With their kaleidoscopic 2018 record The American Dream, Trophy Eyes introduced us to a looser, more tonally colourful embodiment of their typically harsh and hot-blooded grunge-punk (or, if you will, grunk). Between the mammoth melodies in “Lavender Bay”, the boom-clap-chant energy of “You Can Count On Me” and the inescapable bounciness of "Something Bigger Than This", the Novocastrian trailblazers' third LP showed a clear influence from mainstream, ‘bubblegum’ pop music – something that may even seem insulting to some diehard rock aficionados, but really shouldn’t; whichever way you paint it, pop music is f***ing great.
Anyway, it shouldn’t be totally surprising that Trophy Eyes frontman John Floreani would make the leap to full-on synthpop on his debut solo album. A painfully long-awaited follow-up to his 2014 Terrace EP (released as Little Brother, a nom de plume Floreani was forced to cut when he discovered an American rap group with the same name), Sin trades battered, bedroom-produced acoustic wallops for slick, luminescent electronics and top-shelf pop production. It certainly shouldn’t work – Floreani’s teeth were cut on hardcore, and many would argue it's where he shines brightest – but lo and behold, it absolutely does.
To learn more about how Sin came to life, we gave a very jetlagged – but still distinctively sweet – Floreani a buzz.
Being on the cusp of your first record with this new project, does it feel like you’re putting out a debut album all over again?
Nah, not really. I don’t have those 'first record jitters' at all. I’ve been putting out music since 2014, so it’s not that it’s any less exciting or anything, but I think my side project – what was Little Brother, but is now just John Floreani – is just the kind of songs that I collect and that I like, and they don’t really have any pressure put on them. It's a lot less serious than Trophy Eyes. The songs are very important to me, but it’s a lot more laidback. I just had these eight songs that I liked – they’re a little weird, they’re a little fun – and so I was like, “Alright, sweet, I’ll put ‘em out!” I mean, I should be like, “Oh my God, I hope everybody likes them!” But at the moment, I’m just like, “Yeah, sweet.” I like them, and I guess that’s all that matters, y’know?
Did you feel like coming up with another moniker to go solo under when you got told you couldn't be Little Brother anymore, or did it just make sense to go full steam ahead with your actual name?
We didn’t even think about it. I guess I’m just at this 'no frills' point in my life, where I’m not really trying to do anything special or be the kind of guy that goes, “Woah, look at that, I’ve got a cool new name! Everybody look at me!" It’s a lot more chill, y’know? So when we were like, “Oh, what are we gonna do?” I just went, “Let’s just make it my name,” and everyone was like, “Yeah, good idea,” and we kind of checked that off the list and left it at that.
Not just with the name being different, but with the sound of this record being so unique as well, does it feel like a new project in a sense? Or do you just see this as an evolution of what Little Brother was?
Yeah, I think. Little Brother was just what I could do with what I had. I’ve never really been a good musician – I don’t really know how to play the guitar, and if you were to say, “Can you play a G for me?” I’d be like, “Uhhhhhh… Nope!” I know where my fingers go and I know the shapes, and I know the sounds that those shapes make, but I’m really terrible at music theory. So long story short, back in the day when I was writing Little Brother songs, that was just the best that I could do with what I had and what I knew. I guess it is a progression of that same thing, but this project has always just been about doing whatever I’ve felt like doing, so I wouldn’t say it’s a whole new thing.
As far as the sound of this record goes, there’s a really interesting dichotomy that honestly shouldn’t work, but totally does: the first half plays with this really airy and luminescent synthpop flavour, and then the other half is this dense, brooding country music. Firstly, what is it about the realm of pop music that drew you in?
One of my favourite genres of music is ‘80s pop. I’ve always loved it. People are trying to do it again now, but that sound only truly existed in that one little pocket, and it was amazing. It was fruitful, and there were so many versions of it, and then it just disappeared, and now you’ve just got this little haven of ‘80s pop that will just live forever. And they’re just everybody’s favourite songs – everybody knows them. Even f***ing 16-year-old kids are like, “Oh, I know that song, that’s ‘Africa’ by Toto!”
It’s always been one of my favourite genres of music, but I’d never really written any of it. I didn’t want to write '80s pop, necessarily, but y’know, I never had a go at letting it influence me as a songwriter. There's plenty of Queen and Bruce Springsteen that makes its way into Trophy Eyes, but this time I wanted to have a crack at the synthier stuff and weirder stuff.
Going from the heavier sounds of Trophy Eyes into that '80s-influenced pop music, did you feel like you needed to learn the ropes again when it came to songwriting?
I think it came pretty naturally to me. I mean, pop songwriting is the most natural songwriting there is. A lot of people disagree – everyone’s like, “No way, man! Pop is made for the masses by geniuses, and there’s an algorithm and all these parts to the machine,” and, like… Not really. It’s just music without the fluff. Pop music is only the things that are absolutely necessary, and only the things that sound awesome. There’s plenty of mistakes and there’s plenty of weird shit in pop music that you don’t hear because it’s layered in deep.
