Trust: The Legends Of Joyland
Robert Alfons on going solo, touring Europe and recording Joyland
Robert Alfons and Maya Postepski formed Trust back in January 2010 and seemed to make all the right moves from the very beginning. Four months after becoming a band, the dark synth-pop duo was opening for Washed Out at a sold out Wrongbar, which lead to some more big shows, a great EP on the label Sacred Bones, and eventually their highly acclaimed debut album, TRST, on Arts & Crafts in 2012. Maya left the group to focus on her solo stuff and continue her work with Austra, leaving Robert to his own devices on Trust’s second album Joyland.
Being a solo act hasn't stopped Alfons' creative flow at all. The sophomore album finds the dreamy eyed, baritone crooner writing with a much clearer vision, stepping out of the dark clouds of his debut to reveal sides of himself we haven't seen before. Leaning on a more pop focused sound, with lots of thump and silky, smooth production, Joyland still retains a bit of that mystery, opening the door to old heartbreak and new feelings, some of which Robert is still trying to reconcile. It's a journey filled with fun and fantasy, a climatic dance record accessible to late night moves, sexual glances, and the occasional dancefloor sobbing, if you feel so inclined.
Right before leaving for a two month European tour, we chatted briefly with Robert about touring in Europe, recording Joyland, emotional music, and how video games influenced the making of the new record.
Noisey: So you’re headed back to Europe soon?
Robert Alfons: I’ll be in Europe for 2 months this tour. It’s gonna be a long one. I’m excited to go to some new places, especially in Eastern Europe.
Do you get a chance to experience any of the nightlife when you’re there?
Oh yeah! When I was in Berlin, I got to go to the Berghain, which is this crazy warehouse club. The sound is incredible. It feels like the clubs from movies you’d watch as a kid. It’s really fun!
How are the shows received over there?
Good! It always seemed be the less obvious cities for me. I had a great time when I was in the Ukraine over in Kiev. Kiev is not a hub that a lot of musician’s tour through, but people were super excited to see the show and the city itself is very beautiful. The shows have taken on really well in Europe. Not to say the shows aren’t great in the States, but in Europe the fans are just a lot crazier. That could just because they’re all crazy partiers, but who knows. I feel like they just digest the music a bit differently than North American audiences do.
They kind of understand it more, as where over here people may sort of question exactly what it is I’m doing with this project. In Europe, electronic music is so nuance. You can’t just say techno over there because that means so many different things. In North America there’s umbrellas that encompass so many types of music that sometimes things are often complied into one type/genre. The European electronic music scene spans over 20 years, so their relationship to this music is much different.
What’s your headspace like when you’re on break from tour and back in Toronto?
I’ve been away from Toronto for a while and everything is still sort of in transition. This is a whole new life than I had 3 years ago. That being said, I love Toronto. It feels so peaceful when I’m here and the more I travel I always think about how lucky I am to live in such an amazing city. I’d say were all pretty lucky actually.
What are some of your earliest memories of dance music?
Early-mid 90’s dance music for sure. Stuff like: Pet Shop Boys, Ace Of Base, Much Dance compilations. It was basically anything my sister could her hands on or what you’d hear on Much Music.
In your opinion, what are some key ingredients needed to make the perfect dance track?
The one thing I’d say for sure is emotion. I think emotional music is what I connect with, whether it’s dance music, electronic, or anything really. I think that’s the key, it’s what really draws me in. I’d say that and the melody play a big part of it for sure.
What was your vision for Joyland?
This record is about furthering a lot of the initial themes in Trust. I consciously made the first record sort of be one mood. This time around, I really wanted to focus on letting out different pieces of my personality that people don’t already know about.
How did Maya’s departure affect this record? Did you feel like you had to do something different now that you’re solo?
No it didn’t affect the record at all. I think just in general I had other things I was influenced by. A lot of these new sounds were on the horizon years ago. Even for the first record, there was a lot of stuff I set out to try and explore, sounds I wanted to immerse myself in and experiment with. I felt comfortable enough to explore these sounds on the new record.
How do you feel you’ve grown as a musician while writing this new record?
Technically, I’m not a drummer and the rhythm section in music is not something I have a long history with. I think those are things I experimented with and consciously tried to get better at. I still write a lot of stuff on piano, which is how a lot of the first record was written, so even learning stuff like programming was really important for me too. I let a lot of shades of my vocals come through that I didn’t on the first record. I’ve been trying to take care of my voice more so I could perform with it properly. Beyond that, I don’t know. I think there’s been some emotional growth too. I feel like there was a lot of crazy things I was trying to get over and that first record was a way of me dealing with it. I think Joyland helped me get over it completely.
Because the first record was so dark, was it important for you showcase a happier sound with the new material?
For me, it was a natural progression. I wasn’t ready to carry out a lot of those ideas the first time around and now I am. It’s not even so black and white. There are definitely still feelings and elements associated with the first record on this one. A lot of it was written in minor chords and there’s still a sadness and introspectiveness to it that remains in tact. I knew I wasn’t going to make that last record again, but I also wanted to make sure I showcased some different feelings on these tracks.
As an artist debuting a newer sound, what are some important things to consider when picking that first single?
I’m such a fool when it comes to picking singles. It can be really; really hard to decide which is the right one to start with. “Rescue, Mister” was just a really good showcase of Joyland. There are so many different moods on the album and that song just seemed like the perfect track to start things off with.
In your mind, what would Joyland be like in a nightclub setting?
It’d be like a video game.
Yeah. This album channels some of my fondest memories playing video games as a kid.
What are some of your favorite video games?
I really love Harvest Moon for Nintendo 64. The music is awesome in that game. I love Donkey Kong Country for Super Nintendo, which also has one of the best soundtracks of all time. Those are the ones from my childhood. The Legend Of Zelda continues to be pivotal in gaming and again nailing it every time with the soundtrack.
You seem to really like video game soundtracks.
I’m super inspired by all those video game soundtracks. I love them because the resources they had to make them were so primitive and they still managed to do some incredible things with them.
What type of video game would you do a soundtrack for?
Probably something more fantasy based, but it’s hard to say. There are so many amazing games. I’d love to write stuff for all of them. You sat on Trust demos for a little bit before first unveiling the project back in 2010.
Thinking back on it now, do you think it was important to wait a bit when you were first starting out?
It really depends on the person. I put out those initial demos and a few months later played my first show. I think I was just so new to performing and programming electronic music, I felt like that was just the pace I needed to work at. You can take so much more time. The Knife takes almost 10 years to put out an album. That’s not to say they aren’t writing the whole time, but I can see how being patient and taking your time can be really healthy for a new project in the long run
Max Mohenu is a writer living in Toronto. He's on Twitter.