Truman, a mainstay in Richmond’s DIY heavy music scene, is currently on a month-long tour across the US. With them are copies of their latest cassette, Ma Doi, a 17-minute emotional hardcore excursion released this past April on Middle-Man and Zegema Beach Records. The tape features three tracks with blistering vocals, chaotic and depressive riffs and contributions from experimental Richmond act Yaya.
Truman’s sound exists somewhere between chaos and melody, evolving over 5 years and 5 releases with their most recent lineup consisting of three members. The band finds a more pensive place on this tape, moving freely in and out of different styles and moods, but maintaining a consistent and cathartic approach.
Members Mitchie Shue, Benson Truong and Dylan Anderson operate heavily in the local DIY scene and play in other projects including Listless, Samarra, .gif from god, Loneliness and more.
This tape serves as a perfect time capsule of Truman, putting forth a concentrated burst of their signature, sharp, and driving sound. The band has a knack for songwriting the likes of Envy, Funeral Diner and Welcome the Plague Year, as Ma Doi is frenzied, frustrated, hopeful, grinding and soaring – simply not to be overlooked.
Their tour has them heading to the west coast and back, and will be their longest journey yet at over a month. Joining them for the final east coast string of shows will be Philadelphia’s Supine.
As a self-identified screamo band, what does the term “emo” mean to you?
Mitchie Shue: To me “emo” means vulnerability and an attempt at being in touch with your emotions and feelings. I think that performing our art and sharing it with others is one of the best ways we have to relate to one another as people. The vulnerability and intimacy that performing and witnessing art requires is not insignificant. Through art, I feel like I can express myself in ways I couldn’t imagine doing in conversation or day to day interactions. I look at it as a moment, a chance to be honest with yourself and with how you feel inside your heart.
Benson Truong: There comes a level of honesty that’s more apparent, or at least overtly so, in “emo” music that allows me to connect with it more strongly than other types of music. The comfort involved in being open to expressing these feelings of vulnerability and it being a source of influence is a fundamental part of the possibilities for what it could sound like. Using it as a platform for not only yourself but for others to connect with is crucial as it can be almost cathartic to hear how others’ express frustrations that resembles your own, while conversely offers the artist a similar sense when using music as an outlet for those feelings. I’m grateful it’s given me the opportunity to express myself in ways other forms of communication effectively can’t.
After performing together for five years, how has your songwriting and approach to music changed? How has the band as a whole evolved?
Shue: I think conceptualizing and creating art is always an evolving process and that has certainly been the case for us. A lot of making collective art is cooperation and passion. So I think as we have played together longer we have gotten to know one another better and more intimately and learned how to work together well in order to create something we can all be proud of. Our line up has changed a little bit over the years but the three of us all grew up together and know each other extremely well. I am most comfortable as a three piece and playing with 2 of my best friends in the whole world has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my whole life. I feel like we have become more dynamic over the years and have become a lot better at curating the atmosphere and channeling the messages we are trying to put out there.
Truong: With all of us having gotten to know each other since high school, having the opportunity to strengthen that connection over the years has helped us so much in evolving our writing process. I think the changes in our sound has become a strong indicator of this fortified bond. We more than ever write cohesively as a group and know not to rush aspects of the writing process. It helps that we’re all on the same page as far as musical direction, as I think we all aim to sound a little heavier while still trying to balance desperate sounding interludes and controlled bursts of turmoil.
Dylan Anderson: We didn’t know exactly what we wanted to sound like at first but we wanted to be heavy. Our first release had a more straightforward punk sound, but as we got better we were able to write more intricate parts that weren’t only in common time. Around our second release our lineup changed and, instead of coming up with material individually, we wrote together, which has made us tighter and more dynamic.
Lyrically, what themes does the band explore on the new tape? Do you all write lyrics together or individually?
Shue: I’ve always been very focused on the subject of death. Cliche, I know. But to be quite honest, I’m terrified of death and to a greater extent I’m terrified of losing the ones I love. Much of the lyrics I have written often toy with ideas of loss and love and the intersections they hold. Our last release, Ma Doi, focused primarily on how loss changes the spaces we occupy and ultimately changes who we are. More recently I have been writing about my own mental and emotional capacity. I believe at the root of a lot of self-hatred is the belief that my ability to serve the ones I love is not and won’t ever be enough. I feel inadequate. I see the amazing things my friends do for others, and I can’t help but feel I am not worthy of keeping such company. Fuck, I just want to be worthy of the love I have received and be a positive thing in others lives.
