|Pictured above: Riles (left) and Trotter (right) at the haunted speaker museum.|
For the last fifteen years or so, Tyler Trotter has been at the forefront of some of the most interesting music in the city. When I met him, Trotter was in the criminally underrated Strike City, which was a fusion of prog, indie, and minimalist composition; take the finesse and craftsmanship of Peter Gabriel era-Genesis, the tonality and musculature of The Shipping News, and the compositional wherewithal of Steve Reich and there you have it. From there, Trotter went on as a member of dub-indie band The Children, and later as a member of Phantom Family Halo. Along the way, Trotter somehow found time to help open and run The Louisville Beer Store on E. Market St., and Holy Grale and the Gralehaus in the Highlands, all of which feature some of the absolute brews in the city and a charming atmosphere. In the last few years, Trotter has been working with Grails guitarist Zak Riles and Slint drummer Britt Walford in the band Watter who are set to re-release their debut album This World on tape via auralgamiSOUNDS replete with a previously unreleased track. You can catch Watter at their release show this Saturday, March 28th with Steve Gunn, Ryley Walker, and Nathan Salsburg at The New Vintage. We caught up with Trotter to talk about the bands pedigree, beer, and hoverboards.
Never Nervous: I know you were working with Zak Riles prior to the formation of Watter. How did you come to incorporate Britt Walford? How did the music evolve once he was on board?
Tyler Trotter: When Zak and I first started playing we kind of thought of our initial approach to be a recording project with as many different guests as we could get. I asked Britt if he would like to come join us sometime, and he said yes. From that point on it became more clear that it was going to become an actual band (not just a project). I would say that adding Britt to the mix really helped us create more of a direction for what we were about to record.
NN: Since the formal conception of the band, there have been a few collaborators brought on board, including Rachel Grimes of Rachel’s, Todd Cook of The Shipping News, Slint, The For Carnation, et al., and Tony Levin of King Crimson and Peter Gabriel. As two of the three are bassists, why not just bring one in permanently to play? Is that an aesthetic or logistical decision?
TT: We wanted Todd Cook to be a permanent member early on, but Todd is a very active musician and this was just something we were having fun doing in our spare time. We didn’t know that we would actually release a record and we certainly didn’t know that we would eventually become an active band.
NN: Relative to that, how did you get either on board? What was it like working with Todd Cook or Tony Levin?
TT: Todd came over for one session. We jammed out what would later become, “Seawater.” The goal was to get a drum and bass track that was solid enough to create something with. In my mind, it’s one of the stronger songs on the record. Britt and Todd locked in on a groove almost immediately. As for Tony, that was a last minute decision that worked out as far as timing goes. Just a couple of email exchanges and several days later we had some bass tracks in our Dropbox. Zak is the editing and mix guru. He is responsible for taking so many parts and turning them into the songs that are on the record.
NN: Does the pedigree of the lineup ever serve as a distraction from the music? That a lot of the writing I’ve seen (and created) has made certain to reference the ex-members of list, seems to be ultimately irrelevant to the final product, which is the band’s music. Or is it important to contextualize things in a way that people can readily assimilate?
TT: It has never been a distraction to us. I’m sure some people listen to it expecting to hear more of a Slint or Grails influence. When the record was first announced it was shortly after the Slint box-set was released. None of the music was out there at first, just the buzz that there was a new band with “members of Slint, Grails and King Crimson” and “Britt Walford’s first role in an active band in nearly twenty years.” Of course these are all things that sound intriguing and from a publicity standpoint I totally get it. Without those mentions we would not have sold as many records or played as many shows. I agree that it’s ultimately irrelevant to the music, but I do think it helped create an initial interest in the band.
NN: I’ve seen the words “experimental music” or “avante garde” used to describe your music. Do you think either expression is an accurate representation of what the band is trying to do, or redundant in a 2015 musical landscape that has plenty of likeminded individuals?
TT: As much as I would like to say “Instrumental Music,” that really just isn’t enough to explain what it sounds like. On the album there are several songs that sound completely different from each other. Really each song could be classified under totally different genres. I definitely don’t think that either “Experimental Music” or “Avante Garde” is an accurate description of our music. Maybe “Experimental Production” would be a little more fitting.
TT: JC and Matt are old buddies and I love what they are doing with auralgamiSOUNDS. Releasing the album on cassette is something we are all really excited about. I still listen to cassettes and I think it’s a unique way of hearing an album. I prefer listening to vinyl and cassettes more than CDs or MP3s.
