the artists without ever talking to them. Luckily for me, however, I did get to talk to the minds behind one of my favorite records of 2019 before the set.
Before Truth Club, what musical projects were you involved in?
T: Astro Cowboy was this band me and Kameron formed in high school. We’ve known each other since middle school and really just started playing guitar together because of games like Guitar Hero and RockBand.
What were your favorite tracks to play?
T: [The Strokes’] Reptilia was a sick song because it was on both RockBand 1 and Guitar Hero 3, which definitely allowed these games to reach a larger audience and be a great jumping off point for the indie kids.
E: You know those soundtracks so well, you name the correct soundtrack to whatever song is playing anytime we’re in public.
How did being involved in Astro Cowboy lead to Truth Club?
T: Me and Elise actually formed Truth Club. Me and Kam went to different colleges after high school, so that project just stopped because we were so far apart. I met Elise when I started at NC State, and I found out she played drums, so we started playing together.
E: We had a bass player too, but things weren’t really working out with him, and we had already booked a handful of shows, so Travis got in touch with Kameron 2 days before the first show, and somehow he was able to learn all our songs in those 2 days.
T: I definitely had ulterior motives of him joining the band when I asked him to come on that tour with us. That same thing happened with Yvonne, we were playing with her a lot after that tour, she was kind of filling in for Kam, and in the back of my mind I was hoping she could join the band too.
Seeing that three of you are based in Raleigh, what is the music scene like there?
T: I’d say it’s currently in a slight bit of a lull, at least we’ve been more tuned out from it. I was definitely more focused on school this past year. It was an interesting year because the last show we played before this tour was in August in New York, and then we didn’t play anything until this April. They’re aren’t as many house show spots right now either, and I prefer them because they’re a lot easier to tap into. Ashe House is one of the only cool ones still going really. I used to live in this place called The RadioShack, but it got a lot worse when I started living there.
E: [The RadioShack] was nice because it’s so close to campus, you could just pop over after studying. It was a great way to keep up with the scene and discover new bands. I think another reason why I felt the lull is that most of my favorite Raleigh bands were taking a break at the same time. I guess the silver lining of that is that there are a lot of bands that have been around for a while that I’m just finding out about. There’s this venue that Travis and Yvonne work at called Kings, and I feel like a lot of people who work at Kings are in a group of bands that I only recently got to know pretty well that I never knew about.
As a scene, is it pretty varied?
E: There are a lot of different sub-groups in the scene. We have a group of friends who are in this electronic project called Sunset Palette, we actually worked on a lot of the album at their house. I know that there’s a pretty big hardcore scene in the whole state.
Did the influence of your friends in Sunset Palette contribute to the electronic touches on the record?
Y: That house was filled with synthesizers. They’re all really into modular synths, beautiful keyboards, stuff like that. Being around all that gear definitely made us curious about adding those sounds.
T: It’s funny though, because our friend Kat offered to teach us about synthesis and how to use some gear, and I was super stoked about that, and we ended up not using any of her gear. Being around all of that equipment definitely made us comfortable fooling around with it though. Kam had this little VolcaBeats drum machine, and I had a synth, and we just added these light touches. We collectively don’t know that much about electronic equipment and instrumentation, so it was like, “Let’s start from here, let’s build our own basis.”
E: Those subtle touches also came from the fact that a lot of the songs weren’t finished or locked in when we started to record. The “idea” versions of most of the songs were pretty barebones, guitar-oriented songs. There were songs that had these alternate versions, like I would do an actual drum track and then also a drum machine track, and we chose what we liked from that.
Were you always working from the idea to a bare bones version, and then adding additional flourishes?
T: The singles (“Not an Exit,” “Student Housing,” “Tethering”) were all totally fleshed out, at least structure wise, when we went to record. On the other end of that, “Path Render” was one that me and Kam just hit record and figured out as we went, and I think that one turned out to be a really cool song. But I would usually just start with a riff or a chord progression, sometimes from old songs I dug up from before Truth Club. But like Elise was saying, when we started recording, we only had a slight majority of the album material done, mostly just rough song ideas. I usually had a good idea of how long each section would be when I presented an idea to the rest of the band.
