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Team Tremolo reaches peak catharsis with 'Conjured Light'

Xavier Leija

"Conjured Light" is the new full-length release from Wichita's Team Tremolo.

Spearheaded by multi-instrumentalist, co-producer and engineer Will Erickson, the project features guitar work from Kristyn Chapman (Cartwheel), Erickson and Zack Roach (Spirit of the Stairs, ex-Senses Fail). It also includes bass from Caleb Drummond (Dustin Arbuckle & The Damnations, Spirit of the Stairs) and keyboards from Monica Siegman and Joey Lemon. (Lemon was instrumental on a number of fronts with the LP, including in production and engineering, working closely with Jason Catlett.) Vocals, as on the band's EP "Intruder," were provided by Jenny Wood.

Erickson began work on the album in 2019, collaborating heavily with Drummond and eventually presenting material to the other members in 2020 when the group convened to record the 10 songs that comprise "Conjured Light." The result is a deeply cathartic affair, featuring the outfit's signature dark Shoegaze sound and a host of sometimes enigmatic but always enlightening lyrics.

For Erickson, who has drummed with a variety of Wichita acts since his early teens, Team Tremolo is the realization of several dreams -- he serves as the bandleader and primary creative force -- including working in a creative environment with musicians he holds in high esteem. This also includes Ken Andrews of the band Failure, who mixed the LP. (Erickson cites Failure as a particularly strong influence.)

Erickson recently spoke with KMUW about the creation of "Conjured Light" and the future of Team Tremolo.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

You had an opportunity to work more closely with bassist Caleb Drummond on this record.

I had a bunch of skeletons for songs, different riffs. Caleb and I got together in 2019 and pieced some of those ideas together. We tried to put together rough arrangements of the songs that I could demo out on my own and fill out with the rest of the instruments.

You'd played music together before, including in Spirit of the Stairs. I'm guessing that you had collaborated on music there, but this was the first time that you were doing it under the guise of Team Tremolo.

The EP ["Intruder"] was written with me working mostly on my own. But Caleb always had contributions. Even when you write a song, once you get into rehearsals with a band, things naturally change. People will have cool suggestions for how to turn something around. He's always been great at that. He's got a great ear for arrangement and harmony and the dynamics of a song. Even with the EP, he really helped bring that to life and did the same but in a bigger way with the LP.

I find Team Tremolo interesting because everyone in the band has led their own band; this is the first band that you've been the official leader of. What was that like to take the reins this time out?

Team Tremolo is the first band that I was the proper leader of. Thankfully I had a lot of great leaders, in my bandmates, to model that leadership off of. Honestly, having everyone else be so capable just made my job easier. I don't have to hold anyone's hands and, I think, for some of them, it's a bit of a relief not to be in the driver's seat. It worked out nicely and it's fun for me to exercise a little bit more of those skills. Being a drummer, I'm used to being in the background, but I joke that I had more control than people even realized as the drummer. I was the informal leader, I guess.

You have two really fine guitar players in Kristyn Chapman and Zack Roach in this band. And you're there right alongside them.

I wrote the guitar parts -- both the rhythm and the leads -- I'd say 75 percent of the leads and 90 or 95 percent of the rhythms. And the reason I wanted Zack and Kristyn to record those parts is because they're both way better players than I am. I can write something and send them videos of, "Hey, here's a chord progression, here's what I'm thinking of." They could play it and make it sound like a real guitar player. They brought a life to the songs. Obviously, they're really talented instrumentalists and that just elevates everything.

Even some of the simpler parts of the songs, when they're played with that level of intention and that level of skill, it really becomes something different. If they weren't such close friends I'd probably be embarrassed at my own guitar playing, in some instances, but they're very generous and they seem to like the music and to enjoy being able to take what I did and make it their own, which ends up producing something that neither of us, on our own, would have come up with.

At the height of the pandemic you decided to make the record. I have to be honest and say that during that time I was so deep into my own pod that sometimes seeing other people was strange. Was there an element of that to the recording sessions or was it a matter of being happy to see each other and make music?

After being completely isolated at the height of the pandemic, when we finally got together in a room in June [of 2020], I think there was a sense that everyone was extra grateful to be doing something together. We were masked up and kept our six-foot distance and taking precautions in the studio, but it was still so fun just to be able to be with people again and … I think it was just a positive experience just for everyone to get together. Everyone brought to it a renewed sense of joy for making music and just being able to be together again. It just really makes you appreciate having a band having people that you can collaborate with.

You had written the songs before the pandemic but were there any songs that took on a weird resonance with everything that was happening at the time or things that have happened since?

A lot of times the meaning of a song, as I'm writing it, is pretty obscure to me. I'm not really sure what's trying to be said. I'm just usually chasing down a feeling That said, with these songs, there was definitely a feeling of a closed system or a closed circuit or a universe of sound that I wanted to create and this feeling of … not being stuck within yourself but like in a closed circuit.

Listening to it in light of the pandemic, it definitely felt like that had some resonances there with just being home and being stuck there and getting kind of getting into your own head. Or, in some cases, in a real positive sense, diving really far into things with the extra time that we had. Just that sense of burrowing in rather than coming out of I suppose.

Tell me about the significance of the album title, "Conjured Light."

The album title came from a lyric that I had written and had sent to [vocalist] Jenny [Wood] as a jumping off point for her to write some lyrics—it might be categorized more as some free-form poetry. Just some lines. "Conjured Light," I don't even know where it came from but it just kind of came to me. I liked the sound of it, and as we finished the album and especially as we finished the lyrics, which ended up taking on a bit of a daker tone to fit the music. We were kind of trying to see the whole album as a way to conjure light from darkness. It's sort of that Jungian idea of diving into the shadow in order to know yourself and to be a more complete person.

"Conjured Light" is the idea that the music is dark and it feels heavy but through that you can conjure lightness and positivity. That meaning wasn't imbued into the songs as we were writing them but as we sat back with more of the vocals done, we said, "That works. That kind of encompasses what we're trying to say."

I've found both the EP and this release cathartic.

That's definitely the tone that we're trying to achieve. We try to make a bigger-than-life sound, something that feels epic, in that sense. Writing that music, for me, is definitely cathartic. That's the experience to have as well.

Kristyn is in Chicago, Jenny is in Nashville. Does that mean that this is the last we're going to hear from this band or does it mean that now the band is something that gets together when it can and works when it can?

I don't think we've committed to either saying that this is going to be a total swan song, last thing, nor have we committed to doing it again in the future. I'd say it's pretty open, at least for where we're at right now we felt like making this album, with our members moving cities, it was a good conclusion to what this iteration of Team Tremolo was. Whether that changes in the future or the music changes slightly [remains to be seen].

Kristyn has a new project that's going to be debuting a song soon, and I'm working on a new project. Everybody's got stuff going on, and I for sure see that I'll work with all of these people again on numerous projects. Whether or not that's under the Team Tremolo umbrella, we'll have to see.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.