The Fall of Troy

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The Fall of Troy

Winter’s recent arrival in the Carolinas has apparently caught a number of people off guard. There was ample evidence as I stood outside the Millennium Center, where hundreds of coatless teens and twenty-somethings huddled together as they waited for admission to a triple bill of two established acts (Clutch and Coheed and Cambria) and a promising young trio from Seattle. Calling themselves The Fall of Troy, the latter band’s most recent album is a diverse slab of rock ‘n roll chaos called Manipulator. Passionate yet pummeling, this record is one that will win over more eclectic audiences while forcing less amenable ears to look up and take notice.

After standing outside for a short while, I had the opportunity to step out of the cold and speak with The Fall of Troy’s guitarist/vocalist Thomas Erak for awhile. The topics ranged from the usual fare (music, art, and touring) to more personal issues of loss and tragedy. Throughout the interview, I found Thomas to be an enthusiastic participant who often espoused wisdom beyond his mere 21 years. If this is the future of meaningful music, I am happy to say that it is in very capable hands.

SSv: I got a copy of Manipulator a couple of months ago, and was struck by how you guys manage to rapidly shift between catchy melodic phrases and utter chaos. Did this come about due to a sense of inner strife, or does it reflect some part of your personality?

Erak: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think it has to do with…I mean, we get bored doing the same thing! I don’t see any reason to do the same thing all the time. And with Manipulator, I think it was more organized than Doppleganger. With Doppelganger (The Fall of Troy’s previous album), you had songs where, you know, there would be totally different directions within the song. With Manipulator, it’s more like, every song is a different direction. Does that make sense?

SSv: Yeah.

Erak: It’s like, backwards from Doppleganger. So I think that’s why so many people have taken awhile to turn on to Manipulator, because you get what you’re used to from us, but you also get something different. And some people are like, “Uh, I don’t know how I feel about that”. But that’s how I feel about all of my favorite records. It took me awhile (to get into them). Manipulator is a “grower” not a “shower.”

SSv: Right! Definitely.

Erak: And I wrote it that way, too! I didn’t want it to be easily graspable. Because when you get into something really fast, you get out of it really fast. You get bored with it.

But art is done for interpretation, so I still like to hear what people get out of the songs, regardless. I know what those songs mean, so it's interesting to hear what they mean to other people.

But art is done for interpretation, so I still like to hear what people get out of the songs, regardless. I know what those songs mean, so it's interesting to hear what they mean to other people.

SSv: So Manipulator is an “acquired taste”, then?

Erak: I prefer to think of it as a challenge, you know?

SSv: I hear you. Moving on to the lyrics, it took me awhile to get what was going on there. But then I read that you had experienced some personal loss around the time they were written.

Erak: A couple of personal losses, actually. Within four months of each other! Around the time that I was recording the vocals (for Manipulator), a good friend of mine died of a heroin overdose. The whole year of my life before we recorded that album basically led up to (its creation). But touring is my therapy. It really opens your mind. There are no illusions out here. The road really does make you fuckin’ crazy! It’s not a normal life. [Laughs]

SSv: Given that this album was written in a time of tragedy, I was wondering if recording it changed you as human being or as a musician?

Erak: Very much.

SSv: Oh yeah? How so?

Erak: Because I wanted to get across the weight of the emotions I was feeling. To do that, I had to further myself as a musician to get the point across more heavily. Does that make sense?

SSv: It sure does. My next question has to do with the cover art, which is extremely bizarre. It was drawn by your former bassist Tim, so I don’t know if you’ll be able to comment on it. But if you can, what exactly is going on there?

Erak: It’s kind of feeding off the idea of manipulation, which is the whole record’s theme. It’s not exactly a concept record, but in Tim’s twisted mind, that’s what came out. I think it’s cool. I love the art work!

SSv: I do too! I think the little blue Pac-Men were really interesting.

Erak: It is what it is! That’s what he would tell you. It’s open to interpretation, just like our music.

