Robbing Cars for Future Punks: Trapped Under Ice Return
"Stay Cold" has always been the motto, but for two guys who live in Los Angeles, Philadelphia in December isn’t exactly an ideal setting. Nevertheless, Sam Trapkin and Justice Tripp are here with bandmates Brendan Yates, Brad Hyra and Jared Carman, grinding out what is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated hardcore records of the year, Trapped Under Ice’s follow-up to 2011's Big Kiss Goodnight. It’s been six years away from the studio, but the time away has only increased the hunger for those TUI shout-outs, ignorant breakdowns and catchy-as-hell riffs. The fans are thirsty, and considering the band in question, maybe even bloodthirsty.
Heatwave is the band’s new LP, a 14-minute, 11-track excursion into the minds of the Baltimore quintet following the massive Big Kiss Goodnight, which caused a shockwave in the underground with its NYHC-flavored hard edge and catchy songwriting. A plethora of tours followed the release of that LP, causing the band to announce a temporary hiatus that drove individual members to focus on side projects. Those projects would eventually explode in popularity, thereby enhancing the TUI legend. You know, bands like Turnstile and their massive Nonstop Feeling, or Angel Du$t and their fan favorite Rock the Fuck on Forever, or Down to Nothing, or Diamond Youth, or Lion of Judah, or D.C. Disorder. AKA bands that have helped shape the current course of hardcore as we know it. NBD.
Heatwave's fourth track is “Do It,” a far cry from the NYHC-inspired past of Trapped Under Ice's previous material, sitting closer to punk rock at points and never cowering from taking chances. The track, featuring Matt Korvette of Pissed Jeans, feels like Trapped Under Ice, but with years of knowledge and pent-up creativity exploding all over it. Stream it for the first time below, and look for Heatwave on July 21. Preorder yours, and catch them on tour (dates below).
Also notable is Heatwave’s home, on the band’s own Pop Wig Records. After years of releasing records with others, TUI have leaned on friends in Run for Cover and Reaper Records to create a label of their own, ready to shine a spotlight on bands within their sphere, as well as any project collectively believed in by Tripp, Yates and Daniel Fang (Turnstile). Their mantra is creatively pure, according to Tripp: “Musically or creatively, this is our little world. You can be a part of it or not; it's fine if you don't like it.”
So, how did a band go from local Baltimore favorites to having one of the most anticipated LPs of the year? The story of Trapped Under Ice begins with lead vocalist Tripp, now 31 years old and living in L.A. after stints in Richmond and New York City. He grew up in Essex, part of Baltimore County in Maryland, part of a self-professed “weird upbringing” that consisted of a family situation where substance abuse was an issue. “I was a stressed out little kid," he says. "Nothing crazy — just some bad things that kids would do for attention.”
His introduction to music came through family and alternative rock radio, but actual musical schooling happened one day after a particularly lucky score by his miscreant brother. “My brother would beat me up as a kid, and he’d usually apologize by doing something nice,” Tripp recalls. “He was breaking into cars when I was younger, and at one point he broke into a car and found a bunch of CD booklets filled with punk CDs. He gave them to me, and that was the greatest introduction that I could possibly have … it had everything in there.” The all-of-a-sudden punk guidebook (in the days before Spotify put everything at your fingertips) was a godsend, but proved to be only a jumping-off point toward a life devoted to punk and hardcore. Soon thereafter, Tripp would travel around “southern Maryland” (his nickname for the area south of Baltimore) to catch local bands and eventually meet TUI guitarist Sam Trapkin at a basement show.
Growing up in a particularly artistic and musical household, Trapkin’s early years in Prince George’s County, Md., were filled with live music, some of it intrafamilial. “My dad plays drums ... [and] he has always done club stuff on weekends and nights, but [later got into] playing big ballroom events and high society clubs,” says Trapkin. He confesses that some of his first performances were with his dad “at, like, Christmas parties or at his 50th birthday party” while 13 or 14 years old. “Mostly the classics," he continues. "Classic rock, like the Kinks or something.”
