Trust Fund

TrackAlbum / EP
Reading The WrappersTrust Fund / Joanna Gruesome 12" EP
TogetherWe Have Always Lived In The Harolds (cassette)
Blue XBringing The Backline
Cut Me OutNo-one's Coming For Us
AbundantBringing The Backline
DreamersSeems Unfair
Big AsdaSeems Unfair
whalithWe Have Always Lived In The Harolds (cassette)
SadnessNo-one's Coming For Us
Seems UnfairSeems Unfair

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Trust Fund photo

Trust Fund – around the release of the “Seems Unfair” LP (2015) with Ellis Jones, far right

 

Contributor: idca

I remember that it was about four years back. I was getting excited about the new split EP by Joanna Gruesome, with another band on the flip, one I’d never heard of before. I listened to it on the internet the day it came out, didn’t buy the vinyl (do you know how much a 12″ costs these days?). Anyway, I heard the Joanna Gruesome songs and wasn’t especially impressed, so I listened to the other band instead. The opener was Reading The Wrappers. I remember a high voice, gently spoken. Saying the sort of things that you’d want to hear if you were struggling a bit:

We can kick every pebble into the sea til there’s nothing left, if that’s what helps …

I was struggling a bit then. I still am. Or to put it another way, I’m not very well, haven’t been for a long time. I didn’t really want to talk about it here, but it becomes part of this story and so I might as well get this out of the way before we start. I won’t say more about it than is absolutely necessary, just that it’s neither as crippling or scary as it once was, but is extremely isolating, improving but unlikely to get a lot better now, and still stops me from doing most of the things I want to be able to do.

Anyway, as such, I take my comforts where I can get them. Music is where I find my joy. I listened on.

The point being that, by the time the fragile, winding guitar shape of the opening had given way to the Weezerish power chords of the second verse, I was hooked, grinning from ear to ear. By the final run to the end, where the drums pound in double time and the parents are still sat “reading the wrappers”, not knowing what to do but caring enough to be there anyway, I was reaching for the play button to take it back to the start (after many repeats, I did eventually listen to their other two songs on the EP, which were similarly brilliant). This song floors me even now, all this time later; the picture painted in the lyrics still feels so vivid, the music so infectious, yet a little uncomfortable, like the world Ellis created. So yeah, I loved Trust Fund from the very first time I heard them and it only grew from there.

To be clear, Trust Fund are my favourite band. I listen to them most days if not every day; I just don’t seem to be able not to. Listening on the mp3 player, I often end up singing along to their songs whilst taking walks in the woods near my house, then look around furtively to see if anyone’s heard me. Sometimes they have and I feel a bit embarrassed, but I carry on anyway; the joy of singing along is not something I would miss out on just because of mere embarrassment. Sometimes the drums kick in hard after an intro and my body shakes with the love that I hold for that particular song, the happiness I take from that moment. In short, they’re important to me. They make my life better.

I should add in a few details at this point. Like that they were a guitar pop band formed early this decade in Bristol, who consisted of singer/songwriter Ellis Jones and a revolving cast of DiY music pals from bands like Two White Cranes, Oh Peas and The Middle Ones, apart from the times when Jones simply chose to record the lot in his bedroom alone. That their music shifted in tone over their four LPs: 2015’s No-One’s Coming For Us (lo-fi, maudlin) and Seems Unfair (grunge pop, riffy), 2016’s We Have Always Lived In The Harolds (bedroom, experimental) and this year’s swansong, Bringing The Backline (polished, swanky). That Ellis wrote about romance, friendship, misery, disappointment and supermarkets, because these are the staple subjects of life and no record should be without them. That they packed up for good a few months back and tears were shed, in this house anyway. But these things are not that important and this will not be a history lesson. I know people like the facts but, to be honest, who fucking cares? Instead, I thought I’d try and group the remaining songs by type, though there’s plenty of overlap. So let’s get on …

The combination of misery and fun is a huge part of Trust Fund’s appeal. Their lyrics are peppered with anxiety, broken relationships and uncomfortable situations, but there is a joy at the centre of their sound without which none of this would work – they are rarely other than glorious, gorgeous pop music. Take 2016 single Together for instance, something of a bleary companion piece to CSNY’s Our House, where the guitars jangle, the drums skip and the slightly raucous backing vocals give a keen sense of warmth and well being. This isn’t the whole story though, as the lyric details a relationship where new found domesticity seems to be a way of papering over the cracks, but the surprising melodic good cheer stops it feeling like a massive drama. Instead, it becomes an ordinary situation, fraught with tension maybe, but lightened by the irony of the contrast and, though the difficulties of my own life are a world away from this, I identify with it far more than a thousand so very serious records that strike a far more cheerless tone; I can’t help trying to find some sunshine in the gloom myself.

