It’s Troc Time, Baby
The New Trocaderos should be quite familiar to readers of this blog. They consist of Geoffrey Palmer and Brad Marino of The Connection, and Kurt Baker. Their “debut” two-sided single, released in late-2013, was reviewed here. One of those songs, “The Kids,” made my list of the best 30 songs of 2014. Their 2014 EP, Kick Your Ass, was reviewed here, and made my list of the best 10 EPs of 2014. They also have scored two “Coolest Songs” on Little Steven’s Underground Garage. [You can hear the double-sided single here, and the EP here.]
Kook Kat Musik is distributing a “compilation” EP — released by Uncle Mike’s RnR — containing the five previously released songs, while including a new track, “Luckiest Man In The World,” another bristling slice of hook-filled rockin’ pop rooted deeply in the British Invasion and garage rock sounds of the 1960s. Like the five prior Troc tracks, “Luckiest” bears the indelible stamp of its primary songwriter, Michael Chaney, who has a penchant for penning short, memorable lines, like the key lyric in “Luckiest”: “Robber shot a bullet straight at his head/Bullet took a U-turn, killed the robber instead/He’s the luckiest man in the world.”
Chaney is a Los Angeles-based criminal defense lawyer who had no professional songwriting experience before the Trocs recorded six of his songs. I had a chance to speak with him about the genesis of his alternate career, his influences, and what the future may hold for him and the Trocs.
Q. You live in Los Angeles. How did an older (sorry) West Coast guy, a lawyer no less, get hooked up with young New England musicians?
A. About three years ago I went looking for new music and by random chance stumbled upon Kurt Baker’s songs, and they knocked me out. I’d already checked out many hundreds of songs from a couple hundred bands and was about to give up on finding anything truly stellar. I bought all of Kurt’s music and out of the blue I got an email from him thanking me.
Not being aware then of what indie artists need to do these days to promote themselves — I found out later just how tough the indie scene really is — I was blown away that such a talented guy had taken the time to write to a single fan, which I told him. We started talking rock ‘n’ roll and it turned out that a lot of my influences were his influences, too, despite our considerable age difference, and he was every bit as well versed in the music as people who came up with Buddy Holly and Elvis and the great ‘60s bands. Aside from having The Beatles, The Stones, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, The Who, and others, in common, I’d seen Rockpile at The Roxy and The Knack a half-dozen times, Elvis Costello and The Ramones at The Whisky in the ’70s, and a lot of other small club gigs back in the day, and Kurt was fascinated. I think he felt he was born about 30 years too late.
Q. Geoff Palmer and Brad Marino are the other New Trocaderos. How did you get to know them?
A. I asked Kurt if any other indie bands were making great new music and he recommended The Connection. At that point, The Connection only had New England’s Newest Hit Makers out. I listened to it and was floored. I mean, if those songs had been released in the sixties in England I have no doubt they’d have been Top Ten Hits. I bought the EP and Geoff Palmer wrote back. I told him Kurt turned me on to his band, and found out Geoff also plays guitar in Kurt’s band. Geoff and I started e-mailing. He had the same influences, too, as did Brad Marino, Geoff’s songwriting partner, although Geoff is more a Beatles guy and Brad is more into The Stones.
Q. What happened next?
A. I found out that Kurt, Geoff and Brad, aside from being extremely knowledgeable about rock music history, are terrific people. Very funny, upbeat guys, and very committed to real rock ‘n’ roll. You’ll never see them copping out to get ahead or to get a record deal. They play it the way they feel it and that’s that. They don’t care that they’re “out of step” with what passes for popular music these days.
In other words, they have musical integrity, along with great musical taste. So I liked them personally, and I wanted to help them get the recognition they deserve. I did some legal work for both bands, but as a criminal defense lawyer I wasn’t well versed in music law. But I have a buddy who is — a guy named Doug Mark who’s the lawyer for Epitaph Records and a long list of household name bands — and he’s been very gracious with his time and expertise. And I’ve learned a lot. And notwithstanding that I’m not tight with many heavies in the LA music scene, I’ve been doing what I can to try to get the guys the break they deserve, notwithstanding that a lot of people who should know better keep ignoring me.