E: Dry Off was one that went through a lot of idea phases, we kind of just were throwing things to the wall and seeing what stuck.
T: Yvonne wrote the bassline for that track, and did a lot of the writing for it, and Kam wasn’t sure if he could play Yvonne’s bass part, so that song ended up being a mix of a lot of things. We definitely gave ourselves some opportunity to mess around, maybe as a product of being slightly unprepared, but a lot of stuff just came from spit-balling little instrumentation stuff.
E: It was a weird mix of some of the songs having been done and ready for a while and then some of the stuff we hadn’t had a chance to work on with Kam because of distance. It was really a crash course in recording and figuring stuff out at the same time.
The electronics mesh well with a lot of the dreamier guitar tones you use. What was the main inspiration behind those tones?
T: I’d say the Sonic Youth record Evol, I like that record a lot, and that’s a very chimey, chorusy guitar record. I think a lot of my guitar sound came from liking that record. It’s funny because they didn’t end up sounding like that record, and I’m kind of glad for it. I also wanted a very 80s guitar sound, 80s drum sound, I think that 80s guitar is there, but the drums are a bit more modern.
E [laughter]: Yeah that’s definitely due to me not loving the 80s drum sound.
What else were you listening to when you were making the record?
T: Other than Evol, I think there’s just the collective influence of 90s indie rock. Just an amalgamation of a lot of stuff; Yo La Tengo, Pavement, stuff like that. Listening to more guitar rock stuff that was using experimental instrumentation leads you to experiment more, and I think that definitely came through on the record.
We collectively don’t know that much about electronic equipment and instrumentation, so it was like, “Let’s start from here, let’s build our own basis.”
Are you excited that Pavement is getting back together next summer?
T [laughter]: Kind of! They’re playing what, Primavera, all the way in Spain. Yeah, I don’t think I’d go to Spain just to see Pavement.
Kam: Are they making more music or just shows?
T: Probably not, probably just shows, I’d be a little upset if they made more music. It would probably just be disappointing, because the bar is set so high with the rest of their discography.
Have you listened to the new Stephen Malkmus album?
T: Are you talking about Groove Denied? Me and my friends were talking about that record, like he’s doing this, I don’t know, eye-roll-worthy, but also kind of funny thing where he’s definitely trying hard to be funny. He was just going from Sparkle Hard, which is a really good, heartfelt, honest record, the good, middle-aged-singer-songwriter thing to do, to making fart noises and trolling everybody, like is that really funny? I like Malkmus, but that video for Viktor Borgia where the avatar of Selena Gomez comes out it’s like dude you’re in way over your head in the irony department, this is bad. I definitely like the sounds he was playing with, but the overall scope is like what are you going for, is this all just a big troll? But I have to give it to him, they are some cool sounds.
Do you think some of the luster of Pavement getting the band back together has worn off since you can just search “Pavement Live” on the internet and choose from hundreds of YouTube videos?
T: Oh for sure, and I’ve definitely done that far too many times. I’d say it’s that and people probably aren’t as enthused because when you watch those performances you realize that Pavement wasn’t a great live band when they were a band. Like Malkmus was a brat, and that’s why people like them, but they weren’t the awesome, rocking live band that these great songs they wrote would lead you to believe.
*quick pause to let this SCORCHING TAKE sink in…*
What is it like being an artist in the age of the internet?
E: Travis tries likes to be logged off. I’d say I’m pretty logged on. Kameron has an Instagram with 2 followers, and I love tagging him from the truth club account, because it exists but it’s not like he uses it, which I think is so funny. It’s interesting when we’re on tour, meeting a lot of people from a lot of different places, and then it’s pretty easy to keep in touch through the internet, especially friends in other bands and other places. It makes it easy to talk about music stuff with friends and being able to send demos and leaks of albums instantaneously makes it so much easier to give criticism or see which mix of a track is better.
