The New Trust

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Does anyone remember the 1986 Jermaine Stewart R&B song “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.” It went a little like this, at least, as far as a I can remember: ‘We don’t have to take our clothes off/to have a good time/oh no. We could dance and party all night/and drink some cherry wine/uh huh.’ At the time of its release, I was 12 years old, pushing a Variflex down the street and fairly oblivious to what the song even denoted. I mean, to a degree, I could imagine, but I didn’t care at the time and didn’t like R&B to begin with. I filed the song away in my pre-teen pop culture lexicon before it was displaced by Vision Street Wear everything a year later.

Twenty years later, after only hearing Mo Rocca discuss “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” from time to time on VH1’s vast storage of pop culture programming, I’m again reminded of the 80s dance hit by a fledgling group from Santa Rosa, CA. The band, dubbed The New Trust, pulls the lyric verbatim from the Stewart original before adding their own twist. On track two of their new album, The New Trust lead vocalist/bassist Josh Staples falsettos Stewart’s anti-AIDS battle cry, stating “We don’t have to take our clothes off/to have a good time/but it sure helps.” And thankfully, I’m no longer oblivious to the meaning of the phrase. (In fact, I champion it. The altered New Trust version, that is..)

But this isn’t about me, or the fact that Jermaine Stewart’s cries for abstinence fell on a different generation of AIDS-weary teen-agers. It’s about The New Trust, and to simply cull one pop culture reference from the band and craft it into a 500 word synopsis would be a huge injustice to the band. For one, they’re really good. Two, they pose with machetes on their album art. And three, there are much greater forces at play here. In fact, there’s a 10-year plan with seven years left on the clock.

The New Trust began in 2003 by vocalist/bassist Josh Staples, of the more well known Santa Rosa act The Velvet Teen. Rounded out by Matthew Izen (guitar), Julia Lancer (drums/percussion) and Staples’ wife Sara Sanger (guitar,vocals), The New Trust was formed under a promise from Staples to himself and his band mates. This wasn’t going to be a fly-by-night, last one summer kinda band. This was it: the long haul, the New Trust.

Three years deep, The New Trust finally arrive with their first full-length album, ‘Dark is the Path Which Lies Before Us.’ The album is vexing, combining elements of DC’s past (Staples’ voice is eerily similar to Shudder to Think era Craig Wedren) over mathy, layered compositions, fueled by the urgency and energy of a time when music wasn’t created to be marketed or bastardized. If you’re looking for direct comparisons, I’d point a finger at New York’s Pilot To Gunner, but I’d turn the lights off to add a healthy dose of darkness, and I’d make a point to say that the lyrical content is much more cryptic and haunting. It’s a rhythmic venture of renegade spiritualism, entangled against nature, mortality and love.

Rounding out the self-produced album are portraits of the band and friends within a haunted mansion, and tongue-in-cheek song names like ‘You’ve Got To Be Fu*king Shitting Me.’ Oh yeah, there’s a late 80s R&B reference to abstinence thrown in for good measure, but we’ve already covered that. And if all of this seems moot, then at least pick up the record so you can see how much The New Trust’s Josh Staples looks like Foundation’s Gareth Stehr

www.myspace.com/thenewtrust for more.

The Gena Rowlands Band

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Bob Massey has a problem. He can’t get his head round women. As front man and principal song writer for The Gena Rowlands Band, a Washington D.C. based ensemble of musicians, Massey could’ve taken the high road and explained away his lyrical content in shades of vagary. But he makes no such illusions. He’s an honest song writer; musically, personally, brutally. “I’m always wrangling with women. Trying to understand who they are, where they’re coming from, how they happened. Why I like the way they move, and smile, and smell,” says Massey.

Naturally, Massey’s difficulties in understanding the female psyche is but one of many lyrical formulas spun by The Gena Rowlands Band, though his directness, his ruminations on the bar room quagmires he’s endured; these are not typical of the vexing blend of baroque chamber pop Massey and company have constructed over the past eight years. One might expect the theatrical constructions of The Gena Rowlands Band to be go past the inner workings of the male/female dynamic, but hey, while men are still from Mars and women are still calling Venus home, Bob Massey’s brand of dry-witted, inter-planetary space travel has more than its fair share of merit. “There is a big universe and I didn’t make it and it was here before me and it’ll be here when I’m gone. I’m not very good at dealing with that,” elaborates Massey. Slowly but surely, The Gena Rowlands Band is learning to deal.

