I very recently had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Jerry Jones and AJ Hanson of the band Trophy Scars. With a new album in the works, the guys stop to talk about Bad Luck, touring, song writing and much more with us. Much thanks to Dan Pelic at the Artists Preserve and the readers who contributed questions that were used.
I heard that you have begun writing songs for the new album, describe the environment you guys put yourself in.
Jerry: The month of April was one of the best months of my life. I say that without any hesitation. All six of us decided to rent a beach house in Charleston, South Carolina together to get a more collected feel for this record. And we all love the beach (who doesn't). The sun, the warmth, the ocean!? It's the most. Needless to say, we were sincerely inspired. Our many friends in SC kept us well fed, threw us dinner parties, sustained our limber minds. Haha. Well, we listened to a lot of music and got lost sometimes in psychedelic behavior. It was truly liberating. AJ: During summer tour we met our amazing friends in Charleston and between our fall and winter tours I moved down there and fell in love with this southern city. Being as we didn't want to be in our home locations of NJ and GA we decided that a month on Folly Beach in Charleston was a great place to find inspiration. It was pretty nice having the ocean as our back yard and Downtown Charleston only minutes away.
Are there any demos recorded yet?
Jerry: There are a few demos. They are lacking a lot of the planned, added instrumentation; but for the most part they are coming out well. We haven't recorded any of our whacky ones just yet. I can't wait for those. AJ: In June we will be spending the time between our tours at John and Brian's studio, Designed Like Dice Studios, to continue writing and recording all our new material.
What has the writing process been like so far and what have you changed compared to when writing Alphabet. Alphabets./Goodnight Alchemy/Hospital Music/etc?
Jerry: Each record was written drastically different from the last: Hospital Music was a collective experience that was shared with two other members who are no longer with us. John, Brian, and I would start the day off with a fresh pot of coffee and a bowl for inspiration. Then we'd make each other laugh and experiment with riffs and keys.
On Goodnight, AJ joined the group and gave us more of an aggressive edge. We wrote those songs in two separate sessions within various garages and basements and kept it real punk rock. We wanted that one to feel way more raw than Hospital Music.
Alphabets was constructed between John, Brian, and I in two different states (John and Brian live in Alpharetta, GA and I was living in the Bronx, NY). They would come up with something and send it to me, via the internet, and I would come up with something and send it back to them. John and I started blueprinting the record by stringing different genres together. Then I engaged myself into a huge research project that would become the literary background for the lyrical scheme.
This record, Bad Luck, has truly been a collective experience that showcases our newest member and guitarist, Adam Moutafis (formerly of Maverick) as a principle songwriter.
What can you tell us about any of the new stuff that you have written and your next album in general?
Jerry: Well, it's all over the place, but not the same way Alphabets was. It's completely coherent and it makes sense as the next natural progression in the Trophy Scars saga, but it certainly doesn't sound like anything else we've written before. I'm afraid to use adjectives that might deter dedicated fans or start some silly internet banter. It's jammy… but with aim. It's intense, but it's not metal. It's sad but not sappy. I've never been any good at defining our music - I mean it's a subjective thing. Ha. To sum it up, I feel like our new music is kind of like a whole bunch of little plays within a giant play. If that makes sense…
Where did the title "Bad Luck" come from?
Jerry: This record is going to be a lot about tragedy derived from "random" (or not so random? Hmmm…) circumstance. One of my best friends, Ben Brown, was struck by a car out of the blue in Manhattan last summer. This kid was fucking brilliant. He was really going to change the world. I truly believe that. His existence dissolved in a flash over nothing. And maybe that's what's significant: the insignificance. Haha. Oh boy, here I go… This is all very overwhelming since I'm nowhere near completion of this concept. I definitely know where it's going though. I will be reading more books about superstition, coincidences, and dreams. I want to explore déjà vu and other "supernatural" notions. It's going to be strange; strange but sad. And liberating. Like the unexpected big happy ending. You'll see.
Is there anything that you would like to accomplish with recording Bad Luck?
Jerry: We really want to impress ourselves with this one. We are all huge critics and have no problems admitting that we're music snobs. We also want to challenge our listeners again by providing a super-in depth experience. We want people to listen to the record in its entirety, take a deep breath, and mutter "damn." Ambitious. We're total maniacs about doing it right.
