Just after midnight this past Saturday, Truckasauras slipped their van into the KFC parking lot on Capitol Hill. Down the block, at 10th Avenue and East Pike Street, Tyler Swan set his drum kit up against a fire hydrant, Ryan Trudell plugged his Game Boy into a battery-powered amp, and Adam Swan readied his melodica. "Street Truck," a portable, semiacoustic version of Truckasauras, began to play. As people spilled out of the clubs at closing time, a crowd formed to watch the bleep-hop trio under the streetlight's bronze halogen glow.
Even without live drums—the band usually play with an array of drum machines, synths, Game Boy, and fourth member Dan Bordon on video projections—Truckasauras are a live band. Trudell is a master of the Nanoloop, a German sequencer program for the Game Boy. Tyler Swan programs beats with a real drummer's feel. These guys do more than hit a start button, cross faders, and let loops cycle. They play their gear like instruments, improvising and feeding off each other. Knobs are tweaked and buttons are pushed. There are hands and eyes on the machines, brains making decisions based on what they hear.
The Street Truck performance was a stunt to celebrate and showcase Truckasauras's new album, Tea Parties, Guns, and Valor, a joint release on Brooklyn's semiannual Journal of Popular Noise and Seattle's own Fourthcity.
Seventeen tracks appear on the release—nine original Truckasauras cuts, a cover of the Airwolf theme called "Super Copter," and seven remixes by DJs and producers including Plan B, Jerry Abstract, Copy, and DJ Collage.
The record has been finished and shelved for much of the past year. In that time, Truckasauras's 8-bit party rocking has generated quite a buzz. They've struck a chord, or a Korg to put it more accurately. Their shows and their fan base have gotten bigger, but they're still the same dudes as always: self-proclaimed gear nerds who get as live as they possibly can.
"I don't think much has changed because of the hype," says Adam Swan. "We're basically just getting better shows, playing shit like Sasquatch! and the Block Party rather than the Baltic Room and grimy house parties. The festivals are exposing us to a wider array of people beyond the small community that attends electronic shows in Seattle."
Sasquatch! saw Truckasauras bring their beats, their family, and their Maker's Mark to the rock-festival crowd. Titties were called for. Some were shown. It was stupid, supersized American fun. Sequenced analog gear and tits—people either eat it up or don't get it at all.
"We're still just doing our thing, making beats, drinking beer, and having fun," says Adam Swan.
All this for a band that's really a side project. Truckasauras's "real" band is Foscil, an electro-acoustic blend of horns, synths, drums, Rhodes, and guitar. Trudell explains, "Tea Parties, Guns, and Valor represents the past couple years of doing the Truck thing. Since it's a side project, the recording was slow going. We recorded to half-inch eight-track reel-to-reel, then mixed it down to DAT. Adam engineered it."
"All the songs are pretty much live," says Adam Swan. "We left in the imperfections and didn't do overdubs."
The first track they laid down was "Porkwich" which is just the drum machines, a Commodore 64, and the Game Boy. There's a slurred electro gurgle on a fat-ass beat. "Fak!!!" shows off a TB-303 synth in a Phantom of the Nintendo Opera. The last piece of gear that was added was a FutureRetro Mobius sequencer. It sends CV signals out, which allowed the SH-101 synth from Foscil to be incorporated. In "Howie C," the 101 is the main sequenced synth that plays throughout the track. The song starts with oddly dropped clicks and the 101 sounding off foghorn squirms. The 808 claps snares, a jungle beat falls, then the song turns inside out and a bulging 16th fuzz-bass runs over shades of ice-synth into a wall of cathode static.
"The tracks evolved as we acquired gear," says Trudell. "We don't want to get too pigeonholed by the Game Boy label. The future for Truckasauras will be focusing more on different gear."
If Tea Parties, Guns, and Valor's sound is still decidedly old-school, the release itself is designed for right now. It's a digital album in the form of a 10-by-10-inch full-color glossy booklet and a download code. There is no CD or vinyl, just the code.
"It's an interesting time right now to be releasing music," says Adam Swan. "The industry is shifting and so much is still settling. We see it as an opportunity for this to be a unique release. We're big, big fans of album artwork, like Led Zeppelin III with that rotating wheel on the cover. People used to have a physical representation of the music. With MP3s and CDs, album art is being lost."
The goal with Tea Parties, Guns, and Valor was to make a piece of art worth hanging onto while getting the music to the people in the most effective way possible. Tyler Swan says, "We really wanted to have something physical that would accompany the music. In the booklet, each page represents one of the songs." Artist and Popular Noise editor Brian Kalet illustrates pixel renderings of Americana. Monster trucks fly high across Hulkamanian skies. It's true Truck.
"A monster truck is America," says Trudell. "We wanted that epitome of American overconsumerism in the art. And WrestleMania."