Josh Jenkins, John Birkner and Andy Peterson formed Trauma Harness in 2011, drawing on influences from both under the radar punk groups and left-field pop culture obsessions. Nowhere is this combination better exemplified than 2012's brilliant, "The Way You Press On Harder," a tape featuring demonically altered Henry Rollins dialogue, "Simpsons" quotes and Frances Bay tributes alongside goth-tinged punk. Masterfully recreating the insular world of its recordings in the live context, Trauma Harness adds credence to the "Meat Bundle" zine's recent claim that it "might just be the best band in the Midwest."
After months of performing new material, Trauma Harness is now preparing for the release of its first proper LP, "Tried My Hardest." Where previous releases saw sporadic moments of synth exploration, "Hardest" adds full synthesizer tracks to Trauma Harness's usual cocktail of post-punk gloom.
I sat down with Trauma Harness to discuss the new album, the appeal of synth-based music and future travel plans to Santa Claus, Indiana.
Alex Cunningham:What's the state of the new album?
Josh Jenkins: It is getting mastered right now.
John Birkner: Just sent it off to get mastered. Hopefully that will come back soon, then send it to the record plant. Trying to have it out…
Jenkins: Aiming for October.
Who's putting it out?
Jenkins: Rat King Records.
Jenkins: Rat King and Lumpy Records/Spotted Race Records.
What was the recording process like?
Birkner: Man, it was hell [laughs].
Andy Peterson: It was nuts.
Jenkins: We recorded and finished.
Birkner: I'll let Andy field this question. Andy's the master that records us.
Peterson: Yeah, we just recorded it all live and it was pretty quick I think.
Birkner: Yeah, it was one day. Then you guys added in some stuff.
Peterson: Added in some stuff, took a little off.
Birkner: There are a couple synth songs that mostly Andy recorded. That will be cool.
I think the samples were probably one of my favorite things on the last tape. Are you guys doing that stuff this time around?
What kind of stuff?
Jenkins: Without spoiling too much, it's very Thanksgiving oriented. The entity of the album is named Turkey Tom and you're going to feel his influence of all over the album, from start to finish.
Birkner: It's a shameless promotion for Jimmy John's sandwiches [laughs].
Do you have any plans to tour on the back of this album?
Birkner: Not set in stone, but I'd really like to tour a lot this year on the record. We're all down, and we have more stuff to sell instead of just "here's five tapes on our merch table." It'll be cool.
Tell me about the synth songs and how they came to be on the album. I saw your set at Undercurrent which was all synth, so are there songs from that set on the album?
Jenkins: Yeah, there are two songs from that set that are going to be on the album too. Almost on every tape we've done we've made sure to throw on some sort of synth recording. Andy and me started this band called Red Bits. We played a show that Trauma Harness couldn't play because John was out of town and just wrote a bunch of songs for it and it didn't really go anywhere. That kind of was the start of being like, "oh, we should do an all synth song one day." Our buds from Kansas City, Human Traffic, wanted to play a show here and they do really cool electronic, so we thought "this is the best chance we have to do an all synth set." That show didn't end up working out and that's when Joe [Hess] asked us to play the Undercurrent show. We had started working on it and weren't able to do it, so we thought, "Oh, we'll just play it here." We wrote a bunch of songs for that.
Birkner: Only a couple songs from that were from the record.
Jenkins: Yeah, two of the songs are on our old ones. One of the songs was "Necropolis" from "Dead and Loving It," our Halloween Tape. The other was "Blue Flames" from "The Way You Press on Harder."
Birkner: Two songs on the new LP we played at the synth set and re-recorded. We were talking about putting out a seven inch with just the synth songs from that set that we didn't record. That'd be really cool to do.
What's the appeal for you guys in synthesizer-based music? What are some bands that you first got into with that type of sound?
Birkner: With some of the stuff we played in the Undercurrent show, I think it's awesome because I grew up playing a lot of cool Nintendo and Super Nintendo games. I love badass boss fights and most of them have synthesizers. Listening to the Cars and Devo as a kid and theme songs in movies helped too.