Just like many kids from the era, his entry point to heavier music was Metallica, and early gigs were metalcore, ska and punk at a local youth center during in middle school. “That was kind of what were doing in Bowie, Md., closest to me," he says. "I think eventually I started hearing bands yell for the first time at those shows. Justice was one of those people I met through … local basement shows. [He was] an acquaintance at first, and ... by the end of high school, we had become pretty close.”
Tripp recalls skipping school with Trapkin as the first time that they truly bonded. “It was Senior Week,” he recalls, “which was a thing that kids did to skip school and go down to Ocean City, Md. It was not our senior week; we just skipped school to go cause trouble. I was like, ‘Oh, this kid likes starting shit.’” That friendship blossomed into playing together in the youth crew-oriented band Nick Fury.
Concurrently, they started to see a younger kid going to the same shows and making a name for himself. “Brendan [Yates] was the coolest little kid," Tripp says with a chuckle. “I used to see him around when he was like 14 or 15? He would go to every type of show, whether it was the scary Sidebar show or the weird Christian metalcore show in southern Maryland. You’d see him at Ottobar on a school night and think, 'Damn, this kid's mom is letting him out?' He was always around and so positive ... he got jumped a couple of times when he was pretty young, and caught some pretty bad ass-whoopings for a little kid. But he would still be around the next week at the show even after he got that ass whooped. He just kept taking it and coming back. I remember having a conversation with Sam, like, 'Dude, that kid is down to get his ass whooped and doesn't care.'"
Yates, also of Turnstile, was a few years younger than Tripp and Trapkin by the time he started to see them around at shows, but he was active on his own when he wasn’t skateboarding. “I started playing in bands when I was probably like 11,” recalls Yates. “The guitarist that plays in Turnstile [Brady Ebert], we lived on the same street and grew up together, so we have been playing in bands together since he was like 7 years old. My dad would just drive us to play shows in our area, or even as far as New York. I think it was in 2005 that I met Justice and Sam. They were playing in other bands, and at the time they seemed a lot older — they were like four years older than me. But they would look out for us, so it was cool. Our bands would play together throughout my high school years.”
Eventually, a friendship blossomed, as well as an eventual music collaboration. “Sam would invite me over and we would just listen to music and write songs,” says Yates. “Not even if they were for anything — we would just write songs, and I was so excited to be doing that, especially because he was way more advanced than any guitar player that I had ever met.” As Trapped Under Ice started to take shape with the new demo, Trapkin's collaboration with Yates started to become more and more crucial. The additions of permanent members Brad Hyra and Jared Carman only helped up their game.
Trapped Under Ice had a lot of steam following the release of their demo and the 7" follow-up Stay Cold, a promise that hardcore veteran Domenic Romeo saw in his then-neighbor. “That demo was so good, but as a band they needed a lot of work on their live show,” Romeo says. The sentiment was expressed to Tripp, who took it to heart.
“We really were terrible live, and that persisted until we went on a full two-month tour with Terror in 2008,” says Trapkin, “Watching them every night was a very formative experience for us.”
Terror drummer Nick Jett adds, "When we took them on tour, I had never seen them live before, and our impression was off of their demo and 7". So, we were all really impressed by the music, which was cool and fresh and different to hardcore at the time. I remember the first show of the tour. I watched them set up, and I would say my first impression was that it was kind of a mess. Live, I was like, 'This is the band?!' At the same time, you met the dudes and you knew there was something special and something different. By the end of the tour, they had really started to improve. It was like night and day."
Tripp echoes that experience, but also adds the importance of their first U.S. tour with Trash Talk. “Those dudes were very helpful in showing us the way, how to be a band and all of that. Getting back from that tour, it was motivation to focus on something more meaningful with my life.”
Tripp also stresses the importance of Patrick Kitzel to the Trapped Under Ice family: “He was trying to sign us to Reaper, and I remember he saw me and my friends jump and rob some dude in an alley. He’s an adult; [he] knew better and was pretty upset. I remember he had a real serious talk with me about that that night, and was like, 'What the fuck are you guys doing? You could have easily gone to jail tonight or hurt someone, and you are about to do so much cool stuff and you could have ruined it.' He put a lot of things in perspective.”
