The Trading Co. (I)

The Trading Co. Interview & Gallery, Part 1

The Interview, Part 1

The Interview, Part 1

Blues-​rock duo The Trading Co. (early can­di­dates for band names: Tre Vero [“The Three Truths”]; King James Version) belong to a small sta­ble of artists call­ing Old Dog Records their home. Like label mates the Kamals and Black Jack Gypsys, their sound is loud and heavy. It’s a sound that’s been com­pared to the early Black Keys; lyri­cally, they traf­fic in sto­ries of sin and redemp­tion, lone­li­ness and betrayal.

Singer/​drummer Jonathan Eldridge, a slen­der, square-​jawed young man with brown, side-​parted hair and thick plas­tic eye­glass frames, sings with an anguished inten­sity usu­ally reserved for jonesing addicts. His drum­ming is work­man­like — he makes no claims of vir­tu­os­ity; the beat keeps time and under­lines the suf­fer­ing of the var­i­ous sto­ry­tellers as he chan­nels spurned lovers, vagabonds, and wan­der­ers. The first time I heard him sing, I was reminded of the way Gary Burger once spat out his shock­ing decla­ma­tion — I hate you! (But call me) — to audi­ences in cold war Germany.

Joshua flashes a wide, slightly goofy grin with lit­tle provo­ca­tion. During the inter­view, the gui­tar player and some­times singer emerged as the sun­nier half of the pair. His reced­ing hair­line belies his rel­a­tive youth, as does his expert gui­tar play­ing; he knows the lan­guage of elec­tric blues. Despite the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, his play­ing owes more to “prim­i­tive” coun­try blues — think John Lee Hooker — than to Chicago blues, with the instru­ment used as per­cus­sion as much as for scales and har­mony. It’ll get you sway­ing.

We caught up with The Trading Co. between their November Blue Note Lounge appear­ance and their late February gig as part of the Old Dog Records show­case at the Route 66 Roadhouse. Their epony­mous sopho­more release is avail­able as a dig­i­tal down­load or a vinyl LP. The LP includes a code for a dig­i­tal copy of the album in MP3 for­mat.

Jonathan (III)
Jonathan (III) — The Trading Co. at the Blue Note Lounge

Mercury Photo BureauPlease intro­duce your­selves.

Jonathan EldridgeMy name’s Jonathan; I sing and play drums.

Joshua GriffinI’m Joshua, and I play gui­tar and sing.

MPBWho’s the prin­ci­pal writer?

JoshuaUh, both, actu­ally; yeah.

JonathanThere’s a few songs that each of us have writ­ten indi­vid­u­ally, but we pretty much call it a “cor­po­rate” effort. […] one of us will come up with a riff and we’ll […] jam with it for a while, and, usu­ally, the lyrics start as we’re play­ing. I’ll just make them up as we go, and we’ll remem­ber one line from that, and one of us will go and […] write a full lyric […]. I don’t think we’ve ever writ­ten a song [with the] lyrics first.

JoshuaYeah, I usu­ally have a vocal melody […] in my head and […] base a gui­tar riff around it.

MPBThe band’s been described as a blues-​rock band, and I think that’s a fair descrip­tion. Most of the chord changes are blues-​based, and the lyrics fol­low the basic twelve-​bar blues struc­ture. I only know the stuff I heard you play at the Blue Note [Lounge] and the stuff I’ve heard on Bandcamp. Do you ever stray out­side of that basic form?

Jonathan[…] I don’t think […] we sat down and thought about it like, This is the way we’re gonna do it, we just both grew up with that kind of music. […] I think it’s just so […] ingrained in us that that’s the way it turns out. If we came up with a dif­fer­ent idea, I think we’d be happy to explore it.

MPBHow did you meet each other?

JoshuaWe met at a pre­vi­ous job, about … ’99? Right at the turn of the cen­tury. […] I’d played in bands and stuff for a while; I don’t think you’d [looks at Jonathan] played in any­thing, had you? We’d known each other for years before we even started play­ing music together. Just hung out, you know, mutual friends and stuff.

