Trophy Dad's growing pains
Bassist and singer Abby Sherman discusses the confusing and treacherous path toward success.
Trophy Dad's music came into focus in 2017, just a few years after the band got its start on the UW-Madison campus. On the Dogman EP, bassist/singer Abby Sherman and guitarist/singer Jordan Zamansky's songwriting reached new heights, and the band's meandering yet firmly destined brand of indie rock is at its most fleshed out than ever. Tracks like "Swig" are littered with little sonic acorns and playful, spiteful lyrical jabs, but also carry their many layers of style and smarm with grace.
Along with that EP came broader recognition in the national music press and opportunities like opening for The New Pornographers at the Live on King Street series, going on an east coast tour, and playing in Austin during the South By Southwest festival. But where is this all leading? Sherman, at least, is ambivalent.
Though she takes pride in what she and her bandmates have accomplished thus far, they have yet to reach a tipping point in capital gained or streaming numbers.
And, in addition to the task of turning an artistic pursuit into one that is also fiscally viable, each member of Trophy Dad finds themselves at a personal crossroads as well. And as Madison's and the world's music scenes grow murkier as corporate behemoths cast larger shadows, it's hard to know what the way forward is, or what success even means.
Ahead of Trophy Dad's June 28 show at the Memorial Union Terrace and a show with her solo project Addison Christmas on July 5 at Communication, Sherman spoke with me about her own personal dilemmas, the obstacles Trophy Dad has encountered and will encounter, and the opacity of internet success.
Tone Madison: We have a good idea of what 2017 was like for Trophy Dad, so could you give a run-down of what 2018 has been like so far?
Abby Sherman: We didn't really play much this past semester, but still more than we did the semester before. I don't really know why. We did get asked to play shows a lot, but it was kind of hard to get everyone to be able to do things on the same day. I obviously want to still be doing [shows], I just don't really have any plans. [Drummer] Justin [Huber] still has another year of school, [guitarist] Henry [Stoehr] is moving to Chicago to live with Slow Pulp, which is cool. I'm bummed I'm not moving there. Jordan [Zamansky] doesn't really know what he's doing. I know he wants to find a job and try and move to Chicago, but as of now, I don't think he has one.
Tone Madison: So, you and Jordan are in kind of similar positions?
Abby Sherman: Yeah, but he's been actively looking for one, and I haven't. I haven't interviewed for anything. So that kind of sucks. I don't want to say it's his fault, why we're not really doing anything, but Justin and I were saying in February we wanted to go on Tour, but Jordan was like, "Well, I might have a job by then." And it sucks, but he doesn't. He's been interviewing and trying for so long. And it sucks, too, because he was saying we should record stuff, and maybe this is dumb, but I don't really feel like I want to record that and then not do anything with it. I'd rather record stuff for myself and then do that. Because then I'll actually be able to [perform] it.
Tone Madison: You played at South By Southwest this year. What was the experience like, and what, if anything, did it mean in terms of the band's career?
Abby Sherman: It was a great time. It was really stressful, not in a bad way, but there were just constantly things going on. It was weird because we've never played down there ever, so the fanbase was super limited. We're also on a really small label, so when we went down there, we did all the work. We had no one else helping us, so we didn't have an upper hand in getting good showcases, necessarily. It'd just be nice if we had a manager, like someone who knew what they were doing. I don't really understand how a lot of it works. Everyone we were asking had someone else who was helping them. And also, we didn't find out what we were playing until a week before, so we had to miss class and everything.
Tone Madison: What did it mean to you all personally or as a band to be able to go there? Do things like playing SXSW mean anything inherently, or only in retrospect once you accomplish something?
Abby Sherman: I guess kind of both. Everyone thought it was so cool we were playing SXSW, but people don't understand how many bands get to do that. It's not really anything special. It is, but it isn't. Not going there, you think it's a bigger deal than it actually is. It's really cool that we got to be a part of it, considering that we applied for it ourselves, we don't have a manager, we don't have anyone else really helping us. In that sense, it was really cool. Before I played there, I thought the same way, but it really all depends on the showcase. There are ones that don't really matter, and then there's like Pitchfork. A guy from Sony did give me his business card after our set. He was like, "If you ever get another EP out, let me know. I'll get it to the right people!" So, we're getting sent to Sony, immediately. Selling out before we ever get big. [Laughs]
Tone Madison: We're kind of already hinting at a tension I wanted to get at, which is how it's very hard to do this while being a college student who is graduating, or in a similar position. Given that, have there been any other similar tensions that have arisen?
