Scouting a Deal

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

The band members are quiet, and follow the process intensely. When the music swoops up into the more straightahead pop melody that propels the rest of the song, they start to talk again. "Man, I fucking love this band," says Sanford. "My dream is to tour with them." Asked the standard influences question, the band cites, in order of importance, the Flaming Lips, the Beatles and Archers of Loaf. Oh, yeah--and Devo and Kiss, for live shows.

"We're not one of those bands whose idea of dressing for a gig is deciding what tee shirt to put on," says Sanford. Trunk Federation stagewear ranges from matching Hawaiian shirts to gas-station overalls, and Sanford changes sunglasses about five times a set, Elton John-style.

The band also has a penchant for Easter Island-head Christmas lights and other odd stage props--like the silver-sequined mannequin head that spins in place on the top of Sanford's amp stack. And no critic will ever be able to slap Trunk Fed with the "shoegazer" label--the band plays barefoot, except for Frostin. "I have hobbit feet," he explains.

Trunk Fed has faced criticism from local musicians who've accused the band of eclipsing the music with its live show, but the band makes no apologies for the flashy presentation, or the high-gloss polish of its sound. Once the band is active in the national indie-rock scene, the two factors will likely bring it under even more fire for defying the no-frills approach and stridently anticommercial sound that determines a band's "indie cred." Kennedy could care less.

"Indie cred is bullshit. When punk rock started, it was like the bottom of the barrel hanging out together. And all the ugly girls went punk rock. And it got popular, and all the pretty women tried to make themselves ugly so they could be punk rock, too.

"That's what indie credibility is. Bands are supposed to make themselves suck enough that the music snobs like you. It's ridiculous."

Kennedy stops to point out the blue orb of Venus rising over a moonscape rock formation about a mile ahead. The conversation changes tack to the recent shift in the band's sound. "We're starting to move out of phase one--all those full, heavy-feedback pop songs--but we'll keep playing them, and we want to get them down on the first record."

Phase two, the band says, is turning out to be more mellow and experimental. "The kind of stuff where the first time they hear it, the audience will just be sort of standing there looking at us when we're done," says Andreas. "It's less immediate." There will still be hooks, Sanford says, they just won't be as huge or sharp. "We'll always stay on the perimeter of pop sensibility."

The word around the Valley music scene is that Trunk Federation is named after Winnie Ruth Judd, Phoenix's infamous "trunk killer," who in 1931 killed two women and dismembered one and packed the body parts into steamer trunks which she took with her on a train to L.A. (Judd got busted when one of the trunks started to stink and leak blood.)

But Andreas says he just stuck the words together at practice one day and thought they sounded good. Once the rumor got started, however, the band gleefully helped it along--Trunk Federation's first local single was titled "Winnie," and several Trunk Fed songs contain oblique references to the murders, such as "chop you up into little parts" from "Young Cherry Trees."

Andreas, who writes all his lyrics by free association, says he doesn't know where the word "trunk" came bubbling from. But "federation" was a clear nod to the band's tight interpersonal and creative bonds, which he says were an almost instant mesh.

"It's been this lineup or nothing since the beginning," he says. "And now it feels pretty crazy. I mean, it's all working. We've come to the turning point where now we have to quit our jobs and say, 'Well, we got what we wanted. It looks like we're going to be together in a band for a long time."

Just past the California border, Frostin spots the lights of several off-road vehicles sparkling like fireflies on a distant set of dunes. He suggests the band use a version of the image for its first video. "It'd be a good excuse to rent some dune buggies."

Trunk Federation is scheduled to perform on Friday, April 26, at Hollywood Alley in Mesa, with Beatrice Nine, and Shallow. Showtime is 9 p.m.

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