Hailing from North Carolina, Truth Club was formed by vocalist/guitarist Travis Harrington and drummer Elise Jaffe, who recruited Kameron Vann to play bass on their first show in 2017. Harrington and Vann grew up in Wilmington and played in a band called Astro Cowboy in high school before moving to different parts of the state for college. After Truth Club’s first tour, guitarist, bassist, and singer Yvonne Chazal filled in for Vann for a while, contributing to a few songs on the band’s debut LP, 2019’s Not An Exit, and officially joining prior to its release by Tiny Engines. Finding a new home in Double Double Whammy, the now-quartet shared the standalone single ‘It’s Time’ in early 2023 and just returned with their thrilling sophomore album, Running With the Chase, which they recorded with producer Alex Farrar at Asheville’s Drop of Sun Studios (where they were also joined by Indigo De Souza, who contributed vocals on ‘Exit Cycle’). A sense of dark, impenetrable claustrophobia hangs over these songs, which Harrington wrote while struggling with a particularly acute period of bipolar depression, but what elevates them, both musically and emotionally, is his dynamic interplay with the rest of the group, who meld and break them apart in striking ways. “It’s one story, one need/ Still carried, shooting right through me,” he sings on the title track. “I hope I shape it into something sweet/ To nourish one right in front of me.”
We caught up with Truth Club for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about the origins of the group, their collaborative process, crafting Running With the Chase, and more.
Travis and Kameron, you started playing music together in middle school, and you had a band called Astro Cowboy in high school. How do you look back on the early days of your friendship?
Kameron Vann: We definitely reminisce about it at times. Even yesterday at practice, I pulled up a video that one of our very old friends sent us of, I would you say, our third show? We were just laughing about it. It’s wild that we’ve been in it together for a while and have really grown as musicians together.
Travis Harrington: Kameron and I don’t have a lot of formal training or anything, and I think Kameron has kind of been more studious than I have in recent years, trying to sort of learn more about that. Because we learned how to play guitar and how to interface and write songs together from the beginning, it’s a very unique and special thing to have this idiosyncratic common language that we can pull from. It’s cool that through that, we were able to have enough focus and write a bunch of songs and start playing shows as young as we did. I think the wildest thing to reflect on is just thinking about being in all these situations where we were definitely the youngest people by a significant degree, like at least five years. The way that worked in Wilmington, and just the strange music community that existed at the time when we were playing, getting these opportunities to interface with this culture from an early age that I feel like a lot of people don’t necessarily get to experience – I can reflect on a lot of experiences where maybe it doesn’t seem like a good thing to have been around, maybe, but also learned a lot of life lessons, like these are good examples of people uplifting each other and creating community.
After you parted ways, did you have a sense that you would be playing music together in some capacity in the future?
TH: We probably have different answers.
KV: [laughs] Yeah. We split ways just because we were moving away from college in different towns, and it was a natural ending to the high school band. But from my end, I personally didn’t have any forethought into the future on that front. I guess if I really would have thought about it, I mean, me and Travis have always been best friends and will always be best friends, and we also both love playing music, so if you think about it like that, it naturally probably would have happened again somehow. But at the time, no, I wasn’t thinking about it.
TH: I, on the other hand, feel like when we stopped playing, it made sense because of the natural barriers and constraints, and I think in that configuration, it wasn’t quite as inspired anymore. But I just had a feeling that if and when I start a new project or something, I’m definitely going to harass Kameron until he joins. I’m going to convince him to come play music with me again. I mean, it wasn’t that engineered, I don’t think, but I knew that if there was good pitch, Kameron would be down.
KV: It didn’t take much.
Elise Jaffe: Travis and I kind of started Truth Club together, and I remember pretty early on, within the first at least couple of months or so, Travis was already talking about, “We gotta get Kam to play with us sometime.” Like, “I know that you’ve only seen him play drums, but he’s a really good guitarist also, and he has all these cool ideas.” From my perspective, it was pretty quick Travis wanted to get Kam involved in whatever way he could.
TH: I remember you were apprehensive because you’re like, “How is this gonna work? He lives three hours away.” But here we are. We made it work for a while.
Elise and Yvonne, I know you joined at different points in time, but what was your impression of Travis’s songwriting when you first came across it?
