Features & Columns

Shear Passion

Inspired by the '80s, San Jose's the Trims deliver a startling debut album
The Trims SHADOW OF THE '80S:The Trims Gabriel Maciel, bassist Eric Scharer, guitarist Bryan Aguirre and drummer Billy Brady.

AFTER FORMING in 2009, San Jose alt-rockers the Trims got their first big break this summer, earning the opening spot on the local stage at Live 105's BFD festival.

And "earning" is the operative word—to get on the bill, they had to win the radio station's Local Band Contest. That meant they were one of 20 Bay Area bands Live 105 selected from more than 200 demo submissions—and in fact, they were the last band to be picked. Out of those 20, they were one of five bands chosen by listeners for the final cut. Then it came down to a Battle of the Bands show, at which they were the last of the five bands to play.

On right before them was one of the tightest punk bands in the South Bay, the Rivals. And after seeing the Rivals perform, the Trims started to worry about their chances.

"The Rivals came up, and they killed it," recalls Trims drummer Billy Brady. "They had the crowd on their side the whole set. And we're sitting there going, 'How do we follow this?' They had the crowd separating, doing the line dance and stuff.

"We were like, 'Oh man, I don't know.' Then we got up there and played our hearts out. I remember seeing videos of it, and we all had our eyes closed. We were feeling it. We were in the moment, and we rocked it."

That state of altered consciousness that won them the BFD slot actually isn't all that unusual for the Trims.

"I kind of feel like I get into a trance halfway through the song," says guitarist and lead singer Gabriel Maciel. "In the beginning, I'm kind of planning things out, I'm waiting for Bryan [Aguirre, lead guitarist] to play this or that so I can start singing. But then a quarter of the way in, I'm just gone. At the end of the song, I don't even remember what happened."

Aguirre remembers the moment that the band moved to this higher plane musically, too.

"I think it was when we first had a song that no one brought in, that we jammed out to. That's when I really learned that if I was playing something on guitar, Eric [Scharer, bassist] would come up with something. I wouldn't have to tell him what to play, he would just go with it. Gabe would come up with a vocal melody, his guitar part would go great with my guitar part. Writing the songs, there's that trust there. That's the biggest thing, not thinking about it when we're writing it."

The Trims STAYING TRIM: Though they just released their debut album, 'We Cried for Fun,' earlier this year, the Trims already have a follow-up EP planned for September.

Cutting the Fat

If it all sounds a little obsessive, one has to realize this is a band that is all in on their group identity. And that the very reason for the group's existence in the first place was to do something different. It was built into their name from the start.

"I go out to see a lot of bands, not just in San Jose, but all over the bay," Maciel explains. "I was getting really frustrated not hearing what I wanted to hear. I heard a lot of bands basically trying to outdo the next band—more sound, more this, more that. I thought, we should trim all the fat, trim all the shitty sounds out to just the good music. So 'the Trims' are trimming everything to just the good stuff."

The name has become a badge of pride for the group's members, who range in age from mid-20s to early 30s, and even a central part of their process.

"Bryan has this thing I like a lot that he calls the 'Trims filter,'" Maciel tells me. "We'll have ideas, we'll formulate them and we'll email them out to each band member. They'll get an idea of what the song sounds like, the basic structure, and then we come into the studio and put it through that filter, and the end result is totally different.

"There's aspects of the original, but we just build on top of it. Everyone's their own worst critic, but at the end when you listen to the final product it's like 'OK, that's a good song.' You know you're on to something pretty good."

The Trims

Eighties Love

The first thing that jumps out of the Trims' new debut album, We Cried for Fun, is the guitars. They're a John Hughes misfits' wet dream, like everything that was great about mid-'80s mope rock broken down to its essential essence and reconfigured as a 21st-century sound.

Their music embraces the spooky swirl of Siouxsie and the Banshees, the assault of Echo and the Bunnymen, the minor-chord crawling of the Cure and the propulsive progressions of New Order. Not to mention layers of effects that would impress even the Edge himself.

The Trims' sound is backed up by a stark and solid post-punk rhythm section that grounds the often space-bound atmospherics, and topped by vocals that soar one minute and slow down to an intimate, direct tone the next. It's not easy to place them from song to song.

"I think it's because we're all into different things," says bassist Scharer. "There are lots of similarities, but in addition to '80s, Gabe likes a lot of classic rock, like the Doors and so forth. Bryan's a huge U2 fan. I like U2, but I tend to be geared more toward Pixies and Husker Du and R.E.M., more like '80s alternative bands, not necessarily from England—although I'm a huge Morrissey and Smiths fan. Billy's got all sorts of influences, prog rock to metal."

Remarkably, the album was recorded in only two days, and despite the appearance of endless layers and sonic shadings, features only one track per instrument. Even some of the textures are not what they seem, like the electro-esque flourishes of "Complaint."

"We don't use synthesizers or anything for ambient sounds. It's just our guitars," Aguirre explains. "And a lot of it is Gabe overtones, while I'm playing something trebly. That's what I love. When we play it, I'm thinking people are going to think there's a synth. That's what excites me—no, it's just four pieces, guitars and effects."

With song titles like "Love Machine Gun," "Sedatives," and "Electrolight," a quick scan of the CD cover might lead one to suspect We Cried for Fun was some kind of glam party, which couldn't be further from the truth. Even a few listens can be deceiving, with the rush of sound masking the lyrical meaning. The true complexity of the songs reveals itself over repeated listens.

"If you get past the up-tempo and the rhythm of the songs, and really pay attention to the words, all the lyrics are a bummer," admits Maciel. "They make fun of me, because with the exception of 'Love Machine Gun,' they're all downers, man."

