November 6, 2008

Crustcake Interviews: Trap Them

Trap Them

by theseseans (NYC)

Last week I checked out Trap Them, with local acts Tournament, and Clean Teeth at Union Pool. Trap Them is preparing for the release of their new full length Seizures In Barren Praise, which will hit stores this coming Tuesday, November 11th from Deathwish Inc. Judging by the live material I saw and the new tracks streaming on their MySpace, Seizures could very well grab high marks in my year end list, despite it's late-in-the-year release.

After the show guitarist Brian Izzi, vocalist/lyricist Ryan McKenney, and drummer Michael Justian were kind enough to sit down with me for an interview about their new album and the band as a whole. The band was very gracious with their answers, in what became a very interesting and informative interview.

Theseseans: Your new album, Seizures In Barren Praise, comes out November 11th. What can fans and listeners expect from this album? Musically? Lyrically?

Brian: Musically it is just, sort of a better version of what we’ve been doing. I mean it’s totally cliche, but it’s kind of what you’d expect, but a lot better, a lot more refined, and I think that the song writing is better.

Ryan: Yeah, I think the overall focus of this record is to play songs, that we would enjoy playing live. After writing the last couple albums, we knew what songs felt better in a live atmosphere and what songs we felt more comfortable playing in a live atmosphere. So I think that’s what we focused on mainly. Lyrically it is just an extension of everything else that’s been written. There’s an ongoing theme in our records that kind of just continues on this process and will continue. So while we did this we tried to heighten every intense area that we focus on in this band and the lyrics were the same. We just tried to make it a little bit more intense and darker.

Brian: Yeah, I’d say also that production is the best too, it’s the best mix, the best overall sound. We all worked really really hard on it, Kurt [Ballou, of Converge and God City Recordings] did an amazing job as usual. It’s hopefully what you’d expect the band to do, get better. Not, completely forget about what’s good, what makes the band good, what people like about the band, and what the band likes. We’re really happy with it.

Theseseans: Going back into the studio with Kurt, did you do anything different this time around, anything you specifically wanted to try, or to change? Or do you have confidence in him to make a great record?

Brian: Well, at this point we’ve done three records with Kurt in two years span. At this point we’re really good friends, and we have a really good time um, we spent more time. We had more time than we did with the last few records. As far as what we did different, I mean, I think we just paid attention to different things, and we knew what was good from before, and we stuck with that, and we added some things, and what we could improve on we improved on. It was a great experience as usual, I mean Kurt is just an amazing producer to work with; he’s a good friend and a good guy.

Theseseans: Anything to add?

Ryan: Nope, that sums it up.

Theseseans: What is the writing process like with you guys? I know that you’ve gone through..Oh! Quick aside, I read that Nat from Transistor Transistor was in the band at some point?

Brian: He was um, filled in for bass for us. Actually, no, he did play bass for us Séance Prime EP. He’s a friend. You know, his touring thing, he did tons of touring with Transistor, and I think by the time he joined our band I think he was kind of realizing that he didn’t want to tour that much.

Theseseans: So what is the writing process like with this band? Especially with this kind of music, one person can be end up being the creative force, coupling that with the amount of line up changes (particularly on drums), is that the case Trap Them?

Brian: (Points) I know he [Ryan] he is going to talk about the lyrics in a second!

(Laughs)

The way the band has gone is that Ryan and I stared the band. I play guitar, I write songs. He sings and writes lyrics. So from the start that’s what we actually went into when we did Sleepwell Deconstructor. We didn’t even have a band, we had my friend playing drums, my friend Scott, who played Drums on Séance Prime and Sleepwell. Um, so the writing process at this point is I write the songs, he writes the lyrics, and that’s still the way it is. Only in the last eight months have we really flushed out the line up with Michael on Drums and Steve on bass. So, we’ll see what the next record is like, but this was another….I mean, he wrote a shit ton of lyrics, which I’m sure he is going to talk about in a second. I had a lot of ideas, and we toured a lot so I basically took two weeks and wrote the whole record.

