January 24, 2008
By Maya Dawn Henderson
Photo by Gene Ambro
They’ve been called White Doom. They’ve been called Christian metal. They’ve always called themselves ~ Trouble. The Chicago doom metal group was the first band that was publicly labeled at ‘white metal’ (in contrast to black metal) by their label at the time, Metal Blade Records. Trouble's music has a super-heavy, dragging style mixed with psychedelic sounds of the late ‘60’s, ethereal lyrics and Sabbath-inspired power chords. Visceral grooves, torrid riffs, and strong vocals being the main elements of their art. They embody explosive energy, sloppy charm and a reserve of musical and lyrical sophistication that instantly distinguishes them from the vast majority. They have the unique ability to turn dragged-out, chain-dragging underground sounds into catchy songs. With off-kilter rhythms and explosive outbursts of kinetic energy, this band created a baroque, doom-laden fusion style of metal.
Trouble has always had their own nonpareil sound. It doesn’t matter what tempo they play it at, or whether they’re emphasizing the gloomy, down-tuned riffs or the Beatlesque melodies, it still has the same basement aura about it. If you were a fan way back, you probably remember the band’s bizarre underground cult status. I was and I clearly remember how difficult it was getting my hands of those elusive Trouble cassettes. Harder to get than dope, you’d have thought the shit was bootlegged.
Chatting with Trouble’s founding drummer Jeff ‘Oly’ Olsen recently, I was able to find out some history and see what’s going on with Trouble now. I spoke to the intensely energetic drummer on the phone from his home in Maine. “I need to get this out of the way”, I started, “Trouble was often depicted as a white doom or a Christian band...” “No! We are not a Christian band!” he vehemently exclaimed. “It’s a common question though, and we get it often. Our label basically mislabled us”. He went on to explain, “A few members of Trouble definitely have a more spiritual side, but Eric (Wagner)’s lyrics have always been about real life experiences and things around us”. Wherever they draw their inspiration from, it comes out thick and heavy. Trouble’s first two albums on Metal Blade; Psalm 9 and The Skull contained some biblical references which was probably is what earned them the tag. Reflecting, Oly admitted he still regrets signing with Metal Blade and wishes they had signed with Rick Rubin (Def American) earlier on. He described Metal Blade as ‘complacent. “They would send us out on an occasional short tour, or a Euro-festival here and there, nothing you could validate leaving your day job over.” That explained the lack of tour dates out seen here on the West Coast. It occurred to me while speaking to Oly, that Trouble may not have a clue as to how big their West coast fan base is. As much of a fan I was of their music, I really didn’t know too much about the band. Olsen educated me.
“Trouble was originally formed when Bruce and Eric answered an ad posted by Rick, in ‘The Illinois Entertainer’ in 1979. I also joined in 1979, when their drummer at the time didn't work out. I've been in the band off and on since 1979 and contributed to all of Trouble's albums, except for "Manic Frustration," which drummer, Barry Stern was on”. Trouble toured the Midwest in the early eighties and in ‘84 they signed with Metal Blade and did three albums, Psalm 9, The Skull and Run to the Light. It was 1990 when Def American picked up Trouble after a three-year hiatus, recording the self-titled album, Trouble. In ‘95 they went to the Music for Nations label and released Plastic Green Head. That year they played the Dynamo Open Air Festival for 115,000 adoring metal fans. This was record high for Dynamo. Soon after Eric would quit the band and go on to form his other band Lid. Nothing happened with the band for a few years but the rumors of their reunion wouldn’t cease. It was 2002 when the band finally hit the stage together again in Chicago. Since then the band played around locally and headlined various metal festivals. In 2004 Dave Grohl of Nirvana/Foo-fame put together a tribute to his metal roots and assembled a who’s who of metal with his ‘Probot’ project. It featured a variety of metal singers doing tunes he recorded music for. Grohl confided to Oly that he used listen to Trouble just before performing with Nirvana. Eric Wagner sang on the track ‘My Tortured Soul’ on Probot. In 2005 Trouble played in Stockholm, Sweden, where they recorded the live DVD Trouble, Live in Stockholm. They’re latest album ‘Simple Mind Condition’ was recently released in 2007 on Escapi Music. Today Trouble is: Jeff "Oly" Olson, drums, keys and horns, Rick Wartell and Bruce Franklin on guitars, Eric Wagner on vocals and Chuck Robinson on bass.