The path began in 1999. Massey, based in Arlington, VA at the time, was playing in the bands Telegraph Melts and Tsunami. With no outlet for his own songs that involved lyrics and singing, he started constructing bedroom tapes with no intention of actually doing anything with them. But shortly thereafter, his roommates cajoled him into playing Arlington’s own Galaxy Hut bar. At the time, Massey was reading about the independent filmmaker John Cassavetes, whom was married to the actor Gena Rowlands. “I’d seen her in some of his movies and she kind of blew me away. Sometimes she’s play these characters who were utterly sweet yet totally unhinged. It was almost scary how real those movies seemed. On a whim I called my project The Gena Rowlands Band. It was part joke, part homage,” he says. Shortly afterwards, Massey assembled some musician friends, rehearsed for two days and recorded their first album, ‘La Merde et Les Etoiles,’ at Inner Ear Studios with Chad Clark (Beauty Pill, Smart Went Crazy) producing. Massey described the effort as “Smoky, moody, impressionistic late-night songs,” and the album was released in 2004 by Lujo Records. Eventually he handed off a copy to The Dismemberment Plan’s Travis Morrison, who then invited the inaptly named band on tour. According to Massey, “Things snowballed and then it was too late to choose a more sensible name. I’m okay with the homage, except I have to explain it to just about everyone I mention it to.”

Following the release of ‘La Merde et Les Etoiles,’ Massey and the same collection of friends/musicians became involved in a multimedia opera dubbed ‘The Nitrate Hymnal.’ Joined by keyboardist David Durst and violinist Jean Cook, the three wrote the core of ‘The Nitrate Hymnal,’ which was performed by a 12-piece orchestra made up of veterans from the DC punk scene and the NYC avant chamber music scene. ‘The Nitrate Hymnal’ ran for four sold-out nights. “1200 people showed up in the snow to watch this crazy show that no one had ever seen, based on home movies my grandparents shot from the 1940’s onward,” adds Massey. ‘The Nitrate Hymnal’ was released last year on Lujo Records.

The latest approach, album number three for The Gena Rowlands Band, finds Massey and company more direct and focused. ‘Flesh and Spirits,’ released in April of this year, embraces the power of simplicity. Where once there was darkness, there are now shades of color. Bolstered by a transcontinental move, a misdiagnosed health condition and a healthy serving of grim family dealings, the assembly of songs on ‘Flesh and Spirits’ became, according to Massey, “The kind of record that might help you get out of bed in the morning.” Adding that, “Those kinds of records have saved my ass on many occasions.”

On ‘Flesh and Spirits,’ Massey is joined by a revolving lineup that reads like a Who’s Who of the DC Indie Scene over the past ten years, including Jean Cook (violin, also of Beauty Pill), Eric Axelson (bass, formerly of The Dismemberment Plan and Maritime), Jason Caddell (lead guitar, formerly of The Dismemberment Plan), Vin Novara (drums, formerly of The Crown Hate Ruin and Canyon) and David Durst (keyboards, formerly of Maritime). In the past, The Gena Rowlands Band has culled the likes of Amy Domingues (Garland of Hours), Johanna Claasen (formerly of The Most Secret Method) and Luther Gray (formerly of Tsunami) from the DC school of post punk grads. Speaking on the arbitrary lineup of TGRB, Massey says, “I have been blessed to play with geniuses whom are also my friends.”

Recorded and produced by Chad Clark and TJ Lipple at Silver Sonya Studios, the tracks on ‘Flesh and Spirits’ finds the band harnessing a more linear approach to song writing. Massey constructed demos, played them for the band, then worked alongside them to intuitively arrange the record. The resulting sounds finds The Gena Rowlands Band vividly shading the spaces between Massey’s bouts with self-deprecation and alienation. It’s catchy, theatrical chamber pop that’s more akin to a chaotic musical than anything within the band member’s past musical outputs.