T: The networking community aspect of it is a really positive part of being an artist and having that breadth of communication and endless possibility, but I think it’s definitely stressful in the context of the performative aspects of social media presence. I don’t want to talk all the time, and I don’t necessarily want to spout off on the internet all the time. Seeing other artists, peers, even people who inspire me spouting off constantly makes me feel the pressure to participate. It makes me question if I should be more connected, and I just get in my own head about it.
Does this feeling of having to maintain an internet presence change how you make/market your music?
T: Not really, it’s pretty easy to log off, and at the end of the day you’re going to gleam what you’re going to gleam from being connected. As far as marketing, it’s a formula, and it’s always been a formula, even when it was analog technology of screen-printing posters and pasting them to walls. Posting on social media a week before the show is just the same thing with different tools.
K: I also feel like the little bit that I’ve seen is pretty genuine and honest, like this is a really cute picture, this is a really funny moment, I’m just going to put this out there for people to enjoy as much as I do.
The internet has really changed music, even in the last 5 years with the rise of streaming. Does streaming’s role as the new norm for music consumption put any pressure on you as artists?
T: No, and maybe because I’m so new to the realm of possibility that we could get paid from being an artist on streaming services.
E: An interesting thing about Spotify is that they want artists to monitor themselves, there’s a separate app for artists that you can track all these stats. It feels weird being given this day-to-day thing that tells you how many people are listening to your music. It’s like when I first got twitter, it’s like, “Oh I got 7 favs on this tweet!?!?!” and then constantly refreshing to see if more people interacted with your tweet. That novel feeling will fade off.
Y: It’s really a lot like social media in its “How many likes am I getting on this, how many followers do I have” -type mindset that is forced on you. It feels like you can get stuck in a cycle of “I did this one particular thing yesterday, so I should continue to do that thing,” which can definitely become pretty unhealthy.
In your experiences, do you think streaming makes it easy for burgeoning artists to get lost in the saturation of content, or does this platform give artists an edge they previously didn’t have?
T: Streaming is really cool, right, because it provides this simple platform for music consumers to have basically unlimited access to music. Before streaming websites popped up, it was a lot harder for artists to get their name out there, so I think it’s definitely great in terms of exposure for small artists. Our experience so far has only been with the weird metadata aspect of it all, which is really cool, but so strange. The greater access streaming provides is so cool, you have this place where these huge artists and these really niche artists are coexisting. I think that playlists on Spotify can really contribute to artist exposure, especially when artists are making playlists with music that they like. Fans of that artist can discover music that they probably will like and may have never found out about otherwise. Especially when it’s artist driven as opposed to these algorithm-driven playlists.
E: Yeah, the algorithm driven playlists are strange, because it introduces this idea of doing the “right” thing, and if you aren’t doing whatever that current trend is, you won’t get any exposure from them. I think artist curated ones are such a cool way to discover music.
Do you think these algorithm-generated playlists are shifting the way we consume music from albums to playlists? Like “Instead of listening to this full album I’ll just throw on this playlist?”
E: For me, I’ve done the opposite. I was never really an album kid before I got Spotify, and since I’ve gotten it I’ve really only listened to full albums as opposed to playlists.
T: I think that whole structure is pretty inconsequential to consumption, I think the people who are going to listen to the albums are going to go out of their way to listen to them, and the people who aren’t are just going to continue to listen to songs, which is fine, everyone’s got their vibe.
One last thing, for you album kids, what are your favorite albums of the year so far?
E: New Lomelda, New Pile
T: I’ve listened to a lot, well not that much stuff, I always forget what I like when someone asks me what I like. I’d say that Fontaines D.C. record, but what’s funny about them is that I saw them live and then listened to the album after. So I’d say that and the new Lomelda.
Y: I forgot about that Fontaines record! Yeah, I’m going to piggyback off of you, that album rules.
K: What came out this year?
T [laughter]: We’re so bad at being current.
Truth Club just wrapped up an East Coast/Midwest Tour. You can stream Not an Exit here.
Special thanks to Julia Leiby for the stunning photography. More of their work can be found here.
Edited by Spencer Smith