“I did an interview fucking, like, 15 years ago about Trapped Under Ice, and somebody asked me what is hardcore to me,” Angel Du$t singer and songwriter Justice Tripp reminisces. “I said, `It’s being the most relentlessly yourself you can be.’ You know what I mean? Like, the most painful version of yourself.”
As the Baltimore hardcore punk band gear up to release their fourth LP, YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs, Tripp reflects on his younger years when he was the brooding frontman for Trapped Under Ice.
“That’s what I was when we’re doing Trapped Under Ice,” he says. “People didn’t like it! I was wearing big baggy jeans shorts, and I had my shirt off, and was like, doing whatever that wasn’t comfortable for some people. But I did it!”
Face it—if you look at a photo of yourself as a late teen or early 20-something, and you don’t cringe a little bit, you weren’t having fun.
“If I was still the dude from Trapped Under Ice circa 2007, that’s a problem!” Tripp says. “Because people are like ‘Why don’t you just do this thing that you did?’ It’s like, because that would be fake! That would be faking it. I can’t. I can’t do that. That’s painful. It’s gonna be cringy; it’s gonna be embarrassing to watch, you know? Again, that’s a part of who I am, and the things are going to influence what I do. But that’s not who I am.”
Angel Du$t was formed by Tripp in 2013, and includes several members from their friends and fellow Baltimoreans, Turnstile. Their positive vibes and upbeat songs seemed to occupy a vibrant liminal space between old-school, hardcore skate punk and indie-driven acts like The Violent Femmes and Elvis Costello. The band dropped Pretty Buff in 2019, an album largely defined by love, good vibes, and sunshine—an all-round summer record. Tripp attributes the tonal shift to his relocation from Baltimore to Los Angeles, California.
“It’s funny; everybody thinks Pretty Buff is, like, exclusively about my dog, when it’s not,” Tripp says. “There’s a song about my dog on the record. I don’t understand why everybody thinks it’s exclusively about my dog! I’ll be chatting with somebody at the merch table or something, and somebody will be like, ‘Oh, this song really touched me. My dog died.’ And I’m like, that’s crazy, because that song’s about being in love or something. Like, it’s not about my dog at all.”
“I love L.A.,” he continues. “There’s songs on there about moving to L.A. from Baltimore and loving it … and people are like ‘Yo, I really identify with that because I lost my dog too!’”
Immediately after recording Pretty Buff, Tripp was hit with pneumonia and was bedridden for almost a month. It was during this time that he would demo the majority of what would end up on YAK, which drops October 21 via Roadrunner records. The new album marks a change of seasons for Angel Du$t. Whereas Pretty Buff was a ripened cornucopia of kinetic energy, YAK immerses itself in minor keys, 12-string guitars, and padded drum kits—a light rain, brown leaves kind of vibe.
This tighter and more restrained production on display allows Angel Du$t’s more subtle influences to come to the surface. Most noticeably, this time around, the prominent influence of Britpop and Scottish jangle pop bands like Suede, Orange Juice, and Blur is heard.
“Off the top—one of my favorite bands in the world is Blur,” Tripp affirms. “I definitely don’t be trying to write a song that sounds like Blur, because that’s some wild territory. Especially for someone like me, who’s like a hardcore punk guy first.”
The string-quartet flourishes found on YAK are a hallmark of British Pop, especially in the ’90s. Songwriters like Damon Albarn of Blur seemed to sneeringly incorporate them into their songs, as a way to ironically mock the posh British regency and its regalia. (Blur famously wrote “Song #2” to similarly mock the American grunge movement—the irony being that song ended up being their biggest hit in America).
“I’m not trying to make a Blur record; I just love Blur so I’m sure that comes out,” Tripp says. “Graham Coxon’s my favorite guitar player. And Rob [Schnapf, producer] really understands that stuff. There were things that I referenced, like Orange Juice, that Rob really understood, like what they were using and like their influences, and stuff like that.”
Tripp gets excited at the prospect of utilizing those inspirations, the same way a group of teens does when forming their first band, and he wants every album to embody that energy. The omnipresent acoustic guitar evokes old Violent Femmes vibes and adds a scrappy energy to the songs: a nostalgic throwback to being kids and forming a band with whatever instruments were lying around. It didn’t matter how talented or marketable you were—having fun and being yourself were the only prerequisites.
“That’s my shit!” Tripp exclaims. “I love that shit. People keep saying we’re folk, which is crazy. They hear an acoustic guitar and are like ‘Oh, it must be folk’! It’s like no, it’s just an acoustic guitar. Every Angel Du$t recording ever has an acoustic guitar. Either it got turned down so low you couldn’t hear it, or the producer engineer at the time was like, ‘Hey, like this just doesn’t sound good.’”
Watch the video for “Big Bite” here:
Photo courtesy of Angel Du$t and Joe Calixto