EJ: I first started to actually get to know Travis seeing Astro Cowboy play a lot of my freshman year of college. Neither of them lived in Raleigh at the time, but they were just playing events sometimes for the school radio station or shows nearby. Travis and I kind of slowly became friends the end of the next year, and that was the year that I had made a point of: I want to bring my drum set to school, I want to try and start playing music with people. It worked out that Travis and I ran into each other when he was really getting tired of just playing alone in his house by himself, and he was looking for people to play with. The thing that struck me was, playing the songs that he was bringing was really interesting because there was a lot of rhythmic and melodic stuff going on, even just within his guitar playing, which I felt like was different from a lot of other bands. There was a lot of interesting stuff going on for me to directly play with and work off of, especially in a percussive context.
Yvonne Chazal: I had a similar experience, I saw Astro Cowboy when I was also a freshman and sophomore. I was working for the radio station and met them both through that and thought they were a really fun band. Towards the tail end of Astro Cowboy, it felt like it was developing into this new sound that had more intricate, complex stuff happening, and then it ended, which was a bummer. But I was following Truth Club from the very beginning, I was at the first Truth Club show. I always was gripped by it because it wasn’t something that was the same as everything else, both from the standpoint of all of the instrumentation and the lyrics – it wasn’t just the same old stuff. Very grateful to eventually be a part of that.
KM: It’s kind of funny, I do remember going to maybe Truth Club’s second show when you all first started, and I remember being in the crowd and going crazy like, “Damn, this is so sick, I wish I could be in this band right now.”
TH: It was hard to move to a new place and not really know people who were not already in a bunch of bands, but I was trying to find somebody else to play with because I was very determined to start a new project. Just having stopped playing music with Kameron, I was definitely like, I want to see what it’s like to form this kind of connection with another person. And it’s so hard to find one person who even says they play drums, and two who are actually good at that when they say it. It was cool to meet Elise through just the casual common connection of showing up to a lot of the same shows, so clearly we had a similar taste in music. And from the first time that we played, it immediately felt really good. Of course, I’m really glad that Yvonne and Kameron found their way to being in the band, but it was very important to have found the first person that I met in Raleigh that I played music with and felt really connected to in that same way that Kameron and I did when we started learning guitar.
What excited you about Truth Club becoming a four-piece, and were there aspects of it that felt vulnerable in a new way?
KM: For me, when it became four-piece, I do think it was a pretty pivotal moment. Before it was a four-piece, I was just playing bass, just sticking to the rhythm section, and that’s a pretty comfortable spot to be in. But when it became a four-piece, it allowed me and Yvonne to switch, so it allowed this space for us to delve into where me and Yvonne could start writing stuff in this extra space between Travis’s guitars and the bass and the vocals on a second guitar. It is kind of vulnerable, because you’re interacting more on the face, almost, of things, when it comes to the music, which is a little daunting and intimidating. I can’t speak for Yvonne, but it does seem for both of us, writing that second guitar part is really challenging and takes a lot of wrestling with to really get it to where it needs to be. It gets a little bit headier. I think becoming a four-piece really opened up a lot more character for me to throw into the mix.
YC: I was still practicing with Elise and Travis as the three-piece so that they could write their parts, and I would just kind of play the root notes along. Everyone kind of had their lane, and there wasn’t as much negotiation of sonic space. And when it became a four-piece, that change of having to negotiate space was so stark. I think any negotiation that works out and finds compromise requires vulnerability, and I think that all of us have had to operate from that place. It’s been a really cool process to always be growing in that way.
TH: Before Yvonne officially joined the band, she was basically surrogate Kameron because Kameron lived far away, and was obviously a good friend and good at bass, which is why we wanted to play with her. Over time, I remember talking to talking to everyone being like, “Well, I like playing music with everybody here, so we should all do it together, if that’s possible.” And everybody was down. I remember the first time the four of us sat down, Yvonne and Kameron and I kind of had the realization that you both at the time were the exact same shape of confidence – you both felt more confident and comfortable playing bass and had never played guitar in a band before. That was definitely a vulnerability that I witnessed, y’all both being less confident as guitarists.