Where did you guys get the idea to throw in a bit of hip-hop in A.A.? Will there be any more of that in the next album?
Jerry: I lived in this shit hole apartment in the Bronx when I was attending school. Actually, our apartment was clean, but the building was shitty. Ok, so, I love marijuana. And I definitely love hip-hop. Turns out my neighbor, Kadence Prose, loves these two things just as much as me. We would hang out, smoke a dutch, and blare hip-hop when everyone in the building would evacuate and go to the bars. One night I walked into his apartment and he was freestyling to an instrumental. He was nasty. I showed him what I was working on and divulged the lyrical content of Assassins and he started writing for it immediately. I loved it. Our friends in Per Abdul (who just remixed a Brother Ali track) remixed the ending to that song and produced a beat for us. I also wanted Prose on that track (obviously). We had no idea how kids would react to it, but frankly, we didn't care. It was important for us and important for the record.
As far as the next record goes… there will absolutely be elements of hip-hop. The tricky part is trying to figure out where it goes. I have some vague ideas. Per Abdul and Kadence Prose will make appearances here and there.
Alphabet.Alphabets. was quite a successful album, do you feel any pressure at all to:
a) Recapture that success?
b) Live up to the expectations following it?
Jerry: Success is a relative thing, haha. We are definitely proud of it so there's a lot of pressure to out do ourselves. We would love to engage more listeners but that's not our greatest concern at the moment. We are comfortable with the intimate fan base we have.
I'm not big on other people's expectations. I mean, I don't want to disappoint anybody but I am a stubborn writer. I expect a lot from myself and that's my driving force. I'm not a perfectionist, but I'm close to it. Hopefully people will enjoy Bad Luck way more than Alphabets. But if they don't, it's ok. I need to enjoy it way more than Alphabets. At the end of the day, we do what we do. We don't really bother with the hype or shenanigans. We never have. AJ: I'm not all that worried. I think that as musicians and lovers of music we know a good song when we hear one. I'm not saying that we don't write crap, we just don't release crap. There is no point to putting songs on an album just to fill space. In the end we'll have a solid CD whether it be 6 songs or 16. As for people's expectations, Alphabets is different from our previous records and it contains multiple musical styles. That being said, I feel our fans have a broad range of musical tastes and enjoy that we change and evolve as we grow as a band.
Could you give us some insight on the "A" theme on Alphabet.Alphabets? I heard it had to do with the book The Scarlet Letter. What made you decide to go with that theme?
Jerry: When John and I started the "Alphabet blueprints" we decided to make a record that was going to be both musically and lyrically eclectic. At the same time we wanted to create a cohesive and wholesome listen. I did indeed adopt Nathaniel Hawthorne's motif for his book The Scarlet Letter. The book's heroine, Hester Pryne, bears the "Ambiguous", "Allegorical" letter "A" on her chest. (For people who've read the book, it's clear what the "A" indicates.)
It's the foundation of our Alphabet. We use our Alphabet to translate language into script and to phonetically communicate. It's so basic but it holds keys to a vast range of emotion and ideas. This is reflected in the plethora of music styles incorporated in Alphabets. Doomed romance and poor timing plague the record's backdrop but it actually deals with many facets of my own neuroticism.
You obviously have many different influences but manage to keep it together stylistically very well, where do your musical influences come from?
AJ: We all have similar musical tastes as well as our own individual styles. When writing though, I am most inspired by the rest of the band. I usually have a few ideas but never whole songs, I write best when someone else plays a part and I can just mess around till I find something that feels and sounds right.
What records were you listening to when you were all "sixteen and dreaming"?
Jerry: Cursive - Domestica, Converge - Petitioning the Empty Sky, Poison the Well - Opposite of December, American Nightmare - s/t EP, Modest Mouse - Lonesome Crowded West, Glassjaw - EYEWTKAS, Choking Victim - No Gods, No Managers, Eminem - Marshall Mathers LP. AJ: Choking Victim/Leftover Crack, Face First (now Houston Calls), The Templars, Every Time I Die, Eighteen Visions (when they were dirty as shit, pre Vanity) Black Flag, Against Me, American Nightmare, The Blood Brothers, Misfits, Danzig, The Criminals, Dropkick Murphys, US Chaos, The Exploited, Fugazi, UK Subs, The Krays, NoFX, Pennywise, Big Wig, Stick Figure Suicide, LWL, Humble Beginnings, Rancid, Stillwelle (members now in Royden and The Sleeping), Smashing Pumpkins, T.S.O.L., Thursday, The Who…
What was your reaction to the song "Trophy Scars" on Converge's new album?