Joshua (II)
Joshua (II) — The Trading Co. at the Blue Note Lounge

JonathanWe […] ended up mov­ing in — we’d known each other for seven or eight years — ended up mov­ing in next door to each other. We kind of jammed once or twice [after that]; I actu­ally played gui­tars; [they were] kinda the first instru­ment I picked up and learned. We’d jam with some other peo­ple like that; noth­ing seri­ous, not intend­ing to do any­thing with it, just hav­ing fun.

And then, I kinda looked — not really looked for a band, but [had] been inter­ested in join­ing or start­ing 1, and not found any­thing, so I just decided at one point, well, I was gonna do it myself. So I bought a drum set, just a lit­tle cheap mixer, and some junk soft­ware […], and I thought I’d just do a scratch track, you know, lay down the drums; I’ll just make an album myself […].

But then, like I said, I had the drums; we lived next door to each other and I’ve got friends who are musi­cians too, so it just turned into a thing where we started play­ing together. And, I think, sec­ond or third time […], we started writ­ing songs, not with the inten­tion of doing any­thing with them […].

MPBJoshua, you said you’d been in some other bands before?

JoshuaI used to play a lot of sports and stuff in school, and, one day I quit and bought a gui­tar. And […] a cou­ple of — two or three months after I started play­ing […] I jammed with a cou­ple of bud­dies and just […] watched them, and the next thing you know, we’ve got a band. Played all through high school with those guys. It was a band called Chief; it was just four bud­dies that I went to school with […]. And we ended up break­ing up: one of the guys joined the mil­i­tary right out of school, so that […] fiz­zled away. I don’t even actu­ally know how we started play­ing; I don’t think it was ever brought up. [addresses Jonathan] Did you just say, Hey? —

JonathanI think we just started play­ing; I don’t think it was —.

MPBThe two of you guys together? So that was in one of your houses; were you play­ing before an audi­ence, or was it just the two of you?

JoshuaI think, like, when­ever me and my old bud­dies would get together and like, jam at that house, Jonathan would come over and sit in on the drums or sit in on the gui­tar […].

MPBWho does most of the singing?

JonathanI prob­a­bly sing ¾ of the songs, but I don’t think there’s a rule of I’m the singer.

MPBOn your epony­mous debut album, five of the ten songs — fully half — are what are pop­u­larly described as “kiss-​off” songs. What’s going on there?

JonathanNone of the songs — at least none of the ones you’re refer­ring to — there’s one that’s actu­ally about some­one, but none of [those 5] songs are about a spe­cific per­son […]. I feel it’s […] eas­ier to write about sad things and about neg­a­tive things than it is to write about hap­pi­ness. And maybe that’s my per­son­al­ity —

MPBHappiness can be bor­ing.

JonathanIt can be. There’s so much more. […] Rarely is happy com­plex; […] sad[ness], despair, bad things, […] they’re com­plex; there’s a lot to them […].

JoshuaI’ve never writ­ten a song when I was happy. [chuck­les] It’s always been after a breakup or some­thing along those lines. I’ll admit; there’s a cou­ple that I wrote that the lyrics are about a spe­cific per­son.

JonathanAll They Had is a song that I wrote, and it’s not about a girl; it’s not about break­ing up […]; it’s more about a feel­ing of lone­li­ness.

MPBYou’re both self-​taught musi­cians?

JonathanI took one les­son when I first started play­ing gui­tar [when] I was about 20. My dad had [a gui­tar] and I’d messed with it on and off, but I really decided I was gonna play gui­tar [and] I took one les­son from Joshua; [that] may be one of the big­ger mis­takes in my life. [laugh­ter] Great gui­tar player; ter­ri­ble gui­tar teacher.

JoshuaI do not remem­ber that les­son at all; I have ADD, so I prob­a­bly — Why can’t you do this? Just do it.

