Trophy Eyes are currently preparing themselves for world domination, as their upcoming album The American Dream is set to have them to fly even higher than they already have since their formation in 2013. They’ve nearly conquered Australia, completing multiple headline tours in 2017, and have The American Dream tour locked in for October this year, playing bigger venues than ever before. At Unify Gathering 2017, they performed to one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, literally waving the Trophy Eyes flag and announcing that they are here to stay.
Trophy Eyes also hit the USA, bringing their aggressively emotional music to Vans Warped Tour 2017, and later their North American headline tour with Free Throw. More recently they graced the stage at Download Festival in Melbourne, in what was a very special and heart warming set for everyone present. They’re also announced on the line-up for the upcoming huge UK festivals Reading & Leeds, as well as a cheeky London side show.
By way of releases, the band’s previous album Chemical Miracle was truly something special. It was a masterpiece of songwriting, lyrics-wise and instrumentally, and it seemed the bar couldn’t be set any higher. I jumped at the chance to speak with Trophy Eyes’ vocalist about the new album, the making of it, as well as ask about everything Trophy Eyes, and share some of my own personal experiences with the band. This was honestly so special to me, I can’t really put it into words. Trophy Eyes and all of John’s music has affected me and helped me in so many ways that they could never know. They’ve been my favourite band since the day Chemical Miracle came out, and to get to talk to John about music and everything else meant the world to me.
I started off with asking about The American Dream, specifically the writing process that was behind it all. John was quick to tell the story behind the inspiration of it all, and what was going through his head and going on around him as he wrote the lyrics for the album. “I was living in Texas for a large part of it. As that was going on I was subject to a lot of different types of music. I was living in a country town in Texas, I was listening to a lot of what was around me at the time, so like a lot of Bruce Springsteen, a lot of American rock, 80’s rock, Americana stuff. And at that point I’d just moved there to have a fresh start, and that’s kind of where The American Dream title came from.”
“The process was reflective, looking back at my life, as the rest of the Trophy Eyes songs go, and picking things and writing about them and shaping them into this giant piece, that would later be the album. I was writing them onto my Mac and sending them out to the guys and they were fiddling with them, playing with them, and sending them back to me. We got this thing going on. And I came back to Australia very early this year and we played with them and pracced them out and took them to Thailand. We had Shane Edwards [Of Karma Studios] produce it a bit more and that was how The American Dream was born.”
Having been lucky enough to hear The American Dream myself I am in love with the album, and expressed this to John, letting him know that it is a really special piece of music, even though he was probably already very aware of this. I went on to ask about what it was like in the studio with Shane, as all the promo videos and Instagram stories of their time in Thailand had me very curious about the whole process. John said it was “sick“. Shane used to work at Electric Sun, and kind of birthed the Australian heavy scene, working with bands like Thy Art Is Murder and Northlane. John says the vibes were great, with everyone happy and more switched on.
“Everyone was not afraid of trying to write a sound, or trying to fit in to a genre, everyone was just like lets write some songs and lets get some music going. It was very free, a very creative space, and heaps and heaps of fun, and very natural as well. It was a great creative time, and a great time to spend with such close friends, everyone had such a really good time.”
Getting more into John and his role in the band, I asked about how he feels he has evolved as a songwriter. He started off by discussing the band’s 2014 album Mend Move On, and how that was a product of trying to fit into a genre. Their first EP, Everything Goes Away came naturally, and that’s where they were at at that point in time. They went into Mend Move On having never wrote more than five songs before and he feels that that’s noticeable with the album. John shares there was a lot of panicking and trying to make something sound a certain way, and that it wasn’t a good creative space to be in.
“Anything is possible, let’s try anything.”
“For Chemical Miracle we were kind of like ‘fuck it, let’s write whatever we want’. And we did! And it was successful in that regard, people took it on and liked it, and we liked it. It was something we could be proud of. It was the first time I could listen back to music I’d written and really enjoy it.”
“When it came time for The American Dream it was just like that. But I guess the way we grew as songwriters was we had a lineup change, and everything felt better now, everything gelled, we were in the same mindspace, everyone was going in the same direction, and everyone was like ‘yes’. There was no negativity. There was no ‘no’s. It was like ‘what about this? Let’s try it out’. No stupid questions and no stupid ideas, and that’s the space we had: Anything is possible, let’s try anything.”
John believes there is a natural progression of songwriters that needs to happen; where if bands have been doing this and writing albums for five years, and aren’t getting any better, then maybe they shouldn’t be in a band. Trophy Eyes take this mindset to a whole other level, and have progressed significantly since their formation in 2013.
Talking about specific songs from The American Dream, I mentioned to John that “Broken”, and “Lavender Bay” were some of my favourites. This inspired him sharing a story about “Lavender Bay”. In his words:
“Funny story about “Lavender Bay” was that we wrote the whole album and got rid of a couple of songs because they weren’t good enough. Then we were all sitting around thinking it was missing something, like this album was missing one sound. It touches on every aspect and every sound and rounds off really well, but it was missing one little chunk that we needed to hear. We put “Lavender Bay” together in a couple of hours, and it was one of those songs that just came flying out. We were like ‘Wow this is epic!’ and it ended up getting the same amount of attention as every other song as we tightened it up, but yeah, it was probably one of the most natural songs we got to do and it all came so easily and it was great.”
Trophy Eyes songs are very personal, and can touch on topics that not many people are comfortable with. Songs like “Miracle”, “Suicide Pact”, and “Daydreamer”, and all very raw and emotional lyrically, so I can imagine the mindset behind writing them to be very vulnerable and sensitive. I asked John about this, if writing in such a vulnerable and personal way was difficult. John shared that earlier in his career he did feel a bit nervous about writing vulnerably, but he just gets more and more personal, and more straightforward with it too. He affirms what fans will already know; that it’s not cryptic anymore, its more “this is what happened.” But that’s how he likes to write: “I enjoy doing that so its not that hard to get to that space to write anymore.”
