The New Trust. L-R: Sara Sanger, Josh Staples, Julia Lancer, Michael K. Richardson.
When North Bay indie darlings the New Trust started back in 2003, it was assumed that they would eventually be tapped on the shoulder and reminded they needed to grow up and stop playing music.
It’s been 15 years now and that hasn’t happened yet, so what do you do? Well, if you’re the New Trust, you throw a big show at your hometown venue with your friends.
This Friday, the core trio — guitarist/vocalist Sara Sanger, bassist/vocalist Josh Staples, and drummer Julia Lancer — will invite former guitarists Michael K. Richardson and Matthew Izen to join them on the Phoenix Theater stage in Petaluma to revisit their first few records. Fifteen years is a milestone, so The Bay Bridged grabbed some cold ones with the band to discuss the music scene north of the bridge and why the mid-2000s was the best era for music ever. (Just kidding, that shit was weird.)
The Bay Bridged: First thing’s first. Your show on Friday. Is this a complete career retrospective show or one of those album nostalgia shows where you play an album front to back?
Josh Staples: It’s not a ‘Greatest Hits’ of the whole 15 years, it’s more an opportunity to play these songs with Matthew and Michael. Primarily with Michael, because we did the first record immediately after becoming a band and we had CDs on our first show. For the next two years, Michael wrote a bunch of songs with us, but we didn’t record them until after he left the band, so Matthew recorded most of them after he stepped in. So this is kinda like an opportunity for Michael to play these versions.
TBB: So just the first two records? Nothing off Get Vulnerable?
JS: Just the first two records. 2003’s We are Fast-Moving Motherfuckers. We are Women and Men of Action and 2006’s Dark is the Path Which Lies Before Us.
Sara Sanger: Playing these songs as a four-piece is making it much more obvious to me that this is a retirement party for these songs.
TBB: But not a retirement for the band, right?
SS: Oh no! For fans of our last three records, we’re not going to stop playing those records and we’re not gonna stop being in a band, so continue to come to our shows if you want to hear Get Vulnerable because that one is not hard for us to do!
JS: Yeah, it’s just getting everyone to hang out and play together again. It’s a bit nostalgic for people who maybe haven’t kept up and it’s hopefully fun for people who came later to the band when it was just the three of us; a fun way to hear these songs we haven’t played from 2008 on.
TBB: There’s also a lot of hype on this show around Polar Bears…
JS: Oh fuck yeah. Say what you want, we put our name on the show, but we play shows all the time. They haven’t played a show in like eight or nine years, so a lot of people are stoked to see Polar Bears.
SS: We’re also using this as an opportunity to pressure Shane
Michael K Richardson: Those dudes used to be in a band called the Setup. And I remember I was working at the skate shop and they brought me a demo that was on a CD that was this tiny little mini-CD. I stuck it into my disc drive in my car, and it ruined my disc drive. I was like ‘You guys fucked me and now I don’t know what you guys sound like.’ [laughs] I guess you’re only supposed to put those little CDs on CD trays.
TBB: That was an interesting time in music when album sales started slowing down and bands didn’t really know the best format to release music, so they were like ‘Hey! We’ll try anything!’
SS: Oh trust us! Our first record never came out on vinyl, because in 2003, no one bought vinyl! I did merch at shows, and people would pick up a 7” and ask ‘What kind of CD is this?’ So I thought, OK, vinyl is dying. And then this asshole over here (motions to Staples) says ‘We need to make a four 7-inch box set!’ So we did our first CD with no vinyl, and then jumped into a four 7-inch box set for the very next record. We still have plenty of those still. They’ll be on sale on Friday!
JS: I’m excited about having those on records out. Having records out sneaks you into the history of all recorded music. Whether it’s crap or not, out! But yeah, Matthew, Shane, and Ben were all in the same class. I just know them from the Setup cause that band was so sick.
SS: They were! We were old and we still liked them.
JS: No one else like them! They were the three dudes in high school who had really good taste in music. Well, Shane had accepted he was really into Incubus. Ben is a fucking tastemaker.
Julia Lancer: I’m just now getting so heavy into music that he was into back then. I’m like Do Make Say Think is sick! [laughs]
TBB: I’ve always relied on people who have good taste in music, because I don’t.
SS: Well if Josh is left to his own devices, he listens to Wham! all day.
MKR: They have the best Christmas songs.
JS: Just the one!
MKR: They have the best Christmas song. [laughs]
SS: But that’s OK. We’ve got it in our video collection, and that’s Josh’s Christmas tradition.
JS: You mean the punishing? The Christmas punishing? Where I play the Blondie and Wham! DVD sets? Jules, you’ll be here for this year’s Christmas punishing.
TBB: Jules, you didn’t live in California for a while, right?
JL: No I didn’t.
SS: We live in Santa Rosa. She went to Michigan for a little bit and then she lived in Oakland for 10 years before that. Nothing will slow your band down like a 45-minute commute.
JL: We wrote a record when I lived in Michigan. We played more prolifically when we had to get on a plane.