Jerry: Haha, well, we thought it was awesome. Converge has consistently been one of my two favorite bands since I was 14 (sad to say that's almost 10 years now). I was so stoked about No Heroes to begin with, then I heard that!! Of course, I'm way too much of a fanboy to work up the courage to tell them I'm in a band under the same name. I don't think they really knew there was a band called Trophy Scars. Jake apparently found out afterwards. AJ gave Kurt Ballou our CD at one of the shows when they were supporting Mastodon. I think Kurt laughed. I blushed. I wonder if they ever listened to the record? AJ: It gave me an icebreaker when I chatted with Kurt and the guitarist from Some Girls after I saw them at the New Brooklyn Tavern in Columbia, SC. By "chatted," I mean drunkenly told them how amazing the show was.
You have such a dedicated fan base which is so awesome, what do you think about the people that get your artwork and lyrics etc. tattooed on themselves and the artwork that fans send in? Do you think it's weird that people are acting so obsessive, almost, over your band?
Jerry: I think it's wonderful. When we started this band we paid super close attention to the details. We're glad a lot of our fans do too! There is a lot going on in every Trophy Scars record and when people start reading into it they will uncover a really vivid and personable world. I'm a weird guy. I think everyone in our band is weird. It doesn't surprise me we have strange fans that share our sense of humor or our general aesthetic tastes. I give a lot of myself away sometimes and if people feel affected by that then that means they're getting it. If someone is inspired by our music and they invent their own art from it, I feel completely humbled. People tattooing symbols / lyrics to their body is also humbling - in a different way. I feel like I helped somebody, or was a major role in someone's philosophy. That makes me the happiest boy in the world. AJ: Our fans are AMAZING! I think it's amazing that the music we have made has had such a huge impact on our fans. It's kind of weird to be in my basement blasting the music that I love and obsess over and then to think that somewhere in someone else's basement or car another kid just like me is feeling that way about something that I am a part of. Music is amazing and I'm just glad be a part of it. As for the Tattoos, I feel that it is an honor to have someone dedicate a piece of their body to your creation. I myself have a Trophy Scars tattoo; two red letter A's in my sleeve (kind of ironic that I'm the lush in the group and I have the letters "AA" on my skin for life) as well as "SW" for my old band. They have both been the best parts of my life for the past 8 years and are worthy of a permanent place on my skin.
What is it like to be a full time band signed to such a small label with no monetary support? Has there ever been talk about moving on to a bigger label?
Jerry: It's tough sometimes, but our label gives us as much freedom as we want. We have always been a DIY band and that's the way we like it. We're very hands-on and I think our dedicated fan base is a direct correlation of that. We have talked about moving to other labels since this is our last contracted record for the Death Scene but we don't know what we're actually going to do. The Death Scene wants to co-release this record with someone who can help us monetarily. Angel, the owner, is on our side and he is fighting for us as hard as he possibly can - but as everyone knows, the record industry just ain't what it used to be. He and us both want to see this record properly done with a real budget. He's an awesome dude, and has become a great friend to us. AJ: It's like being 22 with no money and living at your parent's house. Ha. Our label is cool because we have complete artistic control and good distro. Being that it is a small label, there is a lack of money that you would find on larger labels, but in the end its all money you pay back so I guess its better being broke now than in debt later…right? Where we go from here is the question though. Angel, the man behind The Death Scene, is very excited to release our next album and there has been talk of that joint label release so we may have a few roads we could travel.
With the digital re-release of Hospital Music, do you see this kind of format as a way of the future? What do you think about downloading music (illegally and legally)?
Jerry: I don't know. We are at a very fresh, new time for music. I'm not sure what will work or what won't. Digital music certainly seems to be the way of the future. I'm sure going to miss the tangible elements though.
