Interview: Traams: “There’s some fucking angry songs on this record”

Traams: “There’s some fucking angry songs on this record”

On second LP ‘Modern Dancing’, Traams lose none of their bite, becoming more essential in the process. They speak to Tom Walters.

“We beat him with bars of soap in socks in the back of the van,” jokes Traams vocalist and guitarist Stu Hopkins. He’s referring to what happened after the frenetic three-piece played a storming show at London’s Moth Club in support of their second album ‘Modern Dancing’, a brilliant showcase of a band leaving their initial references at the door and stepping into their own. It was their third show back after finishing the record, and after an irritable five months without playing a single gig, they were finally getting back into the swing of things. “He started playing the wrong song!” Stu chuckles, referring to a slightly awkward moment bassist Leigh Padley had up on stage. “I fuck up loads but he rarely does. Lee prides himself on never fucking up.”

It’s a testament to the chemistry Traams have as a band. Three extremely tight friends, their chemistry is a rare thing that results in them being able to pull together with the strength of a thousand atoms. It’s brilliant to see live - at once both charmingly rough around the edges and relentlessly refined, Stu will often find himself clobbering his guitar in all sorts of frenzied fashions (“I don’t even know what I’m playing on guitar half the time in terms of key,” he later admits), with Padley pummelling out charmingly repetitive baselines, drummer Adam Stock bringing them both together with expertly executed rhythms. They’re a real force to be reckoned with, and on ‘Modern Dancing’, everything falls into place.

“I think on this record we sound like our band,” Stu says. “I think that’s the biggest difference. I think everyone does that when you start a band - you bring to the party the stuff you like, it’s intuitive. On the first record there’s hints of Television, Sonic Youth - other bits and bobs. This one pulls away from that more - the only reference you should be getting is ‘okay, this sounds a bit more like the Traams record or the Traams EP.’” And he’s right - songs like the thunder banger ‘Succulent Thunder Anthem’ sport Stu’s signature, vital squall of a vocal, hurtling down a hill at a hundred miles an hour to their immense rhythm section. ‘Silver Lining’ - one of the sleeper indie rock hits of the year - shows a commendable restraint, yet retains the distinctive Traams aura that’s hard to pin down.

“This one is about picking up the pieces; seeing where you’re going next and trying to put your life back in a bit of order.”

Stu Hopkins

“I think that one has a real Fugazi thing about it,” Stu says, noting that having showed a bunch of friends and family the record upon finishing it, each them of were heading towards different favourites for all sorts of reasons. And he’s right - there’s ‘Hey Sister’ with its attention-grabbing hooks and roaring guitar lines, there’s the post-punk double-whammy opener of ‘Costner’ and ‘A∩B’, which bleed into each other without a moment’s notice. Then there’s ‘Neckbrace’, a steaming rollercoaster ride of post-summer blues that comforts like a good friend when you need them the most. “It felt like, sweet, there’s a range of bits for different people,” Stu says, chuffed. “And we don’t write like that - we don’t intend to write different bits for different people. We’re not Elvis Costello, like, we can’t do that! We just write what we write and if we like it then that’s a bonus.”

Recorded with MJ of Hookworms in the earlier part of the year, Stu says the renowned producer played a huge part in shaping the overall sound of the album. “He really boiled it down,” he recalls. “He’s seen us live and knows us. He was like ‘I want your guitars to do this, and the bass and rhythm section to do this… then like your vocals…’ He had a really clear idea of what he was going to do. It was really nice going in with that, with somebody who was that familiar with what we sound like.” And it shows - everything sounds razor-sharped and defined, and it feels like Traams have finally settled into themselves without losing their hypnotic fidgety trademark.

Lyrically there’s been a transformation too. Traams’ debut ‘Grin’ had staple debut qualities - rawer production with way more reverb-soaked, fuzzy songs that did pack melodies on the whole, but were defined by a distinct melancholy in their words. “A load of shit happened in my personal life and it all came out in that record like bile almost. It all came sprawling out,” Stu remembers. “There’s parts of it where I’m like, fuck - I’m really quite angry and upset and traumatised almost. It was like an album of therapy for myself. It was trying to get all that out, and I think that’s why those lyrics aren’t included with that album.”

As the name suggests though, ‘Modern Dancing’ is - on the whole - far brighter. “There’s still some fucking angry songs on this record though!” Stu says with good humour. “Also this record doesn’t make as much sense if you don’t know that that came first. I think it moves on. That was about that time and this is about this time. This one is way more optimistic. It’s about change and I suppose, like… in the same way ‘Grin’ was about being angry and getting it out of your system, this one is about picking up the pieces; seeing where you’re going next and trying to put your life back in a bit of order.”

Traams’ new album ‘Modern Dancing’ is out now on FatCat Records.

More like this

The Better and Better Land: Fontaines DC

The Better and Better Land: Fontaines DC

Since the release of ‘Dogrel’, Fontaines DC have been on an unstoppable upwards trajectory. As they prepare to close out 2019 with a sold-out tour, we check in with the breakthrough band of the year.

Readers’ Poll 2019

Readers’ Poll 2019

Have your say! Let us in on what made your musical 2k19 tick in our annual readers’ poll.