Kitzel confirms the discussion, then speaks of seeing a young band on the precipice of something special: “When I saw Trapped Under Ice for the first time, they had so much promise of being a unique bunch of people and creating a unique sound — if they chopped away the extra meat and cut out the nonsense. I don’t know what that did or didn’t do to influence the band, but Justice and I always had a lot of talks that were more about the difference between vision and visibility — what you can see, versus seeing a few steps ahead.”
And so the obsession began of not only improving, but trying to become the biggest and best band in hardcore. One of those moves was bringing Yates into the fold. “He started going to college in Towson, which wasn't very far from where I was living in East Baltimore," Tripp says. "It wasn't long after that Sam started really pushing for Brendan to be in the band. Brendan brought this up a couple times, that I probably ruined his life. [Laughs] I talked him into dropping out of school. I was like, 'Fuck school,' you know? School works for some people. but Brendan is just the kind of person that is creative, and I can just see him going crazy not doing what he loves to do. I think he agrees that it was all for the best. I am pretty sure he finished school on computer classes. Hopefully we didn’t do too much damage. [Laughs]”
“By the time I started playing with them, they were my favorite band in the world,” Yates says. “I was already going to every show, knew every line and was moshing to every song. So, I couldn’t believe it when I was asked to play with them. I just knew wanted to do this full-time and put all my energy into it.” And that they did, leaving soon after to tour Europe with Terror, and spending the next few years bouncing from tour to tour and record to record until 2013, when the band announced that they would be going on extended hiatus. In between, TUI conquered hardcore, releasing the fan favorite LPs Secrets of the World (2009) and Big Kiss Goodnight, cementing their reputation as one of the best bands in hardcore music. Here they were, hitting the brakes at the top of the game.
"Freaky" Franz Lyons, Turnstile member and close friend of the band / participant in virtually all of their tours, recalls that era: "I think that it was such a delicate time in everyone's lives. Personal things were going on, other musical ideas were budding and sometimes, even when you are around your brother, you're just like, 'I just can't kick it with you right now.' I think they had been around each other for so long and had taken these big strides as a band, which they weren't really even trying to do. For me, being so close to it, yet not being part of the band, I think that it was just growing pains ... figuring out their way in life. I don't think there was any love lost over it, but I do think it was good to take a breath, do what they needed to do and come back to it."
“I think that's probably just something that all of us were feeling and maybe never talked about it — this 'where is this going' question,” admits Trapkin. “But we were all on the same page and didn’t want TUI to be a full-time career band. We all had interests outside of the band, which I think is one of TUI’s greatest strengths: the sum of all of its individual parts.”
Yates echoes that sentiment: “We had done a lot of touring off of Big Kiss Goodnight — multiple U.S. tours, Europe tours, places like Japan and Asia and Australia. Up until then, we were just taking every tour possible and not really considering anything else in our lives. So, we thought that either we needed to do another record and go back out there again or take time with these other projects. We never wanted a routine; we always wanted it to be exciting in some way. “
And so, the time came to move on those individual creative impulses. Hence, Diamond Youth, Turnstile and Angel Du$t became the priority for several years. But with each success outside of their original band, the legend of TUI started to grow and grow until the band caved and started to do headlining gigs in 2015 as part of some of the biggest hardcore festivals in the country. The chemistry was there; the live show had improved, if anything; and the fans had become more ravenous. Though all of their individual projects were going full speed ahead, the collective knew that a Trapped Under Ice record was a necessity.
In early 2017, that became a reality, with Arthur Rizk doing primary tracking and helping TUI deliver Heatwave, with assistance from Will Yip. Heatwave is undoubtedly their most interesting and, dare we say, fun record to date, and you can credit Rizk and Yip with some of that, according to Tripp: “I think that [the two of them] are able to step outside of who they are and their personal preferences to create the best record for the fans.” So, while the band was left to their own devices somewhat, they did turn to Rizk for some advice. "Some of Arthur's influences show on the record because we asked him, ‘What's your opinion on this guitar sound?’" Tripp continues. "But for the most part, this was us and Rizk absorbing what we're about to help the process move to the right headspace.”
