Following on from the band’s debut album, Sandman, released earlier in 2019, Oliver Taylor walks us through the record’s pillow-headed paradise and towards a new musical world yet to be shaped.
Wake early enough and you’ll find a circuit of joggers making their way around the Sefton Park perimeter. The daily ritual is as much about fitness as it is about an understanding of self. Not all make their way around at the same speed. It’s sometimes the slowest that return with the greatest discovery on that given day. At least this is the case for Oliver Taylor, a sort of stray amongst the pack.
Wake earlier than most and you might come across him drawing his own circuit of the wooded area. It’s a personal (albeit quite recent) ritual no less integral to self-understanding, inspiration and capability, even if its undertaken at a walking pace. Rather than keep an eye on time, the TRUDY AND THE ROMANCE frontman is there to relieve a sense of restriction. A place where new songwriting ideas are being finely tuned internally while all others are tuning all things cardiovascular. New songs, he says, that lend inspiration from the singer-songwriter greats – Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush. “Something you could maybe tell around the fire,” he notes. “Cosy little stories, perhaps a little bit deeper. Somewhere beyond the fantasy.” Maybe somewhere beyond from the celestial doo-wop stylings the band had come to perfect.
Foregoing a punctual agreement with the sunrise, it’s closer to midday by the time we meet beside the park and amble around its paths and discuss the fantasy of his band’s debut album, Sandman, released in May. The current backdrop might not reflect the rhythmic lineage of inner-city doo-wop; a genre that would be at home tapping its foot around the craning streets of 1950s New York. But the band’s depiction of the genre is as much space-age as it is heritage filled. There’s a clear escapist sentiment to Trudy’s music.
In the collage of croons, harmonies and train-track rattle of guitar, it feels like the music has been trapped in an old transistor radio where it stewed, warped and mutated for decades, before being released from its dust encrusted capture with a zest for contemporary life. The album was a present force, but seemingly elsewhere in its pining and desire. Looking at the 12 tracks through the prism of Taylor’s newfound meandering, the pensive space of the park provides a suitable fit for the seemingly upbeat songwriting.
Turn the clock back three years and Trudy arrived in Liverpool via Leeds. It took Olly, Brad and Lew less than a year to carve out their own scene, alongside Her’s and Pink Kink. It owed much to their boyish knack for tunes hardwired with moonlit melodies and delivered with a Brylcreem slickness. The combination marked them out as an intriguing oddball, but one with a distinct talent. They were the slicked-back slackers, howling under a neon light wired into their amplifiers. A slew of singles and an EP in 2017, Junkyard Jazz, helped retain their presence, before the release of the anticipated full-length record.
“We started writing the album quite a long time ago,” Taylor tells me from within his flat, just a short walk from the park. We’re perched at a table by the living room window, each adorning socks of the jazzier variety. Although my cautious grey with stripe is easily trumped by his patchwork ensemble of red, yellow and blue, picked up in Hamburg on tour only a few days earlier. “We’d been sitting on some songs for a long time, so we decided that Sandman was going to be a concept record,” he informs. “The early singles – My Baby’s Gone Away and Sandman – they sort of told their own stories. They were quite theatrical. I thought they could be amid other songs similarly theatrical and that carried an emotion through the storyline.”
The concept saw the record spread across a double-sided narrative. Side A introduces the listener to the character of the Sandman, a sort of keeper of people’s dreams. Or the “bad guy of love”, as Taylor puts it. “The idea was to have side B slip into dreams, which I think happened quite naturally where the songs turn a little bit more psychedelic.” Aiming for a concept album is an ambitious step for a debut record. However, in doing so, it opened up for exploration of a theme that had been brewing in well-worn songs.
“It added a greater theatre to it,” he agrees. “Therefore, it was consciously quite cartoon. It gave us the space to get away with more, to create more. You could sing in certain ways, say anything really in terms of lyrics. We aimed to push the barriers of the narrative, without being too cheesy.”
