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For much of 1999, word was that the seeming demise of pop eclectics Trunk Federation had been the result of two main factors, the first being lead singer and de facto leader Jim Andreas' relapse into substance abuse after eight years of sobriety. Sensing that things were taking a dark turn, bassist Bob Smith decided to take up friend A.J. Croce on his standing offer to be a sideman in his touring band. What followed was some intense intraband squabbling, Smith's departure, a stint in rehab, and a false start as a three-piece.
After a year full of turmoil, the group has somehow managed to return with its old lineup intact, a forthcoming album and its first show in more than eight months.
Despite the subsequent difficulties with Andreas and Smith, the group's trouble really began after its parting with Los Angeles-based Alias Records last year. Alias, which boasts a label full of idiosyncratic music makers like the Loud Family and Caustic Resin, had been experiencing a financial crunch that hamstrung the group's plans for a follow-up to 1998's The Curse of Miss Kitty.
"They said they couldn't afford our contract at the time. We were kind of pressing them, we wanted to get in the studio and start working on the next record. We said, 'We really want to do this.' But that's when things were really falling apart [at Alias]. The money just wasn't there," says Andreas.
Eventually, the band and the label parted ways, signaling the start of the band's downward slide. "Everything started going to shit when we stopped working with Alias," says guitarist Jason Sanford. "I think that's pretty obvious. It kind of made things happen in each of our lives. I mean, especially with no more Alias, it's like, 'Where is the money coming from?'"
Despite the lack of support, the band scraped together enough money to record a six-song demo. The tracks were produced by Jim Waters at his Waterworks Studio in Tucson. Waters has also worked with Sonic Youth and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, among others.
The band spent much of last year shopping the demo to various labels without success. "None of that really bore fruit," says Sanford. "Our attitudes kept getting worse and worse and worse. We had a couple pretty rough shows in the fall and then right after Christmas is when it really started to go downhill."
The worst moment for the band came during a local show opening for former label mates the Archers of Loaf. During the performance, it became obvious that Andreas had drifted back into addiction.
"Jim has always been like our rock. He's been the center point of the band, the one that's the most stable. But when he relapsed, he just became the worst, least responsible one," says drummer Chris Kennedy.
With Andreas fading and without a label or any immediate prospects, Smith decided to leave the group to join Croce's outfit.
"I was the first to realize what was going on in the band," says Smith. "I had my own personal problems, too, and we learned a lot from it, but I realized that nothing was happening [with Trunk Federation]." The prospect of a day job was not an appealing one to Smith and so he made what seemed to be an obvious choice. Though he signed on with Croce, Smith figured he would still be able to split time between both groups.
While Smith saw the two as manageable, Andreas took his defection as a personal affront. Having worked tirelessly over the past five years to realize Trunk Federation, Andreas was admittedly angry to see Smith skip out during the band's low point. "He got this offer, and I took it really personally at the time," Andreas explains. "I wanted it to be cut and dry, you know, 'You do ours or nothing.' Which, looking back, was really stupid. It was just a jealousy thing. When Bob joined the band, he really fit in, and I thought everything was hunky-dory. Bob was like, 'Let's just work [the Trunk and Croce conflict] out' and I took the wrong approach. I felt like, 'Let's just end it now.'"
Kennedy is less generous when it comes to Smith's exit. "It really peeved us all when Bob was like, 'Well, I just got to do this thing,' after we've been making all these sacrifices for all these years and he came in at the last minute and he's like, 'Okay, see ya.'"
After a considerable amount of bickering, Smith and the band parted ways. After Smith's departure, Andreas sought help, checking into rehab for a 30-day stint. When he got out, the band tried to make a go of it as a three-piece with Andreas taking over bass duties. The trio began writing material to add to the demo they'd already completed.
While on tour, the group managed to generate some interest from Plastique, a North Carolina-based indie label with ties to Red Eye Distribution -- the company that works with a number of other well-known labels like Merge and Matador.