With the imminent release of their latest album, Horses In The Abbatoir on Freakwave Records, Shawn Tucker and Sean-Patrick Nolan from gothic/post-punk band TRAITRS, spoke to us about the album, friendship and the dark art of music.
Welcome to the rabbit hole! Having listened to the new album, Horses In The Abbatoir, I can say it stirs memories of another era, especially the around the time of the releases of The Cure’s Pornography or the Cocteau Twins Sunburst and Snowblind which is no mean feat as they are iconic albums. Do you think the events of 2020/21 have impacted on your sound for this album and if so how?
Nolan: I wouldn’t necessarily say the pandemic and events of the last 18 months impacted the sound of this album. Only in the sense that it motivated us to write the darkest album we possibly could to reflect these strange and horrible times. A lot of the songs on this record are about isolation, depression, paranoia, death, the passing of time and the meaninglessness of existence. If that doesn’t remind you of the events of 2020/21, I don’t know what will. Thematically, this is a very personal record for us both, but there is definitely overlap between that and where the world is at right now. We’re not a happy-go-lucky band, so we revel in the misery and neuroses of the modern age. It’s great apocalyptic fodder for current darkwave bands in the same way that the punk and hardcore bands in the 80’s were reacting to the Reagan era and Thatcherism. The album’s not about the pandemic or Trump or anything specific to 2020/21, but this record absolutely is the product of two people observing and struggling to survive in this depressing, anxiety-ridden age.
How do you feel your sound has changed since your first album, Rite And Ritual in 2017?
Tucker: I’d say the core elements of our sound on Rites And Ritual are all still there, but our songwriting and production has vastly improved. The post-punk and goth framework remains in tact, but we’re adding new elements and twists to our sound to further establish our own identity. The electronic and more cinematic parts of our sound have always been there, we’re just better at using them more effectively and prominently in our songs now. This is our most cohesive record front to back. We tried to have each song stand on its own individually as well as play a crucial role in the lyrical and musical narrative of the whole album. That was a big goal we set for ourselves: to write an album that’s as immersive as something Dead Can Dance, The Cure or Cocteau Twins would put out.
Nolan: I totally agree. James Lindsay from our old label Pleasence Records always used to say Rites And Ritual was our punk record and I think he’s totally right. It’s very raw and imperfect in some ways which is what I think people like about it. I’m proud of the album but we’ve changed so much as people and artists since then, it would be impossible to do it again. And we have no interest in doing it again. Formulas and repeating ideas contradict the reason why we started playing music in the first place. In that sense, Horses In The Abattoir is the next evolutionary step in our sound. Like Shawn says, we’re building off of and refining the ideas we started with on day one. We’re not going to start making trap or gabba goth all of a sudden, but our sound is definitely changing and evolving the more we write and record. The music and aesthetic will always be dark and macabre, but there’s so much room to experiment and play around with these sounds and ideas. Personally speaking, that’s the stuff that really engages me creatively.
You both have been friends for a long time before you started TRAITRS in 2015, so are there advantages and disadvantages to this sort of relationship in a band?
Tucker: Honestly, it’s pretty much all positive. There’s a trust and honesty and openness we share after being friends for this long. It makes it easy to create and share ideas with one another. Stressful things like telling someone something they’re playing could be better, or living together while on tour are that much easier since we know each other so well and get along as well as we do. Rarely do we ever argue, and even if we do disagree, we know it’s coming from a genuine place. There’s no ego involved or power tripping. We’re very similar in some ways and drastically different in others, but together we both balance each other out personally and creatively. TRAITRS wouldn’t be possible if you removed either one of us.
Nolan: Yeah the biggest thing is there are never any hurt feelings. The honesty and open communication really makes all decision making so much easier. At this point we’re more like brothers than band members even.
You describe your style as art post-punk. Many of the original post-punk/goth bands also met in art school, such as Bauhaus, and it was an outlet to express themselves both musically but also visually. Is this how it is for you and how do you feel your art influences your music or vice versa?
