The Fall of Troy interview ‘We get to have this band again, so we're trying to treat it with respect this time’

The Fall of Troy’s break up in 2010 caused ripples of consternation through the math-rock scene. Now reunited and with a new album given away to fans for free under their belts, they’re starting to reap the rewards they so richly deserve

Remfry Dedman
Monday 12 September 2016 13:52 BST
The Fall of Troy, from left to right, Thomas Erak
The Fall of Troy, from left to right, Thomas Erak (Jay Taylor)

‘I never wanted the band to break up in the first place, I was there until the bitter end, until the wheels fell off and it broke my heart when we broke up, it sucked really bad.’ Fall of Troy frontman Thomas Erak’s feelings on the dissolution of the Seattle-based enigmatic math-rock post-hardcore band he formed with drummer Andrew Forsman and bassist Tim Ward at the tender age of 17 are clear. Relationships within the band upon their break-up in 2010 were so toxic that the trio could barely stand to be in the same room as one another; unfortunately, the tired rock n’ roll cliché of excess drug-use had reared its ugly head and caused fractures that ran too deep for the band to continue.

Speaking to Erak today via webcam, the troubles of the past seem but a distant memory. Whilst his laid back demeanour goes some way towards masking his excitement at having The Fall of Troy back in his life after their reformation in 2013, he’s clearly thrilled that he gets to play shows again with the the band he formed in high school. As we talk through the history and releases that came to define The Fall of Troy, it’s clear that Erak is more excited about the future of the band than it’s past, and with new album OK proving to be one of their most thrilling and succinct records to date, he has every right to be.

Erak grew up with music all around him; his father was a prominent session musician in LA, playing with the likes of The Eagles, BB. King and Heart and became a large influence on the young Thomas, who became proficient on not just guitar, but drums and bass as well. ‘My Dad was definitely a big influence on me becoming a musician,’ Erak says, ‘he’s a dope bass player. I grew up with a lot of Zeppelin and Beatles and a lot of that came from him. I would play drums and my Dad would play bass and we'd jam on a lot of Sam Cooke, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ray Charles; my background is in jazz, funk and R&B more than anything else. When I started to discover music for myself, the band that really made me want to play music was Nirvana. I also loved Sunny Day Real Estate, the first four Green Day records and there were a ton of really good bands in Seattle as well, we had The Blood Brothers, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Minus the Bear, Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, just all kinds of s**t. It's always been a hodgepodge of different influences for me, but I'd say mostly the reason I started playing music was because of my Father.’

It was perhaps inevitable that the young Erak would start playing in bands himself. The Fall of Troy formed and cut their debut album in one week during Spring break. ‘I'd just turned 18 when we recorded it, the other guys were 17. The pace that we cut that record is what sticks out in my mind and cutting tape for the first time. The dude we recorded with (Joel M. Brown) refused to cut the tape himself, because he was like, 'If I f**k it up, it's on me. If you guys f**k it up, it's your record.' So, he used to mark where to cut it and we’d cut it with a razorblade. It was an intense time, it was recorded live for the most part with just a few overdubs for guitars and vocals and mixed in a week straight to tape, no digital trickery. It's pretty much just the three of us playing in a room.’

The debut, whilst ramshackle in execution, was enough to prick up the ears of Youth of Today and Shelter frontman Ray Cappo’s Equal Vision, a prominent hardcore label responsible for releasing some of the most innovative bands of the 90’s and 00’s. There was a caveat however which led to the band settling on Doppelgänger as the title of their most successful record. ‘Equal Vision made us re-record what they considered the ‘strong’ songs from our first record, and obviously we weren’t super-stoked about that. I like both versions of all the songs we did, it's just, if we'd had our way, there would’ve been four additional songs on Doppelgänger instead. It just made us feel kind of douche-y I guess.’

Another contributing factor to the success of this record was the changing tides within heavy music at the time; by 2005, the alternative music climate had shifted from the simple, bludgeoning attack of Nu-Metal to a more technically proficient school of thought, brought on by the success of the highly successful Guitar Hero videogame franchise. The Fall of Troy’s F.C.P.R.E.M.I.X., one of the songs Equal Vision had requested be re-recorded, appeared on Guitar Hero III and exposed the band to a larger audience than they could have ever thought possible and it remains their most popular song today. ‘I don't want to say it was an accident but at the same time, it kind of was,’ says Erak ‘We didn’t plan it like that, it just kind of happened, and it was cool man. We were in that time where Guitar Hero was a big thing and that really raised our profile. I'm super grateful for that whole experience because I don't think a band like us could've ever really gotten where we are now without that happening.’

