After a relatively quiet year, Robert Alfons (main mastermind behind Canadian, dark electronic act TR/ST) posted on Facebook a video last month hinting at a third release. The surprise followed his June announcement of a week-long west coast tour this September, which includes a stop at San Francisco’s Mezzanine this Friday 9/9 with fellow darkwave darlings Cold Cave.
The upcoming release, he confirmed with us in an interview several days ago, was being finished late last month. There’s no set date for release thus far, but he’s aiming for sometime next year. On it, Alfons has stepped out of electronic, adding “real piano and drums and guitar.” We asked if he was playing all those instruments himself after the departure of founding instrumentalist Maya Postepski after their debut record.
“Everything but the drums,” he said.
In fact, we’re struggling to remember a TR/ST track with drums at all. Drawing comparisons between Alfons’ sophomore record Joyland and Venezuelan producer Arca’s breakthrough Xen — we find that both albums are rhythmically anchored by dark stabby synths and inspirationally tied to South American countries. They were released months apart in 2014, but Alfons couldn’t be sure the resemblance could be associated with the region.
“Arca’s fantastic,” he agreed, thanking us for the comparison. “I’ve always been interested in South America and would love to learn Spanish. I had a great time in Argentina, but it was very much a tourist experience — a privileged way of seeing a place.”
This time around, Alfons’ vocals are still used as an instrument, portraying the character for a story, but he’s put more emphasis into writing lyrics first, simply as a result of feeling less inspired than usual by dance and pop music. It’s more of a personal shift than anything about the current music industry; he figured he’d be much more into today’s music eight years ago.
We sought to figure out what did inspire him, but it’s different for each song.
“Making music is like blackness,” he said, while citing visual affinities for the handheld camera technique used in Friday Night Lights and a high viewing of Mulholland Drive. From this, we garner little new information; “the visuals always come after the music,” but it all does fit the TR/ST aesthetic. Themes to expect include shame (plenty of it) and desperation.
But for an act so dark, grimy, and overtly sexual, Alfons was, in contrast, bright and easygoing on the phone. The last time he’d played in San Francisco was two years ago during a thunderstorm while touring for Joyland. For this week’s West Coast spin, he was driving out from home, which he described as a farmhouse in Ontario. “Where are you now?” we asked.
“Iowa, actually,” he responded.
The plan’s to tour (as a tourist) across the country; he said he was hoping to stop at landmarks like Arches National Park on the way. We learned that he was currently reading To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, is a light traveller and has only been to the CNE once, despite growing up largely in Toronto.
“It’ll be a fun night,” he promised about this upcoming Friday. “We’re bringing lots of new songs.”