Trauma Harness celebrates a decade with two new albums | Music news and interviews | Saint Louis

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MABEL SUEN

Trauma Harness has an unmistakable live aura.

To know the scrappy spirit of the St. Louis DIY scene is to know Trauma Harness. For the past 11 years, the band has pounded low-ceilinged basements and dive bars on either side of the Mississippi River with their passionate sonic explosion. Hammering together a Frankenstein of his favorite genres – rock, pop, electronic and punk – the music of Trauma Harness feels in your face but sustains the sincerity.

Trauma Harness is three friends: Josh Jenkins on vocals, guitar and synth; Andy Peterson on bass; and Johnny Birkner on drums. The trio formed in 2011 after their previous bands broke up.

“I feel like [Trauma Harness] was an opportunity to just be ourselves,” Peterson says of the band’s creation.

The trio began performing and recording together at Illegal Tone Recordings, a now closed DIY space in downtown Belleville, Illinois. The band members have switched between living in St. Louis and on the Illinois side over the years. Saint-Louis is their base, while Belleville is their roots.

From their collaborative songwriting process and everything goes, the pandemic has forced the band members to record online. Jenkins, Peterson and Birkner each added pieces to the recordings like a puzzle, editing and reworking the songs while isolated from each other during the lockdown. The result is their new album, swimming in plasticreleased end of July 2022.

The last time Trauma Harness released a full album was in 2020: Death Cult Invitation, a 30-song narrative disc about a death cult in southern Illinois. Sticking to the form of the concept album, the self-produced Trauma Harness swimming in plastic takes place in Carrion Parks, a “place for all the malcontents”, the liner notes state. The album invites us to enter the theme park through 18 tracks, a wild ride of doom and wacky sound creations.

“The theme park as a concept almost doubles as an escape haven,” says Jenkins. swimming in plastic merges the swirling thoughts of the beginning of the COVID period. “There’s a certain attitude to existing and finding solace in a bad world,” adds Jenkins.

The look swimming in plastic The CD comes with a map of Carrion Parks and a lyric sheet in brochure form, designed by Jenkins. The dark blue “Oil Ocean” universe features different attractions, almost resembling levels in a 1990s video game. Each full song on the album correlates to a different neon but eerie park location on the card, like a baseball field for “Batter Up!” a slide for “Tidal Wave” and a colorful, scorching play space for “Hellfire,” all surrounded by lightning bolts of skulls and radioactive green.

Looking at the map of the park, Peterson notes, “It kind of paints this whole hellish world, where people are still having fun, you know? Like they have no choice, really.”

Each song is introduced by a robo amusement park intercom narrator, and each captures the unmistakable live aura of Trauma Harness: poppies upbeat rock with dark, driving tones. It doesn’t take long to understand swimming in plasticThe central themes of cosmic terror, American greed and the police state all act as pollutants in our lives.

Faced with this despair, Trauma Harness will not give up writing fun songs. Each track introduces a sound toy box distinguishing the various “rides” of the park. Cartoony synths punctuate “Through the Walls”, which criticizes a country where people beg for medical care. Jenkins often finishes the songs of swimming in plastic with a lyric of profound uncertainty, a rarity of sectarianism for punk music: “Are you falling asleep / dreaming of something better / dreaming of a better place / dreaming of a better life.”

Trauma Harness released another major album in July around the same time as swimming in plastic. Ten years of trauma is a compilation celebrating Trauma Harness’ last decade as a band. Curated and released by Lumpy Records, the 15 pop songs span 10 years of limited online singles and songs from small cassette runs, brought together for the first time on vinyl.

The LP, with a remarkable tomato red cover of abstract dots and spotlights by artist Eric Mayer, honors the band’s remarkable continuity and celebrates an end. Ten years of trauma is the latest release from Lumpy Records, a local DIY label that has operated for over a decade. Led by Martin Myer of Lumpy & the Dumpers, Lumpy Records showcased lo-fi punk and post-punk from St. Louis and beyond, including four Trauma Harness tapes, two LPs and two 45s. It made sense for Myer to wrap up the Lumpy legacy with Trauma Harness, a band that symbolizes Myer’s debut on the Belleville punk scene in 2007. (Myer has launched a new label, Rotten Apple, which will focus on multi- gender outputs.)

Ten years of trauma begins with “Eternal Return Company”, which includes Trauma Harness’ signature audio sampling: “Try looking into the future”, a voice advises us, demanding the future as we enter the time travel of the scrapbook. The song slams right into the band’s electro pop punk recipe of muddy vocals; percussive booming drums; doom bass fragments; then back into wacky, fun guitar. The album moves from sci-fi post-punk (“Scrap Brain Zone”), to spooky but funny synth songs (“Echolocation”), and bubbly doo-wop (“Cathy Don’t Go”, “Snowman”).

The trio toured the Midwest briefly in June with St. Louis synth-punk band The Mall. They also added another local musician to their dynamic, Austin Zink, to sometimes play the synth parts on their electronic songs. They played foursome at venues like CBGB and Sinkhole in late summer and early fall. The band members hint that more collaborations and spooky music may be coming in the near future.

Perhaps Trauma Harness’ longevity is a testament to her ability to transform and adapt. For a DIY group, especially in St. Louis, staying together for more than a decade seems rare.

“I feel like our friendship is keeping the band alive,” Jenkins said.

And the band shows no signs of slowing down.

“We’ve always made the joke that we can see ourselves being a band when we’re around 70 or something, who knows,” Birkner says. “The weather is strange.”

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