Q. Has anything come from that?
A. Not nearly as much as their talent warrants, but so far, the biggest coup was getting The Connection booked to play a huge event sponsored by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I got a home-made “best of ” CD to Greg Harris, the CEO of the Rock Hall, and he listened and liked the music enough to OK hiring the band to play for 1,000 Rock Hall VIPS at the Rock Hall’s annual Spring Benefit last year. I drafted a press release to tout the event.
The gig was at the Cleveland Auditorium, the same venue where The Beatles, Stones, The Who, etc., all had played. Hall and Oates played later that evening to a packed house. The Connection went over really well. There was a big success with Kurt, too, but there’s a confidentiality agreement in place that prohibits me from talking about it. Except to say that the result validated the exceptional level of Kurt’s songwriting.
Also, Brad and Geoff, especially Brad, are huge Ramones fans. I happened to be friends with Ed Stasium, who either engineered or produced (or both) The Ramones best albums, so I arranged for Ed to mix and master a Connection song. Ed ended up writing and playing the guitar solo on it, too. The song was “Gonna Leave You.” That went over well with Brad and the band. Another little coup was hooking Kurt up with The Dahlmanns and The Dahlmanns up with Ed Stasium. Andre Dahlmann is a huge Ramones fan and he’d said he’d love to work with Ed. Kurt had written a song years ago for an Italian all-girl band to record, but they broke up before that happened. Kurt sent it to The Dahlmanns, who recorded it. Ed produced, mixed, and mastered it, and it ended up being a Coolest Song in the World at The Underground Garage. That was “He’s A Drag.” So that deal was very cool all the way around.
Q. How did The New Trocaderos come about?
A. As we got to know each other better, Geoff and Brad began sending demos of new Connection songs, and we’d go back and forth talking about lyric changes and instrumentation. Along the way, I mentioned that over the years I’d written some lyrics and melodies. Geoff asked me to send them to him. I told Geoff I’d give him $50 if he did a demo for me. That’s all I wanted, a recording of one of my songs, “Money Talks” — even a crude one. But the next thing I knew, Brad and Geoff and Kurt said they wanted to record the song, which I had written for fun 30 years earlier. Their idea was to blow my mind as a way of saying thanks for me trying to help them advance their careers.
Q. When did you become a songwriter?
A. I never thought of myself in that way. I can barely play basic guitar and have a horrible singing voice. But ever since I was a kid I’ve been putting lyrics to melodies. I remember hearing “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Get Off Of My Cloud” and “Satisfaction” on AM radio and not being able to tell what the hell Mick was singing . . . at least on the verses. So I’d make up words that seemed to fit. From that habit came ideas for lines or verses or song titles, but I never paid attention to them and usually forgot what I’d come up with. “Money Talks” I did write down, probably because I thought it was funny.
Q. How about the other song on the first New Trocoderos EP?
A. The guys decided they needed a second song to record and I wrote “The Kids.” I have only a vague idea where it came from. But once I got started it seemed to almost write itself. Geoff especially was pushing me to write down ideas, not to forget them, and to finish ideas, to really try to write songs, so I started doing that. Without his enthusiasm and encouragement, I probably would have just gone on amusing myself, coming up with things then forgetting them. I mean, I’m a lawyer, not a songwriter. Who am I kidding? That was my state of mind until a couple years ago and Geoff turned up the heat on me.
Q. What was it like being in the studio with the band?
A. For the first EP, I wasn’t there. Geoff and Kurt had done demos and we tweaked the songs via text messages and e-mails until we all felt they were tight. Kurt, Brad, and Geoff then went into the studio, The Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and knocked them off like the pros they are. They played all the instruments.
