There’s a special experience unique to fans of music, wherein they discover an artist – usually out of the blue – who resonates with them on every level. There’s a distinctive adrenaline rush that comes along with hearing something that feels like it was written with your specific tastes in mind; as though its creator stumbled upon your curated playlist and decided to shape their sound around it.
My most recent brush with this experience arrived a few months back in the form of a song called “Sensations of Cool.” A good buddy of mine had come across it, thinking its vibe would be to my liking. His brother and I were on the way to fetch some supplies for their dog ahead of a city-wide COVID-induced lockdown, and he played the track for me on our way to the store. He told me it was by a UK-based duo – intriguingly named TTRRUUCES.
As he played the song, it only took a few seconds for me to be completely sold on it. With its laid-back surf sway, shuffling trip-hop-inspired beats, synthpop hooks, and random detours into electronic chaos, it was so many things I love co-existing in a single auditory space.
When I got home I quickly looked the band up, eager for more. What I discovered made little sense to me at the time: a collection of singles; seemingly pieces of a larger narrative in the process of being revealed. Little did I know then that TTRRUUCES were on the cusp of unveiling something far grander than I had imagined: they were putting in motion the return of the rock opera, and in spectacular fashion.
Now, in the immediate aftermath of the release of their self-titled debut album (which dropped June 26) it’s my pleasure to present this week’s Weekly Featured Artist: TTRRUUCES – whose titanic, relentless narrative spans numerous sounds, moods, and even mediums. The album’s release follows an innovative transmedia campaign unlike anything you’ve probably seen before, with fan engagement firmly at its center. I reached out to Natalie and Jules, the enigmatic duo who comprise TTRRUUCES, who were gracious enough to offer their insights into how this ambitious project was brought to life.
‘We met each other almost six years ago, in the summer of 2014,’ Natalie divulges, reflecting on the project’s early origins. ‘We both lived and hung out on Broadway Market in East London and just got chatting one day at the cafe Jules worked at and realised how alike we were, we’ve kind of been inseparable ever since. Within days of meeting each other we started jamming and writing songs together and very fast we were living together making music all the time. We always knew we’d start a band together. After three years, the idea of TTRRUUCES was born.’
I find what grabs the attention most immediately is the band’s name. In addition to the questions raised by its meaning and presentation, the intrigue deepens the more closely you look at the TTRRUUCES rock opera, which is self-titled. Furthermore, an element within its narrative shares the name too: a mysterious drug, pursued and taken by the opera’s two protagonists over the course of their journey.
‘Since I was a kid I have always played around with letters in my head, trying to find symmetries within the structure of words,‘ Jules elaborates when I ask about the name, its meaning, and whether the band or story elements were named first. ‘It was a bit obsessive so I made it into a whole game that continues until today. It’s those mind games that made me write the word TTRRUUCES on a note. Natalie noticed it one day and loved it and we were like ‘ttrruuuuuces.’ We straight away wrote the song “TTRRUUCES” and adopted the name. The word stuck with us.’
‘We love the graphism of it, the sound of it and the fact we invented it,’ he continues. ‘No one has cracked the code yet (what it means and how it came about) so we’ll let people figure it out.’
Both Natalie and Jules are full time musicians (best known for their work under the Findlay moniker) navigating the complexities of the music industry, the demands on artists amidst shifting industry trends, and the current chaotic global landscape we all find ourselves in. Despite these challenges, both have succeeded on their own terms, finding ways to dedicate their professional lives solely to music, while never compromising the integrity of their artistic vision for TTRRUUCES. They tell me: ‘If you create something, truly believe in what you do and are good at it, you never need to worry about trend changes because you are not part of a trend, you become your own thing and your music will eventually find its place in the world.’
Jules goes on to speak of his love of collaboration, revealing that he regularly writes and produces music with other artists:
‘I produce music for myself and others since I’m 16, and have always loved that aspect of my career, realizing a vision, getting to something personal and true, creating sounds. So I also often work with other bands, produce records.’
