It took less than a decade for Trophy Eyes to soar from shitty dive bar open-mics to stages that bands all around the world would kill for a chance to stand on.
When you look at the sonic progression they’ve made thus far, it makes a lot of sense. 2014’s Mend, Move On was a brutal and scuzzy debut, melding brisk and brutish hardcore vibes with the technicolour spirit of pop-punk. It was a record primed for claustrophobic punk bars and PCYCs, but when they levelled up in 2016, Chemical Miracle to thank, they made the well-earned graduation to theatres and festival tents. Amping up the melodies and brushing off (a decent enough amount of) the scuzz, their second full-lengther wasn’t quite an epic, but it was no doubt an opus – the kind of record that beckons acclaim and the stately stages to match.
With their most recent effort, The American Dream, Trophy Eyes hit what many would consider a ‘peak’ – their theatre shows were the ones we considered small, and their spellbinding showcase at the 2020 UNIFY Gathering… Well, we’re not quite sure how that really panned out – we could barely see frontman John Floreani from where we were standing, because the crowd stretched back right to the very edges of the amphitheatre. The band’s 2018 album was indeed an epic, pillared on huge, sprawling singalongs and theatrical might. Some of their older fans may have pushed back against its crisp, radio-ready sheen, but the small huddle of fans they lost is negligible when you consider the absolute swarm of newcomers they gained.
18 months on the sidelines could have killed Trophy Eyes – and it damn near did. Despite the Newcastle natives being on a progressive rise to the big leagues, COVID-19 saw them buckle in their tracks. They really are the kind of band that hinges on touring, so when the live music scene shut down, so too did Trophy Eyes. Plans for album #4 were tucked away, and ‘Figure Eight’ became less a luminous hint at what was to come and more a painful reminder of what could have been… Until now.
As the gates to the world open once more, Trophy Eyes are champing at the bit to get back out there. The track they’ll use to propel themselves forward – or one of them, at least – is ‘27 Club’, a belting pop-rock anthem so tempestuously titanic that it makes The American Dream look like a DIY demo tape. But don’t let its uplifting soundscape deceive you: as all the best Trophy Eyes songs are, ‘27 Club’ is about death and self-destruction. Floreani himself describes it as “an expression of my self-loathing, imposter syndrome and disdain for being alive in general”, noting that for most of his adult life, he’d numb the pain with hard drugs and partying “as an aggressive form of self-punishment”.
‘27 Club’ is just the beginning of Trophy Eyes’ next chapter: one bigger and more explosive than we could ever predict. Another two singles lie just over the horizon – one of which will land before November’s end – but in the meantime, BLUNT caught up with Floreani to tap a little deeper into the new song’s gloomy background, and learn more about what the future holds for Trophy Eyes.
After everything you’ve gone through to get to this point, how does it feel now to have ‘27 Club’ out there in the world?
Man, it feels good! We had almost given up at some point. When COVID started, I couldn’t really see an end in sight, or when we’d be able to release music and be together and start this whole campaign up again. It got really dark, because we had all these tour offers and all of these opportunities that we had to turn down – we couldn’t even be in the same room together, let alone go overseas. So yeah, now that it’s here, it feels good. All the positivity and all the love that’s coming out of it, that’s something that I honestly didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to experience again.
So what happened to the game plan when everything went south last year? Did you have to scrap the album and start from scratch, or was it just a hard pause?
I’d had these singles written for a long time – I think as far back as 2019. I took a little trip to Thailand and did some writing there with a friend, and I came home with these four songs. That was in 2019, and they’ve been reworked like two or three times since then. And then when everything hit, I don’t know how long I was home for, but yeah, it was intense. We had these songs set aside for a while, then I was working on an album, and these were still yet to come out… But there was no plan. We had no idea what to do.
Do you have a plan now?
Yeah, definitely. We’re planning to do a record. We’re writing for it now, and as soon as I can get to Sydney, we’ll be recording that. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to tell you this, but there’s also a couple more of these fun little singles to come out in the meantime, just to kind of tie everybody over.
Would ’27 Club’ be our first taste of that new record, or was that ‘Figure Eight’?
Yeah, I guess ‘Figure Eight’ is included in these singles. We wanted to put these four songs out back-to-back, then do an album right after, but when the world shut down we couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, so that plan was kind of up in the air. But sonically… I don’t know. They touch on all the characteristics of Trophy Eyes, pretty much – the pillar foundations of our sound. Each song is completely different and they don’t sound anything alike, but they kind of sound like all the different eras of Trophy Eyes, or all the different things that make us up. This is kind of like our full range on display, really. And that’s what’s been so fun about making them – it sounds like four different bands, and I think that’s great. I think that’s Trophy Eyes’ best personality trait: we can play a pop song and we can play a two-minute hardcore song, and it’s not a weird thing. It’s not unnatural.
“I had no recollection of going to bed or whatever it was that I was doing, but I passed out on my back and I started choking on vomit…“
I think in general, this song is a massive plot twist from what we’ve come to know and love as Trophy Eyes. I don’t know if I’m reading into it wrong, but I get a huge mid-2000s stadium rock vibe, maybe a bit of Linkin Park and Kings Of Leon. What was M.O. for this one?