With my guitar style up until that point, I had never had to conceptualize writing and arranging its parts with another person being there, so there was a lot of difficulty at the beginning. I’d be like, “Hey, check out this song,” and you and Kameron would both be like, “Where are we supposed to fit into that?” I definitely had to learn a lot about how to adapt my style and sense of melody to give them the space to invoke their own creative practice and build confidence on that instrument, too. I didn’t think that I was going to have to do anything different by bringing someone else into a band, but all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh, this changes everything.”
Is it important for you as a band to communicate around the emotional content of a song?
TH: If I’m bringing the genesis of an idea – it could just be one scrap of something or a verse structure or something more built out like that – a lot of the times, I don’t have lyrics already written for that, so it’s pretty unknown what the emotional vibe is going to be in terms of language. I think it’s kind of like a surprise to everyone once we go to record and put everything under the magnifying glass, like, “Oh, okay, that’s what the song is about.”
KV: A lot of times, Travis will come to the table with an idea and it will have a certain emotional quality to it, and then me and Yvonne might make a bass or guitar part, and it changes the emotional quality a bit. No one’s like, “Yo, we gotta keep this vibe.” It just changes the vibe, and then it becomes this new thing. I remember that happening with ‘Suffer Debt’, you having that sweepy, delayed riff going, and I made that bass line and it changed it into something solemn and somber, almost.
Elise, you are credited with “biblically accurate hi-hat” on that song. Could you explain the story behind that?
EJ: Within the verse part of that song, where there are those sets of four-quarter note hits repeated, we had been recording it, and then there got to a point where I was like, “I would really like there to be a different tone beyond just the straight drum set sound that is on everything else.” So Alex, who we recorded with, was like, “Yeah, I feel like you might need to build something.” I think we had been joking about biblically accurate stuff, biblically accurate angels or something. Adam [McDaniel] had this stash of gross old cymbals that he’d been meaning to really fuck up so they had some weird audio qualities to them, so we ran over the symbols with his truck and frisbeed them at a rock wall and grabbed some big hedge clippers and cut them up. I essentially put together this hi-hat where there’s just a bunch of really fucked up cymbals and some weird pins and chains and jangly stuff in there, and it just had this bizarre, extra jangly, crunchy sound to it that was a little bit different of a texture than the normal high hat sound.
Travis, you said the lyrics of a song aren’t always there when you bring it to the band. Is there a moment where the emotional core of it starts to feel more defined?
TH: Obviously to write music and to write lyrics, the lyrics aren’t an afterthought, but when I try to synthesize them with the music, I think the rhythmic aspect of music definitely leads that procedure. I think the way the lyrical content and mood and emotion find root within a specific song or idea just has to do with this weird, sublingual – I sing a lot in gibberish, and I’m trying to find where I want a voice to sit rhythmically before I’m really thinking about the words, and then through that I’ll slowly begin to feel more words there, and maybe those words are conscious or subconscious; just stuff that’s just been on my mind, sort of coincidentally, when I’m working on these songs. I don’t really have a set framework for how I approach it.
EJ: I’ve definitely heard you say at early points in us working on songs, I feel like the phrase you’ll use is, “Oh, I think this song is going to be about blank.” It doesn’t feel like you’re saying that you’re deciding it’s going to be about this or this, it almost feels like it’s kind of coming to you as the song is forming together.
TH: Yeah. I mean, I went to college for English stuff and spent a lot of time writing poetry and verse and stuff, and because I had been writing lyrics for a long time, it was interesting to notice how different my personal process for that was as opposed to writing lyrics. I definitely have ideas or little turns of phrase floating around, but I don’t really ever have a song in mind for those things and sometimes I can’t ever find anywhere to fit them, so I kind of have to break them apart and reconstruct them where it needs to be fit. The lyrics are intentional, but I would say that I will bend them to fit to the rhythmic and melodic nuances of a song before I would bend the song to fit the words.
A lot of the songs revolve around depression, and one of the complicated things about writing in that state is that it can often leave you with a lot of half-finished ideas. When it came to revisiting these ideas, how did you go about determining what was worth preserving, fleshing out, or reframing in some way?