It’s apparent how the band’s collaborative mindset, commitment to artistic integrity, and variety of musical endeavors outside of the TTRRUUCES project have helped shape their unique eclecticism. The TTRRUUCES experience can best be described as a trumpeting, dual-headed elephantine giant. Each of the diverse singles released ahead of the album’s launch were accompanied by explosive music videos – a couple of which were fully animated with loving craftsmanship by frequent band collaborator Malvalien. There will eventually be a music video for every single track on the album, and when viewed sequentially, they’ll tell a seamless story showcasing the wild technicolor journey of the opera’s two protagonists: Sad Girl and Lost Boy.
If I’m pressed to identify a recurring element binding everything TTRRUUCES together, I’d say it’s the influence of ’60s music and culture – thinly dusted over everything you hear and see from the rock opera. The tracks are impossible to categorize by genre, yet are stylistically cohesive in their 1960s-meets-2060s time-warped qualities. From the recurring surf and psyche motifs, to the lyrical references (‘let’s party like it’s 1966’), to the use of ’60s aesthetics across the opera’s various visual accompaniments, it all comes together to give this diverse project a sense of cohesiveness.
Personally, I make no secret of my love for ’60s-inspired music, and it would seem both Natalie and Jules share that love:
‘We have a huge love for the bands of the ’60s and ’70s we were both kinda raised with that music around, obviously The Beatles, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, T REX, The Kinks,’ they tell me when I ask if the two of them bring similar influences to the TTRRUUCES mix. ‘So we have a similar foundation but we have very eclectic musical horizons, and made each other discover a lot of music.’
‘The original idea of TTRRUUCES was for it to be limitless in terms of sound, beyond genre,’ they continue. ‘“Evil Elephant” for example was inspired by old cartoon music and swing jazz from the ’30s, but ended becoming that mechanical synthy psych ternary song. We love being eclectic, unexpected.’
Eclecticism is right. For all my observations to the prevalence of ’60s influences, each track contains a myriad of elements that often stack as they march towards the end of their respective run times. There’s something for everyone on TTRRUUCES, and the band succeeds in avoiding the common pitfalls plaguing many fusion bands; namely, sounding all over the place and struggling to immerse the audience. In fact, I’d say that TTRRUUCES’ effortless ability to achieve immersion is one of their distinguishing strengths.
I soon discover that the band’s entire approach top to bottom was one with immersion in mind. It turns out that the seeds of the opera were planted during a New Year’s Eve, with things rapidly growing from there:
‘It all started with “Sad Girl.” We stayed in and wrote that song one New Year’s Eve and it was so raw, bare, unlike anything we had ever done before. So we had that idea of throwing her character into an album. We had just found the name TTRRUUCES and we wrote the song “TTRRUUCES” a week later which gave us the idea of having a new drug in her world. We had our first character but it was obvious she wasn’t gonna make this journey alone. That’s how we invented Syd, the Lost Boy. As she was an introverted character that needed to blossom, we imagined him being more extreme and chaotic, a druggy outcast, party animal, Lost.’
From there, the band jumped across the channel, where immersion was leveraged as a creative tool during the album’s development:
‘We then moved to Trebeurden in Bretanny and locked ourselves away for eight months digging into that world and making the record. The story evolved and changed with the songs. Some amazing songs never made the album because they didn’t fit the narrative, some songs changed the narrative.’
Immersion and focus also went hand in hand with more spontaneous sources of inspiration:
‘The last song of the album “Sleepy Head” was written, performed and produced all during an acid trip. We left to Bretanny with one tab of LSD and kept it in the freezer for our whole stay there… waiting for the right day. One day in the month of May just before we moved back to London, we woke up, it was sunny, we decided to drop it.’
It was beautiful, all the nature, the beach, the sunset,’ they reminisce. ‘We came back and wrote the song, kept recording until 5am. The day after we called a violinist we had met, she came and tracked the strings. We never touched the song ever since and to be honest don’t even remember making it, but it’s our favorite on the whole record.’