MPBDo either of you read gui­tar tabs?

JoshuaI can read tab­u­la­tion, but I can’t read musi­cal nota­tion.

JonathanI can’t read music at all.

MPBHow long have you been play­ing as The Trading Co.?

JoshuaSince . [Our first pub­lic gig was] at a place called Grady’s 66 Pub in Yukon. It was before they had a stage; we set up in front in between two pool tables. I’d bro­ken my arm [in a] motor­cy­cle [acci­dent], and we’d booked this show, and I thought that we were gonna have to post­pone because I wasn’t sure if I would have the cast off in time. And I got the cast off about a week before our show, and it went off with­out a hitch.

JonathanActually […], that was the first year they were open for Fat Tuesday; last night was the third in a row we’ve played there. It’s an annual thing now.

I thought [The first show] went great; actu­ally, I was amazed — my fear was, no one was gonna be there, [but] there were at least a hun­dred peo­ple there. […] I think Josh was really afraid because I’d not been in a band before, and I think he was ner­vous for the fact that he thought I was gonna screw up. [laugh­ter] I’ve never been the type — I don’t get ner­vous about things very often […], and I think Josh was ner­vous for me, because he was like, You should be ner­vous; why aren’t you ner­vous?

JoshuaNo, I was actu­ally ner­vous because I hadn’t played […] for at least three months, and we hadn’t prac­ticed; I don’t think we prac­ticed at all before the show, maybe once?

JonathanI have a lot more faith in Josh’s gui­tar play­ing than he does most times. [laugh­ter]. I expect and demand him to do things that he’s not com­fort­able doing, [more laugh­ter] which helps the band’s over­all dynamic.

MPBWell, now that you men­tion faith, the song Faith explic­itly addresses the sub­ject. Your music is rooted in the blues tra­di­tion, and the blues can­not be dis­en­tan­gled from African-​American spir­i­tual tra­di­tions — gospel and blues being two sides of the same coin — so, did you have that in mind when you wrote the song? — or do you have a more per­sonal rea­son for writ­ing about faith?

JonathanI think most of the songs that deal with faith, I’ve writ­ten. I guess the answer is: both. I grew up in church; I still go to church reg­u­larly. I grew up with all those stan­dard church songs, but my favorites were the old negro spir­i­tu­als; that style of music really inter­ested me. I like how hon­est it is; it’s as sim­ple as it could pos­si­bly be [and] it’s some­thing we try to hold onto in our music, is the sim­plic­ity, […] but, it prob­a­bly has more emo­tion than any other kind of music […].

MPBI think that sim­plic­ity is of one the things I really like about your songs, and cer­tainly it’s the same rea­son I like that other drum and gui­tar duo that you’re inevitably com­pared to, and I think that not only should you be flat­tered that peo­ple com­pare you to the Black Keys, but I think it’s also an apt com­par­i­son.

JoshuaJust as longt as the hword “ecmopy” isn’t used.

MPBAnd I wouldn’t go that far, but how do you deal with the peo­ple mak­ing those com­par­isons, at least to their early work, when you’re try­ing to do your own thing?

JonathanYou can’t con­trol what peo­ple think, and it’s never both­ered me that peo­ple think that, but I don’t [encour­age it]. Before we were a band or right around the time we started play­ing, we met [the Black Keys] and kinda hung out with them […]. They were just get­ting ready to release Chulahoma and they came through [Oklahoma], and a friend of ours […] knew them […]. They’re really nice guys.

But, if peo­ple com­pare us to them, I’m hon­ored by that. You [men­tioned] their ear­lier work; those are still some of my favorite albums. I lis­ten to them all the time. But [the com­par­isons] are some­thing you just can’t let bother you.

Jonathan (VI)
Jonathan (VI) — The Trading Co. at the Blue Note Lounge

MPBWhat’s the strangest or most mem­o­rable thing that’s hap­pened to you as musi­cians?