Brad is a rhythm and lead guitar player in The Connection, but he can play drums, too, and did so (really well) on that first New Trocs EP. He was channeling Charlie Watts. Kurt primarily is a bassist, but he played rhythm guitar on both songs.
Then, Dean Baltulonis, the engineer, and I exchanged a bunch of emails and phone calls about the mixes and finally the songs were done.
Let me tell you, it was thrilling, from start to finish. I mean, my days usually are spent on serious things, from misdemeanors to murder cases, and it was so refreshing to be involved in something creative with such great players. And then after the songs were recorded, to compare the original half-formed ideas with the finished songs was revelatory. Just the greatest buzz you can imagine.
Q. The EP was well received. That must have given you a boost.
A. Yes, a huge boost. The EP got good reviews, including here at Pop That Goes Crunch (thank you again). Then out of nowhere Steve Van Zandt picked “The Kids” as a Coolest Song in the World, which totally knocked me out, and also played “Money Talks” on his Underground Garage station. The Connection already had had a bunch of Coolest Songs and Kurt had had one at that point, but I never expected that The New Trocs would get that kind of recognition.
Q. So the band was on a roll.
A. Yes, absolutely. The New Trocs had started out as a “one-off” kind of deal, but the EP sold out and the guys wanted to do another one. So last September they recorded three new songs, and we released “Kick Your Ass.” This time we got Craig Sala to play drums and Kris “Fingers” Rodgers to play keys. Both those guys are total pros, too. Both graduated from Berklee School of Music in Boston, and are veterans of a number of bands. And both had played with Kurt and with The Connection. They’re all tight buddies who help each other out whenever one of them asks.
Q. Where did the new songs come from?
A. “Real Gone Kitty” I wrote years ago, and forgot about. My old friend, Bill Bartlett, inspired it. Bill’s best known for “Black Betty” (that’s him on guitar and vocals), and for “Green Tambourine” (he was in The Lemon Pipers), but his heart never left the late ’50s and Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Elvis.
“Dream Girl” was written last year. Geoff did the demos for it and added a lot of great touches, so he and I share the writing credit. Geoff sings that one and really nails it.
“Brain Gone Dead” I wrote as a joke 35 years ago at the height of the punk scene here in LA, inspired by the Karen Ann Quinlan controversy. Brad did the demo and came up with the killer music for it, so he and I share credit on that one.
Q. Kick Your Ass also was well received.
A. Yes, the blog reviews and the Goldmine Magazine review (thank you John Borack) have been terrific, and Little Steven struck again by making “Dream Girl” a Coolest Song in the World in early January. I’m told The Underground Garage also will be adding “Brain Gone Dead.”
It’s totally mind-blowing to me, but on the other hand, I’m really glad that Brad and Geoff and Kurt are getting some of the credit and recognition they deserve. They recorded all the songs with minimal rehearsal in only a few takes. They’re total pros and I’m thrilled for them. I’m not kidding myself; those guys get the credit for the New Trocs’ success.
Q. Were you there for the recording sessions this time?
A. Yes, I flew back and spent a week hanging out with those wild men and their girlfriends and pals. They were all totally cool. It was a tremendous amount of fun. Unlike Kurt and Craig, though, who slept on Geoff’s floor, I stayed at a hotel. Ha-ha. This time it was so much easier to get the songs together than it was the first time around. Two hours of rehearsal and two days in the studio and all three songs were recorded, overdubbed, tweaked, mixed, and done.
Craig Sala nailed the drums, no problem, and Kris Rodgers is a virtuoso on keys. On “Brain Gone Dead” we wanted a cheesy Farfisa sound, and on “Dream Girl” we wanted a Garth Hudson sounding organ, and Kris got both, one take each. He’d stopped in the studio on the way to a gig and was there for about 90 minutes total. He did those two organ parts and the piano on “Kitty” in that time, and much of the 90 minutes was spent just shootin’ the breeze.
