Interview with Kyle Trocolla | By Morgan Y. Evans
Fans of warm yet rough around the edges acoustic tunes with punk rock heart will definitely want to hear Kyle Trocolla. The Two Fisted Law guitarist’s debut solo record, The Stranger—out now via Altercation Records—deserves a place next to your favorite tearjerker and road dog albums. It’s full of beer-soaked narratives, ambition, and heartache.
The Stranger is a great record, reminiscent of Conny Ochs or Tim Barry from Avail’s stuff, where there is this sort of yearning to make things better, but also, you state when things aren’t. “Alive in Tucson” is a great example. What was it like writing this album?
After playing mostly loud, fast, distorted punk rock for the past 20 years, when I decided to release an acoustic record, it was like learning to write music all over again. The songs on this record were not the result of me deciding to sit down and write a record; many of them have been written over the past three years. About a year ago, I decided to go out and start playing them, mostly in small venues for friends, with no intention of recording a record or doing anything but sharing some songs that I had written from a more personal place. The support I got from friends both in and out of the music scene is what really inspired me to record them. Sitting down and writing the last few for the record, and then, recording them with lead parts and bass was a totally different process from the Two Fisted Law records I have recorded on.
Do you think people are too easily discouraged from following their dreams or too often disregard the smaller milestones along the way as “not good enough”? What keeps you encouraged?
I think people—particularly artists—can be very self-conscious about sharing the manifestation of their dreams and passions with people. It’s a very scary notion to start sharing your art with other people, whether it’s because it’s very personal or because of the fear of what other people may think. I think that’s one thing that I’ve learned after 20 years of playing music for people: if you convey sincerity and you believe in the things you write about, people will get a sense of it and some will feel what you feel. Also, if you write what you actually believe in, it’s hard to care about those who don’t like it, because you’re not writing for them anyway. My encouragement comes from my wife, who is still willing to listen to me write and play these songs on our couch for the thousandth time; it comes from my brother, who still comes to as many of my shows as he can get to; and it comes from fellow musicians and friends who listen and enjoy these songs.
How long have you been writing songs? This seems second nature to you…
I joined my first band in 1994, when I was in high school, but I’ve always written. I remember being very young and writing stories in notebooks that we had lying around the house. A lot of my songs are simply an extension of that: short stories about people I’ve known or experiences that I’ve had. So, I think as long as I write about things that have meaning to me, it is second nature. I have, however, had the benefit of being surrounded by lots of great musicians and songwriters who have helped me to develop the way I write, either by sitting and playing with me or simply by going to see them play.
How did you get involved with Altercation Records? The Stranger one of their first real singer-songwriter records, and hopefully, not the last.
My first introduction to Altercation Records was through Two Fisted Law, which I have been a member of for over a decade. Travis Myers—who runs Altercation Records—also runs a couple of great punk rock venues in the Northeast called Snapper Magee’s where Two Fisted Law played regularly. He dug Two Fisted Law and wanted to put out our second record. When I started playing my solo stuff out, he booked me, came to some shows, and became interested in releasing what eventually became The Stranger. Without his support, this record would never have materialized.
Your lyrics have a real sense of storytelling and many relatable qualities. Is it more important to paint a vivid interpretive image or have a firm narrative? Some of the songs seem pretty literal, but it works… Like all the best country.
First, I don’t really consider The Stranger to be a country record. I am not really sure where it fits in the scope of genres, but I also think genres are an attempt to file music into the right corner of the store for consumers, so who gives a shit about that anyway? For me the narrative is how I deliver the interpretive image, so I don’t think one is mutually exclusive from the other. Songs like “Roll On” or “Alive in Tucson” are written about bigger ideas than just the stories that they tell. “Roll On” is a song about the ups and downs of love; each verse is literally about someone I have known or an experience I have had, but the literal scenarios are how I convey the themes.
What are some of the more oddball shows you have done?
I played a college cafeteria once; they paid the bands in hamburgers, but it was scheduled during dinner, so the place was packed! With Two Fisted Law, we have worked with some independent professional wrestling companies, and those shows are always really interesting—great, but interesting. Some of the oddness of doing my own shows is more internal than external, as this is kind of a new adventure for me. I never know how people are going to react to it.
What are your 2016 plans?
I am writing new music now that I would really like to put out on vinyl. I am exploring a 7” split with a few different people in the scene who I really like and respect. I will be heading out to SXSW this year for the first time as a solo act. Playing shows and meeting new people is my favorite part of being a touring musician, so I will be wandering all over the country playing shows.