Thematically, ‘Flesh and Spirits’ is Massey’s stab at self-removal from the “mire of my own skull.” He’s not afraid to admit that he’s loved, been loved, and dealt with the repercussions when one or both doesn’t work out successfully. He’s also not afraid to admit that his inherent answer to whatever repercussions he faces might, on occasion, take the form of alcohol, referencing beer, the bar and the consequences of overdoing it several times throughout the album. “When love is broken or denied, you end up at the bar, staring at women and mired in your skull again. Until you’re drunk out of your skull. Because at times, the most important work of my life has been done at the bar. People are honest there. Mysteries are revealed there. In a bar there’s a tension between flesh and spirit that makes people in church uncomfortable,” says Massey on the melancholic but hopeful assortment of songs on ‘Flesh and Spirits.’

But he goes above and beyond this explanation on the track, ‘The Joke I Play on Washington.’ The one-chord simplicity of the track is the first openly confessional song written by Massey. In it, he refutes the assumption that people think he’s gay, calling himself “self aware,” and stating that he wouldn’t care what other people think if it wasn’t so hard to meet women. One bout with confusion later, he’s overdone it on the sauce again, still alone, still wondering where in the hell he’s headed, searching for an easy way out.

Narratively, it becomes the quintessential but confessional battle cry for Bob Massey; and in the end, he’s still alone, still trying to understand women. Speaking on behalf of the paradoxical outcome of his song writing, Massey is quick to respond. “I have to get out and do something to escape my own skull. It doesn’t make me any kind of saint, it just means that maybe I’m a little closer to being an adult instead of a chump.”

In the end, the rationale behind Bob Massey and the body of work he’s created with The Gena Rowlands Band is simple; he’s trying. Trying to be an adult, trying to understand the opposite sex, trying not to be a chump in the process. That’s not a joke he’s playing on Washington, it’s brutal honesty.

There’s a photo link if you click on that at the top of the page, but just in case you’ve made it this far and want to hear GRB, go here.

RIP BILL JONES AND GARY JONES

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Earlier this week, New England BMX legends Bill Jones and Gary ‘Wildcard’ Jones (no relation) were killed in a tragic army surplus store shooting incident in New Hampshire, while driving home from a roadtrip to Maine. Both were fixtures on the New England BMX scene for years, having been close friends with Sean Burns and long standing members of the Bonedeth crew. Details of the tragic shooting can be found here: http://www1.whdh.com/news/articles/local/BO56390/

And since I’m at a loss of what to say over this, I’m just gonna relate my experiences with Bill Jones from last summer. The Metal Bikes team arrived at my house in Bill’s dirty ole van, which stunk to high hell and burned so much oil that the rear end of it was covered in a fine mixture of oil/exhaust. Bill sat on my bed, sorely in need of a shower and a place to sleep. He told me that his shoes smelled like dog crap, then proceeded to take a shower. Prior to their New Jersey visit, Bill had been robbed of $900 from his van in Montreal, and nearly avoided a brawl with the Asian mafia over a filthy proposition to a prostitute. He also had a mohawk.

The next day, he got left behind in New York City, ending up crashing at Darrly Nau’s house, then somehow found us later that day, wearing the same clothes with a huge smile across his face. I drove his van into Brooklyn, parked it later at Seaport among a line of cars, and Bill’s van was the only one of about 30 cars to receive a ticket. A few days later, Bill and the rest of the crew took off into the night, and he would later retire that beast of a van for good.

This past February, Bill came to Philly with Burns and helped us do the Sean Burns interview from issue 59. Burns proffered up some of the wildest Bill Jones tales he could remember, and then they took off for Miami the next morning.

This was my favorite Bill Jones tale from the interview, as told by Burns: “When I was like 16, I moved into the basement. For some reason, my parents had a garage full of old appliances. We took them all into the basement, and we’d just go in there with sledge hammers, smash things till it was two-feet deep in glass. And there was a mirror in there, my mom’s hundred year-old mirror and my guitar. And I said, “Bill, you can smash everything except for the guitar and the mirror, so he picks up the guitar and smashes the mirror.”

Rest in peace Bill and Gary. Your memory lives on and your enthusiasm for chasing fun will be missed.