Trin Tran demystifies what it means to be a band
When you first set eyes on him, it demands a second glance. A bass drum, some keyboards and him, Trin Tran, with his guitar in hand and a pint of beer within arm’s reach. Because honestly, with so much to control at once, who has time to wander offstage to take a quick swig? Not Steve Coombs, the mastermind behind Trin Tran. Playing guitar, synths and drums all by his lonesome, Coombs creates mind-jerking music that’s both excitedly entertaining and mysterious. With a mixture of no-wave and punk influences, combined with a DIY musical agenda, Trin Tran creates a unique web of sound that pushes and pulls the listener from one direction to another, leaving them in a severe state of shock. He’s getting ready to hit Dayton on Jan. 3 with an appearance at South Park Tavern, meaning that this city will finally get a chance to see the wonder of Trin Tran’s live show.
Alas, who is he exactly? Well, the man behind all those instruments is Steve Coombs, but Trin Tran itself is as strange and peculiar as it was when Coombs started it all back in 2001. That doesn’t mean the music hasn’t changed. As Coombs says, “I’m not as spazzy and frantic as I was in the beginning. There’s a little more melody now and people tell me I sound more garage-y too, but I think I’ve always had an element of that in there somewhere.”
The beginnings of Trin Tran were as frantic as those early songs. It all started when he got in a time crunch to get some music together in order to play a few dates, and from there Trin Tran was born. Coombs admits that playing solo does have a slew of advantages, but it also creates a heavy burden which he’s glad to carry. “Obviously, not having to schedule band practice, making songs up in my mind without needing to explain them to anyone and owning the ability to control the song while playing live is great. It’s pretty exhausting, but I must enjoy this kind of self-flagellation since I keep doing it.”
With the release of his first LP Dark Radar, Coombs finally got the chance to give people an expanded vision of Trin Tran, this time without having to burn all those pesky CD-Rs himself, which is how Coombs first started out. As fate would have it, one of those early CD-Rs fell into the hands of Bay area garage rocker Ty Segall, who had been enjoying the music. “He started playing a few of my songs on guitar, which freaked me the fuck out. I was like, ‘How did he know those songs?’ When he said he was starting a label and wanted to put this stuff out I was pretty stoked.”
That label is called God?, and it’s an imprint on Drag City records. Dark Radar, released Sept. 4, is the new label’s first release, and it’s a blazing album that ends as quickly as it begins. There’s a good amount of songs on Dark Radar, 13 total, but the complete album isn’t even 20 minutes long. There’s not a song that clocks in over two minutes. In fact, the two longest songs on here, “Hot + Alive” and the title track, are both only 1:57 in length. And those are the longest songs on here. It goes back to the whole punk rock DIY outlook that Coombs has with his music. No, he doesn’t stick to three chords and he doesn’t wear a leather jacket, but the music pulls much more from the world of punk than just a sound or a look. It’s the attitude, which the album does have a lot of. The first half of the album was recorded in a basement during one of the hottest days in Chicago. “I think some of those songs would have been a little faster tempo if not for the punishing 190-degree temperature of the basement,” said Coombs. A year later, the rest of the album was finished in a studio out in San Francisco, with temperatures a little more tolerable than in Chicago. “The temperature there was quite moderate, and I played all the songs in my socks.”
Whatever the conditions were, Dark Radar is complete, and it’s delightfully obscure. The opening track, “It’s A Burn,” shows off the best of Trin Tran. The keys shriek and gasp in front of raunchy guitar riffs, and Coombs sings like a wounded David Byrne trying to save Alec Ounsworth and the rest of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah from falling off a cliff. On “A Bomb,” the keys are slimy and serpentine, curving and chirping from within the belly of the track. As 2013 approaches, Coombs says he has some relatively exciting plans on the way. “I’m hoping to release some of the most recent stuff I’ve recorded throughout the next year. I also hope to head out West to tour soon. Maybe I’ll get some buttons made. Overall, I’m keeping it pretty loose for now.”
Trin Tran will be performing on Thursday, Jan. 3 at South Park Tavern, 1301 Wayne Ave. Also on the bill is Dear Fawn. Admission is $5 for all ages. Doors at 9 p.m. For more information on Trin Tran, visit www.dragcity.com/artists/trin-tran.
Reach DCP freelance writer and intern Zach Rogers at ZachRogers@daytoncitypaper.com