This also applies to Blue X from this year’s towering Bringing The Backline LP, where references to having “that sad Sunday suicidal ideation eight days a week” don’t stop it from being a massive glam pop banger and one of the most oddly joyous pop songs of 2018. Of course there’s a history of contrast between light and dark in indie music stretching back through the Smiths and beyond. But, in my opinion, no one else has ever made it anything like as exhilarating as Trust Fund, or have made their anguish quite so relatable through the frequent good cheer of its setting. They demonstrate that you can inject some happiness into the grim realities of modern life, whilst still showing up pretty black on close inspection.

Another, similar angle worth exploring is Ellis Jones’s keen sense of humour in his lyrics, self deprecating and sardonic, with something of a cruel streak at times. Early radio hit, the Nirvana-esque Cut Me Out, from the band’s grainy and sometimes uncomfortable debut No-One’s Coming For Us, uses this to fine effect; Ellis apologises for a breach of trust but it comes across as hilariously insincere – “I’m sorry if I definitely deliberately lied / For every night for 18 months of your life / I don’t know why I did that” – sounding needy and desperate, but also keenly aware of the ridiculousness of his position. That the joke emphasises the pain of the situation is classic Trust Fund, the light emphasising the dark once again to make for a more fierce impact.

Abundant, the band’s elegiac final single, offers humour again but in a very different context. As “two lost long ago lovers looking to be good, good friends” take a train journey in an effort to rekindle their friendship, an infectious call and response starts in Ellis’s head between the situation at hand and the feelings coursing through him – “The train’s going past a golf course / I CAN’T REMEMBER WHY WE BROKE UP” – before eventually concluding, “OH YEAH, OF COURSE I DO”. The effect is joyous, a perfect evocation of all the times you can remember when you couldn’t believe your every thought wasn’t written in felt tip pen all across your face. But this sets up the searingly honest climax of the song all the better, as the tone changes and a lyric that had been just a touch daft turns into a painful dissection of an unsalvageable relationship – “All passions we once assured could scarcely be contained, now safely tupperwared away”. This contrast, along with the sweeping lift in the music, heightens the emotions to dizzying effect, showing Jones’s songwriting at its best; it’s a jaw-dropping moment where you realise your indie band crush are suddenly all grown up and capable of writing something that perhaps everyone could love. As happens so often with Trust Fund, the jokes pulls you in, but by the end of the song it’s the brittle, sometimes brutal, emotions that hang around in the memory and make the song into what, in a better world than this one, would be seen as a modern classic.

Relationships form an important theme in the band’s catalogue, although these are looked at from a typically idiosyncratic perspective. Dreamers, from their adrenaline fuelled second album Seems Unfair, is another tale of romantic breakdown, but rather than a dramatic fallout, both parties seem to simply be losing interest (“Would I even cross the street to say I love you?”). In spite of the downbeat theme, the song itself is gorgeous, bouncing pop, with the chorus harmonies between Ellis and bass player Roxy Brennan delivering a call and response (“Are you sad about me? Are you sad about me!”) that sends massive waves of pleasure across my brain with each successive repetition. This is a song I never fail to sing along to when I’m out walking and I don’t give a fuck who hears me.

Similarly marvellous is Big Asda, a ‘two of us vs everything’ narrative where, although romance is implied, the focus is on the warm intensity of friendship and unity in the face of obstacles, in this case their own neuroses (another frequent theme) and an aversion to their peers. The supermarket of the title is cast as a safe haven from the worst the world can offer – “I’ll meet you in Big ASDA in one hour’s time / Safe and dry / Not wanting to die / All weird feelings set aside” – in a breathless, supercharged chorus, where the guitars crash and burn after a chugging, jittery verse.