Nolan: Absolutely! I love when bands can bring in influences from different artistic backgrounds. The musical and art-based influences are intrinsically linked for us and they have been since the very beginning. We discuss the art direction in just as much detail as we do the music, sound and lyrics. The visual component of what we do has always been a huge focal point for us. From album artwork to merch to our live visuals, we see it as a supplemental outlet for us to further expand on the ideas and concepts we write about. Even more so now since we started writing and directing our own music videos, starting with “Magdalene” earlier this year. Shawn is a very gifted visual artist and designer, so it’s been a pleasure to see him apply his eye to directing our videos. It’s a natural extension of what we started years ago and I think the connection to visual art and film will become more prominent the further along we go.
The videos you have created for your singles have been visually stunning with a macabre darkness sewn through them. How much input did you have making these?
Tucker: 100% our input. We do all of it ourselves and our small crew. When the label got down to talks with us as far as videos and singles, we were a bit concerned because they wanted 4 music videos. I had my eye on some very specific people for the projects but when it fell through, Nolan came up with the idea that maybe I put my film background to use and we start doing it all ourselves. Lots of trial and error, but we just started figuring out what it would take to pull that off. The best part of controlling the video concepts and vision is I can get what I feel is the closest representation of exactly who we are as a band and what I want the world of TRAITRS to be. Basically I wanted to direct art house horror films and that’s what I did with the videos. I’m a huge fan of horror/art house films especially the New French Extremity films. From shooting into the descents of hell called nothing, to a real ghost town house hidden away from the world, to escaping the occult offerings in the woods and a hungry possession taking over the mind in the cold dark city streets. Each video allowed all of you to take a deeper look inside our world.
We all have bands/individuals that influence us in our future tastes in music when we were younger. Who were those influences and who do you now find yourself listening to?
Tucker: I still listen to many of the same artist as I did when I was younger: The Smiths, A-ha, The Cure, The Smashing Pumpkins, The/Southern/Death/ Cult, Opposition, Big Country, The Chameleons, Pixies, Samhain, The Police, Fugazi, Jawbox, Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, No Trend, Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, Naked Eyes. Currently Newer listens: JJ72, Interpol, Placebo, The Joy Formidable, Autechre, White Lies, Editors, Eagulls, The Twilight Sad, Blonde Redhead, Quicksand
Nolan: A lot of fantastic records have come out this year! Old Country New Road, Lingua Ignota, Emma Ruth Rundle, The Armed, Spirit Of The Beehive, Grouper, Parquet Courts to name a few. Our fellow Freakwavers Creux Lies put out a great record last month. Local Toronto stuff like Nailbiter, Breeze and Odonis Odonis has really been blowing me away recently. This city is rich with very talented artists. I loved metal, punk and industrial music as a teenager. I was born in the late 80s, so it was the heavier bands I grew up loving like Deftones, Nine Inch Nails and System Of A Down who actually introduced me to the post-punk and new wave bands that inspire me to this day. Bands like New Order, The Smiths, The Cure, Tears For Fears, Depeche Mode, Kate Bush, Can, Bauhaus, Jesus And The Mary Chain, Echo and the Bunnymen, plus great electronic bands like Underworld, Aphex Twin, Massive Attack and Portishead. The heavier bands would always mention new wave, goth, shoegaze and electronic artists as influences and I’d go check them out. Kind of like a beta version of the Spotify algorithm.
Thank you so much for your time and this new album is a wonderful addition to the TRAITRS discography so congratulations. What is planned for the future of TRAITRS?
Nolan: Thanks very much for the kind words for the taking the time to talk to us. Horses In The Abattoir comes out on November 19 on all streaming platforms and cd. Unfortunately due to vinyl manufacturing delays, the LP’s won’t be out until December. Aside from that, with all of the Covid restrictions slowly easing up, we’re finally booking tour dates for 2022 all across the world. So keep an eye out on our social media platforms to stay on top of where we’ll be next year. We have many new cities and countries we want to visit. Words can’t express how much we have missed our fans and live shows during this whole time. These first tours back will be emotional love-fests to say the very least. Come out and say hello to the Shauns.