Linkin Park is a good comparison! I don’t know, though. I got a lot of the guitar work from Alt-J, believe it or not. I know you can’t hear it in comparison, but those scales are very Alt-J-inspired. I’ve been writing like that for such a long time, trying to make it work, and this time we just kind of nailed it – we were able to take that style and make it nice and heavy. I also wanted to take a Foo Fighters- or Kings Of Leon-style rock song and then modernise it. Yeah, I guess that’s how it came out. But Linkin Park is a great comparison, that’s a big compliment.
What songs would you say are crucial for any good playlist of bangers from the 2000s?
Look, I hate to go there first, but Blink-182 are always gonna make you feel something, y’know? The Avalanches are pretty sick – they’re from the 2000s, right? Anything from The Killers is a no-brainer, too… I actually suck at questions like this [laughs]. I think I have a pretty horrible taste in music. Y’know, lots of crucial band people out there are like, “Oh, you’ve got to hear this song, from this year, on this vinyl,” and I’m like, “…Who?”
I realised a few weeks back that even though I’ve run literally dozens of stories about them over the years, I’ve never listened to a Nirvana record in full.
Oh, dude, I fucking hate Nirvana! Isn’t that insane? I feel bad about it. I feel guilty because it’s like, they’re musical royalty. They like paved the way for a lot of what we listen to now, and even what I’m doing – if they didn’t exist, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing, y’know?
Did it piss you off when everyone compared Chemical Miracle to Nevermind?
Fucking heaps, dude! I was like, “What are you hearing!?” I didn’t understand that at all. You know what it is, though? There’s a particular reason I don’t like Nirvana, and it’s because they were so… Well, I guess that whole thing was like, the attitude was supposed to be bored. They’re supposed to be bored, right? Grunge is like a protest, in a way – it’s like, “Oh, I’m bored of all these things,” and then they play it and it’s boring by intention. And I just despise that attitude.
If you’re comfortable talking about it, where did the core of ’27 Club’ come from?
So the story is that I was lying in bed – I’d been up for a few days just partying 24/7, and I finally passed out – I had no recollection of going to bed or whatever it was that I was doing, but I passed out on my back and I started choking on vomit. The ambulance came and it was pretty intense… I think I was like quite close to dying. I think if I’d have been by myself at that point, I might have died. But the self-loathing that I was experiencing – the lowness and the intentional self-destruction that I was putting myself through… When I got woken up, I was mad. My first thought wasn’t like, “Oh, thank God I got saved,” I was like, “Fuck, why did you wake me up!?” So that’s kind of where the story comes from. [The song is about] how dark and disgusting that situation was, and my train of thought, how horrible that was.
“I’m ever a perfect, model human being, I’m not going to need to stand on a stage and scream about how I want to die…“
Having spent your 20s in a punk band, battling suicidal ideation, substance abuse and mental illness all throughout it, was it likely that you could have joined the 27 Club, whether intentionally or unintentionally?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t want to say that I’d have ever… Like… That’s a hard question to answer, man. I honestly don’t know. I try every day to further myself from that situation in any way that I can, and surround myself with people that I love, and do things for myself that make me a better person. But you never know, y’know what I mean? There were some occasions where I was drinking so much and taking truly dangerous amounts [of drugs], not sleeping, waking up randomly and in random places… Yeah, who knows? The way I was living, it’s obviously a very dangerous way to live.
So what happens when you eventually do find yourself in a clear state of mind? Does Trophy Eyes cease to exist, or is this slant towards more a more pop-centric sound paving the way for a happier band?
I promised myself early on that Trophy Eyes is just a story. It’s a story about things that happen in my life, and I put them all to music. And that was the deal, y’know? I’ve always told myself that when that story ends, that would probably be it for Trophy Eyes – for me, at least. Because once the story’s done, there’s no real reason to keep telling it, or change the way in which it’s told. I want to be honest with the process and with myself, and yeah, if I’m ever a perfect, model human being, I’m not going to need to stand on a stage and scream about how I want to die. I couldn’t do it – I couldn’t go out there and pretend to be someone I’m not.
That’s such a catch-22 for any Trophy Eyes fan, because obviously we all want you to be happy and taking care of yourself… But we also want those big emo bangers.
Well y’know, the art will always be there. And sure, it would be fun to do some shows and perform those old songs – that would always be great – but I’m not sure that I would want to write anything more in that realm.
Solo albums, maybe?
Yeah, maybe! I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, about doing another side-project. I’m not sure what the sound would be, though – there are so many different genres that I want to explore and play around in.
I would love to see you do some more country shit.
Yeah dude, I would love to write a whole country album! I just can’t stand how they sing. It’s so ridiculous. I couldn’t go out there with like some twangy Texas accent and be like, “I’m singing about boots and mud and trucks and stuff!” I don’t even own any of those things. But yeah, there’s lots I want to do. I want to do something heavier, I want to do something more pop, I want to do something electronic… I want to do everything! I want to do something like Sinatra, with a big fucking jazz band – I want to do all that kind of stuff. I will definitely be doing some more solo stuff as well. I think [the next record] is going to be focussed a little more on that Springsteen-style Americana stuff.