This anecdote emphasizes how endemic focus, spontaneity, collaboration, and human connectedness are to the essence of TTRRUUCES. Further along the album’s creation, these qualities led to the band enlisting the help of legendary producer Alan Moulder to helm the mixing of the rock opera. Moulder has been involved in the production of some of my all-time favorite albums (Doppelgänger, The Downward Spiral) and his signature work on other seminal shoegaze and industrial albums showcases his ability to elevate great songwriting with dreamlike atmosphere. Discovering his involvement was an unexpected and pleasant surprise, so naturally I ask how this collaboration came about:
‘We met Alan one night at a dinner party, we had a friend in common. We ended up at his house until 4am having the most insane conversations about music and stories about bands. We played him a couple of TTRRUUCES songs that night and he loved it. Months later, we had finished the production and were at the mixing stage of the record, and thought of him and sent him a text. He invited us over to his studio and we played him the full record. He loved every track and decided to mix the full album. This was such a great feeling to know our album was in such good hands. We immersed into it together and watched the record grow until the album was perfect. We wouldn’t touch a single bit anywhere on any mixes now.’
By definition, a rock opera tells a story, and TTRRUUCES is no different. The narrative centers around a chance meeting between two lost souls who feel an inexplicable bond. They quickly embark on an adventure in pursuit of a mysterious drug (TTRRUUCES) said to grant its users a truer perception of the world.
In many respects, it’s a classic tale of adolescence, but a deeper look at the tracks and supplementary material suggests something more. The band often inject humor into even the darkest of TTRRUUCES’ narrative beats – usually derived from a distinctive and playful use of contradiction. As a result, you get the feeling that while TTRRUUCES take their art very seriously, they don’t take themselves too seriously, demonstrated quite vividly by this album trailer:
I think back to the release of “Sensations Of Cool,” recalling how its reveal was captioned with the line ‘the world’s burning but we’re good at dancing.’ It’s a tongue-in-cheek contradiction, one of many existing throughout the duo’s body of work, and I was curious to delve deeper into the mindset behind it.
‘When I wrote that line I’d been on an Iggy Pop binge,’ Natalie tells me. ‘The Idiot is one of my favourite records. There’s a line ‘we learn dances/brand new dances/like the nuclear bomb’ in the song “Nightclubbing” that I would always get in my head and I wanted to kinda riff on that.’
‘‘The world’s burning but we’re good at dancing’ just summed up modern life perfectly to me,’ she goes on to say. ‘Like, the world can literally be on fire but check out what I just had for brunch. I hope the song “Sensations of Cool” can be a mirror for listeners. Are you just dancing through life? Do you love the world, or are you just a creature of comfort dancing in the dirt?‘
‘Contradiction is good,’ Jules adds. ‘We’re complex.’
Complexity has been a defining feature of the lead up to the album’s release, though never at the cost of coherence or fun. Over the last few months, fans have been treated to incremental unveilings of tracks accompanied by narrative clues, insights, and dazzling visual accompaniments. Particularly memorable were the click-and-drag pieces of artwork that play with your perceptions, such as one piece featuring the beehive-donning woman from the music video for “Sensations of Cool” – her eyes melting out of her face as you scroll around the screen.
Trippy interactive visuals, character introductions on social media, regular hints and memes indicating the direction to come, eye-popping animated music videos, and – tying it all together – the unveiling of TTRRUUCES‘ website… perhaps the coolest dimension to the album’s pre-release journey:
The website is literally a map of the opera’s colorful setting, ingeniously bringing the world of Sad Girl and Lost Boy to vibrant life. Visitors can direct the protagonists to various ‘locations’ denoted by song titles. These were slowly unlocked as the songs were released, providing incentive to come back and lead the protagonists further along their existential technicolor journey. At each given ‘location,’ you’re treated to a variety of supplementary material, including music videos, exclusive artwork, lyrics, or special live renditions. It even includes a TTRRUUCES game you can play!
‘We had all those ideas while we were making the music, it’s always been a movie in our heads, we always knew we’d introduce our characters before introducing ourselves and invite people on a journey.’
In the midst of all of this, an ongoing pandemic failed to derail the duo. TTRRUUCES proved to be agile, spinning the limitations of quarantine into creative entertainment. Just take a look at this ‘lockdown’ version of their track “Evil Elephant” that was performed and released back at the beginning of May:
This rendition of their dense and layered single, with its handful of vocal takes, a few instruments, and ordinary things lying around the house, is impressive to say the least. Where the line ‘sour milk’ is sung, a glass of milk is poured for effect. A cereal box is shaken to mimic a rattle. The band even manage to extend their lateral approach to the visuals, elevating what could have just been a minimalist home video to full-fledged performance art. Everywhere you look, it’s dancing elephant dolls, multiple angles vying for your attention, and the random interjections of additional faces providing noises and sounds.
