Meeting Trust Fund

Hailing from Bristol, Trust Fund have had an exciting past few months with the release of their album No One’s Coming For Us on Turnstile Records. It would be best described to be the sound of Belle and Sebastian record through a gain pedal, sometimes at a computer desk, accompanied by emotional and candid songwriting, a la Mike Skinner. So, pretty good. On songs like ‘Scared’ (featured on their Split 7” with Joanna Gruesome) and ‘Cut Me Out’, you begin to have those urges to give your mum and or other half a quick text to ask them if they’re okay, because you’ve found yourself crying at your own shortcomings whilst you scroll through Facebook. After multiple DIY releases and shows, Ellis and Trust Fund have decided to record their next album – the second one this year – with Leeds’ studio engineer MJ, who is not only the leading member of Hookworms, but is also responsible for the production on the recent Joanna Gruesome and Menace Beach albums. This makes sense, considering Ellis’ recent move to Leeds to embark on a PhD.

Here I sit down with Ellis and ask him about the forthcoming album, recent success, hip-hop and other things.

How did the studio compare to home recording?

When you’re at home, you record a song when it’s finished but words aren’t finished. Now there’s the pressure of ‘you’re going to have a week to do it’. But even then, I was writing lyrics on the last day when I was doing the vocals at the end. It sounds much better and it didn’t feel stressful. I guess because MJ’s good and it’s his job to not make you not feel stressed. 

Yeah, a lot of the time recording engineers and producers double up as a therapist. I imagine they deal with a lot of personal issues and artists having second thoughts.

Yeah, definitely.

It’s really productive to put out two albums in a year – I’ve only ever heard of DMX and Rick Ross doing that. I guess when you’re a rapper a lot of the time you aren’t stuck as the sole musician so you can scroll through your Rolodex of trusty beat makers. 

That’s the thing – I’ve got a team of producers.

I actually saw you made a beat for the remix of Playlounge’s ‘Zero’. That was cool.
That was pretty cool!

I’m sorry about that.

It was almost Weeknd-ish?

I’d like to do that, but I’m not really good at playing around and getting weird sounds. Producers that I like have that really woozy sound – loads of Drake stuff has it. It’s super in right now. It’s really hard to do that.

So there’s no auto tune on the new Trust Fund album?

No, but MJ was showing us Melodyne and how effective it could be and it’s crazy. I hope I’m right in saying that we didn’t use it on anything, but it can recognise whole guitar chords! So if you’ve played one dud note, you can pitch up one note in a chord and it sounds fine even if it’s just a little bit flat. It’s really weird. So none [auto tune] yet, but seeing that was like, ‘oh right, I don’t really need to bother trying as hard as I am to sing anything right’.

I’m figuring out how you managed to put out two albums in a year. I saw an interview where you said you couldn’t play video games because you don’t feel productive, especially when you feel motivated to do something.

Ha, I can’t play FIFA now. The first album, I recorded over last summer and finished in October/November, and I wanted to put it out really soon. But then I sent it to Gareth at Turnstile who said wait a bit – he said to hold on, and I mentioned that I had something ready, but I wanted to record it in a studio.

Are you keeping stuff back like the 2pac albums?

Just wait for the legacy packages every year for the 20 years after I die. Basically, I booked in with MJ thinking I had an album written ready to go, but I didn’t. There was an ‘oh, wait a minute’ moment.

How did you balance that with university work? (Ellis is currently undergoing a PhD at University of Leeds in the subject area of DIY Music)

Uh, I haven’t done any uni work.

That’s how I balanced it too!

The earliest time you know how you’re doing is a year in, and that’s now. I just sent off my year’s work. It’ll be alright.

Has Trust Fund always been a collaborative process, and is it more so now?

It’s more so now, and that’s mainly through writing songs that I don’t know how to do. On the first album I wouldn’t say there are any killer riffs. I’ve done much less work this time; someone else has recorded it and other people are playing different parts.
Delegation is a great thing. They’re probably better at those specific things and it lets you focus on songwriting, right?

Hopefully there comes a day when there I don’t even have to do anything.

You’ll be like DJ Khaled.

Yeah, I’ll just be project manager. That’d be good.

It must be cool seeing your progression and notoriety as an act snowball. You can see the bigger bands of yesteryear like We Are Scientists slipping down the Reading Festival roster.  It must just be satisfying having a positive trajectory ahead.

It’s hard to notice. I don’t really know the things I want or what I find satisfying. We’re playing the festival Green Man and having our name on the poster for that…

That sounds pretty sick?

I get told off for being able-ist, which is very true. I always find it depressing to go into a record shop and see all of the bands whose records are for sale, and thinking ‘imagine being one of those bands amongst a million bands’. There’s actually something more interesting about not having your record out. But obviously sometimes it’s nice to play bigger shows and stuff, I guess.

You seem to have a self-doubt about your own musical taste. You posted on Facebook ‘this isn’t cool’ in reference to you putting up an XTC song, which was super weird because I was listening to [the Trust Fund song] ‘Scared’ [on their split with Joanna Gruesome] and I was like, ‘woah, there’s a mad 80s vibe to this’, and I didn’t really know what it was. Then when I saw you put up the XTC song it made sense.

He’s a really weird guy, Andy Partridge. I think he’s kind of Paul McCartney-ish in his melodies but his lyrics are just shocking. I’ve been quite aware recently that so much of the music I listen to is white guy songwriters doing jazzy in the way it’s consciously an interesting song. And they’re like ‘oh, we’ll do this sort of twisty bit’. I like thinking of songs as little tricks that you pull to make the song interesting again. But that’s also the opposite of what you’re supposed to think if you’re in a ‘cool band’ – it’s supposed to be all effortless. But actually that’s not how I try to write songs; I always think ‘how can I write an interesting song’. And people like him [Andy Partridge] ­– who has a conceit running through the whole song, like the song is one big metaphor – that’s the least cool thing to do, but I’m envious of it.

You can’t really help what you like. I did see you RT the thing about every cover of NME this year has been that of a white dude, though.

People think those are the only people who write songs or a certain definition of song. Which is the NME reader’s definition of a song.

Everyone has co-writers though, and collaborating isn’t a bad thing – it doesn’t make you any less of an artist. There’s some weird issue, especially in the indie rock community, about this idea of legitimacy.

Seeing songwriters as the main focus of music is weird. I feel that looking at the way producers get credited in rap and r&b – if you were going to be that stringent about it in indie music, you’d get more producer credits and songwriter credits. Producers do help write songs and band members also help in a way that’s not often credited. It’s just a different world with pop music – because there’s so much money involved you get people more likely to say, ‘please, say I wrote that little bit of it’.

Thanks, Ellis.

Words by Symrun Johal