Q. Where did the band name come from?
I’d always thought that the word Trocadero sounded cool. I think it was the name of an LA gangster nightclub in the ’40s. It might still be around. Since the Trocs was a side band for Kurt and Geoff and Brad, I added “New” to it, like Keith and Woody did with The New Barbarians. And also in case there happened already to be a band called The Trocaderos. It was funny; when Steve Van Zandt talked about “The Kids,” the first thing he said was, “But who were the old Trocaderos?”
Q. The band has a new EP out on CD.
A. Yes, it’s a sort of compilation CD called Frenzy In The Hips that’s out on Kool Kat Musik. Doing it was the idea of Ray Gianchetti, the guy who runs Kool Kat.
The CD contains the five previously issued songs and a new one done very recently called “Luckiest Man in the World” that Geoff recorded and produced. Geoff did the demo and made the song come alive with some great touches, so he’s a co-writer. Kurt emailed his bass and background vocal tracks in from Madrid. He lives most of the time there now, where he plays to packed houses. The Spanish and the Italians love him and power pop generally, much more than Americans seem to. And they love The Connection over there, too. Frenzy is due out on February 6th. It’ll be the only place where people can get all six Trocs songs on one disc.
Q. What’s your takeaway from this whole experience?
A. As I mentioned earlier, one shocking thing I’ve found out is that it almost doesn’t matter to today’s music industry how good a band’s music might be, which I find to be un-effin-believable. In the old days, as you know, A&R guys would hear a promising band in a club and sign them and bring them along and hope the band panned out. The labels were leaders, and at least some of the TV people were leaders. They turned the country on to new music.
Now, it’s the opposite. Bands like The Connection and The Kurt Baker Band and The Dahlmanns, another favorite of mine, and others, can make truly great music and go largely ignored. My friend Doug Mark filled me in on this sad and shocking reality and it took a long time for me to get my mind around it fully.
But it’s true. I mean, if Meet The Beatles were self-released now and it didn’t result in 25,000 You Tube hits and huge self-generated sales, the people with the power would ignore the band.
So today’s indie bands are in a real bind. It’s very hard to reach broad audiences without some kind of backing, which almost no indie band has. Most of the young players I know of have day jobs. They have to, to pay the rent. They don’t have money to saturate America, or even their hometown, with advertising and promotions. They just make the best music they can and when they’ve saved a few bucks they release it and socially promote it and hope for the best.
So nowadays, how good a band’s music might be is almost irrelevant. A band making crap music that somehow has a lot of followers has a much better chance of getting signed than the band that’s releasing killer music. The big question for me is, when is someone with money and/or power going to wake up and realize that the best music being created today is going largely unheard, and do something about it. Aren’t there any leaders left in the music industry?
Q. If the odds are so long, why do you think all these indie pop/rock bands keep releasing music?
A. I think the short answer is that they love what they’re doing. You tell me, but I assume that’s the reason why you run your blog and do your radio show. You love the music. Being engaged with the kind of music you love is all the reward you need.
Geoff and Brad just wrote a song for The Connection that talks about this issue. It’s called “Labor of Love” (it’s terrific, by the way), and it says it all in a nutshell. Bands write and record and play it like they feel it, and that, in and of itself, makes it all worthwhile. It’s honest, it feels good, it’s exciting. If they get airplay or recognition of some kind, that’s a bonus, but they don’t expect it.
Q. What’s next for The New Trocaderos?
A. The guys want to record a full LP, in June, when Kurt’s back from Madrid for a few weeks. I have 8 originals I’m working on, and the band wants to do a few covers, too, probably 4. And we may try to do a Christmas song or two to release in November.
Q. Any final thoughts?
A. Rock ‘n’ roll is the great unifier. I’m in my 60s and Brad and Kurt and Fingers are 28. Geoff is 35. They’re either one or two generations behind me, yet when we talk music, age means nothing. I learn a lot from them. I really value their friendship. And it never would have come about were it not for a shared love of the best music ever recorded, British Invasion-style rock ‘n’ roll and power pop.