According to their promotional material, local indie rock group Trailer Camp’s new album The Radical is based on a voyage from one end of Water Street to the other. Is it a rock opera? What is that green, stuffed thing on their album cover? Why did they cover themselves with paint for their promo photos? Hm!
Elling Lien clipped a lapel mic onto guitarist and vocalist Jon Hynes and went on a Trailer Camp-themed walking tour of the oldest street in North America, to try to get some answers.
Jon: How long can can you record for?
Elling: 32 hours, it says.
That’s not enough time! We need 33 hours!
[laugh] All right. I’ve got batteries. [Leaving the building.] What end of Water Street should we go to first?
There’s no true right to left or left to right for the album, it’s just the idea of going from one end to the other. So it could be either end. Let’s head that way [east.]
So, The Radical. Who or what is The Radical?
Well, Jamie, for a while, he was really getting into making these creature-type things in Photoshop, just screwing around. Then we started using them on show posters, and then this one, which kind of looked like a seahorse but with a weird spiky tail and an obscured head, he did that for the website or for a show poster… I saw it and called him and said, “man, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!” So I kept telling him we’ve got to use it for something. Eventually, we decided to use it, but alter it a bit.
[Then a friend of a friend] actually took that image and constructed a toy, a green felt toy. It’s just this thing we decided to incorporate in every photo.
I don’t know.
Then we just decided somehow that it would be called “The Radical.”
It’s got another name, “The Seehorse,” the S-E-E horse, because it has no eyes.
We never really thought about it much before, but as we were going, we started to realize that the lyrics were following this theme of this character wandering around Water Street…
…How does it move?
Oh man! How doesn’t it move?
[Jaywalking across the street.]
Now if we were in Toronto right now we’d be dead. I was waiting at the side of the road in Toronto, not at a crosswalk, just at the side of the road, and the guy I was with was like “Uh, what are you doing? You’re going to just die there.”
…Up there a bit, up past the Quality Hotel, just beyond there, there’s a big, open pit where they tore down a building. That’s where we took the photos of The Radical for the cover, and the photos with the paint.
We asked Mark “where’s a good spot to take photos?” And we took some normal ones, where we were just hanging out on the steps, wearing our normal clothes. And then we told him about the paint idea…
Wait wait… where did the paint idea come from?
We just wanted to do some wacky photos. If I ever saw myself in a photo like this? [Arms crossed, nose up,] I’d shoot myself.
“Oh yeah, we’re tough.”
Yeah, the paint thing just seemed so outrageous and seemed so visually appealing-everybody painted a different colour against the gray of the wall and the rock. It really stood out.
We wanted to do that-do something that makes people go, “hey, that’s crazy.”
The recording-it took me a while to get used to it, honestly-but after a while I started understanding a lot of the choices you made… One of the things that stood out was your the use of reverb. You give the vocals, for instance, a really reverby sound… Why did you choose to do that?
I don’t know-I think a lot of it comes down to what you’re listening to. …We were trying to get a new sound, but still wanted specific tones in there. The style of music used with that recording technique is not really done. Some of the way the recording was done was done how R.E.M. would have recorded it, but our sound is heavier than R.E.M. We wanted to give it a shot and see what happened, and we all were pretty happy with it.
Here we are by the big sewage project. [Normally there are huge machines here but it’s Sunday afternoon and nothing is happening.] How did the track “Jackhammers” come together?
Well, the tune itself was just a few riffs that were hanging around. That song we weren’t even going to put on the album, because it wasn’t done. But then we said we should try it in the studio and see what we can do. It was still being written as we were recording it.
Jamie did the drums and then we said, “okay! The drums are done. I still don’t know what I’m doing for vocals or guitar yet,” but it came out. Then finally the words came to me, and it was the last thing I wrote on the album. Yeah, it was a pretty lackadaisical approach, but that’s how things happen sometimes. Last minute.
In that track there are some huge shifts in intensity-some quick changes and some extremely slow builds. In the first song, “Guards”, there’s an extreme jump from a calm melody to a loud one.
Yeah, we were trying to experiment with the layers-quiet to a bit louder, then a bit louder, and at a certain point the volume is peaking, and then with “Guards” it goes right into the title rock song, “Me and the Radical”.
Why play with it like that?