The cartoon, doo-wop pastiche typifies much of the band’s music. Even the fantasia smattering of colours on his socks seem to take cues from the music’s visual palette. Through this you can see the connectors to the 1950s aren’t solely in the barbershop refrains, the baited melodic hooks led with such endearing charm that even the most timid voices would struggle not be pulled into harmony. Sandman draws in all of the throbbing colours of post-war US advertising. Its soundtrack has the smoky charm of a teenager trying their luck in a suit three sizes too big. The hopeless intent eventually bowls you over with its sweet bubblegum pop. “It’s sort of autobiographical,” Taylor underlines. “It was meant to be a bit of a break-up album,” he adds, musing on the authenticity of the record’s fictional narrative. “The themes and memories weren’t all so recent. It had to be stretched out a bit. There was a tongue in cheek element to it, harking back to an age that shaped your future. I wanted it be sort of like the Ziggy Stardust approach, pretending to be famous before you were.”
You can detect that the record’s atmosphere stems from a rekindling of youthful ambition, a belief blinded by the alluring haze of cartoon innocence. “For us it was like amplifying all of our experiences to appear as though we’ve lost ourselves in this new world. When you record anything with music, any sort of lyric, it becomes real in a sense. It becomes more powerful. You really can become anything when you put it down on to record, even if you don’t feel like you’re worthy of saying it.”
Generating a hospitable world for the music required adding new layers of atmosphere. Moving away from the DIY, lo-fi aesthetic of Junkyard Jazz and the releases that proceeded it, the record builds around luscious arrangement with the added reverberations of a session choir. The finished product was to be something much more cinematic than previously produced. At very least a feature length cartoon. Taylor notes the addition of Alex Stephens (Strawberry Guy) – who played keys on the record – as a catalyst for the music’s dreamier, pillow-headed aesthetic. “It naturally softened everything up,” Taylor attests. “We wanted to instil an attitude that was inspired by Pet Sounds and take a calm approach. Instead of struggling through it, we wanted to be a bit more in control. I’d like to think you can listen to it a lot more. It’s not quite so intrusive. It’s just more in charge of itself, with the hope of being a little bit more timeless.”
Much of Sandman was recorded in 2018. Come its release, the make up of the band had shifted from its original line-up of Brad on drums, Lew on bass, and, more recently, Alex on keys. All three are no longer part of the set-up. Now, the band takes the form of a touring five-piece. At the centre remains Taylor. The great singer-songwriters he mentioned earlier are strewn across the walls of his flat and serve as the ideal company for a new solo written endeavour.
“Me, Brad and Lew had played together for five years, so it was really important for the album to be our album,” he starts, assuring how Sandman will always be a reflection of the earlier incarnation of the band. “For the record we took on the form of fictional band The Original Doo-Wop Spacemen. From them we’d move on to something else.”
Similar to the runners that pass him most mornings, the musical set-up hinges on control. Being the sole architect of a fantasy landscape may, in turn, lead to urges of being the sole engineer implementing design. “Having that control is quite a sad thing, because you want to have that approach and turn up and doing everything together, but it’s realising how you do it. And I think I’ve realised how I want to do it.” Taylor’s expression is one of self-understanding. It is clearly a painful acceptance to relinquish the world of the original doo-wop spacemen, but seemingly the only viable route. “I would really like to be open with songwriting. I will be. You want to respect people and their instruments and what they’ve got to give. But it’s important not to confuse things and promise things that you cannot give away. They had their own projects [Brad Stank, Terry Venomous, Strawberry Guy] that were quite different, and I don’t think I was really quite understanding of that. I had this kind of Beatles outlook where somewhere down the line we’d all write a song each on the album. But it wasn’t there straight away. I think they were smart about that, so would write for themselves.”
Now in a more defined position of writing for himself, Trudy is in a new phase. “It’s a bit like take two now,” as he puts it. Taylor will remain the frontiersman, striding away into new lands with an equally cinematic score. The effort to sculpt music with its own atmosphere, aura and colour palette will remain. It’s just perhaps the hues might not be as bright and luminous as before. And much of this, as he admits, is the departure from innocence, or “growing up and taking responsibility for who you are”. The departure of the bright-eyed fascination and boyish swagger that carried Trudy towards the album. Now he’s going someplace else, somewhere new. “Maybe somewhere where I can understand myself a little bit better.”