Dynamic and lyrically intense, The Trophy Fire mingles lovely harmonies with waves of power pop, creating a blend suitable for a variety of listeners.
Vocalist Ben Flanagan is backed by brothers Adam and John Schuman. Playing together since gradeschool, The Trophy Fire released their debut in 2008 titled, ‘A Lifetime in the Middle of the Ocean.’ The Trophy Fire released their ‘Armor’ EP this past June, and traveled up and down the west coast to play a few live shows in support of it. Their songs have appeared on multiple soundtracks, including the 9/11 10th anniversary Soundcheck Playlist and Escaping the Ordinary’s compilation release, featuring bands that need to be heard. ‘Modern Hearts’ touches on loneliness (“The Rent”), hopelessness (“Comrades”, “Sameside”), and straying from our own ideals (“Further than We Know”). Despite the bleakness of the lyrical material though, the music portrays incredible beauty and power.
Ben Flanagan spoke to Resonance via phone about California’s music comraderie, the current fear to create, and The Trophy Fire’s new album ‘Modern Hearts.’
MC: Hi, Ben. You’re ‘Modern Hearts’ album is due out tomorrow. How was the CD release party last weekend?
TTF: It was cool. We got the actual CD a week before [the official release]. It was nice to get it in the hands of some of our fans.
MC: You guys are based in San Francisco. The Trophy Fire has played lots of California shows. There are so many fantastic bands playing throughout the area regularly. Do you find there is more a spirit of competition or camaraderie?
TTF: Definitely more camaraderie, I think. Even in the midst of actual competitions, like when Live 105 [the Bay Area’s alternative rock radio station] did something on which local bands [are the best], you see so many friends on there and you run into them at bars and shows and whatever. It’s something we like to joke about – who’s gonna win the poll or whatever. It’s very relaxed and a good vibe.
-So it’s a friendly rivalry then. That’s good.
MC: Which Trophy Fire songs got the best audience response in your live performances?
TTF: Defintely, the cover of “Heartbeats” [originally from The Knife] always gets a good reaction. We’ve been playing that one for a while, but I’d also say “Tired Eyes” and “Modern Hearts.” [Those are] probably the best three off the record, and get the best crowd reaction.
-Yeah, I think “Tired Eyes” is one of my favorites
Thanks. We actually just shot a video to that and it should be out in a week or two, so we’re really excited about it. It looks quite good – our first proper music video, you could say.
MC: Okay, I was going to ask you that later about the upcoming video, because I read you were going to shoot one, but it didn’t say which song.
TTF: Yeah, “Tired Eyes.” “Modern Hearts” was our first official single, but “Tired Eyes,” in a few weeks, we’ll release that as our second one.
I think that’s coming along, the video worked out really well. A guy named Frank Door is the director along with a company named Element 151 out of San Jose – they’re awesome.
-Do you have a date for when that might be out?
It’s going to be completed very shortly, but we’re going to try to figure out the best time to release.
MC: The ‘Armor’ EP and the ‘Modern Hearts’ album are both lyrically intense powerpop productions. ‘Armor’ has a bit more dance tone, while ‘Modern Hearts’ ranges from the simplistic “Hired Gun” to the full blown “Tired Eyes.” How would you say the two releases differ?
TTF: I really liked ‘Armor,’ but that was kind of… I don’t want to say an “incomplete project.” But basically we set out to record a full length record, and about a year and a half ago, the label that we were on, called Talking House Records – we really enjoyed working with them – but the label kind of went under. So we were in this position in the middle of recording an album…we were about halfway done with it, so we decided to salvage it and release it as an EP.
I do really like ‘Armor’ a lot, but I think of it as…it’s an EP, kind of a prelude to something else. So, ‘Modern Hearts’ kind of goes out a ways. I don’t want to call it a “concept” album, but it’s conceptual, themes that are laced. And ‘Armor’ is a collection of six songs, but not nearly as thematic.
MC: You recorded some material for ‘Modern Hearts’ then had a month or so on the road to evaluate what you’d just recorded. How valuable was that break that allowed you to step away for a time before putting the finishing touches on the album and heading back on tour?