And actually, well, Kurt helped out on a few things, there is this one song that he pretty much did on the new record too.

Theseseans: Oh really? That’s awesome.

Brian: Yeah, so, I’m the riff guy.

Ryan: Yeah, I think we both, me and Brian, have a very good way of realizing what this band wants to be. Even if something hasn’t been written on guitar yet, Brian already knows what the song sounds like in his head. I kind of do the same thing with the lyrics except I just write everything down. As far as the approach for this record, I started writing the lyrics for this, actually right after we recorded Sleepwell, and probably ended a couple months ago. So all in all like the days on the record, I call them days [in reference to the songs titles. i.e. “Day Fourteen: Pulse Mavens”], probably took about a year and a half and probably ended last march. The way that I approach writing is that I don't think that a record has to be written musically to be written lyrically. A lot of lyricists and vocalists wait and hear what the songs sound like, before they feel out how they want to sound on the record, and I wanted to approach it a different way. I never want to be someone who hears a song and then decides what the verses and choruses are going to be. I think it works really well for a lot of vocalists, but for me personally I always write more than I’m supposed to. So the way I decided to do this band, quite a while ago, I was going to write the lyrics before any of the music was written, and then I decided to have written lyrics, I would have a set of vocal lyrics, which are different than the written lyrics. When we play live, I sing a different version than that, so. I think as far as vocals and lyrics go, we just tried to change the normal route of working within a song and not creating boundaries for yourself by saying the exact lines that you’ve written. I think that feeling around a situation such as a song, you shouldn’t be boxing yourself into one set approach.

Brian: Another thing is, we have a really good relationship with talking about the songs, and the type of songs we want to do. I always have a tons of riffs and ideas. With this band, I’m just so excited about it, I feel like I have enough in my head for another three or four records. We talk about what kind of songs we want to do before we even get them going, and that helps me in a huge way. I get to look at the lyrics, like four or five months before I even wrote a song. So it was cool to pick certain things and see how dark they are, where it should be heavy, where it should be fast and things like that. But we talk about the feelings of the song before hand and then the next thing you know two weeks later there’s a demo of a whole record to do. It’s pretty cool, because usually it’s the other way around. Usually, you know, it’s the song is written, and then the guy comes in and writes lyrics to it, and we are kind of the opposite, which is interesting I think.

Theseseans: You kind of just answered this next question, but just to clarify, are some of the songs musically written specifically around the lyrics?

Brian: Yes.

Theseseans: Awesome.

[Laughs]

Theseseans: What is the significance of using the “Days” in the song titles? Does it play a specific role in the overall story?

Ryan: Without getting too far into it, cause it just makes the whole thing sound somewhat pretentious, which is the exact opposite of the way that I attempt to do it. All the lyrics are fictional, and they all are geared around one fictional story that I’ve been writing and I decided to make the lyrics to this band one continuous anti concept. So the days keep continuing because it’s all part of one definitive story, that is going to stay up here [points to head] so that no one actually knows what the hell I’m talking about. The days keep continuing, I guess people will notice on this one, they are a little bit scatterbrained, a little more schizophrenic, the way it comes out but that’s part of the story line that I’m working with.

Theseseans: I was actually going to ask you about the story. Do you have any inspiration behind it? In my research I didn’t find much information about it other then that you were writing a thematic story, which is, I guess, how you want it. Your previous answer is exactly what I would want to hear as a fan: the ‘anti-concept.’ And with the days keep passing by, it gives a very abstract story a touch of realism, because we all see the days go by. So can you just elaborate on your inspirations for the story/theme, and just how fictional it all is?

