We've barely made it past the "Hi, how've you been?" phase of the conversation and already the three members of the Fall of Troy—22-year-old singer Thomas Erak, 21-year-old bassist Tim Ward, and 21-year-old drummer Andrew Forsman—are ready to rip out each other's throats.
"So why'd you want to work with Matt Bayles?" I ask about the producer of their upcoming record.
Anxious to praise the local man who's worked with favorites such as These Arms Are Snakes, Minus the Bear, and Botch, Erak and Forsman start to answer at the same time.
"Because he did a million..." begins Forsman.
"Because he's worked with every band I like in Seattle," says Erak, ignoring Forsman's attempt to field the question.
Immediately annoyed by his bandmates' bad habit of interrupting one another, Ward, a baby-faced firecracker with short, choppy blond hair, pounds the table with his fist and loudly demands, "Stop talking over each other, goddamnit!"
Ward looks at me with an exhausted expression, warning that I'm going to have a hard time sorting out the voices on the tape if they keep talking at the same time.
With a quick laugh, Forsman concludes, "Yeah, the article's just gonna say 'the Fall of Troy's a big mess.'"
Ward is 21, but he looks younger. He's wearing a bright-yellow striped sweatshirt and a blue sweatband around his head, he has a meager mustache that he calls "The John Waters," and he speaks through a chipped front tooth—the side effect of an unfortunate stage-diving incident during a show in Detroit. He's the most outrageous member of the band; during a recent night of drinking, he got the phrase "No Fat Chicks" tattooed on his left hip. He claims he's soon going to get the offensive ink covered with something else, regardless of his bandmates' disappointment.
Sitting to my left, Forsman is the least "rock star" looking of the bunch. Wearing a black, hooded sweatshirt and loose jeans, he sports a messy beard and shaggy brown hair, and is known as the one who "used to be smart, until he started hanging out with us." Forsman, who's usually smiling, is the one who talks about growing up and buying a house next to his bandmates in the later years so the guys can stay close and play jazz with each other in their garages.
Erak, the tall and painfully skinny frontman, has a head of thick, dark hair down to his shoulders. He's as loud as Ward, but not quite as goofy. Serious and put together, he's the obvious ringleader of the trio, but he also wears his emotions on his sleeve, more so than either of his bandmates.
The unlikely trio of friends met at Kamiak High School in Edmonds. Once formed, the Fall of Troy started playing all-ages venues in Seattle and the Eastside—the Vera Project, the Paradox, the Old Fire House, Ground Zero—and kids instantly clicked with the band's explosive and technically impressive blend of experimental hardcore laced with elements of jazz and metal.
They released a self-titled album on the small independent label Lujo in 2001, and it wasn't long before the hardcore heavyweight Equal Vision came around, signed the band, and rereleased their debut.
Their self-titled release has sold over 15,000 copies (counting both the Lujo and Equal Vision numbers), and their sophomore album, Doppelgänger, has sold over 45,500 copies. Now, the Fall of Troy are prepping for the release of their third full-length, Manipulator, which, based on their previous record sales alone, is expected to do well.
To further boost the buzz, the band is leaving in the first week of May for a full U.S. tour with the Deftones, and there are also plans to spend part of the summer in Europe. But I wonder, seeing as they can barely make it through the interview without nearly falling apart at the seams, will the notoriously volatile trio be able to keep their shit together in the midst of all the hype and chaos?
The most infamous moment of the members' instability is the onstage breakup that happened at a show in April 2006. While playing in Ohio, Erak had reached his boiling point in the middle of a less-than-perfect show and announced to the crowd, "This is the last song the Fall of Troy will ever play together." At the time, it felt serious to anyone who witnessed it, and the moment was almost instantly archived on numerous music news sites and blogs. But Erak insists he never actually meant it. Not completely, anyway.
"We wanted a break," he says. "We were just overworked at the time. I started to lose my mind. I felt like I was losing touch with who I was."
Take a 19- or 20-year-old kid away from his home, family, friends, and girlfriend, and throw him in a van with four or five other people for a trip across the nation and back, and you've got a Molotov cocktail of frustrated and claustrophobic emotions. Magnify it with an exhausting schedule of daily intense performances, the heat of the looming summer, and the constant partying, and things are bound to get ugly.
"The bands we were on tour with were just out of control and it was really difficult..." begins Erak, nodding to the temptations that touring brings.
"Oh, don't blame it on them," Ward hollers. "We were out of control!"
"I'm not blaming them," Erak explains defensively. "We were definitely out of control, but the people around us weren't contributing to the best situation on the road. We played great shows on that tour, but..."
"It just got to be too much," Forsman says, finishing his sentence.
Forsman's bandmates snap at him for interrupting.
"Shut up!" insists Erak, while Ward throws him a goofy, frustrated look. "Stop talking!" he shouts.
Here, in the midst of their third (or is it fourth?) fit of bickering, I wonder aloud if the band is about to break up (again) right here at this corner table at Capitol Hill's Caffe Vita just weeks before they release their potentially career-altering album and spend two months playing 5,000- to 8,000-capacity venues with the Deftones. Manipulator is the most personal Fall of Troy release to date.
While the full record has yet to really be heard by anyone (the band has only one copy between the three of them, and the label is keeping its copies under lock and key, apparently) a few of the songs have managed to make it to the public, showing a catchier and less-abrasive side to the band while still boasting technically blistering songwriting via swirling guitars and booming bass and drums. They've brought on spunky punk crooner Nouela Johnston (formerly of Mon Frere) to sing and play keyboards on a few tracks, and this time around, Erak took his lyrics to an even more cryptically personal place.
"A lot of those lyrics were fueled by feelings of having nothing left emotionally and being stomped on and walked all over," explains Erak. "But there are feelings that are trying to take that back and see beyond letting someone else bring you down."
At one point, Ward becomes noticeably uninvolved in the conversation. "You're quiet over there," I say to him.
He looks up at me from across the table. "He's saying everything is fine," he says, motioning to Erak. "I could just add words, but I agree with him."
"Tim doesn't need to be, you know, a real person," says Forsman with a grin, obviously trying his best to annoy his bandmate. "Thomas does everything for him."
"Shut up, Drum Machine!" Ward snaps back.
Erak just laughs. "Everyone needs to understand the situation here," he says. "We're not friends; we're like brothers. People always think we're fighting; but the truth is, if we were fighting we wouldn't be talking to each other at all."
As it turns out, the story is just as the band predicted: The Fall of Troy really is just a big mess. But that's exactly why I like them. Only three twentysomethings are onstage at a Fall of Troy show, but they expel the energy and noise of a punk-rock orchestra. If they're always winding each other up, then they're also always looking for a way to release that frustration—they take it to the stage or into the studio.
"We have it out—kick each other, punch each other, yell at each other—it's all good," says Ward. "We're comfortable with dealing with each other in ways that make people feel uncomfortable."