Of course, a little gloom never hurt any band inspired by '80s alt-rock. And it's a great time to be one, considering that the '80s revival of just over a decade ago got a second wind a couple of years ago with bands like Passion Pit, the Sounds and Hot Chip.

"There was that scene before, where it was Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes," says Aguirre. "I love those bands, but when we were doing this band, I thought is this going to work? Are people going to be accepting, or are they going to think this is another band that sounds like that? But it's hard to classify us, and that's what's good—because it's something new. It sounds familiar, but it's new."

"I feel very lucky. It seems everything we're doing, we're doing it right at the right time," says Maciel. "And it wasn't planned."

School Days

In fact, if you'd told Maciel back in high school that he'd be fronting a "New New Wave" band, he would have laughed in your face.

"Back then, we were into metal," he says. "I still am; I still love the stuff."

Back then, he was also close friends with Brady, though the two of them never played in a band together until the Trims.

"We were roommates for two years, and we played guitar most nights, just have a beer and play," remembers Brady. "In high school, our senior year, we were like joined at the hip pretty much. Same classes, we used to hang out together at lunch, and then party on the weekends. Then we moved in together, and we'd play songs together. He was in a band and I was in a band, but we never played together in a band."

In fact, it was Maciel and Scharer who first officially joined up, in the mid-2000s South Bay band Manchester School, which won the Metro Best of Silicon Valley voting for Best Local Band in 2007.

"It wasn't until I met Eric that I started leaning more towards the indie '80s modern-rock sound. That was more like an '80s-sounding band," says Maciel. "I veered away from all the metal stuff. I think in the original email I sent [Eric] about Manchester School, I said 'I can play metal; I can play anything. Just let me join your band.'"

After Manchester School broke up in 2008, Maciel began writing new songs, then recruited Scharer for his new band. Aguirre came on board next, although that wasn't what he originally had in mind.

"I grew up in Texas," he says. "I came here and went to San Jose State University. I put up a Craigslist ad hoping to find a bassist and a singer; it was going to be my cousin on drums with me on guitar. I got all these replies and was like 'You know what, maybe I don't want to do it.' Then I got this email from Gabe saying, 'Hey, we're a bassist and a singer looking for a guitarist and a drummer.' I was like 'I guess.'"

For the final spot, Maciel roped in his high school buddy, Brady. "Gabriel had asked me to play drums for him for probably two years, on and off. I was playing in heavy bands, heavy-metal bands and prog-rock bands. I wasn't interested in this kind of music. And then everything I was doing just kind of stopped. Bands broke up, I was not doing anything," remembers Brady.

"So Gabriel said, 'Do you want to come record some tracks for us while we look for a drummer? They were pre-written songs; the drums were already thought out. I had no problem. It was pretty simple. I went in there and played and started having fun and hanging out with Gabriel again."

"The funny thing is we were doing a photo shoot, my friend Mike Chavez was taking pictures of us," says Aguirre. "And Billy was in the picture, so we said, 'If you don't join, we're going to have to Photoshop somebody else's head in.' But he wanted to stay in it, and it's really worked."

In May of last year, the Trims played their first show, while continuing to write and record. The band's process gradually evolved to be extremely collaborative, which excited everyone involved.

"To me, introducing a new song and having people in the band like it, that's the best feeling," says Aguirre. "It's like 'Wow, I'm not crazy. It's actually pretty decent.'"

Sometimes, the band comes up with parts of songs spontaneously, like the bridge in "The Breeze," which they created in a single take while recording the album

"'With You' is a good example of that, too," says Maciel. "I was just doodling around, sometimes I'll do stuff just to see if they notice. I was hitting the harmonics on my guitar. We played the song, and I didn't think anyone noticed.

"I was like 'Eh, stupid idea, no one cared.' But after we were done, Bryan said, 'What was that sound?' I said, 'I was doing this,' and he said, 'Try it again.' So I tried it again.

"And then Eric was like 'What if you do this?' and he starts mouthing it out. So I was trying to follow what he was doing, and eventually it came out to what we have."

"We're not afraid to say, 'you know, that sucks,'" adds Brady. "And nobody gets hurt. If it sucks, tell me it sucks. We're all a family here."

The Trims

Riding the Wave

The band has suddenly found itself in an extremely prolific period—though they've just barely released We Cried for Fun, they're already readying a follow-up. They're so confident in their new material that three out of the five songs they played at the BFD showdown were written since recording the album.

"We're going to be recording the follow-up EP in September, a five-song EP. We have a lot of songs. We could do another album, maybe an album and a half," says Maciel.

Now they're trying to build on their victory in the Local Band Contest and appearance at BFD, while supporting the album with a rapid-fire series of dates around the South Bay over the past couple of months. They believe part of the reason for the enthusiastic response they've gotten is a shift in the South Bay scene.

"2004 to '07 was when Manchester School was around," says Scharer. "I handled a lot of the booking, and we played with so many bands who—whether they were good or not so good wasn't necessarily the thing, it just did not fit. It was so hard to play a cohesive alternative rock, indie rock show. It'd be like us and a metal band and a Misfits cover band. I'd be like 'Well, okayyy, that works.'"

Now of course there is no shortage of indie-rock-type bands in the South Bay; some of the Trims' favorites are Bell Thieves, Vulture Smile, Blank Manuscript and the Soft Volume.

"San Jose is really coming up now," says Maciel. "When we first started, San Jose didn't have much of a music scene per se. But in the past six months, all these bands are emerging. For some reason, there's something happening in San Jose that's phenomenal."


Saturday, July 30, 9pm

Old Wagon Saloon, San Jose