Truong: For the most part, we write separately. But I’ll ask Mitchie for running themes they’re considering for a specific song and kind of tailor my writing to that so it doesn’t seem scattered or entirely unrelated to what they’re writing about. The themes of loss and how it is coped with, as well as the inability or fear to see past pessimistic feelings, have always been strong themes for us. How we deal with the changes brought on by sudden realizations in living through the routine of daily life can act as reminders of the constants or the lack thereof. For this release, we explore loss quite a bit; how even the smallest moments of meeting an individual can become significant after they’re gone and how dying can be a person’s last chance for remembrance. This intertwines with the questioning of whether you’ve done something monumental enough within your existence to where people would remember you after your departure, despite how a final act could fulfill that just the same.
Many things have changed politically and socially over the past five years, but oppressive systemic forces still pervade our country. In that context, what role do politics and identity play in your music, and what do you think is your responsibility as musicians/artists in terms of talking about those ideas and beliefs?
Shue: We identify with anti-fascist and anti-racist movements. Black lives matter, queer and trans lives matter, and support of these movements is essential and necessary. Recognizing, shedding light on, and resisting state sanctioned oppression and violence collectively are not words to be championed but rather an ideological lifestyle we aim to uphold and live by. There is a necessity for communal organization and empathy as a vessel and a tool for working towards collective liberation. We believe in the need and validity of safe(r) spaces and QTPOC centered spaces and work to foster/maintain them in our community in Richmond. Community is everything and the queer POC punk scene in Richmond holds it down and I am so grateful to be apart of it and to be surrounded by individuals putting in the hard work and emotional/physical labor to help make the communities/society we live a better place and a safer place. Punk is about liberation and the subversion of systemic oppression. Let’s not forget that. Queer POC liberation forever.
Truong: I can’t agree more with Mitchie, the emphasis on supporting the QTPOC community while using empathy and art as a means to offer understanding and fostering support is crucial to us. Being aware of the means at which the state oppresses vulnerable individuals of our community lies at the foundation of finding viable solutions to the many issues we’re faced with.
After playing shows around the country, how does Richmond’s DIY scene compare to your experiences in other cities in terms of politics and a sense of community?
Shue: It has been extremely interesting and heartwarming to visit so many other cities and to find ourselves in an assortment of different DIY scenes around the country. While I’d say each scene we’ve experienced has been quite unique, I also see many similarities across DIY scenes for sure. One thing I was thinking a lot about on this tour so far has been the difference between scenes that exist in small towns versus big cities. I’ve noticed a very real sense of community in smaller places and scenes that can be hard to see in larger cities. It makes me think a lot about Richmond and how large of a music scene exists there. I often wish I saw cooperation among different scenes that exist in town. I like the idea of collective support for art and activism. Traveling around and meeting rad people all over the country has me feeling rejuvenated and more excited than ever about DIY. I love doing this with all my heart and meeting kind people day after day really makes me feel a part of something I have difficulty putting into words. Thanks everyone who has welcomed us on this tour. Love you all a lot.
Anderson: Some of the shows we’ve played have not been as socially conscious or inclusive compared to Richmond screamo. A lot of shows around the country or even within Richmond seem more like house parties with bands, which often attracts people who are either not as informed or don’t care.
Truong: There are definitely similarities between the DIY scenes we’ve gotten the opportunity to be a part of and the ones in Richmond. A sense of community is for the most part present even when it seems like cliques are dominating forces, but that’s inevitable with most places. It’s always great to see smaller scenes thrive by working with others to create mixed bill shows that promote a wide range of artists and people. Everyone loves a show where every band is heavy sounding or otherwise, but I think ones with a diverse sounding line up offer an opportunity to expose those who would otherwise not have that chance, to participate in something that others care strongly about, and therefore increases the possibility of strengthening both scenes. It’s also interesting getting to witness firsthand how adaptive DIY can be; for locations unhappy with a lack of suitable venues, people will open up their houses to hold them. In places where people are less keen on offering up their homes as show spaces, warehouses, for example, open up and become a usable space. It’s fluid in that new spaces open and close with the rising and falling tides of people that care about DIY and through each obstacle, alternatives can be found to make DIY events happen everywhere.
On June 25th Truman returns to Richmondfrom their nationwide tour with Supine and Tavishi.
For more info, ask a punk.