In 2007, The Fall of Troy released Manipulator, an eclectic musically pop-driven yet lyrically dark journey into substance abuse and the inner psyche of the band at the time. OxyContin, the opioid medication usually prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, was running rampant in Mukilteo, the waterfront city the band call home. ‘Kids didn't know what they were doing, to us it was just like popping a Vicodin or something, but in reality, you were basically doing synthetic dope. Then people started smoking it, we started smoking it and it just got really bad, really fast. We were trying to juggle our first foray into addiction as well as try to remain artistic and inspired but it was hard to juggle those things. I love that album as a piece of art but as a memory it's kind of like the dark days.’

Of course, Seattle has history when it comes to musicians and heroin addiction and Erak admits that the band were on a path of self-destruction that almost led them to a point of no return. ‘I don't know what it is about this place man, drugs are everywhere you look, it's crazy. I don't think people fully understand Oxycontin, I think when my generation is older it's going to be a topic that's brought up heavily because Oxycontin was something that parents didn't even realise was going on. It was seen as smoking weed or something as innocuous as that, so doing OC was seen as not a particularly big deal but it ruined so many lives. Then it got too expensive and people started buying heroin instead of OC because it was cheaper, which led to people using needles and that's when there's no going back. Luckily we didn't go down that road but we had some close f**king calls. The whole record is about struggling with addiction and the inner turmoil of trying to ride the line between being artistic and creative whilst being an addict. We justified our drug use by saying we were using them to be creative but really we were just addicted to them. That's the running theme of Manipulator; the struggle between addiction and being artistic, it's a very sad album.’

These struggles led to original bassist Tim Ward leaving the band in November 2007 during their tour with Coheed and Cambria. A year later, with new bassist Frank Ene in the fold, The Fall of Troy released their most conceptual works to date, Phantom on the Horizon, a 5-track EP that the band had been working on more or less since their inception. ‘We started it whilst we were writing the first record and we finished it around the same time as Manipulator, so it was written over the span of five years and three albums. We were doing a lot of hallucinogens, mushrooms and LSD, and trying to explore that. The story works on multiple levels, in one sense it's a fictional story about a guy on a ghost ship, in another sense it's the story of what I believe life and death really are. There's a lot of sexual themes on that record as well if you dig into it, I was definitely exploring physical aspects of a relationship and what that means.’

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Phantom on the Horizon, a personal favourite of Eraks, is probably the most ambitious release from a band brimming with ambition. ‘It’s meant to be viewed as one piece of music that’s cut into movements, we were approaching it as a piece of classical music. I don't think it's as masturbatory as a lot of prog s**t that I listen to, we don't have 30 minutes of birds chirping or whatever. We were just trying to take everybody on a journey but we didn't want to overdo it or make it cheesy. We wanted there to still be a lot of meat to chew on.‘

In the Unlikely Event, The Fall of Troy’s fourth full-length album and final to be released before their split was ‘a suicide note’ according to Erak. ‘In the Unlikely Event that The Fall of Troy breaks up is what the record was actually initially called. We were recording that album for two months and I think I saw Andrew for about a week of that. Our communication had broken down, we knew that we were done, it was just a matter of time. The drug-use was really out of control, for me and Andrew at least and I think Tim leaving just exacerbated the fact that we were going completely off the rails. I still like that record a lot though, I think it's a really interesting snapshot of what we were at that time.’

The record had a new-found sense of melody that wasn’t received well critically at the time, (although songs like Straight - Jacket Keelhauled, Battleship Graveyard and Panic Attack! still rock like bastards) but with hindsight, In the Unlikely Event is actually a very strong Fall of Troy album. ‘Some songs are stronger than others but it's a pretty interesting journey if you can get your head around it’ Erak agrees. ‘I think now people are a little older and have a broader scope, maybe they understand it more. It’s our best sounding record sonically and that was all down to Terry Date. He was a pleasure to work with and very patient through the whole thing. He's worked with a lot of f**ked up bands, so he was definitely the right guy to do it. We did the best that we could with that album but we knew we were putting a gun in our mouth and pulling the trigger.’

