Saturday, November 8, 2014

Trash Talk

"Sell out"; a term that has been used so many times in the subculture that it has almost lost meaning. The problem with this term is that the people who use it are often too dumb to understand what it means. Sell out is a subculture slur used to criticize acts for a variety of reasons. The #1 reason being the most obvious: the band in question is simply doing better than you or your friends. What is the criteria for a sell out? What makes a sell out a sell out? To the less intelligent, a sell out is someone who plays bigger shows and tours with bigger acts and that's pretty much it.

There are actually two forms of selling out and it has nothing to do with venue capacity or who is on the bill. The first form is transformation. When a band stops being what they once were and become something completely different. They compromise their sound in such an egregious way that the band does not sound anything alike from their last album to the present one. Regardless of how you want to cite personal growth as a factor (and it certainly is), a band can't defend tectonic shifts in the band's style with it. Metallica can't defend Reload from Ride The Lightning because they became dads and started to care about how much they were paying in taxes every year. The second form is caricaturing. Caricaturing is when a band has an established winning formula, likely from a successful earlier release, and they make a career out of trying to write a more diluted version of that earlier success... over and over again. Consider these two forms and you arrive at one conclusion: Trash Talk are not sell outs.

The band's beginnings are so humble that their current station in music defies logic. The band started in the Central Valley, California. If you know anything about this place, know that it is awful and not much of anything comes from there. The band's first break on the national stage was signing with young east coast label Rumble Records (who also had Shipwreck on their roster). Rumble Records (along with a very young Six Feet Under Records) would release Walking Disease, an album with many of the band's classic tracks. Eventually, Trash Talk was snapped up by DC / VA based label Malfunction Records (with Ceremony, Bitter End, and others on their roster). On Malfunction, Trash Talk would release the Plagues EP. Malfunction would be absorbed by Boston label Deathwish Inc who, at the time, were THE label in modern hardcore and Trash Talk would end up with them. Trash Talk would have a falling out with the label and walk out of Deathwish Inc, thumbing their noses at the outfit on their way out.

Here's where the story takes off: the band's next LP, which was already written, was ready to record. For the effort, the band enlisted the services of Chicago hardcore legend / music industry legend Steve Albini to produce it. Instead of Deathwish Inc, the band opted to self-release it and, in turn, made the best decision of their career. The album was the band's declaration that they were far from done. To drop their strongest effort to date as a free agent made them highly sought after. After that, the offers for gigs and tours as well as other opportunities kept pouring in.

Here's the thing about hardcore that a lot of people don't get: it is as much an anchor to a band as it is a community. Hardcore has a ceiling and, at some point, you will hit it. When that happens, then what? That's why so many bands sell out by transforming or caricaturing when they get to the ceiling. Trash Talk is the exception to the rule. From their demo to now, you can still say it's Trash Talk. There are no eras, no gimmicks, no tectonic shifts. More to the point, the fact that they've reached the level of success that they have without having to make any dramatic changes says a lot.

What Trash Talk was able to do with each release was add nuance to it as opposed to transform or caricature. So instead of a dramatic change or dilution, the band would just change it up a little. Maybe bass player Spencer Pollard would do more vocals on a song or vocalist Lee Spielman would change up his flow / delivery or guitarist Garrett Stevenson would try different pacing. The point is that they used nuanced understanding of their own personal influences on the band and always made sure to do enough to keep things fresh without actually hurting Trash Talk itself. Imagine a sushi chef, whose job is preparing delicate dishes, who uses knives and precise technique to ensure that the meal is perfect. Trash Talk has done the same with their music.

Trash Talk are not sell outs. They gave hardcore kids the model for success. The band tours the world and play wild, sold out gigs everywhere they go. They get to make a living off playing hardcore music. Above all else, they never compromised themselves to do it. When you talk about the ethos of hardcore punk and what is punk and what is selling out, evaluate Trash Talk's history and conduct and score it all. What you arrive at is one of hardcore punk's biggest success stories, not another sell out story.

Included is Walking Disease EP, Plagues EP, self-titled LP, Awake EP, East of Eden single, and their 2008 United Blood live set.

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