He also credits some of his reduced anxiety about vulnerable writing to society as a whole, for slowly becoming more open with people sharing their emotions openly. From his perspective, expressing yourself, being honest, and sharing if you’re feeling low with people seems to be encouraged now, so writing like that has gotten a lot easier for John. It is also somewhat of an outlet for him personally, so it helps him get stuff off his chest and out of his mind. He shares “You know before you go to bed sometimes and you’re up until like 3am and your head is circling every dumb thing you’ve said since you were fourteen years old and it drives you insane, you write about that shit and it goes away.”
“I just write shitty songs about me feeling shitty.”
It seems that every time I look at twitter or Instagram I’m seeing more and more people posting their new tattoos with Trophy Eyes lyrics on them. The fact that these words mean so much to these people, must be somewhat surreal to the person that wrote them. John talks about how when people come up and show him the tattoos how he never really knows what to say. While it’s both daunting and he loves it, he doesn’t want to be seen as anything more than he is. In his words: “I hope what I said touched you, and if I did that’s fantastic. But don’t look at me like I’m special. I’m just you, I’m just like you. I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no idea whats going on. I just write shitty songs about me feeling shitty and that’s it, and if you feel shitty too than fuck yeah we can be shitty together and I love your tattoo.”
I took the opportunity to then go into the meaning of “You Can Count On Me”, which lyrically touches on possessiveness of fans and the fact he is just a ‘broken’ human being. John shares about all these ‘horrible people on the internet’ who take time out of their day to personally attack himself and other members of the band for seemingly no reason. They don’t like one of their songs so they think it is okay to tell these complete strangers that they deserve to die. John says “You Can Count On Me” is a push back at those people, respecting healthy criticism, but not unwarranted attacks.
“Try something different.“
We veer into the topic of bands changing their sound and fans getting mad at them, despite the old music still being there. With more piano/anthemic based songs than their punkier music of the past, Trophy Eyes have copped some of this. John says “There’s other bands out there that do punk rock heaps better than us. People are like ‘Trophy Eyes aren’t heavy anymore’. It’s like ‘Have you heard Knocked Loose? They’re really heavy, go and listen to them’. They’re really good at being heavy, us not so much. So here’s something different from us. Try something different.”
“They’re our songs, they don’t belong to you. You’re a listener, we’re the creator, and you can listen if you like, and you are more than welcome. And if you don’t like it, that’s also cool. What you don’t like and what you do like is what makes us people, and what makes us unique and different and that should be celebrated, its a good thing. But what we don’t stand for is just bullies. That kind of shit is not welcome anywhere.”
Josh: “It’s your art. You can’t imagine an artist in an art gallery standing with his painting and someone comes up and tells them to kill themselves.”
John: “Yeah, ‘I don’t like that brush stroke you did there. I hope you die. Fuck you man.’ That seems a bit extreme, doesn’t it?”
On the topic of the upcoming tour of Australia, John doesn’t really know what to expect. He hints at delivering some awesome production. He wants it to be a theatrical type of experience, “as if the audience is watching a play directed by Bruce Springsteen”, and is like a performance rather than just a set. John suggests that it’s going to be something you can be a lot more emotionally invested in, rather than just a normal gig where people just play songs. John shared his anticipation of the tour potentially changing him as a person. “These venues are bigger than we’ve ever headlined, and to fill those rooms up and have people come in to see the things that I’ve done, I’m sure that’s probably going to change me as a person. I’m not sure if everyone knows this, but sometimes you cross a point where you achieve something and it sort of changes your life forever. And if I see that many people in front of me singing my songs I don’t know what kind of person I’ll be on the other end of that. That sounds kind of deep but you know, its true.”
In closing, now short on time, John kindly shared on the themes of The American Dream:
“The general idea on it is the idea that there’s a place in the world where you can go and you can start again. And if you work hard enough, you can have what you want. That to me is The American Dream. It’s where all the songs come from. It’s a reflective look at where I was as a kid, and where I am as a man. It’s trying to put my finger on life changing moments and trying to realise what I did and where I did it, and where my life changed in those sequences.”
“The first song “Autumn” comes from when I was cleaning a pool in Texas, and it was autumn, and I was just scraping leaves out of a pool. Why I was doing that I don’t know, just something to do. And then my girlfriend’s mother came out and said as a joke that I should write a song about that. And at the time I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was doing but I was in deep thought about all the little things in my life. She said that I ran inside and wrote “Autumn”. Isn’t that funny that I’m cleaning and pool and doing such an unimportant thing, but in my head I’m going through all these important things in my head: My 17th birthday, my grandfather’s funeral, driving out of the city, all these things. Lying in my childhood bed listening to The Killers.. all these kind of integral important moments of my life.”
“And the rest of the album kind of goes through the same sort of reflective thing. The song “Something Bigger Than This”, some dude jumped in front of a train out front of my house and I was like ‘Fuck, I can’t believe he was there and I was just on my way to buy bread’. I can’t believe we were at such different points in our lives.”
“What else? “Miming in the Choir”. That song’s about being in a place where you’re a total addict and a dropkick and being empty, and realising I’m not actually living my life, I’m just getting through it. “Miming in the Choir” means to be like doing something but not actually living it, and that’s where I was at at one point. And that’s scary and I look back and think ‘Holy shit, that’s insane!’. Just stuff that pops up throughout various reflective points in my life. That’s kind of some of the themes of The American Dream.”
This whole experience was surreal to me, and I appreciated John making the time. You’ll want to pre-order The American Dream here: http://trophyeyesmusic.com/#preorder