SSv: I’ve seen an interview with you guys where you talk about your musical influences. Some really unlikely ones were mentioned, like Nirvana and the Aphex Twins. Do you draw direct inspiration from them, or is it more the spirit of their music that inspires you?

Erak: It’s both for Nirvana. Well, for me, at least! I have a Nirvana quote (tattooed) on my wrists. Nirvana is my hands-down favorite band ever. But I’m inspired by a lot of things that are different from the music that I play. I don’t listen to this kind of music when I’m in the van by myself. I listen to a lot of pop-rock, a lot of softer stuff. Because I do this all day! I’m around loud, crazy fuckin’ rock music all the time.

It’s weird, because I’m into bands like Death Cab For Cutie, who aren’t a great live band but put out great records. I guess I’m wanting to get more into that world; of making the records as important as the live show, even though playing live is the whole point of this band.

SSv: So you’re more of a band that records so you can play live?

Erak: Yeah, definitely.

SSv: So if you couldn’t tour, you wouldn’t bother?

Erak: Nope. Not at all.

SSv: As far as the more progressive elements of your sound go…like the time signature changes and jumping back and forth between themes…that sounds to me like it’s more in line with bands like the Dillinger Escape plan or Daughters. Are you into those bands?

Erak: Oh yeah, man! We went on tour with Daughters in Europe, right before this tour. They’re great. And Chris (Pennie) who used to be in Dillinger, actually plays drums in Coheed and Cambria now. I love the old Dillinger stuff especially. I mean , Miss Machine was like, incredible. I love that shit. But the first time I heard Calculating Infinity, it was like having my brains blown out with a machine gun!

SSv: I know! It just steam-rolls you! It’s so crazy!

Erak: Steam-rolls you! Exactly! It runs you over.

SSv: Have you heard their latest album, Ireworks?

Erak: No.

SSv: Yeah, Chris Pennie doesn’t play on that one, but it’s pretty amazing.

Erak: But he wrote almost all of those drum parts, from what I hear.

SSv: That had to be tough on the new drummer.

Erak: Yeah.

SSv: So when you look at a venue of this size, is this bigger than what you’re accustomed to playing?

Erak: Lately, this is exactly what we’re used to. We went out with the Deftones for two months and played these kinds of places. We were out with Poison The Well once, and that was a pretty big tour. Our European tour had some pretty big fuckin’ shows on it too. But it’s always good to play the small shows too. It’s always a lot of fun. You have a select group of people who already love you. But at these [bigger] shows, it’s the exposure level that drives us. You know, getting the crowd to…uh… “Come on! Come on!” (waves his arms as if trying to elicit a response).

SSv: Right.

Erak: I like that. Trying to be a ringleader, as opposed to coming out and just playing.

SSv: Is it a challenge, doing it that way?

Erak: Oh, it’s hard. And in 30 minutes? Six songs? I’m used to playing an hour to an hour and a half. It’s good though, because Frank (the new bass player) just joined the band. We get to focus on one song a day and just build up the repertoire, you know? It’s good timing. It’s good for him to come out on a tour like this and play with the big boys, as opposed to the smaller shows that we’re more used to.

SSv: On that note, do you feel that you are well-received by the bigger crowds?

Erak: This tour’s been amazing!

SSv: Has it?

Erak: We do well with bigger crowds. You have to outsmart them sometimes. They’re your enemy until they’re your army.

SSv: Do you feel that you’ve been treated well by the guys in Coheed and Clutch?

Erak: Great. Everybody’s really nice. The crews have been really nice too. It’s different from the Deftones (tour). Their crew was really hard on us at first. With this tour, everyone was nice to us right off the bat. It’s gotten really comfortable. We had Thanksgiving dinner with everyone last night. It was really cool.

SSv: So the Deftones’ crew was really hard on you in the beginning?

Erak: Yeah.

SSv: Any horror stories?