Jenkins: The Normal, Fad Gadget, Factory Records, Industrial Records and Mute Records are all super influential for me. Thomas Leer is a really cool guy who got me into synthesizers because he made synth songs when he didn't actually own a synthesizer. He just made all of his broken little keyboards sound like synthesizers through effects. That's what really got me into synthesizers when I was younger. It was like, "Oh, he can do this and I can do it too even though I don't have expensive gear."
Birkner: And it's fun to dance to and bop around to. It's a little more fun than just stale hardcore punk after a while.
That's a controversial quote. I think some 15-year-old out there is going to be really pissed at you guys for that.
Birkner: Whatever [laughs].
Jenkins: We do it for the kids.
Birkner: For the youth center. We watched an episode of "Baywatch" before this where Hulk Hogan and Macho Man fight Ric Flair because he's going to buy out the weight-lifting center where young boys can go to stay off the streets and stay off drugs. They're like, "We'll do this. We'll settle this in a cage match!" Hogan wins of course. We're just doing it for the youth of America, man.
What is something you're yet to accomplish as a band that you would like to accomplish?
Jenkins: We're putting out an LP. That hasn't really happened yet [laughs].
Birkner: I'd say tour a lot more because we've only done a few shorter tours or weekend things. What's the longest we've toured, maybe five days? I'm really busy with other bands and we tour a lot, so I want this year to be Trauma Harness because the record's out. Hopefully we can record more stuff because we always used to record a lot more, but we kind of slowed down. It would be fun to tour more because people tell me all the time that they love this band, so it would be cool to push it more.
Jenkins: We haven't put out a music video, which is really surprising.
Peterson: We almost did.
Jenkins: Yeah, we had a music video made and then it got deleted before we could put it out because we were waiting for somebody to make an overdub for a voice.
Birkner: We have a few ideas for music videos, so hopefully we'll execute those too. Anything you guys want to do?
Jenkins: Put out a DVD of music videos.
Birkner: That'd be cool. Or a live set. We always talk about these things but sometimes we don't see each other a lot.
Jenkins: Do a song for a soundtrack. That's another thing that would be really fun.
Birkner: Maybe talk to that girl at QT that we saw earlier [laughs]. And that guy. They both seemed fun.
Jenkins: Go to Santa Claus, Indiana and go to Holiday World. That's a new thing that I would like to do.
That's a real place?
Jenkins: Yeah, I just found out about it. It's a huge theme park and water park and it's all Christmas themed. The town it's in is called Santa Claus, Indiana. I met some people from it and I went to the website this morning and it was so cool. That's definitely a tour route in question. Head down to Santa Claus, Indiana and visit Holiday World.
What is something that's lacking in St. Louis that you'd like to see more of?
Jenkins: This is the question that breaks friendships [laughs].
Birkner: I think now more than ever there's a lot going on and a lot of different stuff. I think sometimes people take it for granted. A lot of cool bands are touring here.
Jenkins: A lot of younger kids have been coming out and that's really cool. It's really cool to see younger kids and people with more open minds towards different styles of music. I hope that continues.
Birkner: I remember when I was younger and started going to shows, there were definitely people who were really into a certain style of punk or something who would just listen to that style and not listen to anything else and be like, "Oh, this other band sucks. They have a noisy part." It seems like now a lot of younger kids are going to a variety of different shows.
Jenkins: You can definitely see the difference between kids legitimately into the band and people just standing with their arms crossed not impressed with it.
Birkner: More dancing at shows is cool too.
Birkner: It sucks going to shows and being like, "Life sucks. This is what we do every weekend to let energy out, but let's just stand and stare at the floor while a cool band is playing." That's why I just go wacky at every show. This is getting really picky, but sometimes I kind of think, "If this band would practice more, I feel like they could be a lot better." That might just be me being really picky. I don't know. It's hard to describe.
Jenkins: I hope more people and more bands with less talent keep playing music.
Peterson: Yeah, that's where you get all the weird stuff from.
We need more Flippers.
Peterson: Not everyone can be competent.