Abby Sherman: Honestly, not really. The biggest thing is just that I think Jordan is in a really hard spot, and he doesn't know what he wants to do. I think there's a lot of unnecessary pressure on him to "Go to college," "get a job right away," "do this," "do this." We had a really productive conversation recently, where he was like, "Yeah, I'm realizing it's not really necessary for me to get a job right away." He also puts really high expectations on himself, which is great in a lot of ways because it's helped us a lot as a band, but in other situations it's hard. I also totally don't want to put the blame on him, obviously. I don't want to be like, "It's Jordan's fault."
Tone Madison: Yeah, it's more like, how could there not be at least one person in your band that's dealing with this kind of stuff.
Abby Sherman: And Henry is going on tour with Slow Pulp. So, even if that wasn't a factor, there are still lots of little things that are making it hard for us to do what we want.
Tone Madison: I know Slow Pulp has been a long-distance band for a minute now. Is that a conversation you guys have had about what you're going to do?
Abby Sherman: We probably should. I haven't really talked to Henry about it, but for the most part, we don't really practice anymore. Every once in awhile we'll practice for fun, but we mostly haven't been unless we're playing a show, and it's usually the day of the show. So, if Henry moves and he still wants to play in the band, then it should be fine.
For example, I was talking to my parents about how Jordan doesn't really know what he's doing, or whatever. And they were like, "Well, if he doesn't want to do it anymore`, why don't you just find someone else." I don't think they understand like, I can't replace him. He's like the only other person in the band I can't replace. I don't want to replace anyone, but thinking down to it I literally couldn't with him because—
Tone Madison: Because it'd be a different band at that point?
Abby Sherman: Yeah, and it'd be honestly so rude. If they replaced me, I'd be like, "You what?" But it's all up in the air.
Tone Madison: How long have you all been in this unsure phase?
Abby Sherman: Probably this semester. I didn't really think about it ever until I said we should go on tour, and Jordan was like, "I don't know..," and I was like, "So, are you going to get a job and quit this?" So, it's been this past semester for sure.
Tone Madison: How has it affected you personally and your own creative output?
Abby Sherman: Since being out of school, I've wanted to do my own solo stuff more anyways. At this point, I got kind of irritated. It's not like I don't care, but if we end up not doing anything, I want to be doing my other shit. And it's not like I didn't [already] want to do it regardless. I don't think I've changed in terms of being creative or writing things. I obviously have a lot less stress and more time now which is nice. I'm stressed in that I need to get another part-time job, or a whole other job, but that's whole other stress than the stress of me being in the band.
Tone Madison: If you keep performing, by yourself or with Trophy Dad, are you confident you'd be able to navigate the changing conditions of the local scene?
Abby Sherman: It sucks that The Frequency is closing because that is the ideal space.
Tone Madison: It really does suck.
Abby Sherman: I'm playing at Communication, the new space on [Milwaukee Street]. I don't know what's going into The Frequency. I think they're turning it into a tasting room. It's so stupid. I was really upset, because that venue was so important in terms of us being successful when we were really young, like freshmen. It was the one small venue that's downtown where people would want to go and could go to. Other venues are opening but I feel like it's going to be a lot different dynamics trying to play downtown because no one is going to want to go to the East Side if you're a student. It makes me sad.
Tone Madison: Are there any other reasons you feel drawn to doing solo stuff, aside from not having to work around other people's schedules?
Abby Sherman: It's not like I wasn't confident in myself, but I've recently become more confident in myself. Especially after going to SXSW, I can do a lot of what I want to do by myself. Or, it's not even like the band is holding me back, but we don't really know what we're doing, and I don't want to sit here and wait around. And I know that I can be successful without having to be in Trophy Dad, which makes me sad, but I'm impatient also and don't want to sit around and wait for something to happen. If it does happen, that's great, though.
Tone Madison: And the thing is, "something" has happened with Trophy Dad.
Abby Sherman: And that's the thing that bothers me. I know we could do really well.