Scouting a Deal

Quirky modern rockers Trunk Federation have a recording contract in the bag

"I put two or three grams of coke in a can of Mountain Dew and drank it," he says. "I had a seizure. They pulled over the bus and I remember kind of coming out of it with the bus stopped. And I remember being on the bus for the whole rest of the ride with all these people staring at me, and I was like, 'Man, I have had it with this.'"

A few days after the band got back to Phoenix from San Diego, Andreas would say he thinks part of the reason he got so sick is that his immune system is in tatters from five years of abuse. Andreas says he has been clean since 1990.

Knowing the condition Trunk Fed's singer was in at the Brick by Brick show made watching it excruciating and exhilarating at the same time--like viewing a high-wire act. At any minute, you expected Andreas to fall on his face; you couldn't help but take joy in the spectacle, because somehow he was pulling it off. Andreas made it through six songs of the band's ten-song set, then hastily called "last song." The band burst into "Jello," its trademark show closer. After the last shouted chorus, Andreas muttered "bonsoir" into the mike and shuffled offstage. Once outside, he sank down and started dry-heaving. It would be 36 hours before he could eat. Inside, the unsuspecting crowd was abuzz. It had been a good set.

The Recording Deal
Trunk Federation's rise in the Valley music scene has been steady but hardly meteoric since it formed in the summer of 1994. Last year, the band cut two seven-inch vinyl singles that sold a few hundred copies each and got scattered college-radio play. By the late fall of '95, Trunk Fed had generated a critical mass of local fans, and started playing isolated shows in Tucson and Southern California. Then, in December, the band got its break. His name was Rajan.

Rajan was an intern for Alias Records at the time. He was also promoting a show in Phoenix by the Poster Children and Alias stars Archers of Loaf, and hired Trunk Federation to open. After the gig, Rajan told the band he liked its style and said he could get a tape to the right people at Alias.

"You play shows and it seems like every night someone comes up to you and says, 'Look, I know someone, you should give me a tape,'" says Andreas. "Which is fine--you give everybody a tape. We just happened across someone who actually gave it to someone who actually listened to it."

An Alias A&R rep called the band in early January, asking for a schedule of live dates. Trunk Federation was booked the next weekend for an L.A. club called the Fabulous Foothills, and Andreas invited the label out. The audience was small that night, the band remembers, but the show was tight and the vibe was good. Several women did cartwheels in front of the stage. Delight Jenkins was there. "They grabbed me," she says. "I sign only what I like, and I liked this band."

Two weeks later, Trunk Federation was looking at a "deal memo"--a draft document of proposed terms that's the first solid step to a contract offer. Under the advice of the band's manager, Gloria Cavalera, the band started negotiating. Then Trunk Fed landed a highly competitive showcase spot at South by Southwest, an annual rock conference in Austin, Texas, and other labels--including heavy hitters Atlantic and A&M--started putting out feelers. Atlantic later sent a deal memo.

Not that Trunk Federation ever wanted to play major-league ball--fatter advance money or not. "A major will offer you more money up front, but the thing is, if your record doesn't take off, they're like, 'Sorry, man, we can't afford you. You're dropped,'" says Andreas. "With an indie, say you do a record and it only sells 10,000 units. They're like, 'That's cool, let's try again.' They take the time and effort to grow a band. It's a custom job. And there's less of a chance that you were just a tax write-off to begin with."

Trunk Federation and Cavalera publicly played their cards close to the vest up to and after SXSW, but Alias was the band's label of choice from the outset. Whereas most labels today--major and otherwise--take a shotgun approach to signing bands (launch 100 and hope one hits the bull's eye), Alias plays sharpshooter. Jenkins says Trunk Federation will be the first band Alias signs this year.

The label struck gold last year with a smash album by the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, band Archers of Loaf, whose sound is in the same rough genre as Trunk Federation's eccentric brand of power pop.

Trunk Fed plays guitar rock. But it's extremely intricate, highly contagious guitar rock, motivated by multiple hooks, shout-along choruses and whiplash dynamics. The band is extremely tight, able to go from screaming loud to dead silence in a finger snap. When he's not firing off a heavy riff in unison with Andreas, Sanford accents a song with quirky wah-wah squawks and tracers of feedback. "You have to be nimble at the volume we deal with," he says. "But anytime you're turned up that loud, things are going to be a little sloppy, a little slack. You've got a genie on a leash."

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