I think it’s really good to test peoples’ listening abilities. A lot of albums I love have this specific dynamic, like, it’s a rock album, or it’s a folk-acoustic album. But we wanted to test the listener’s patience-to see if they can follow us through a driving song and then follow us through a slower mid-tempo song.
And you think they can.
[laugh] Well, it’s done now. For this album, there’s no other way. We hope people get it. Sometimes you hear a song, and that defines the album.
Like with you. You say it took a couple listens for you to understand or get into it, and we kind of figured that. There are so many albums I listened to where the first time wasn’t so spectacular, and then I listened to it again, somehow got it, and then couldn’t stop listening to it after that.
What’s a great thing about Water Street? What’s something that turns you on about Water Street?
I think I like the fact that it’s pretty diverse, there’s a different stuff mingling together. You see a group of street kids hanging out, and then you see these business people in suits, driving Mercedes… I think it’s just city life. That’s what city life is. … But here’s the big city life is compressed into a really small area. Like, two streets.
[walking by the Courthouse]
Have you ever been arrested?
[laugh] No, but I did have a tour of the drunk tank once. I wasn’t drunk, but I had someone show me what it was like. It’s actually just a cylindrical piece of concrete. I suggest you try it out sometime.
In one of the songs (“At the Sun”) the singer catches someone looking up at the sun. Where did that come from?
The song “Me and the Radical” is about the character of The Radical seeing a street kid, someone who doesn’t care about rules, doesn’t give a fuck, whatever, and for a brief moment imagining what it would be like to hook up with them… Even though it could never work out, just saying “I wonder what it would be like to be with someone like that in a relationship?”
And then “At the Sun” takes the image of someone looking up at the sun, just a brief, visual moment and building around that. Imagining from there.
I always try to write a story when I write the lyrics. I admire Neil Young so much, how he can just bust out a song that is so clear and so well written. It blows my mind.
The way I go about it is to see something, or I have a dream, or something inspires me. Then I take that and put more of a twist on it, and however it carries on it carries on. I like to leave things open for interpretation as well…
I think someone once asked Bob Dylan something like “what are your songs about?” And he said, “well, that’s for you to figure out, isn’t it?”
You guys listen to music by a lot of different artists-what are the ones that stand out for you guys?
Well, bands and artists that really get our kicks off… Neil Young… The Pixies… I really took to Frank Black. I like how with his lyrics, often they’re hard to know what he’s talking about.
One band that we don’t sound like but we really love is Devo. We love Devo a lot.
We all have a love for old, old R.E.M. too.
Since this is kind of a concept album, do you have any plans to put together a rock opera?
[laugh] No! Because I just saw Tommy for the first time and it freaked me out. I was like, “What is this film?”
The best part is Elton John though. I didn’t like it. I didn’t get it. The big religious themes at the end were a bit much.
Can you tell me a little bit of the history of Trailer Camp?
I met Jamie [March] a couple of years ago at a Battle of the Bands in CBS. Yeah, I was trying to write my own stuff, and I saw Jamie and liked his style, so we quickly became friends and started plugging away. Now, we’re really serious about the music, but at the beginning things were really loose and not a lot of real thought went into it. We’re still light-hearted…
[We pass by a discarded, greasy, empty tray of fries with gravy lying on the sidewalk.]
Newfoundland’s banana peel!
You recorded the album someplace on Water Street. Where was that?
Yeah, we recorded the whole thing on Water Street at Boogaloo Studios. When we used to take breaks we’d go up on top of the building and, ah, it’s amazing. It’s a great view. We can go there now if you want.
How do you feel about St. John’s these days?
I love St. John’s.
Of course, something I think a lot of people would say is you love and hate the closeness that everyone have. You see all these people you know when you’re feeling good and it makes you feel even better, but when you’re in a pissed-off mood you wonder “why do I have to see everyone all the time?”
Does the rest of the band feel that way, you think?
I know Brad does. When we did a little bit of touring, we were talking about how it was so good to play outside the city, as opposed to the same couple of bars every weekend, so a bit of change was good, but oh, when we came back it was good to be back.
[entering the Boogaloo Studios door, beside Twisted Sisters, and we go up the stairs to the deck on the roof]
Wow. This is nice. It’s, like, panoramic.
Thanks for the tour Jon.
Trailer Camp will be throwing a CD release party at The Ship on Saturday, September 15. Maggie Meyer and Mercy, The Sexton will also perform. Tickets are $6.