Trebuchet (photos: Estefany Gonzalez)
Volte-face, a French word meaning to turn around or a change in direction, is a fitting name for Trebuchet's new album. The title describes a four-year journey since the group's first full-length record, Carry On, in 2013. After countless house shows, an EP with the Santa Rosa Young People's Chamber Orchestra, and playing festivals such as Napa's BottleRock, the group embarks on a new musical journey with a second full-length.
I caught up with the four-piece at Greenhouse Recording, a recording studio founded by two of the band's members, Paul Haile and Navid Manoochehri. This space also serves as Trebuchet's rehearsal studio. The members seem at home here. They lounge around, enjoy coffee, and share stories about the best croissants. It's hard to imagine that this long-standing friendship was put to the test, but the group says there was a time when a sophomore album seemed like something that wouldn't happen.
Luckily, this wasn't the case and the band sat down to give us the inside scoop on the new album. But before we get into the new release, let's chat a little bit more about the band's members.
The group met while studying music at Sonoma State University in the early 2000s and quickly bonded through classes such as Indian Singing. "We got in trouble for talking," shares keyboardist Lauren Hail. Guitarist Eliott Whitehurst lights up at this and adds, "We got broken up a lot."
The group continues to tell stories about SSU. Manoochehri and Lauren Haile chat about how they met at freshmen orientation while they were still in high school and created a musical together once they started college. Lauren Haile says she thought her husband Paul Haile seemed quiet at first, but they quickly became friends once she realized how cool he was. Whitehurst shares he started as a Jazz major and played the jazz trombone. "My cheeks were in great shape back then," he laughs, then jokes, "Let me assure you, they still are."
If one thing became apparent throughout the nostalgic visit of the band's college days, it was that they were all friends before forming a band. The project started as a way for four musically trained musicians to create together. "Being in Trebuchet initially was us doing a bunch of stuff that we'd never done before," says Lauren Haile.
This statement is something each member agreed with before Manoochehri jokes, “Next record is just going to be Indian singing.”
The band's playful banter continues as we start chatting about Volte-Face again. We chat about the writing process and how most songs start with a member presenting an isolated instrumental clip to what Whitehurst playfully calls “the midnight society.”
Manoochehri says the band builds from these moments and exhaust as many options as possible until they are happy with the way a song sounds. “We sing nonsensible melodies and then months later Eliott has lyrics,” he says.
Whitehurst jokes that it’s actually “Years later,” not months, but the other band members admit they prefer to carefully craft each song out rather than rush. This record cycle included long hours to complete an album each member was happy with. The process included Whitehurst and Paul Hail pitching a tent at Greenhouse Studios to spend extra time to perfect Volte-Face.
Then, of course, once the record was done there was coming up with a title. “Naming something is really hard,” says Paul Haile. “It’s the worst part.”
Manoochehri compares making this record to having children and jokes that coming up with a name is the most difficult part. “It’s like the biggest stress of having a child," he says.
After some brainstorming, Volte-Face seemed like a perfect name for this record because it honors a change which made it possible. Although all four members now live within a two-mile radius of one another, there was a time when Whitehurst moved out of Petaluma and was in an unhealthy relationship, which put most of his friendships through a test.
"We haven't talked about this much, but that relationship I was in was really difficult on me and this band. It took a toll and slowed down a lot of the time we would have been writing otherwise," Whitehurst says. "That definitely prolonged things but ultimately a lot of difficult material that we're really proud of came of that."
The band remained together even though there were moments when things looked bleak. "The way things were going we had all accepted that it was probably going to end," Lauren Haile says. "Once we all settled on the fact that we were going to hold on for as long as we could and continue making music in some capacity, we were able to wait it out and much to everyone's surprise Eliott ended the relationship."
The name also celebrates the band's new sound. This album sees Trebuchet using layered sounds, electric guitar, and live backing tracks. "We would only produce things that we could reproduce live," Whitehurst says.
Though the band enjoyed Carry On, the members say this album is different because they made it for themselves, without directing it toward a particular audience. "When you play in bars and you're playing these sad songs that are slower and people talk over you, it's not a very good feeling," Paul Haile says and the band explains that there were times when they would add a few more upbeat or pop tones to songs on the last record. "With this record, I don't think we took anything into consideration except what we wanted to do and what we liked," he continued.
"We went through all this shit to still be a band and we didn't have any of those considerations with this album," Whitehurst says.
You can hear the new songs for yourself at the band's album release party at The Phoenix Theatre.
Trebuchet, Mare Island, Brown Bags, Horders
The Phoenix Theater
April 15, 2017