For a short while, it seemed that would be the last we would ever hear from The Fall of Troy, but in late 2013, a friend of the band, Joaquin Ramirez asked Erak what it would take for the band to re-form and play his 30th birthday party in Texas. ‘I said, 'A lot of money and a prayer!' I'll attest to the prayer, but I knew it was going to take a lot of money for them. Joaquin called back a couple of days later and said, 'Well I got the money, so start saying your prayers'. I called the guys and they were down with it, then one show turned into three, which were received phenomenally well. People flew out from London, Australia, Japan and that was so overwhelming. It made us see the bigger picture and realise that our band is so much more than just the three of us and our egos, maybe we had created something special and maybe we should see where that goes.’

With Ramirez now on board as the band’s manager, they announced a US run to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Doppelgänger, playing the album in full every night. ‘When we got back together to rehearse for that tour, we kinda got bored of playing Doppelgänger over and over again and so we just started f**king around with s**t.’ This f**king around became the genesis of OK, the band’s ‘come-back’ record self-released to fans for free to thank them for all the support they’d given since The Fall of Troy’s formation. The album was recorded with the original line-up and has received universally positive notices from critics and fans alike. ‘We have a history of our records getting s**t on’ says Erak, ‘everybody always prefers the previous record, this is until OK came out, which people were actually nice and excited about. So that was weird for us because we were bracing ourselves for this s**t storm that never really happened. I think people missed us, hell we missed us as well! It was good to take a step away and realise what the essence of the band was because it's hard to see it for what it is when you’re in it, you can't see the forest through the trees. I think we were able to climb halfway up those trees and actually take a look at what The Fall of Troy was, our good qualities, our strengths and weaknesses, what we did right and most importantly, what we did wrong.’

At 33minutes and 29seconds, OK is a short, sharp shock to the system that eschews the band’s previous flights of fancy and instead, aims for the jugular. ‘When we started playing and writing again, we decided we were going to make a punk record again. We didn’t want to do anything fancy, we didn’t concern ourselves with whether the songs were 2 minutes or 20 minutes, as long as they rocked, that’s all that mattered. So that made it a really liberating album to make, we just wanted to kick people in the teeth the whole way through. I think OK's a very strong representation of what we've always wanted our band to be and I'm super-proud of it and I'm not just saying that because it's the record that we’ve just put out, I really honestly feel that way. I feel like every word I say, every word Tim says and every note that is played on OK is really meant, more so than on any of our other records. I think it still has that technicality that people want out of us, but the songs are there, it’s not just us jerking off!’

The relationship between the trio is more healthy than it’s ever been, which hopefully means more music will be forthcoming and OK won’t be a one off. ‘It feels like The Fall of Troy is our band again’ says Erak. ‘It's not about big timing anymore, it's about the fact that we get to have this band again, so we're trying to treat it with respect. It's like losing your wife and getting her back, you've gotta do a lot of work and you've got to make some things right.’

The band released a heart-felt message with OK and with no record label to answer to, decided to give away two separate mixes plus an instrumental version of the record for free on their website. One sentence from the message stands out as a summation of The Fall of Troy’s struggles up to this point.

‘This album represents hope that things can be different, that the past doesn't have to always weigh on the present’

‘I think that sums up everything that we've been talking about today, the fact that we were able to come back together and make this album. Even the title of the album is a nod to us not being perfect, we're not best friends all of a sudden overnight, not everybody's Mr. f**kin sober but we're OK … finally! It's not great, it's not horrible, it's just OK! For us, that’s the most successful we’ve been as a unit because we’ve only ever been at the highest of highs or the lowest of lows and to be in a place where we've levelled out and are just doing OK is what we need. We're just trying to have a good time being a rock band doing the best we can and be as honest and transparent as we can. That's the whole theme of the record and that quote represents exactly that. It's a very special thing that we’re able to even get in a room together, much less make an album together again or tour again. I couldn’t have hoped hard enough, it was out of the f**king question. It sounds cheesy as hell but never say never is the most true thing, because we were saying f**king never for sure! It's been an interesting ride man!’

OK is out now and is available to download for free in three different version on the band’s website. It’s also available on vinyl. The band are currently touring the UK

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