TTF: It was really valuable. I’m not necessarily saying it’s the best thing for everybody; there might be situations with some artists where they want to just knock something out. But for us it was really great to be on the road, for really long hours with your band mates so you can listen to tracks and figure out what’s working and what’s not. We didn’t go back and completely change anything. [But we were], you know, adding parts, extending parts, cutting some parts, [doing] some lyric changes. It was really cool to have that time. Touring is fun, but there’s also a lot of down time to just evaluate.
MC: Ben, when touring with Dredg, you served double duty, singing and playing guitar for The Trophy Fire, then playing backing guitar with Dredg as well. How did you ever manage that?
TTF: It’s a whole lot of fun doing that; it certainly wasn’t a chore. I’ve been playing with them off and on for about 3 years now. Basically they recorded ‘The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion.’ They had a lot of extra harmony on the record, a lot of extra guitar parts and they started using me to fill out their live show a little bit. So basically, when I’ve been available, when my band hasn’t been on tour, I’ve been filling in for them. When we go on tour and open up for them, it’s really easy for me and a lot of fun.
MC: I read that in approaching this album, you wanted to really observe the people you were meeting everyday and sort of be their voice about how they were feeling. Explain a bit about your observations and how you put them into song.
TTF: It wasn’t at all that I was like interviewing anybody. It just isn’t as much of an autobiographical record as some other stuff I’ve done. It was more like I was interested in the way people are now, the way people are functioning. There is so much that’s changed now in America, with common crises…and how much technology has changed how we interact and love. The way we interact as human beings as changed. So I was just trying to look at that in a handful of songs.
TTF: Sure, it’s a pretty simple song. It’s not about a specific situation. It’s about the simple idea of when you are not in a good situation, look at the positive elements of it and trying to spin a bad situation on its head sometimes. It’s an old cliché of looking at the bright side of things, but I think it’s valuable. So basically just looking into that idea — when embittered in darkness, trying to make a positive change.
-It kind of reminded me of that saying of spinning straw into gold, because straw is often what you throw to the side.
MC: Your latest album cover depicts an outline of a mechanical heart. How does that reflect your thoughts on modern culture?
TTF: Your questions are very good; that’s a hard one to answer.
There is a lot of technology that we are all but consumed by. Everyone plants themselves on social networking sites constantly, and I’m certainly included in that. The way we interact with people – its certainly difficult to make it what the album’s about, but I’ve definitely thought about that a lot – the way we embrace other people is very digital a lot of the times.
I’m not necessarily saying that’s an awful thing. My best friend lives in China and I can talk to him every day, so there are beautiful elements to it. But there is also something kind of odd and sinister about the disconnect that we have through how connected we are, I think. So, I’ve guess I’ve thought about that a lot on the record. But it’s also just a really cool image, so that’s part of the reason we wanted to use it.
-I like the way that all the wheels are connected and even though it’s mechanical, it’s still shows that we are all working together.
Right. Well said.
MC: What would you say people today most fear and desire?
TTF: I think that a lot of people are afraid of trying to create art anymore, because it’s so hard to sting. People are afraid since so many of us have lost our jobs. I’ve talked to so many musicians that have said stuff to me like, “It’s cool that you guys are still out touring, but those days are behind me because I’ve got to have my ‘9 to 5.'”
That’s okay for some people, but it’s also sad to hear sometimes. That’s something that struck me in a lot of cities. I see a lot people I knew that were playing in bands – touring, really focusing on their art a couple of years ago – they kind of muscled down and aren’t doing those things anymore. It’s been kind of sad for me to see.
MC: You guys are still going though. What are the future highlights for The Trophy Fire?
TTF: We’re really just hoping to expand our fan base. We feel really proud of the record, so we’re planning on touring our asses off on it and being able to continue this and play it for more people. We have a tour planned for November for two week on the west coast, Oregon, Seattle, Idaho… I really want to work those [areas] and probably in about a year, we’ll start working on the next [album].
-Awesome. I hope to catch one of your Southern California shows.
That would be great.
-Thank you so much for answering questions for Resonance: Indie Music Vibes.
10.07 • Bottom of the Hill (San Francisco, CA)
11.05 • Kelly’s Olympian (Portland, OR)
11.06 • El Corazon (Seattle, WA)
11.08 • The Venue (Boise, ID)
11.13 • Slidebar (Fullerton, CA)
11.15 • Silverlake Lounge (Los Angeles, CA)