Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Townhouse Interviews: Robert Smith of Traindodge

    Supernatural Disasters, Traindodge's 6th LP

Rob Smith is the drummer for Traindodge and Riddle of Steel.  Traindodge is one of my favorite bands. They at once keep the spirit of 90's alt rock alive and well while simultaneously pushing the envelope of their sound, for a combination that makes them one of the unique and refreshing rock bands of our day.  He was kind enough to answer a few questions for the first interview here at the Townhouse. You might say it's a milestone.  As a fan, it was an honor he agreed, so without further ado, here's the inaugural Townhouse interview with Robert Smith of Traindodge. Enjoy!

Evan Jones First things first, let's hear about the gear...what's your setup?

Robert Smith Pretty basic. 4 piece drum kit (kick, snare, rack tom, floor tom), hi-hats & 2 ride cymbals. Drums are Ludwig up until about 2008 (everything before ‘I Am Forever’), and C & C after.

EJ Practice routine?

RS Nonexistent, sadly. The only time I play drums is at band practice or a show. I will spend around 10-15 minutes before a show stretching and doing a really basic warmup.  I’m positive I could benefit from a regular practice routine, but with 2 kids and a bunch of other interests, there’s just not enough hours in the day.

EJ What kind of stuff are you listening to lately?

RS Tons of stuff, as always. A few newer things off the top of my head: Trans Am “X”, Mac Demarco “Salad Days”, School Of Language “Old Fears”, "Cuatro Hombres” by Tilts. And lots of older stuff too: Pat Metheny, Family, Steely Dan. Ask me next week, and this could be 100% different.

EJ Nice, maybe some future Townhouse posts in there.  I believe there's always a struggle in any discipline of art to balance truth to craft with “making it”, and there's always the allure of fame.  I remember reading an interview with Allen Epley from Shiner, a band that's important to Traindodge, where he talked about the realization that Shiner would never be big, so they “just kept movin' along” (Traindodge reference).  I'm sure you fight those same psychological battles, so what's the balance for you guys? Is Traindodge a screw the critics band?

RS We actually don’t struggle with any of that stuff.  We've always just made the record we wanted to make, and then we move on.  As long as all of us in the band like what we’re doing, that’s all that matters to us.  We've never made a living off this, so it’s always been a creative endeavor first and foremost.  It’s really fun and satisfying - I don’t think a band as small as ours keeps doing this for 18 years unless you REALLY love doing it, and as long as that’s the case, we’ll continue to do it.

EJ That's interesting, and actually very refreshing to hear.  I think there's also a battle between old and new work always raging, but it sounds like with you guys, maybe not.  How hard does Traindodge fight the battle between staying true to your original aesthetic and embracing the inevitable progression as a band? Your last few albums are pretty different from your first few.

RS We always try to make each record different from the last, but to us, no matter how big a stylistic change we think we’re making, it always ends up sounding like us.  We certainly don’t think about things in terms of staying true to anything we've done.  Most of our favorite bands change over time, sometimes dramatically, and we love that.  And we've heard firsthand from fans of ours who love that too.  No matter how much someone likes a particular record of ours, I can’t think of anything more boring or unsatisfying than trying to make that record again.  And no matter how much someone doesn't like a change we've made, that’s cool too, but we’re not going to let that dictate what we do.

EJ Let's talk Truth.  The Truth seems to me to be a very important album for Traindodge. I'd say it's where you made a conscious shift toward your current sound, i.e. the heavy presence of electronics, more simplified song structures, a regard for the epic over the intricate, etc.  Would you say that's accurate?

RS Partly accurate, yes.  It’s definitely where the keyboards became more prominent.  I’d say there’s still a mix of simpler stuff and more complex stuff there.  It's strange, you’re not the only one who thinks it's a significant record for us, but for me personally, it just seems like another one of our records - a step forward from the one before it, and a stepping stone to the next one. 

EJ It's a curious album, super ambitious to say the least.  Not only is it a 20 song double album, those songs ain't short!  A few of my favorite Traindodge songs come from that album.  What's it about and what were you guys trying to accomplish with it?  Do you consider it a successful album?

RS We had accumulated a bunch of ideas before we made that record, and hadn't had the time to shape them into songs.  And we had just added a 2nd guitarist who also had a bunch of ideas.  So, when we finally set aside time to put the songs together, we realized we had a ton of stuff.  And we really liked the idea of having all that variety on one record, so it wasn't hard to talk ourselves into a double album.  What’s it about? Lyrically, I’m not the person to ask.  There are a few musical things we used to try to tie it all together, but I’d stop way short of saying it had a concept or anything.  I guess I've never considered if it was a “success".  It sold about what our other records sold back then.  I like it.  I don’t think it’s our best record, but I know people who think it is.  How’s that for a boring answer?

EJ Very enlightening answer, actually!  Ever any worries about being characterized as an artist or band by one album, and being judged in context to it, now having focused on one of your past albums?  I believe that's also a worry for many artists.

RS Nope.  Again, we’ve never worried about any of this stuff. We just focus on what we like and what we can control, and move on.

EJ Traindodge is fearless!  I think that's awesome.  Now let's get technical.  When there's a new Traindodge song in the works, what is Robert Smith's creative process generally like?

RS It depends on how the song is written.  Sometimes we write individually and bring songs into the band, other times we write all together in a room, and sometimes it’s a combination of both.  If we’re all in a room together, it’s all about listening to what the other guys are doing and keying into what’s most interesting about it.  If it’s something more or less complete that someone has brought in, then it’s more about learning your part and then finding ways to make it your own so the song has everyone’s “stamp” on it.

EJ What fuels your drumming?  Anything other than other music or drummers?  Maybe shotgun blasts, tearing up a punching bag, thunderstorms, other powerful things?  Those all came to mind when I thought of your drumming.

RS Ha! Nah, just music.  Listening to music and figuring out what you can do on the drums that’s best for the song.

EJ Is there a favorite section or fill you like to play from a Traindodge song?  Maybe a favorite song?

RS Hmm…I think we have better songs than these, but they’re really fun to play drums on: “Raining Room”, “United Skeletons”, “Brass-Eyed”.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some.

EJ You play the drums hard. 

RS I do. It’s way more fun that way. 

EJ Agreed.  Any special abilities/talents you care to share besides being able to play keyboard and drums simultaneously?  That's a pretty big one right there.

RS None at all.  And the keyboard/drums thing may look impressive, but it’s really not tough to pull off.

EJ Finally, what's next for Traindodge?

RS We just started writing new stuff a few weeks ago.  Ross Lewis has been playing guitar with us for a few years now, but this is the first time we’ve written with him, so we’re all excited about that.  With that in mind, we’re doing a bit more writing in the room, all together, than we have on the last few records (which were primarily written individually). And as always, we’re thinking of how we can make this one different from the last.  It’s a bit too early to tell where it’s headed, though.

EJ Can't wait to hear what you guys come up with.  Thanks for stopping by!

RS Of course!

Be sure to check out Traindodge's latest LP Supernatural Disasters on iTunes or Bandcamp (as well as all their other releases), and also check out Rob's other project, Riddle of Steel.

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Evan Jones is a painter, drummer, and avid music lover.