SS: When she wanted to move back, we actually got sad. We thought ‘Aw, we won’t be as active if she is living inside of our house.’
JS: And sure enough, we weren’t! As soon as she moved back, we didn’t do shit until Michael showed up.
MKR: You guys have a whole record worth of stuff written!
SS: [When] We hear him in the house mumbling parts, we know a record is there. It’s like when you have a teapot on and you can hear the bubbles. He was watching TV last night and was like ‘Oh shit! I have to record a demo before Julia comes home.’ And then he was basically scream-singing next to your room ’til the minute you came home last night.
JS: I must sound so crazy. I can hear the music in my headphones, but you must just hear ‘LA LA LA.’
SS: For Josh to sing as high as he wants to sing he has to scream so loud. He made me faint from his voice one time. We played a concrete bunker in Stockton with Emily Whitehurst’s band. He had just bought an SVT head on accident cause he wanted the cab and the PA was overly good because it was a dance club PA. So the first time sang something, I passed out for a second and I came to after I’d fallen to my knees, and was clamped down on the correct bar chord thankfully. I was like ‘what just happened?’ My body needed to get below the sound!
JS: That was show number three. I remember our first three shows fairly well. Los Gatos, Santa Rosa, Stockton.
TBB: OK when and where was your first show.
JS: May of 2003. In Los Gatos, behind the high school.
SS: We had to pull the stage out of the storage shed with the promoter.
TBB: Who else did you play with?
JS: Oh yeah, that was a Duvall show. It was members of the Smoking Popes.
SS: I remember because the first show we ever played I walked over to tell Julia she did a good job and we accidentally touched faces right after we played [laughs].
JL: Yeah, we totally smooched.
SS: I didn’t do it on purpose! I was just so excited that I had made it through 18 minutes of music and was like ‘Aaaah!’ and I accidentally smashed my face into Julia’s face.
JS: I have a very specific memory of that show. I had really long hair and I made it really big for the show.
SS: Let’s not talk about what fashion was like back then. I also remember you got really excited and tried to give Josh Caterer our CD. And then I went over to Eli [Caterer] and I was like ‘Hey, we have some not-super-cool-about-religion lyrics printed on the front of our CD. And Eli was trying to explain this to his brother, who was basically a pastor now, and we knew he was very religious.
The New Trust’s 2003 debut.
JS: He was also very cool.
SS: And that’s basically what Eli explained. He was like ‘He’ll be fine, he knows there are people who aren’t very religious.’
JL: Didn’t we play with them again later?
JS: Oh that was interesting. We got to tour with the Smoking Popes when they reunited.
TBB: I loved the Smoking Popes.
SS: Oh god, they were one of my favorite bands when I was 15 or 16.
JS: I love them so much. Getting to play with them was amazing. I remember, we had this big dinner in San Luis Obispo with them. And Josh Caterer was at the end of this big long table asks me about the lyrics on our album and is like ‘What does this mean? What is all this anti-Christian sentiment in your songs?’ And I was like ‘Oh fuck! OH NO!’ [laughs] That happened all the time.
MKR: Well yeah it did, if you’re trying to establish that you want separation of church and rock, then all the sudden we got paired with so many Christian bands.
JS: Yeah, why did that keep happening?!
MKR: Jules had to set up her drumset on the sidewalk for some of those shows because she was still underage.
JS: Yeah, when we started this band, Jules was 19. I was 29.
The New Trust 2006: Sanger, Izen, Lancer, Staples.
TBB: How old are you now?
JS: I’m 45.
JS: Yeah, Michael and I turned 45 this year.
SS: Here’s the crazy shit, no one tells you to stop playing music. I super-duper thought we’d get 35 and people would be like ‘Alright, you’re done.’ I think that our generation was actually kind of ageist about music. Maybe it’s slightly different for boys watching music, but when I was younger going to the Phoenix Theater…that’s why high school ska bands did really well. There’s a whole of high school that wanna see you play.
TBB: Yeah, if you want kids at your show, get a local high school band as the opener.
SS: Yeah! But as you get older, you can’t be playing with those bands anymore. I live in the suburbs. Michael is lucky enough, he moved to Austin where adults actually go to shows. But those towns like Chicago or Austin have a nightlife and some resemblance of affordability. When you grow up in Petaluma or Santa Rosa, it’s not conceivable when you’re an adult that other adults will like your music. You don’t want to keep writing songs about youth-oriented things when that’s not your business. But people still do go to shows! I mean, it’s not a growth industry. But we sustain, we continue to make our own records, we have a van that runs.
JL: That people still exchange paper money for music, I can’t believe it. More so when I’m performing it, I’m like, ‘Holy shit, I have to entertain these people!’ But it’s nice to still see packed shows. That Daughters show at Bottom of the Hill was packed to the gills.
TBB: How is it different now in the Bay Area then it was when you guys started?
SS: Less people are going to shows. Even for younger bands. You used to be able to get 400 or 500 people into the Phoenix Theater literally because it was the weekend.
