Robert Alfons, the man behind TR/ST, is talking influences. “I grew up listening to and loving things like Ace Of Base, Aphex Twin, the Cocteau Twins…” So far so… Wait. What? Ace Of Base? Ace Of Base? Really?
Listening to TR/ST’s debut album TR/ST, and the shadows in which it creeps, it isn’t exactly what you’d expect. Alfons is insistent. “That first Ace Of Base record is pretty dark. It totally is. The stuff after that is a lot more fluffy, but the first record is pretty dark.” Just a minute. Ace Of Base have more than one album? Well, I’ll be. You’re never too old to learn.
So who are this band of journalistic wet dreams, who can make that most prized of possessions, an album that could (accurately) be described as sounding like Aphex Twin crossed with Ace Of Base? Who is TR/ST? Alfons pauses. He does that a lot. There’s a thoughtfulness to his responses. He thinks, a cup of fruit tea by his lips, and speaks. “Trust is my project. I mean, it was once a duo, now it’s a solo project.”
“That first Ace Of Base record is pretty dark. It totally is.” – Robert Alfons’ unexpected influences
Originally formed back in 2010 in Toronto the second half of the duo was Maya Postepski, who also drums in Austra. They released an EP, Candy Walls, in 2011 and then followed that with the full length debut, released (in North America) in February this year. Alfons elaborates. “In the early days she was playing live, but, as happens, your priorities vary. Now, we’re playing new songs which are mine and the new record is…” He tails off, before concluding, “I’m not collaborating with anyone on it.” He continues. “Before we met I was making music, and a few of those songs ended up on the record, but I was definitely looking for a drummer. I remember seeing her playing live and being ‘Oh I need to work with her’. We worked really well together and we birthed an album I’m really proud of.”
As well he should be. He’s fathered a beauty. TR/ST is, in a year of synths appearing everywhere, a very, very good record; dark, sexy, and just a little bit seedy. And, as we explain to an ever-so-slightly frowning Alfons, we mean that in a nice way. It’s what would result if Depeche Mode shoving poppers under the nose of Goldfrapp in a Berlin sex dungeon. Alfons thinks differently. To him it is a pop record. A pop record with its heart in the early ’90s. “That [period] was when I was most raw to new sounds. In Canada Much Music (the equivalent of MTV), put out a dance compilation every year and for some reason 1995 is just the pinnacle. Every song on that compilation and they were big euro-dance songs, like Whigfield every song, it sounds like the same person, but it’s just such a good world to get lost in. All of the lyrics are about in my dreams, rescue me, all of it is like this isolated, cold world, where all you have to do is sulk.”
While we struggle to see the link to Saturday Night, there is no doubt that TR/ST does create a dreamy haze. Thick and fuggy textures abound, and it offers a deep somnolent world to lose yourself in. But, as Alfons is quick to reiterate “it’s dance music, it’s pop music.” Just twisted into intriguing new shapes. Something that these days is necessary – there are so many synthpop acts, was he conscious about differentiating himself from the crowd? He shakes his head. “I don’t think it was really conscious. I guess a lot of bands, even like rock bands, use synths now, it’s very prominent, but I have a very scattered knowledge of pop music in general. There are certain things that I have no idea about, and people are like ‘you don’t know that?!'” Six months has passed since TR/ST came out over the pond. The reasons why, Alfons breezily dismisses – “Oh, it’s just logistical” – but it does put him in a slightly strange position. It must make talking about TR/ST feel like some kind of weird deja vu.
“The BPMs are going up and the Kate Bush is coming out. But like the techno Kate Bush.”– Robert Alfons on Trust’s new songs
“Not entirely. A lot of people are still coming to it. So honestly, not really.” There’s a considered pause, “It’s actually nice to talk about it and revisit it and get these questions from a place of innocence, if you like. It’s interesting.” TR/ST had garnered a reputation for being slightly camera shy. A band who reflect the secretive, introverted nature of their music. But you don’t get that from Alfons. Sure, he takes his time responding, but when the answers come they’re open. Full. There isn’t a nihilistic distain to those who ask questions. It isn’t what you’d expect from someone tagged as press adverse. He clutches his cup. “Ummmm… I dunno. I don’t even know how I got that. I mean… maybe. A bit. I think that the music described itself best. I do enjoy talking about it and I do enjoy people’s interest in it and if they want to have a different take on it and see it in a different light, and I totally appreciate that. I think just in the end the music speaks for itself.”
Coming to the end of a UK and European tour, just a “short little stint” with the promise of something bigger early next year. Trust are already playing second album material. Alfons is visibly excited about it. “Yeah. We’re playing a few new songs and they’re definitely in a new direction, but I think the response has been good.” And the new direction? “One of them is like a pure pop song. I have a really high register that comes out a bit on this record but on the second record comes out a lot. So are we going to see Trust going properly pop? A nod. “I think so. The BPMs are going up and the Kate Bush is coming out. But like the techno Kate Bush. I’m definitely re-listening to a lot of things I listened to in my teens. And it’s always so affirming when you go back and remember something shaking you and you can still totally appreciate now. So you don’t look back on yourself and go ‘why would I waste my time with that?’. That stuff is the best.”
Things draw to a close. Alfons politely thanks us for our questions, and we pack up. In many ways, the man reflects the album. Thoughtful, contemplative, and somewhat expectation confounding. But as we leave the most startling revelation hits us: we must reappraise the output of Ace Of Base.
TR/ST is out now through Arts + Crafts / PIAS.