You don't have to learn to write songs again if you're going from rock to pop, because if you write a good song, regardless of what genre it is, chances are that you’re borrowing from pop sensibilities. It's the same with any Trophy Eyes song – you need an intro, verse, bridge, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro. It’s the same kind of staple, and we try to make it all as catchy as possible. I’ve been practising that kind of technique for a while.
So on the other side of the record, there’s that twangier, more beaten-down country slant. I know you even lived in Texas for a while – are you all about the yee haw life?
Yeah, man! Texas was sick. I love westerns, I love everything about country – there's a lot of ideals that come with that part of the world that I don’t really agree with, but the way of life and the simplicity of the country attitude is very attractive to me. And that kind of music... It gets dark. Like, you can listen to emo bands where everyone’s like, “Oh, this is so sad,” but then you go and listen to country music, and you want to f***ing kill yourself. That shit is sad. It’s the saddest f***ing music in the world. I drift towards that naturally, anyway – there’s a lot of dark souls and a lot of alcoholics, and a lot of like broken-hearted guys in that. I’m all about it.
I feel like Sin is a pretty fitting title for the record, because thematically, a lot of these songs revolve around different types of sin. Was that concept something you had from the get-go?
I didn’t have any idea of what it would be called, but when the album was finished we listened to the songs, we were like, “Oh, it all kind of fits into that theme,” so we picked it after. But I think it has less to do with actual sins, and more just the normal life shit that you do, y’know? It’s always considered a sin, all the bad shit you get up to. It’s a lot less biblical than it sounds.
I wanna ask mostly because of “Repent” and “Before The Devil Knows I’m Dead” – are you a religious person?
I'm not. I consider myself a nihilist, but I guess those two songs kind of had their own religious theme. My girlfriend is Catholic, her family is Catholic and my family is Catholic as well – Italian Catholic – and I don’t know, I kind of went away from that when I was a kid, but “Before The Devil Knows I’m Dead” is fitting in that circumstance because it’s all about my girlfriend’s faith. And “Repent” has less to do with repenting at church, and more about just kind of reliving what happened in that song over and over again, and getting what I deserve – wearing it, in that sense.
So to launch this record, you’re hopping between countries for a three-date Celebration Of Sin mini-tour. Where did the idea come from to do these three standalone shows in London, Melbourne and LA?
Well, other than the fact that I was bored as hell, it was just kind of where I could fit it in, in-between Trophy Eyes dates and writing dates and where I’d be in the world. We just thought we'd bust out these shows because it was a really good opportunity to have them so close together – the first day was London, then Melbourne, then LA, and it worked out that those would be the three cities I'd be in in such a short span of time.
What was that first show in London like?
It was awesome! It’s funny – it was kind of like how my side project’s always been. There was supposed to be a support act, but I showed up and they just weren’t there. I was like, “Is there going to be someone playing before me?” And they were like, “Well, no-one’s been booked, and no-one's here.” So I was like, “Okay, so there wasn’t one in the first place?” And they were like, “...Nope.” So I was like, “Okay, cool, that’s fine.” And then we sat around, and there was no rider or anything so we went to a bar across the road and just drank until I had to play.
So I walked back and then had five minutes to get my guitar and walk downstairs, and I got onstage and everyone was there! It was a couple hundred people – maybe 250 people altogether? And I was just like, “Alright, well, here we go!” And then… Just… It happened. It was loud. People were singing, people were enjoying themselves, a couple of people were crying... We had a really good time!
Do you have plans to do a proper headline tour later down the track?
Yeah! I think there’s one coming at the end of the year. We’re going to push some pretty sizeable venues for it – I haven’t really played rooms as big as this for my solo project. So yeah, there’ll be a headliner in Australia, and probably in the States. Who knows where we'll take it? Everywhere I can play, I will play.
So how does an album like this come to life onstage, anyway? Are you playing with a full band?
I won’t speak too much about what we're planning for later, just so I can keep some surprises up my sleeve. But yeah, the shows so far have just been acoustic as always – I was playing acoustic versions of the new tracks and the old tracks, and keeping it really simple and chill. We talk, we chat, we hang out, we drink, people just yell shit out… I don’t know, it’s a weird thing! It’s a weird environment. It’s not really like a show at all – it’s more like stand-up where the punters also get to talk and hang out.
What’s your go-to guitar at the moment?
It's a Maton SRS70C. It’s from the Solid Road series, and... [Strums a sick lick] it’s just the best guitar I’ve ever played. I really wanted a C.F. Martin & Co. for a long time, but then I got my hands on this, and it’s just so easy to play! The action is beautiful. I can barely, barely play the guitar, but this makes me this makes me sound good anyway. It makes me sound like I can play the guitar, y’know? If you’re f***ing around on this thing and playing Peter Gunn – [plays a Peter Gunn lick] – it’s the best Peter Gunn you’ve ever heard.
Maton makes incredible guitars. I was lucky enough to go out and play a show in their warehouse, and they just gave this one to me. It’s a little bashed up now – it’s played shows all the way from the US to Thailand, the UK, some of Europe, and all over Australia now. And it still sounds incredible. The older it gets, the better it sounds!