TH: Yeah, it was definitely a really interesting exercise. Depression doesn’t really lend itself to productivity, so it was interesting to revisit these ideas when I wasn’t depressed and was more motivated. And then to try and pick up the threads and still write from this mode, or honour that feeling and lens of that experience in a way that still felt authentic, obviously made for a lot of internal reflection and introspection. It’s funny, because in a lot of ways, depression is super gross too, and finding the nuance and balance of what is worth sharing in a way that can be… Ultimately, I think any sort of art that’s invoking, as somebody put it, the shadow of yourself – stuff that you would feel ashamed of or feels negative when you’re interfacing with the world – if you’re going to explore that and express those feelings in any sort of performance, shared artwork, it should be somewhat uplifting. It should be comforting to people who’ve experienced this. So it’s threading the needle of thoughts and images that’s like, somebody could probably relate to this, but is that really a helpful thing to try and pull from to create a sense of understanding?
There’s a point in ‘Dancing Around My Tongue’ where the song turns in a more hopeful direction and you sing, “All the words we’ll sing, are all the ones we solved/ Arranged in a new shape, dancing around this better place.” That seems like a positive example of that.
TH: I think that song’s really cool, because it kind of exemplifies that the truest form of joy is one that comes out of place of resolution. Not that you necessarily have to earn being content or happy, that’s not what I’m saying – but when you’re able to come out of a place and work out something that really feels debilitating, that relief and the clarity that you experience after that, that is a very distinct form of joy. I feel like a lot of the process of coming back to these half-finished ideas that were kind of messy and representative of a more confused and definitely dour place, reflecting on the progress that is made – that is a joyful thing, it’s a really rewarding thing.
I definitely struggle with projecting those negative feelings onto my friends and other people, and I’ve definitely projected that kind of stuff onto them over the years. Especially being in a band, because at least with the way we do it is a very intimate experience, so I’m sure they can speak to a lot of times of like seeing that sort of cycle of resolution and growth, and also times when they’ve been really helpful in pointing me in the right direction – being guiding lights.
KV: It’s true.
Can you each share one thing that inspires you about being in this band?
YC: I think everyone’s commitment to not settling, and everyone’s commitment to the music, is really cool. Everyone puts effort into what they’re writing, and there’s no filler space.
EJ: Yeah, not being willing to settle, but also, I just feel like everyone is genuinely bringing really good ideas to the table, which is cool. It’s not like someone’s bringing something and we’re having to be nice about it, but I feel like we all genuinely really respect each other as musicians, and that’s a really cool space to be working in.
KV: The fact that we all respect each other so much as musicians for so long in the fashion that we have, I feel like there’s a lot of mutual trust. We’ve experienced a lot together, and I think that allows us to really just be super open within this whole project. At times, it definitely can feel a little bit laborious, but overall I think we’re all here because we genuinely want to be and love to be. It’s for ourselves and for each other, and then also, it’s just so natural at this point with each other. I don’t mean to speak for everyone, but it feels like the right place to be is in this band with each other.
TH: Yeah, I agree with that. The keyword you used there was trust, I was going to say a similar thing. Just trusting everybody, not only in their taste and the ability to serve a song, and for us to write a composition that I feel really proud of when we get to the end, but also trust that they’ll be able to create things from that idea that I could never think of and are probably so much better – not probably, that are so much better than a lot of the shit that I would put in its place. But also fundamentally as people, I know that everybody understands me – the classic thing now, you know, I feel seen when I do this with these people, and that’s very important. I feel like writing songs in general and sharing them with people is validating – I feel seen, and I hope that other people feel seen when they engage with them. At least if you’re listening to music from a standpoint of emotional validation, I think that’s the essence of it, hoping to be seen by this song and vice versa.
It’s funny, because when we weren’t playing together because of quarantining for COVID, I was like, I still love writing songs, I love playing music and I go crazy if I don’t do that, but I was going even more crazy because I couldn’t finish a song. I’d get like 60% of the way, and I’d just be like, “Damn, where’s the band at?” The first time I got to play music with Elise when we all felt more comfortable being more social, we finished the song in like 15 minutes that I’d been trying to work on for like a year. All it took was that collaborative engagement. It’s so crucial, and I’m glad it’s with these people.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.