More than just being hugely entertaining, the performance proves that TTRRUUCES‘ chops as entertainers are the real deal. Strip away the layers of their multimedia blitz, and they can still pull it all off with nothing but themselves, a camera, and whatever’s around the house.
The entire pre-release extravaganza was so much to absorb I felt compelled to dig into how it was conceived and executed:
‘Since day one we thought of having an interactive map that ties it all as our website, but we never thought we’d actually have the means and the ways to roll out our artistic vision in the way we’ve done it. It was kind of shocking when our label (AllPoints/Believe) approached us and they not only took us very seriously (as seriously as you can take two stoners who wrote a rock opera) but also offered to support our creativity exactly as we saw it. Everyone we approached to be part of the TTRRUUCES story jumped on the project, from our band members, to Alan Moulder, to the amazing video directors we’ve had the chance to work with. It’s been a breath of fresh air to have this kind of freedom to really push ourselves to make something we’re so proud of.’
What ended up manifesting as the coincidental centerpiece to the album’s pre-release campaign— and the track I would argue is the very heart of the rock opera itself – is “I’m Alive.” Initially teased to the public by way of an appearance on FIFA 20, the song quickly generated unexpected momentum by way of rave fan response. In many ways, the song – as well as duo’s handling of unexpected buzz – encapsulates everything TTRRUUCCES.
The band memefied the fan reaction, taking the recurring question posed to them – ‘where is “I’m Alive”?’ – and turning it into a missing persons case. They uploaded a collage showcasing the numerous times the question had been asked online, captioning it with: ‘The Greatest Rock n’ Roll Mystery.’
The single was eventually released at the end of May with the expected positive reception. There’s something about “I’m Alive” that speaks strongly to those who hear it – myself included. Stylistically, it typifies TTRRUUCES’ approach to genre, with several contradictory elements fused around a ’60s inspired base. However, unlike their other singles, “I’m Alive” is lyrically and tonally a celebration of life through and through, representing a turning point in the story of Lost Girl and Sad Boy. ‘We knew after the bad trip part we wanted them to have a glorious moment of escapism together,’ TTRRUUCES tell me.
The track’s atmosphere is radiant and euphoric; organic and synthetic. Natalie and Jules trade vocals with a sluggish – almost hip-hop – cadence over shimmering riffs and a sunny beat. The track has a similar energy to the summer hits of Sublime, and while these feel-good elements are indeed at the forefront, the stylistic hallmarks unique to TTRRUUCES are still present throughout, reinforcing the theme of contradictions. Eerie theremin samples straight out of a pulpy sci-fi soundtrack flicker throughout the background, imbuing the song with an otherworldly quality, and the brief (but awesome) solo is straight out of ’60s surf rock, with swagger to match the James Bond theme.
“I’m Alive”‘s origins also make it the most personal track on the album, with its conception emerging from both a place of fraternal love, and perseverance during tragic circumstances. It began as a piece for the upcoming film La Tangente, a project helmed by Jules’ brother David, who has since sadly passed away. Jules shares with me:
‘The riff of “I’m Alive” was originally written for my brother’s movie La Tangente as an instrumental for a scene. David called me before going to shoot his movie in Asia and was like ‘yo bro can you compose me a super happy energetic track for a scene in the movie,’ which I did. I loved the sound of it so much so we sat together with Nat and wrote a song based on that loop I did for the soundtrack. It became a TTRRUUCES song straight away and became the happy journey we always imagined for Sadie and Syd.’
Despite the tragedy of loss, David’s impact radiates throughout the song and the rock opera as a whole:
‘TTRRUUCES kept me going. David adored the Opera. I find it magical that the song he initiated is called “I’m Alive”. He was my biggest inspiration and my best critic for my music, my best friend. We did music together and even had a band together. The album is for him and forever linked to him.’
“I’m Alive” represents the culmination of everything that makes TTRRUUCES special. The creative curiosity, love of collaboration, and brotherhood that went into its making shine through on every listen, and it continues to make its mark by being a source of reassurance and joy for many during increasingly difficult times.