Ryan: It is deeply rooted in fiction. I have no political agenda whatsoever with this band, I am the last person to be an educator towards anyone. It’s rooted around everyday social interaction, and it’s rooted around things that you know exist in the world. Situations that could possibly exist, situations that shouldn’t exist but do. So, I think there is definitely on going themes, but it’s left open ended for the reader and the listener to decide and make of what they want out of the on going story line. I don’t want anyone to read me telling exactly what it is, and they thought it was something totally different, and it kind of affects the way someone listens, or reads the lyrics. Because if they are thinking it’s one entire thing totally different, you know, and I sit here and say it’s about fuckin spongebob, you know? That would bum me out!

[Laughter]

You know? If I’m expecting something deep and then the guy is like “oh it’s all rooted around the first three Garfield comics.” I hate that shit, so I’d rather leave it up to the listener to decide what I’m actually talking about.

Theseseans: Brian, can you touch on your relationship with First Act Guitars? I was a little surprised, honestly, when I discovered that you had a signature model through them. How did the whole thing come about?

Brian: Basically that’s another thing that Kurt Ballou helped me out with. We did the first record and he made fun of some of my guitars, cause they were shitty.

[Laughter]

No, this is true. I think he had a good feeling that we were going somewhere. At that point we didn’t even have a band, we just did the record, you know, we were still kind of an idea. So Kurt helped me out, and they hooked me up with a guitar, and then we signed to Deathwish and they saw that we were on tour a lot, and basically their guy offered me a deal on a better guitar. So, I took it and pretty much that’s that. It’s pretty much the best guitar I’ve ever had, beyond my financial status.

[Laughter]

So, I’m pretty happy with it. It’s pretty awesome, and they are great dudes. It’s good because they will endorse anyone from the dude in Maroon 5 down to me, and I think that’s great. They are a really good company and they are helping out a lot of bands.

Theseseans: Come on man, you shouldn’t say ‘down’ to you.

[Laughter]

Brian: Oh, in the music biz, I am the bottom of the barrel.

[Laughter]

Theseseans: Ok, so drummers, Michael did do the record correct?

Brian: Yes.

Theseseans: Now that the drummer situation is stabilized, how do you feel about Michael as a creative force within the band?

Brian: He’s an asset to the band. He brought a lot and he is a phenomenal drummer. He’s been a friend of ours, well, a friend of Ryan’s for a long, long time, a friend of mine for probably seven years. I’ve always respected him and when it really comes down to it, we needed a badass drummer and it all fell together. He brought a lot to the record, I really think he’s one of the best drummers out there, so yeah, that’s it. I don’t really know what else to say about that one.

Ryan: It’s a feeling of comfort, if you know what I mean. We’ve played in bands with him before, we know him personally, and that makes it easier to set up at a show and start playing, and just rest assure that you have a very good drummer behind you. Someone that you know, someone that knows the songs and accepts it and his position for what it’s supposed to be, and it makes everything easier and a lot more intense, which is exactly what we wanted.

Brian: Yeah, sort of side note, but the guy who did the first two records, Scott Defusco, an amazing drummer, but he’s just not a punk dude, he’ s not a touring dude, he’s not into it. He’s probably equal though, so it was hard to find somebody to fill that gap, be able to do the old stuff really well but also do the new record, be part of the band and it fell together, so we’re very happy.

Theseseans: Yeah, he is intense. I saw him a couple years ago with Unearth, but seeing him tonight, being like ten feet away from him, man, he’s just really intense, awesome.

Ryan: Cyborg.

Theseseans: Speaking of all these records you’ve been putting out: Sleepwell in ’07, Cunt Heir in ‘07, Prime in ’07, the split with Extreme Noise Terror earlier this year, the full length this year, how grueling is that? How does this affect your personal life, is this it?

Ryan: Yeah, this is it really, I mean we’ve put so much effort into this, turning this into what we do for our livelihood. We all quit our respective jobs, we through all the chips in that we needed to, and we don’t plan on doing anything else other than making this band work the way we want it to work. Write the songs we want to write, play the shows we want to play, and there’s really no second…there’s no silver metal for this, we’re going for the gold, we’re not fucking around!

[Laughter]

Trap Them! Does not fuck around!