But best of these three is whalith, the acronymic title track of 2016’s Shirley Jackson inspired We Have Always Lived In The Harolds cassette, which offers a vision of calm amidst the turbulence. Held together by a delicate solo guitar figure, Jones reveals a picture of warm intimacy between lovers that seems to surprise even him, as he sings repeatedly “I’m not ashamed of it / Quite the opposite” over the gentle picking. An unusual (for Trust Fund) snapshot of a settled existence, ‘whalith’ offers some hope amongst the general lyrical pessimism of these records, a sense that something good is out there if only we can find it and hang on to it for long enough. It is also achingly, desperately beautiful, the kind of song that you’d give everything to be able to write, even just once.

At the beginning, I made a point about my being chronically ill, and it cannot be overstated what Trust Fund’s records have meant to me in terms of keeping my head above water, especially over the last couple of years when my mental health took something of a dive. Sadness, the opener from No-One’s Coming For Us, has been a particularly important song for me, perhaps my favourite of all. It’s an exhilarating lo-fi racket, with Ellis yelping over the top, often unintelligibly, sounding like a distressed teenager whose voice is yet to break:

You are calling me to tell me you are home and you are safe / And that you don’t wanna die anymore / You don’t wanna die now but you did before

It’s a song about a failed suicide attempt and, though I should be clear that my own problems have never reached the depths detailed here, there is something I recognise in Ellis’s voice on Sadness, submerged by the noise as it is; a sense of drowning inside life, of only occasionally coming up for a gulp of air before the horror engulfs you again. But it’s the end that truly resonates for me, a message of defiance which has rooted itself in my brain, unlikely ever to leave:

Let’s deal with this, let’s talk about it, let’s sit down in the same house for a bit … don’t let this sadness become who we are

It’s about taking strength from unity, a message of solidarity that shines through on so many of Trust Fund’s songs, especially on the early records, and one that luckily I have had enough good people around me so far to find some truth in. I love Sadness for this reason, but also cos it’s a terrific power pop record; the feelings I get when I hear the opening notes make my head swim so completely that I can do nothing other than listen to it through to the end, then go back and start again.

The title track of Seems Unfair is more complicated. Initially constructed around a grainy, slow burning single guitar, Ellis sings about compulsion and obligation, the tragedy and guilt of hating the situation that you’re in. I, of course, have my cross to bear on this score, but what makes Seems Unfair interesting is not so much the condolence it offers (though the group harmony of the title during the chorus is certainly comforting), but how it subverts that at the song’s close. Over a storming punk finale, Ellis sings fiercely, “When you’re crying in the cold / Cos you’re too far down your own road / And there’s nowhere else you even wanna go”, turning that sympathy into self pity with one last hauntingly bitter line.

And it’s this that makes Trust Fund great; their ability to turn everything on it’s head time and again, turning an ode to consolation into an unsettling image of self indulgence, in the same way they use their humour to accentuate their harder emotional edges, or their shining pop sensibilities to smuggle in their frequently pessimistic, neurotic worldview, which in itself is complicated by their kindness and solidarity in face of trouble. They were a brilliant mass of contradictions, but they were always consistent in two things: the high quality of their output (they never wrote a bad song and they certainly never put out a bad record) and their ability to make me want to get up and put on one of those records, sometimes when I was of the mind that I didn’t really want to do very much ever again. I repeat: they are my favourite band. There are still weeks that go by where I barely listen to any other bands at all. Why would I ever want to go anywhere else?

 

Trust Fund bandcamp

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Trust Fund call it quits (Pitchfork, July 2018)

You can read more of idca’s writings on new music and stuff at Only Memories.

TopperPost #749

5 Comments

  1. William McAlpine
    Nov 6, 2018

    Superb piece of writing, both in terms of the music and of the personal.

  2. Rob Morgan
    Nov 6, 2018

    A great piece. Heartfelt, painfully honest, beautifully written, and the writer’s passion for the music shines through every word – and the songs are just as heartfelt, painfully honest and beautiful too. A real gem.

  3. David Bruce
    Nov 6, 2018

    I’ve never heard Trust Fund before but this brilliant piece has made me want to seek them out.

  4. Esther Y.
    Nov 6, 2018

    Wonderfully written. So personal was this to the writer that the heartfelt lyrics were no longer hovering just under the music. I tend to get lost in the music first so I always find these snapshots between an artist’s music and the writer an interesting read. Sad to see Trust Fund is no more.

  5. John Hartley
    Nov 11, 2018

    That’s an excelllent and brave piece, idca, and though I’ve yet to hear Trust Fund – to be remedied instantly of course – I can completely relate to your writing.

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