‘We have received so many messages thanking us for what our music brings to their day,’ TTRRUUCES tell me. ‘One of them was from a young guy who had battled COVID while waiting for us to release “I’m Alive,” and we released it the day he got the good news that he was cured and his family was getting better too, and told us ‘you cannot imagine how much this song means to me right now, we are all alive and it’s beautiful,’ and that’s the best feeling, that’s why we do what we do.’
Now that the rock opera has finally been released in full, the various puzzle pieces that unfurled over the course of the last few months begin to interlock – though there are still a couple of unreleased music videos on the horizon to look forward to that will complete the visual side of the narrative. Normally a release of this magnitude is supported by a tour, but given current global circumstances future, visibility is less clear. Despite COVID disrupting their tour plans, however, the band remain committed to bringing the TTRRUUCES experience to live audiences as soon as possible:
‘We’ll tour when we can tour and when we do we’ll make the TTRRUUCES show we have always dreamed of, an immersive show of the full chronological Opera. We’re all in this together!’
They also share how the challenges brought about by COVID have presented opportunities to create art in ways they might not have otherwise:
‘We were supposed to shoot the “I’m Alive” video in LA. COVID happened, we took a break for two weeks to process everything, and came back filled with energy and new ideas. Made the animation video with our friend Malvalien, and now we love it and wouldn’t have any other video for the song. Within the final movie, it will be perfect to have “I’m Alive” as that happy animated bubble before going back to video.’
TTRRUUCES are resolved to continue on no matter the circumstances. ‘The last few months have been surreal and we’ve all had our bag of bad times. But we adapt. That’s what we all do and that’s what we did and will keep on doing. This album has carried us out of the hardest of times already and we’ll keep the flame alive no matter what because we love this music and want the world to hear it.’
Quarantine has been an opportunity for artists to create, for music fans to discover new stuff, and for the community to listen and exchange music they might not otherwise have. Reflecting on the last few months, I realize it’s very possible I wouldn’t have been introduced to TTRRUUCES had it not been for this pandemic, so as we wrap up, I ask if they’ve been enjoying any new musical finds that have resonated with them:
‘There’s some amazing new bands and artists coming through at the moment,’ Natalie tells me. ‘I’m really loving Faux Real, Luna Li and ARTHUR. They’re the freshest sounding artists to me right now. Faux Real’s live show is mind blowing. There’s a duo called Jockstrap I’ve been following since last year I’m really hoping they release a full length album soon, I’m obsessed with the singer’s voice.’
‘It’s unreleased but during quarantine a friend of ours Francesco made a whole EP for his new project PEARZ which completely blew my mind,’ Jules adds. ‘It’s an instrumental EP full of grooves, sexy as fuck, it’s got some of those vintage Italian ’60s soundtracks sounds, lots of mellotrons and old keyboards… I love it. it’s coming out in the next few months I can’t wait.’
Looking ahead its difficult to project what’s in store for TTRRUUCES, the music industry, and state of affairs in the world more generally. What I can say, though, is that in the last few months I’ve taken a journey with this band who’ve solidified themselves as one of my favorites – despite having only just released their debut album. TTRRUUCES represent many of the styles of music I gravitate to all rolled into one, with an artistic ethos that embodies integrity and community.
Their playful approach, commitment to performance art, and signature use of contradictions can border on overwhelming at times – but I believe it’s worth the journey, even for the skeptics. I think back to something Natalie said that I feel best summarizes the spirit of TTRRUUCES:
‘The first part of the TTRRUUCES record is so dark, the characters are so lost up until their ego death. That’s been us, that’s been the world. I actually think 2020 is our ego death, we’re re-awakening now, becoming alive in new ways, healing ourselves and righting past wrongs. Even in the darkest moments on the record there was always that glimmer of optimism. We tell Sad girl ‘have a little patience you will find just what you’re looking for.’ I’m optimistic for the future, I just hope that in another 40 years or so bands won’t be singing the same blues as today.’
Natalie Findlay – Vocals, Instruments
Jules Apollinaire – Vocals, Instruments
TTRRUUCES is officially out everywhere. You can stream or buy it wherever music is found. You can follow this link to explore the various listening options. Be sure to also visit the TTRRUUCES website, where you can experience the rock opera in its full multi-sensory glory.
TTRRUUCES can be found on social media over at their Facebook and Instagram pages, where you can keep up to date with any future developments such as tour dates, new releases, and other exciting news.