After holing up together in a converted Toronto townhouse for the best part of a year, Trophy emerged, blinking at the light, clutching an album of finely crafted, melodic rock songs. Born out of the Toronto music scene, Trophy's self-titled debut album is both a study in contrast and a celebration of subtlety.
The album as a body of work is uplifting yet thoughtful, exploring the darker side of life but refusing to be dragged down by it. The soundscape reflects the mood and lyrics of each song as powerful guitar riffs and furious drumming are tempered by soaring, chilled out vocals. "We took our time to make sure that the songs were treated properly," says guitarist Phil Houston, "that the contrast was right and the subtlety was there to match the lyrics and vibe of each song."
The five band members that make up Trophy all have musical backgrounds with other bands on the Toronto music scene. After watching each other perform for a number of years, they have come together to try out a new alliance: "This is a city album, a real Toronto record, born out of our musical community", singer/guitarist Kirt Godwin reflects
Songwriting credits go to drummer Derek Downham, whose work is best described as melody-driven storytelling. "Strong lyrics are very under rated these days," Downham opines, "I always write the lyrics first - the melody and the rhythm come later." The writing was not a linear process, but rather a mosaic of Downham's work. A few songs such as "Doing Well" and "Stay the Course" were written a few years ago. "Toast for the Day", is the oldest song of all, written in response to the death of Jeff Buckley. The majority of the music however, was written over the past year: "I went through a pretty huge spurt where I was coming up with a new song every day and we still haven't put them all to tape yet," says Downham.
Trophy produced the album in the aforementioned Toronto townhouse. Music was recorded in the kitchen, the living room, the bedrooms and the basement. Bassist Peter Fusco recalls the experience of tracking the single "Overdose": "We had to turn lights out in the basement whenever we were playing. We played in the dark because the hum was affecting the guitars," he laughs, "It was a real home studio – the whole home."
The music on the album started out with a heavy-rock feel. The band sat and listened to the songs, analyzing them for a long time, before they finally began the production process: "We cranked the knobs, all of them, turned the black ones all the way up and then pulled them all back on every track," guitarist Jeff Low explains. What resulted was a softer, stripped-down, more dynamic sound.
The first single, "How Did You Get This Way" is a song about an old friend and ex-model who is now addled by substance abuse. The "devil" she's been kissing is crack cocaine. "I watched this drug completely disfigure the girl's face," Downham reflects, "and it blew me away." The feel of this song is one of beauty and punishment: Clash meets The Stones, meets The Jam.
On "Doing Well", aching vocals are placed in stark contrast to sparkling, Beatle-esque guitars. The protagonist steps out of a cloud of pain accompanying the end of a relationship to contemplate the small things, which make life worth living.
The lyrics for "Bury Me" were partially written by Amy Millan (Broken Social Scene, Stars). Oddly enough, the song was actually, written for her. "Sometimes you love someone so much, you would want to be buried with them. And, sometimes, love can bury your relationship, if not harnessed correctly." Comments Downham. A big juicy riff, inspired by Bob Mould and J Mascis, aids the song's melodic and murky feel.
The pulsing drums and ambient mood of "Nothing To Lose" reflect the carpe diem message of the song, which is about destroying inhibitions, recognizing your self-worth and making good on your talents.
Reflective and uplifting, Trophy's self-titled debut album is the soundtrack for the day you get over your girlfriend - when you've been through an emotional time and still want to get up and dance. It's about moving through it rather than marinating in it. "I didn't want to go too far into my own personal darkness," Downham confesses…then laughs "I'll save that for the next record."