NN: What can you tell us about the previously unreleased track to be included on this release? Why was it unreleased before?
TT: “Digital Camo” was released originally as a digital bonus track. We needed to cut a song to make the album fit on a single 12″ record. We decided to cut “Digital Camo” because it didn’t flow quite as well with the rest of the songs on the record. There is more space on a cassette so we decided to add it. It is from the same recording sessions and it was actually the very first beat Britt recorded with us. It’s much more “upbeat” than the other songs which has made it a lot of fun to perform live.
NN: It flew under my radar, but I just found out a few months ago that The Children released a retrospective full length in October 2014. Can we expect the same for Strike City?
TT: I would love to say yes, but I’m afraid the honest answer is no. Maybe we’ll manage to get something up on Bandcamp at some point… Who knows?
NN: For that matter, why did Strike City stop? Has there ever been any hope for a reunion or reconstitution of the project?
TT: There was a time when there might have been hope for reforming Strike City, but it really was more of a fantasy. Being in a band should be something you do for fun. The second it isn’t fun anymore is a good time to call it quits. I’m really happy that it happened and I wish more people could have heard the music, but I suppose it is what it is.
NN: How do you balance operating several successful businesses, the responsibilities of a band, and the day-to-day grind of everything else?
TT: I have an amazing partner, Lori Beck, who runs the businesses. She has allowed me to take a step back and be able to focus more on music. Without her the businesses wouldn’t be successful and I would’ve never had the free time to make any music.
NN: Considering those responsibilities, how do you manage the time to tour? How was that last tour, by the way?
TT: The three of us are very busy in our daily lives. We really don’t have the time to tour so we need to pick the shows and tours that we do play very wisely. We did five shows last April on the West Coast and then ten shows on the East Coast last October. Both tours were supporting the record and opening for Om. In February we did sixteen shows in Europe co-headlining with, Lilacs & Champagne. Three weeks in Europe was kind of a stretch for us. Normally we wouldn’t be able to do more than two weeks. Also any touring we do needs to be fairly well spaced apart. It’s definitely not easy for us to just go on tour when we feel like it. Unfortunately those days are long gone. The shows have been really great though. I know we all feel very fortunate to be able to play this music as often as we have.
NN: What constitutes a good show and why?
TT: Energy. If we are tired, you’ll know. If our energy level is high, we will perform better and everyone in attendance will mutually feel that.
NN: Would you rather own a hoverboard, a jet pack, or a lightsaber? Why?
TT: Hoverboard. I hope to still be alive when these actually are a reality. I would only hurt myself with a jet pack, and the only thing I would do with a lightsaber is sell it to some obsessed Star Wars fan.
NN: What is the worst song you’ve ever heard and why?
TT: That is a tough question. There are so many bad songs that I am exposed to way too often. In general, popular music is just depressing these days.
NN: What non-musical things have you excited lately?
TT: Spring weather. This Winter was brutal and I’m excited to see everything come in to bloom and be able to enjoy being outside more frequently.
NN: Care to recommend any good beers?
TT: The Kernel “Biere de Saison.” I love this beer! Unfortunately we don’t get their beer’s in the US. Something we do get that I can recommend is Oskar Blues “Pinner.” It’s a session IPA in a can that is going to help make this Summer that much better.
NN: Read or watched anything intriguing lately?
TT: I have not read much lately, but I have enjoyed watching “Better Call Saul.” I also watched “St. Vincent” on a plane recently and really liked that too.
NN: Suggest any good food?
TT: Chef Joshua Lehman at Holy Grale is running a special that is a local, thick cut pork chop that was inspired by a meal we had while in Köln, Germany. It’s pretty much the tastiest thing I’ve had in awhile. I also can’t stop eating the burger at Gralehaus… I don’t even like burgers, but this one is addictive.
NN: Last but never least, what have you been listening to lately and why should we?
TT: Bing & Ruth “Tomorrow Was the Golden Age” has been the soundtrack to my life for the past three or so months. I’m excited to see them this Sunday at the Big Ears Festival. It’s pretty much the only thing I’ve been listening to as of late. I also just bought an original vinyl pressing of Ashra “Blackouts” while I was in Paris. Having only heard this album in a digital format, listening to the vinyl is almost like hearing it again for the first time. I’m so happy I found a copy of it! It hasn’t left my turntable since I’ve been home. I strongly recommend both of these records to any fans of instrumental music.