Erak: Well, the band loved us! But the crew was just…we were just kids to them. They hazed us, but it was cool. We learned a lot. It was like being a freshman in high school all over again.

SSv: We talked about Frank stepping in (on bass) earlier. What was that transition like? Was it hard? How long did it take?

Erak: Uh, we were kind of prepared for it, knowing that Tim was getting burned out on touring. He wanted other things, and we wanted other things. So we prepared Frank for what might happen ahead of time. He learned the songs in like, two days! He’s talented. He’s been around the band forever, and he’s one of my best friends in the world. He came right out, and just threw down. It was like, the smoothest transition ever. I never thought in a million years that it would be so easy for us to replace one-third of the band and not have it be catastrophic. It’s been smooth sailing.

SSv: I can see that being an easy thing for some of these “4/4” bands who just stick to simple songs and simple structures. But for you guys, it’s pretty amazing that you found someone who could learn your songs so quickly.

Erak: We’re very lucky.

SSv: When people give you feedback about your music, do you find that their experience in listening to it is what you intend to bring across?

Erak: Sometimes. But art is done for interpretation, so I still like to hear what people get out of the songs, regardless. I know what those songs mean, so it’s interesting to hear what they mean to other people.

SSv: So sometimes it’s different?

Erak: Sometimes it’s very different! Sometimes they see something more important than what it really is.

SSv: But I guess you believe that there is such thing as a wrong interpretation?

Erak: Yeah. Exactly.

SSv: In fact, I read a statement where you said that your music is to be interpreted individually.

Erak: Yeah, take it for yourself. It’s art, and interpretation is one-half of it. I mean, some of the greatest artists of all time painted, like, blobs! It’s what it means to you personally.

SSv: When Frank stepped in for Tim on bass, was it a permanent thing?

Erak: [Pauses] It’s not really something I can comment on right now. We don’t know. I don’t think we’re even going to try and make that decision, because it’s just gonna unfold. What’s gonna happen, is gonna happen, you know? I can say right now that Frank is our bass player. I can’t speak for a year from now or five years from now. Anything can happen. That’s more clear to me now than ever. I never thought we would have to do this (replace Tim). But it’s been smooth, and it’s been a really positive change.

SSv: If you could tour with any band on the planet, whether they’re active or inactive, living or dead; who would you choose?

Erak: That’s hard. That’s really hard.

SSv: Can you give me, like, the top three?

Erak: If we’re talking about bands that aren’t together anymore, I would say At The Drive In, and the Blood Brothers, who are a band from Seattle. I’m really good friends with their drummer. As for bands that are going on right now, I would really like to tour with Brand New and Say Anything.

SSv: Cool.

Erak: Kind of abstract, you know? But that’s what I listen to.

SSv: Are you from a musical family?

Erak: Oh yeah. My Dad was a bass player for years and years. He played with some of the guys in the Eagles and did some session work with them after their bass player Randy left. He’s played with B. B. King…he’s been a session dude his whole life. He’s amazing. My sister is very vocally talented. My grandparents are talented. My mother loves music, but she doesn’t play anything. She just loves to sing in the car. Yeah, I come from a very musical family!

SSv: Do you have any formal musical training, or are you entirely self-taught?

Erak: Yeah, just self-taught. Other than asking my Dad,”Show me this!” and him saying, “Figure it out. I’ll tell you if it’s right or wrong.” That’s what it was always like, but it wasn’t like, him pushing me or anybody pushing me. I learned all the instruments because I got bored playing just one. You know, I’m a drummer. I’ve been playing drums since I was little. And then I moved to bass, then to guitar. Then I kind of mingled with keyboards and stuff the whole time, just learning by ear. Right now I’m learning about theory, or trying to learn as much as I can about it. You know, the mechanics of all of it.

SSv: Where do you guys see yourselves in five years, or do you not think that far ahead?

Erak: We just still want to be doing this. I’d like to see us on a bus in five years! [Laughs] That’s about it! That’s all we want. Just to be on a bus!

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