They’ve all done side projects and Oly clarified me on who’s done what.“Eric had his project ‘Lid’. Chuck did ‘This Tortured Soul’. The only side project that I know is currently active with an album coming out in 2008, is Rick's ‘Wet Animal’. That and mine of course.” Jeff Olsen’s other band is Retro Grave. Oly spoke passionately about his project. “For the last several years, I‘ve wanted to create my own band. I have worked on Bruce Franklin’s band, ‘Supershine’ and Rick Wartell’s band, ‘Wet Animal’, and it goes without saying that I love being the drummer for Trouble. My band mates are like brothers. After years of chitchat with my lyricist Paul Goodchild, about launching a band, I still needed organization and push. Someone that could help guide me through the process, not musically so much, but in business. Leigh Rush became my manager and publicity agent in January of 2007 and we launched Retro Grave. Recording on my own with Retro Grave gives me more opportunity to be creative with my own style of writing. Retro Grave is not just a side band to me. It’s something more. It’s a band where I can be artistically fulfilled and tour. For me, the debut of Retro Grave was like that of insects that pupate in a cocoon and must birth from it… so must Retro Grave!” With his Retro Grave band mates Oly often discusses the poetics of heavy metal. “On the musical side, I was of the mind that the jazz inflected, doomy, Sabbathesque-style had seen short shrift in contrast with the chugging Metallicky school”. Paul proposed the idea that metal lyrics could say much more, even while bound by the subjects wherein it excels, i.e. death, mayhem, that sort of thing”. Currently, the EP is selling directly through the website at RetroGraveMusic.com and mail orders throughout Europe, as well as the United States. “Moreover, I am writing and recording my debut full length, ‘Again’ and it’s scheduled for a 2008 release. Just in time for Trouble‘s 2008 Simple Mind Condition Tour.” The album will be for sale on tour with Trouble.
Discussing re-releases, Oly explained he was initially going to rearrange "Run To The Light" with some members of Candlemass and Goatwhore, but the Trouble camp had taken an interest and now they will be rearranging that under the Trouble name only. Trouble's "Unplugged" will be sold exclusively through the Trouble website at www.newTrouble.com and will be ready to ship in December 2007. Oly described ‘Unplugged’ as “the light-hearted, happy Trouble”. "Simple Mind Condition" will be officially released in the U.S. in January 2008 and is already available in Europe, and can be purchased at www.Stonerrock.com and through the Escapi Records website now”.
I asked Trouble’s drummer if they planned to play any cover songs. “Yes. We did a Lucifer's Friend cover called, "Ride The Sky" for the new Simple Mind Condition album. I played French Horn on that as well as drums”. “Whoa! That is one bad ass song. I can’t wait to hear that! I heard the singer likes Iron Butterfly, what other bands are favorites of Trouble?” “Well, ELP (Emerson Lake & Palmer) is my main influence and Eric loves the Beatles, (favoring John Lennon), The Doors and many more. We are influenced by too many bands to mention. The list would be a mile long”. I asked where Trouble is based from now. “Eric, Rick, Bruce and myself are all from Chicago. However, I just recently moved to Maine last Summer and Chuck Robinson lives outside of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. We all rehearse in Chicago and record there as well”. When asked if they’d be keeping the same “Trouble” look, which used to be a dress code of bell-bottomed jeans, T-shirts and spectacle-style shades, he laughed, “We’ll probably keep the bells” . . . “I really hope the West Coast is slated for your upcoming Trouble tour.” “The tour dates are listed on Trouble’s site, (www.newTrouble.com), but I'm not sure about the US tour as of yet. We are playing House of Blues in Chicago on January 27th, it’s kind of warm up show for our European tour this Spring.” One can only hope that the decidedly uplifting doom band will make their way out to us. I’m sure they’ll evoke the power, majesty and the hammer wielded during their original incarnation.
Ironically, I am still waiting (and jonesin’) for my new Trouble CD, (their orders are already backed up), so unfortunately I wasn’t able to give it a listen in time to tell you about it here. With any luck I’ll be reviewing them live instead very soon! Check ‘em out for yourself at www.newTrouble.com.
A congratulations shout out to Oly and his publicist/Retro Grave manager, Leigh Rush. They’ll be getting married while on tour in Holland this Spring!