[Laughter]

Brian: We got Mike here, I don’t know if you wanted some Mike-isms?

Theseseans: Well, Mike we were just talking about you.

Mike: Oh great!

Theseseans: I didn’t know that you guys had been friends for years, and I was just wondering how comfortable you were creatively within the band, and with your position in the band?

Mike: Comfortable enough to squabble and not feel bad about it. I mean that in a positive connotation, we are all close enough to respect each other, and we respect each others opinions and we are all pretty strongly opinionated when it comes to the creative aspects of the band. So, if anything it’s us being as stubborn as we respectively are, and that just makes everything better. Sonically, musically, creatively, artistically. So yeah, having an existing relationship with the people you are in a band with, it’s extremely crucial to the whole experience, fortifying the creative possibilities.

Theseseans: Ok, so all band political bullshit aside, what’s your….fun factor with this band?

Mike: Fun factor?

[Sean realizes he just used the phrase ‘fun factor’]

Theseseans: Yeah…uh…well, this band is a little more intense than Unearth, and watching you play tonight, you get really intense and really into the music when you play. So, is this band more enjoyably cathartic to you?

Mike: Yeah, I mean, much more so. That was one of the incentives to join this band. Besides being able to be in a band with my friends, you know, I think the band has a really unique visceral quality that I always strived to extract a little more out of in some of my prior outlets, and that just didn’t always work out. So this band seems to have more of that cathartic element that you are referring to.

Theseseans: Great. So, I saw today that you guys have some west coast tour dates booked with Narrows and These Arms Are Snakes. How pumped are you about that? I would love to see Narrows live, I didn’t even know that they were going to do live shows.

Ryan: We’re pretty psyched about that, we all love These Arms Are Snakes quite a bit, and Narrows is also something we didn’t expect them to be doing many shows, so when the opportunity presented itself we were definitely happy to be a part of it. It’s only six or seven days, but it’s going to be six or seven fun days of watching great bands.

Brian: Snakes are one of my favorite bands, so, I’m very happy.

Theseseans: So what was tonight then? I mean, there was no direct support, so are you just on the road?

Ryan: Yeah, we’re just kind of on the road right now. We’ve been on for the last five weeks with a couple different bands supporting. We are basically just doing as much around the east coast before we leave for Europe. We had the summer off, so we wanted to heighten our persona around here, you know? The record comes out in two weeks and it’s not an optimal time to lay low with your head in the sand.

Theseseans: So on a closing note, out on the road, what have you guys been rocking that is not at all an influence on the band?

Ryan: I drive over night and listen to the same soul records over and over that probably drives these guys nuts, but it just makes it a lot easier to drive.

Brian: I love old Swedish death metal, and old death metal in general. That’s where my roots lie, and that’s what I love.

Theseseans: Yeah, totally. I mean this in the best way possible, but I can totally hear some of your influences in Trap Them, you know, just a touch of Disfear, a little bit of Swans…

Brian: Yeah, I mean Disfear is obviously an amazing band, I mean, I’ve been listening to them since like ’94 or something. We’ve been lucky enough to go on tour with and be friends with them and sorta get the…you, I mean Entombed is one of my big influences, and we went on tour with Disfear and Uffe Cederlund is their guitarist. They asked us to be on that on tour, so it’s kind of come full circle, they don’t see us as ‘rip offs’ they see us as bringing something back and doing something with it. It’s an honor.

Ryan: We’re honorary Scandinavians.

[Laughs]

Brian: Yeah, dudes from those bands like us, and it’s just amazing, mind blowing, it gives us the license to say fuck you to anyone who has shit to say. You know, it’s like make your own band and see what band that sounds like, I’m sure someone will find out.

Theseseans: No no, I didn’t mean it like that…

Brian: Oh I know you didn’t, you’re a ‘good guy.’

[Laughter]

Theseseans: Thank you guys so much for your time.

Run time: 24 Minutes.


1 comment:

betsey said...

rad! love this band!!