Downloading music is fine by me. I hope everyone goes about it in a legal way, however, there will always be kids downloading stuff illegally. I'm not unrealistic; I accept that. I hope they realize, though, that it is in fact stealing and it's money that we could use to put some gas in our tank to go to their state and play a show for them. Ironically sad. AJ: Personally, I love my iPod because on my first two tours all my CDs became scratched. With an iPod, I can have all my music without the risk of ruining the originals. However I love CDs and records. It's not just the music; it's the artwork that makes a CD worth the purchase for me. You will find that many bands put a lot of effort and creativity into the artwork for an album. I think that it would be a shame to move on to a completely digital era, but there is also almost no way to avoid it.
As for the illegal downloading of music, I think that it will only hurt the music lovers down the road. Music isn't about making money, we could make music even without this band; but we're musicians and that's what we do. Had we decided to stay at home and work and just play for us that too would be fine. The reality is that in order to share our music with the world and travel to share it with you in person, we need money. It's hard enough to find a job for a month or so and have to do that every time we get back from tour, let alone making that cash last for the whole time we're on the road. So, if you download music for free, that's money that the bands you like don't have. It's the reason they couldn't fill up the tank to make it to your town and the reason why they had to break up sooner because they had to get full time jobs to keep them fed. So, if you love music and you download it for free, do yourself a favor and buy a copy when a band comes to your town so that they can afford to come back with new records for you to enjoy.
Most of your lyrics are very personal, where do you find you get the most inspiration when writing?
Jerry: I'll tell stories from my own life. A lot of it is autobiographical. Some of it is my imagination. I read a lot. I love literature. I love storytellers. I love movies!! I love hip-hop… I'm more of a writer than a singer. I'm actually surprised people have allowed me to sing for so long without serious ridicule!! A lot of our close fans, I think, recognize this.
Some people are really fascinated by my personal life. They take the names and characters from my lyrics and try to find them through online friend sites like MySpace. One of my ex's, who I'm still very close to, gets a lot of strange emails. Hahaha. I think that's weird. She does too.
What have you been listening to recently?
The Beatles - Love. I can't stop listening to this.
The Annuals - Be. He. Me.
El-p - I'll Sleep When You're Dead
Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. I take my Modest Mouse very seriously and I was skeptical about this record… but it's unreal.
Panda Bear - Person Pitch
Nas - Hip Hop is Dead
Man Man - Six Demon Bag AJ:
Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank has been on constantly since the day I bought it.
Fear Before the March of Flames - The Always Open Mouth is a constant on my play list.
After hearing a few songs I am greatly looking forward to the new Circa Survive album out at the end of this month.
And the rest of the bands on my I-tunes top 25 list are: Her Candane, Dat Politics, Paulson, The Films, Bouncing Souls, Brand New, Broken Social scene and The Arcade Fire.
The band tours around 6 months of the year, what are your favourite and least favourite parts about being on the road?
Jerry: My favorite part about the road is that I get to play live every night and I get to hang out with friends in every state. Our fans are the best, I know that sounds contrived, but they are truly incredible. They take us in and feed us. We hang with their friends. It's cool; we become a part of their world and they will always be a part of ours. I sound like a cornball.
My least favorite part about tour is not having anything consistent in your life. I wake up to somewhere new all the time. It's pretty great for a while but it can be very disorienting. You become a different person. Adam, Andy, and I are scary people to be around during the last few weeks of a tour. We lose our minds and act like animals. Then "teen wolf" happens. People are traumatized. Oh, and our tour manager Doug - forget it. He's sick. A real sickie, that boy. AJ: I love all the people we have met, the friends we have made, and the crazy ones we tell our friends back home stories about. The bond that you form with other bands that you tour with and being able to meet up with them on future tours and pick up like it was yesterday. The rush you get from playing in front of people who really feel your music, and for a few days out of every U.S. tour, being able to eat In and Out for breakfast lunch and dinner.
The down side to touring is being broke, being hungry, gas station hot dogs, the same bad pizza every night and the occasional 9-12 hour drive. But the bad just makes the good times that much better. I mean, how would you know happy if you never had been sad?
What is the most memorable show that you have ever played?
Jerry: Hmmm… I love it when we play around our hometown, Morristown, NJ. The kids are so responsive and they all know the words. AJ: It's hard to pick just one, but I'd say that all of our hometown shows are amazing. Our New Jersey fans are incredible and it's a great way to start or end a tour. Outside of NJ, my favorite shows are the random, middle-of-nowhere places. I mean, we don't even play cities sometimes, we've played towns and villages and those are usually the bigger shows. I think it's because we hit up places that a lot of bigger tours don't, so when music comes around the kids appreciate it that much more. A lot of the time they won't have even heard of you until they find out about the show and by the time you get there they already know the words.