I’m obsessed with statistics. Demographic statistics. We toured a lot between ‘04 and ‘05. We played a show in Des Moines, Iowa that was such a fucking bummer. When we drove into town, there was all these tall-ass buildings, things made out of concrete! And you hear Des Moines, Iowa is the place! And no one came to our show. And I think that was the first time that had happened to us and it was really jarring for me.
MKR: There was four dudes in the other band there.
JS: That’s not no one!
SS: So I bought a demographics book after that because what I learned is that the population of Des Moines is the same as Santa Rosa. And it started blowing my mind that the places I heard about are being called ‘cities,’ but you have to read deeper into it to see ‘Who lives there? Is it young people? College kids?’ In some ways we bitch a lot about living in the suburbs, living in Santa Rosa, but we live in actually pretty well-populated place full of people who want art, want entertainment, and want cool shit in their lives, but what we’re up against, as makers and consumers of art, is affordability. We have a lot a of people who have to drive an hour or more to make a decent living and that really cuts into your life! So when Santa Rosa was more affordable, with more young people who could work part time, go to college, and then also have a band and go to shows every night…that was a pretty cool time! But now you don’t meet 25-year-olds who are just like ‘I’m just dicking around, seeing where it goes.’ You meet 25-year-olds who are like ‘I have two jobs and I feel pressured to figure out how to buy a house when they’re half a million or more.’
JS: There’s still people doing it though. You can still do it. There’s still people who are putting on shows.
TBB: It only gets worse the closer you get to the city.
JL: There’s new people there all of the time.
JS: Yeah, turnover is thing. You don’t have time to have a huge close-knit community of people wanting to socialize and see art if they’re moving in, trying to make, failing, and moving out.
SS: Oh my god, San Francisco in the late ‘90s, early 2000s was made up of people who were like ‘Yeah, I’ve had an apartment on Haight Street for the last 20 years.’ Yeah, everyone’s so clean in San Francisco, there’s no dirty punks.
JL: I like Santa Rosa because it’s a B market. You have to have a reason to play up here, you have to know people and have a reason to come up here and play a show here.
TBB: I know a bunch of bands that have come up to play in Santa Rosa, they’re like ‘This place is kinda cool!’ But they wouldn’t know that if they didn’t have the homie hook-up.
JS: Yeah, you have to have an in. You don’t just show up here.
TBB: With the way things are now, is The New Trust doing alright?
JS: We’re doing fine!
SS: Oh yeah, we lived inside the stress machine for awhile. With Josh being in the Velvet Teen and this going on at the same time, there was a two year period there was Josh was a professional musician. I have a friends who have “done better” and then they stop playing music. I’m fine with the slow burn. I still enjoy this. Some years it pays for itself, some years it doesn’t. But other middle-aged people take stupid vacations, and I get free beer and I don’t get called ‘ma’am’ at places we stay. That is the big difference.
JS: When you’re on tour and you show up to a town, everyone is excited to see you and they give you free beer. Then you when you go on a regular vacation, everyone is ‘Who are you? Who cares? Give me that money!’ I’d rather go on tour than go on vacation any day.
SS: We’re better at slower, more vacation-y tours now. We try to eat better and sleep on actual mattresses so we don’t hurt ourselves. I was dipping into a normal life a little heavier that last couple years, really pushing my work life, and trying to be middle-aged I guess…but I don’t know. I don’t feel like normal 40-something year-olds are my peer group. I feel like people who do this stupid thing are my peer group.
JL: Well we didn’t run this thing into the ground, which means we can still be friends. Which means if we have to be in a van together for a month, we can tolerate each other because we get to do it; we don’t have to do it.
TBB: You guys didn’t grind it down to the bone…
JS: Yeah, we never worked it so hard to get to a certain point. Bands that work extremely hard and tour for six months are inevitably going to be more successful, because they just become the forefront of people’s minds. The band has been really enjoying our accessible, smaller, kind-of-like-a-secret thing anyway. So if we achieve that, in that we mean a lot to a small amount of people, that’s better than being the forefront of way more people’s minds in a fleeting way.
“…other middle-aged people take stupid vacations, [but] I get free beer and I don’t get called ‘ma’am’ at places we stay.”
TBB: When you guys started out 15 years ago, would you be happy if someone told you you’d be where you are now?
JL: Oh for surrrrrrrre.
SS: Yeah, I think that the thing that was different is that our contemporaries and our peers…a lot was happening all around us. We were younger and we knew a lot more people who were pushing that hard.
JS: We started at a time when that was interesting because in the late ‘90s, everyone is pushing so fucking hard. Everyone is pushing so hard. So many sick bands! But also so many wack bands. I’ve travelled the country over and over again, Route 99 over and over. Just the wackest bands. And everyone was on tour. And everyone was doing it the same way. And they were doing it sans the internet. There were more bands than ever at the time. It just felt like everyone was out and doing it. And then there was a period where everyone either my age or people Julia’s age came back, centered, and asked ‘What is the point of all this?’ Then Fugazi’s Instrument came out and everyone was like ‘This is the point of this!’ Enjoy what you’re doing and do it in a small way. That’s how we’re doing it.