Mention the word Surrey and the first things to pop into your head will probably be serene English countryside, quaint market towns and snooty people in 4×4’s ploughing through country lanes. With this in mind, Surrey is one of last places you’d expect to produce a supremely talented and intellectual yet angry young rock band. And no, I’m not talking about You Me At Six. I’m referring to Trails, four young lads from the cosy middle-class confines of Guildford who create a kind of deceptively complex math-infused rock music that encompasses punk, eclectic progressive rock and everything in-between. They join the likes of fellow noiseniks and Guildfordians Polar in shunning the stigma of growing up in an undeniably middle-class town and spending the latter days of their youth shouting at people in grotty little venues. Their latest E.P, Signs, marks their second release since their inception at the tail end of 2010, a record that they describe as “like an all you can eat buffet except we can guarantee that you’ll throw up in a gluttonous fit before it ends.” Their youthful angst shows no sign of wavering, but the band have twisted and moulded the brash punk outbursts of their previous release into new realms of vitriol- driven musical ventures.
Trails dish out heaviness and clarity in equal measure, without fully committing themselves to either camp. To balance demonic screams and crushing riffs with melodic intuitions and instrumental introspection is a practice that is often attempted but rarely pulled off with a seamless finesse with which Trails succeed at the task. Storming breakdowns give way to soaring vocal lines and soulful blues-ridden guitar solos that Slash would be proud of. Take the title track of the E.P for instance, four minutes of bi-polar punk that one second consists of edge-of-your-seat hardcore that leads into a chorus of staccato chords before coming to a close with a punishing half-time breakdown. This lays in brilliant juxtaposition to the track that follows – ‘Sinatra’, a slow paced number with vocals that are full of anguish, showcasing their ability for restraint for the benefit of emotional intensity.
The band’s sound is constantly evolving and despite it only being their second release, the jump from their debut E.P to Signs is one that some bands take several albums to accomplish. This constantly changing approach to song creation lays at the heart of the band’s forward thinking ethos, their central mantra being: “Sound like everybody and nobody at once”, a somewhat paradoxical statement but one that fits perfectly when it’s applied to their output. Expectantly, the band draws from an increasingly wide array of influences, some implicit and others that are decidedly outside of the box. Signs brings together a host of these influences into one tasty punk rock goulash. On show is the schizophrenic punk guitar wizardry of RX Bandits and newer Propagandhi, coupled with Biffy Clyro’s penchant for off-kilter pop sensibilities and rampant tempo changes. This solid musical core is topped off with the raw, driving modern punk of The Bronx and smatterings of The Mars Volta, minus the overindulgence. Oh yes, and the one band that is idolised by everyone from Fugazi to your dad – Queen. Although there’s no talk of sprawling rock operas, it shouldn’t be completely ruled out, especially given the group’s musical deftness and their main song writing aim “to write with no boundaries.”
Despite their vast musical palette, the band’s outlook and business practices remain decidedly punk in nature with the band recently joining the increasingly impressive roster of the defiantly independent Lockjaw records. A label such as Lockjaw pays dividends for the band, providing support whilst allowing the boys artistic endeavours to develop at their own pace. The group are extremely happy with their relationship with the label- “They’re the perfect kind of indie label who are more than happy for us to keep creative control of everything, so we’re just as comfortable in our own skin as we were before!” Taking the D.I.Y aesthetic even further, the production for Signs was helmed by guitarist Will, allowing the group to nail down the sound they had been striving for. Such an approach produces added bonuses – “this obviously saved us a penny or two as well which always helps being a self funded band.”
The UK rock scene has been recently bolstered by a small group of bands who have emerged intact from the gruelling grind of the toilet circuit into the mainstream conscious of the British public. Acts like Lower Than Atlantis and of course rock giants Biffy Clyro have been receiving substantial airplay on Radio One. Asked how they fit into the contemporary British rock scene, Trails are well aware that their sound has a foot in punk and alternative rock circles – “as a result we don’t neatly slot into either which enables us to partake in both, which can be both good and bad”. Unperturbed that their unique, twisted approach to the rock song often ends with many of the crowd scratching their heads in confusion, Trails have committed themselves wholeheartedly to the touring lifestyle, a way of living that can get the better of some bands. “Waking up hungover on your friend’s kitchen floor with cereal stuck to your face might sound like an unenjoyable experience but after a rock show it’s the dream,” they declare. Despite live music being reported in certain media outlets as under-attended and under-funded, Trails have encountered scenes across the country that are thriving – “the shows that we enjoy playing the most are the ones with real community spirit; for example, our recent dates in Scotland, which were some of the best we’ve ever done.”
Sure, the band may only be two years in existence but already there are plans for an album in late 2013 as well as a promo tour booked for Signs in March across the UK and Europe in April. Asked about their ambitions for the band, their answer is modest but not without humour – “We just want to continue making music that we enjoy making and smashing it into the ear drums of the unsuspecting passers-by.”
Trails are Will, Sam, James and Adam. Signs is out on the 1st of March 2013 on Lockjaw Records.