JonathanWe played a show one time where there was a real tight fes­ti­val [sched­ule], and we got up there and the band before us ran long. It took us for­ever to get set up, and we finally get set up and start going, and Josh has a Gibson Falcon [ampli­fier], I think it’s a ’59 or ’61; it’s an old tweed model. 99% orig­i­nal, and, just like any­thing that’s fifty years old and elec­tronic, it starts cut­ting out and not work­ing, so, [we] went through a ton of work, got up there and played four songs, all but a dis­as­ter, and peo­ple still seemed to mildly enjoy it. That’s when I felt like, We’re doing some­thing okay here.

JoshuaI think it was the elec­tron­ics in the [venue] a lit­tle bit. It was late, and the place was packed; you know, peo­ple were stand­ing out­side the door. It was just — I wanted to kick that amp.

Jonathan[laughs] I did, too.

Joshua[laughs] But I still own it; I still love it.

MPBDo you have a favorite piece of musi­cal equip­ment?

JoshuaI do. The gui­tar that I nor­mally play — there’s two, actu­ally — I have an Epiphone Firebird —

JonathanIt’s a pro­to­type that we just found some­how. I’m a bit of a tech freak, so any­time Josh or any of my friends get any­thing, the first thing I do is open it up and look inside. So we opened [the gui­tar] up, and most of the parts inside are stamped “pro­to­type”, so, I’ve played other ones since, and none of them sound the same [as the Firebird].

JoshuaThe Firebird and the Gibson Falcon; I really love it […].

Jonathan[…] When some­one asks me if I play an instru­ment, I […] nor­mally tell them I play gui­tar. I do play drums in the band, not very well; but I play them. I have an old — prob­a­bly a ’65 or a ’66 — Traynor [gui­tar amp], which is […] Canadian […]. It’s kind of a [Fender] Twin Reverb meets Marshall Plexi, uh, a kind of a weird amp they put out —

f

JoshuaLoud!

JonathanIt’s another thing [where] I got it [and] did some stuff to it. I built an 18-​watt Marshall clone; I like it quite a bit.

MPBDo you pre­fer NOS tubes, or do you buy the repro­duc­tion tubes?

JonathanI’ve never bought any — I think I did buy one set of Russian EL34s, but for the most part, like in the 18-​watt Marshall, I bought an old amp, which came with Amperex “bugle boys” tubes. I’ve used those, and also — those tubes are still fine.

In my house one day, they had a big junk day, and I saw […] an old record player/​stereo con­sole; I […] looked in the back and sure enough, it was all tube. Without even look­ing at any­thing I throw it in the back [of my vehi­cle] and get it home, and it’s all Amperex and Mullard tubes […].

Joshua (I)
Joshua (I) — The Trading Co. at the Blue Note Lounge

JoshuaI thought you were gonna tell the other story.

MPBYeah?

Jonathan[laugh­ing] This shouldn’t go in any inter­view. At the same house where I found that record player, two years later, I’m dri­ving out of the neigh­bor­hood, and I see a lit­tle half-​track ¼″ recorder, not real big, and prob­a­bly made by Sony in the late ’70s or some­thing like that. And I think, Well, that’s some­thing I need to have, and I get out and look at it, and there’s, maybe, seven or eight rolls of 7″ tape.

I grab them […], and I grab a big stack of records, you know, I’m flip­pin’ through them, see if there’s any­thing I need. And there’s a photo album, and, stu­pidly, I flip open this photo album, and first thing, there’s four Polaroids […], and [they’re] closeup[s] of a guy, com­pletely naked from about the knees to the chest, in dif­fer­ent stages of “excite­ment.” So, I see that, and I thought, This is the price I pay for get­tin’ this stuff for free!

— Chris J. Zähller

Gallery: The Blue Note Lounge

Gallery: The Blue Note Lounge

About Chris J. Zähller

International Man of Mystery. Cocktail Nerd. Occasionally designs websites. Sometimes snaps a picture or two.

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