There are high hopes for the follow-up to Big Kiss Goodnight, but none of that concerns Tripp. “I think there are certain expectations when you do a new record, but it's really about what we want to hear and not someone else," he admits. "The elements of hardcore and punk rock that I like and that Brendan likes, and Jared and Sam and Brad. It's just our record, that's it. The only message is our record, 100 percent. If you don't fuck with it, don't fuck with it. If you do, hell yeah.”
Heatwave takes its fair share of chances and lives by its own rules, applying all sorts of instrumentation into a record that is urgent and inspired by hardcore, but travels on its own path entirely. Between the length, stylistic choices and other left-field ideas, Heatwave is definitely TUI's most interesting record, if not their strongest offering to date, combining ideas from each side project to create a wholly new and original vision for hardcore in 2017. It’s quite an achievement, and one that has each member's creative DNA all over it.
As to whether the band is concerned about influence from side projects creeping into the new LP, Tripp doesn't seem to be worried in the slightest. “I don't think there is anything wrong with that," he shrugs. "I think that's cool. I think me and Brendan stepping away from each other and doing bands separately kind of helps to define what we like, as far as writing songs. Also, I'm not trying to hide the fact that I'm Justice, the guy from Pop Wig who plays in all these bands. If it feels like Turnstile, that's because the guy from Turnstile is in the band.”
Will the new LP resonate with the core TUI crowd? Tripp is quick to point out that each LP is a representation of the band at a certain moment. “[How my vocals sound on Big Kiss], that's just who I was at that point in my life: sitting on the edge of a panic attack, just ready to freak out. I have issues with anxiety, and I was in a dark place. I still have normal struggles like anybody else. Hardcore helped me cope with that.”
Yates is quick to point out the importance of change from record to record. “My favorite records are the ones that like make me feel super strange, or was something I was not expecting," he reveals. "It makes me look into and appreciate it more, as opposed to just being something that we’ve kind of come to expect.”
Trapkin echoes their sentiment: "I think our ideas about what we like in hardcore have changed over the years. I've kind of developed from a 21-year-old living in Baltimore with all of this unchecked aggression to being 31 and having a life that I am really happy with. So, those personal perspectives change a bit. But if there is one thing that we are way more conscious of, it's really wanting the record to be high-energy. Never, ever a dull moment.”
With this new sound comes a different personal outlook as well, one that strays away from some of TUI’s hyper-violent past and aspires toward a stronger and better future. “When you're young, you don't recognize the kind of influence you have on other young people," Tripp acknowledges. "Being at a show, I would run into this thing every night where someone would say, ‘If you play this, I'm gonna fucking kill somebody. I'm gonna fuck this whole place up!’ Honestly, I really don't want to see some little girl that's been spin-kicked in the nose. But people were just feeding off of the way I felt? I created and projected that, and I didn't like it. Don't get me wrong: I love being a small venue and watching a band with my homies and just beating the shit out of each other. But that's with my friends and in an environment where everybody knows everybody and you know what you're getting into. You know it's going to be turnt up. So, I just want to create a less dangerous environment for Trapped Under Ice. It's hard to witness that every single night on tour and not have some kind of regret overall."
Tripp remembers a particular turning point: the announcement of pre-orders for Big Kiss Goodnight. ”Kitzel called me up and told me it was the most female pre-orders ever seen for [one of his] records," he recalls. ”There were more women that pre-ordered the record than boys. And I was like, ‘That's really cool that girls feel a connection with this.’ And then after that, we started touring and seeing young girls getting hurt, like actual young 16-year-old girls, every night ... walking away like, 'You're literally going have to get your face fixed after the show.' It's a dark way to feel. If musically we can create something that you know is still hardcore, it still comes from the same thing, but just maybe makes a person coming to the show feel less anxious and violent, I think that's cool.”
Still, this is hardcore. “The goal [for Heatwave] is pretty much the same as what it is now,” says Tripp. “Initially, we were trying to do something that people weren't doing at the time. It's hardcore, it's punk, it's a variation of other things that are happening. But we wanted to present the idea of, 'Do what you want, do it your way, put your own stamp on it.' Don't get me wrong — it's definitely a Trapped Under Ice thing. I think it's a hard-ass record. There's nothing wrong with loving ignorant music — put your own twist on it."