Eric Wagner, after a long, distinguished career, ultimately turned out to be trouble. Kory Clarke was trouble and then not TROUBLE enough. But new singer Kyle Thomas is more trouble than was called for, and the result is a pummelling new record of consummate Chicago doom called The Distortion Field.
“I think it’s more incorporating our whole career,” figures guitarist Bruce Franklin, on the bubonic plague complexion of a record that has been more than well received by the band’s druid cult of followers. “There’s a couple of songs on the record that feel like some of our early stuff, you know, maybe from the first record, and there are a couple of songs that sound like the Def American era—that groovy, classic Trouble sound. And then there’s one or two that are a different kind of psychedelic thing we might’ve tried on Run To The Light, but maybe we’re a bit more experienced at it now. So it’s kind of a mix, including some up-tempo cruncher stuff like we’ve always done through the years too.”
“One of the standouts for me is a song called ‘The Broken Have Spoken’, just because the lyrics and the vocals are so good. The music had been done for a while, but when I first heard it with the vocals on it, I was just blown away, from what it became. I mean, that’s the way Trouble works. We wrote the music first, and then whoever is working with us—whether it be Eric or whether it be Kyle—writes the lyrics and vocal melodies, after the music’s already been written. So plenty of times, the end result isn’t what you imagined it might be, and hopefully with the time spent it will be much better than you imagined. And in this case, that’s exactly what happened.”
One pretty cool happenstance with the album is that there actually exists a whole second set of lyrics, much like what happened with DEEP PURPLE’s The Battle Rages On..., for which JOE LYNN TURNER had worked up a whole canon of wise words before he was booted for IAN GILLAN’s return.
“That’s right,” says Bruce. “As for worked up with Kory, this whole album was, except for maybe… no, maybe the whole album was written already when Kory was in the band. And he had done vocal stuff to most of them. But when Kyle entered the band, and ended up going to be doing the vocals for the record, he said he didn’t want to do anything that Kory did, because he didn’t want to be influenced by it. Plus there’s a song on the album, ‘Paranoid Conspiracy’, that was written back when Eric was in the band, and it would have been included on Simple Mind Condition. For one reason or another, it didn’t happen, but I felt like it was too good of a song to just throw away. And I still think it’s one of the better songs on this album. That came from a few years back when Eric was in the band. But as I said on this other stuff, Kyle ended up writing his own lyrics and vocal melodies himself. I don’t know if Eric ever quite finished the lyrics to that song, but we did record the basic tracks for that song when we were recording Simple Mind Condition.”
As for the psychedelic excursion Bruce refers to earlier... yes, indeed, there is one of those, and it’s a real mind-bender...
“For the most out-there, crazy song on the album, for sure it’s a song called ‘The Grey Chill Of Autumn’. It’s quite different, and one of the ones like I was saying, where we may have tried something like this on Run To The Light, that maybe we’re a little more equipped to do now. Kind of psychedelic, still with heavy parts, but it goes through a lot of twists and turns, different movements of the song. I don’t know if there’s any song in our career that you would say is like this song.”
Divulges co-axeman Rick Wartell, “There’s a section in that song where there’s like 57 or 58 guitars going, with overdubs; I don’t know if it was the most difficult thing to do, but it was the most interesting. There’s one part in the middle of the song where it kind of stops, and these guitars and this weird space shit takes over. It’s really eerie, almost like watching a movie or listening to a movie soundtrack. It’s modern and old-fashioned at the same time. It’s definitely the oddest song on the record.”
“We double-tracked a lot of stuff,” laughs Rick. “Yeah, we put a lot of guitars in this record, let’s just say that. But the Trouble sound? Man, it’s just Marshalls, Gibson guitars and chorus pedals. That’s basically it. There’s not a whole lot going on there. You see our racks on stage, there’s not a whole lot there. It’s just like really old stuff. I get letters from fans and people on Facebook asking all the time what we use, and there’s no big secret. It’s just simple stuff; I think it’s all just in the settings. But as for other bands that sound like us, I haven’t heard ‘em. There are bands with big heavy guitars, but I don’t know if they sound as unique as ours. All I know is that we go plug in and that’s what comes out.”
As for the acquisition of ex-EXORDER/ex-FLOODGATE belter Kyle Thomas, Bruce figures that besides his powerful pipes, another positive is his level of introspection.
“For the most part, his lyrics come from a lot of the things inside of him that he’s experienced, all different things in life. Which is cool—I’m always one for real life-connected type lyrics. Maybe one or two songs on the album aren’t exactly that. But for the most part, a bunch of the songs on the album are. It’s the kind of thing people can relate to. A song like ‘Your Reflections’, is totally about what’s affected his life. And you can feel the passion in his singing, that he believes in what he’s singing.”
And why the break with Kory?
“I’ll tell you, the main thing, probably, by far the biggest, was that you could see the fans just were not accepting what he was doing with us,” says Bruce. “I mean, it was pretty obvious when we would play live shows. And I had a vision for better things for the record too. And not much more else to say than that. Except for the way things have ended up on it, I’m 100% sure we did the right thing. In hindsight, Kory was probably the wrong choice for the band. And that’s not his fault. I mean, I don’t want to be like slamming him. I saw him do a show with some hired musicians, and he did a bunch of WARRIOR SOUL stuff, and he sounded great doing that. So it’s not to slam him. He just really wasn’t the right fit for Trouble. And eventually we figured it out.”
“Actually last night, we were talking about how impressed we are with the depth of Kyle’s lyrics and the content,” reflects Rick, on the lead singer switcheroo. “It’s very real, very personal, very poetic, often about experiences that he goes through and is going through. And it’s something Trouble has always had. So this is something that won’t miss a beat whatsoever. There’s true life experiences but also things that he’s very passionate about, like war and life and death, same things Trouble has always been passionate about. So I think Kyle is Trouble; he just fits in so well.”
Final comment from Rick falls well into synch with this writer’s impression of Distortion Field and all it’s interesting creases and corners, this idea that the band has matured (perhaps fuelled by the injection of some new blood), and produced a masterful work linked to the creative spirit of heavy records from the ‘70s...
“To me, there’s a lot of stuff on this record that is like old school Trouble meets new school. Like Bruce talks about, he’ll say there’s good mixture of the really old and the really new stuff. The vibe I get is like when you first got a new Sabbath album and you cranked the shit out of it and it became almost like a live concert. Now I know it’s not Sabbath and it’s not the same, but for some reason, that’s the vibe I get (laughs).”
(Photos: Bruce Franklin and Rick Watrell by Jeremy Saffer / Kyle Thomas by Daniel Schnider)