Trust revamps the synth seduction

We spoke to Toronto’s Robert Alfons (aka Trust) about his new record, Joyland, ahead of tomorrow night’s Montreal show.

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Robert Alfons. Photo by Seth Fluker

Waves of synths and beats crash the dancefloor, scale anthemic heights, roll back into melodic majesty and funnel deep into the darkness beneath, while sinister but strangely alluring vocals work nosferatu magic to draw you into its spell. Or MDMA at goth night. If you can fathom either sensation, you’ve begun to get a grasp on Trust.

Toronto’s Robert Alfons is the heart and soul of this project, which formed in 2010 with Austra keyboardist Maya Postepski. The pair released a record called TRST in 2012, shortly before Postepski stepped away to focus on her other band. At Alfons’s side these days are Anne Gauthier and Esther Munits, who join him on stage to flesh out Trust’s sound—a sound that’s rooted in ’80s synth-pop and new wave, and refined by more contemporary dance music. The result is a fresh take on something classic.

Trust’s new record, released by Arts & Crafts this week, on March 4, is called Joyland.

“The title is sort of a fun play on, like, acid house and dance music,” Alfons explains. “The nature of the recordings and nature of the lyrics, the songwriting, is way more than what the title implies. It’s not meant to be taken literally.”

It’s not entirely sarcastic either. Alfons anticipated that people might scoff at his choice of Joyland as a title, and acknowledges that it twists the general perception of his “vibe.” Musically, though, this isn’t a complete departure, but a realization of the dream that began with TRST.

“I had ideas that I didn’t fulfill [on the first record], and there were certain things that I wanted to accomplish. I had to challenge myself, otherwise I just would’ve been bored,” he explains. “I’ve been musical my whole life, but [with Trust] this is the first time that I really felt I had the right vision and alignment, and the right outlet to release music. The early Trust stuff was mainly old songs of mine that I revamped—even on this record, ‘Capitol’ is a song that I wrote seven years ago. So I’ve been gearing up to this for a while now.”

Alfons’s first instrument was the piano, and the techno end of the dance music spectrum was where he began to create—he never touched a guitar, let alone played in a rock band. But in its song structures and melodic appeal, Trust is undeniably poppy, so it’s not surprising to learn about the musical memories from his childhood.

“It was a time, I guess, before the Internet allowed you to listen to everything that had ever been created,” he recalls. “My older sister and my aunt were like musical wizards for me—they were the ones who showed me Pet Shop Boys and early ’90s dance music. That was the stuff that I was really attracted to as a kid. Of course, as I grew up, I discovered way more nuanced electronic music, and that’s what I latched on to. But I definitely embraced a lot of the stuff that I grew up with on this record.”

Over the past two years, the critical acclaim and audience embrace of TRST has allowed Alfons to tour widely and play a variety of venues, under an array of circumstances. Everything from the uncomfortable outdoor daytime set to the scummy dive bar to the even sketchier loft party is an experience Alfons is familiar with. When asked what his ideal venue is, he picked the local spot he’s playing on Trust’s current tour.

“Le SAT! I played there about a year ago, and it’s incredible. A space like that works really, really well. It look good, it sounds good—it just feels right.” ■

Trust performs with opener Mozart’s Sister at SAT (1201 St-Laurent) on Friday, March 7,10 p.m., $17/$20

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