How about the most memorable one you have been to as a fan?
Jerry: The most memorable show I've been to as a fan was probably the Saddle Creek showcase in 2002 at Irving Plaza in NY. It was the height of their roster - every record they put out that year was great!! Desaparecidos, The Good Life, Rilo Kiley, Now it's Overhead, Azure Ray, Cursive, and Bright Eyes; man it was a great show. AJ: As a fan, seeing and hearing Code Seven for the very first time with 10 other people on a Sunday morning and having my jaw dropped the entire time was pretty cool. The first time seeing Cursive, when Trophy Scars played with them right before I joined, and belting out every line that made me fall in love with them was an incredible experience. Getting shamefully drunk with my Charleston friends at 5 Thomas and then dancing all night to Do Make Say Think and Broken Social Scene was an amazing night I wish I had a better memory of. And finally seeing Converge after 5 years of loving them and always missing their shows, that was a great night.
What are your feelings about the whole Smartpunk Warped Tour contest?
Jerry: I'm pretty jaded about the Warped Tour. It doesn't mean the same thing anymore. But nonetheless, a lot of kids who don't get to make it to other shows would get to see us at Warped Tour. And we aren't a big band by any means, so we might be able to recruit some fans… But we have to enter this contest thing to play it. Our manager really pumped it up for a little bit but we just weren't into it. It felt awkward and forced. I hate faking shit. And there I was, totally faking it. I love SmartPunk but that contest was not for us. AJ: I think it's a cool concept that the fans can choose, but with this era of MySpace bots and crap, it just reminds me of back in the day when the band won the battle of the bands because some kid's parents bought all the tickets. I think it would be better to have a few bands from each region compete on a stage in their local areas on a stage mixed with bigger acts. Warped Tour for me would just be a chance to hang out with some of our good friends like Lorene Drive who we only get to see when we cross paths on tour as well as making new friends to tour with.
I hear a UK/Europe tour is in talks for this fall, as well as a UK release of Alphabet. Alphabets., is this something that you have been planning for a while?
Jerry: Yes! It's something we have been planning. This cool label, Small Town Records, will release our record over there. We're looking to do a European tour in September. We're getting it together. We're excited. Amsterdam. Uh-oh. AJ: We were actually in Florida on our last tour, and our show had been cancelled because it was right across the street from the Converge/Mastodon show (which ended up being great) and we had just spent a bunch of money fixing the van. Dan our Manager calls us from Paris and tells us that we are going to Europe. Let me tell you, I don't think I have ever seen all of us so childish and excited! I mean it's one thing to visit Europe, which a few of us have, but for your music to take you there, that's fucking awesome! We thought we were years away from making that step and now here it is right in front of us and boy does it look good. It was a great way to end a rather depressing day on the road and it definitely helped our mindset through the rest of tour. Hey, we almost died in a snowstorm and now we're stuck in Minnesota but fuck; we're going to the UK!
What do you guys see for yourselves in the future as a band and what would you like to see happen?
Jerry: I see us keeping it real. Enjoying life. Writing a lot. Whale watching. Kissin' babies. I would like to see us write a better record than Alphabets. I hope we get to grow old and keep writing records that are important. AJ: I would love for us to continue writing and evolving as a group and at some point be able to sustain a career of touring and seeing the world. It would be great to get back from tour and only worry about writing music and planning the next one. I would love to make it to Australia and Japan with our music.
Any final words for the readers of AP?
Jerry: Thanks for reading this! Keep coming to AP.net, we love them here!! If you decide to check out our MySpace page, peep our "main" friends or whatever. They are all wonderfully talented. Thanks again everyone! AJ: Yeah, if you all gave me a dollar…I wouldn't be broke. Oh yeah and check out our friends The Natalie Fight who we are touring with again this summer.
alphabets kind of let me down after their previous stuff. it was really good, but goodnight is one of the greatest albums i own. i'm interested to see what stuff they bring into this album. i was talking to jerry at their show here and he said they just want to bring as much musicianship to the table as possible, including different instruments, so this definitely should be interesting.