By: James Lanik
You’ve undoubtedly heard the ageless saying at one point in your life that “music just isn’t the same these days”, or “my generation’s music was just better.” That can be debated all day, but it’s hard to argue that now is a better time to listen to music. For the first time ever, the entire world’s library of musical works is a few swipes away, and that has huge implications for the bands that never got the fifteen seconds of fame that they deserved.
Sweet Trip is a musical project formed in San Francisco back in the early 90s by Roberto Burgos, Viet Le, Valerie Cooper, and Aaron Porter. Today, it only consists of Mr. Burgos and Ms. Cooper, but in the time since their conception, they’ve created some of the most timeless pieces of shoegaze and IDM music in their scene. Their 2003 opus, Velocity:Design:Comfort, was a journey of satisfyingly head-bang worthy guitar riffs filtered through a digital prism of disorienting and glitchy sound bytes. It’s the sound of two distinctly 90s music scenes on a high speed collision course, and the resulting chaos is tough to put down.
That album has since become a cult classic among the internet’s music forums, but upon its arrival, it received little fanfare. For most of Sweet Trip’s most active years in the 90s and 00s, they continue to fly under the radar and remained an underground gem. But now, after an eleven year hiatus following their 2009 follow up record, You Will Never Know Why, Sweet Trip have returned, and this time, many more are listening.
James: Well thank you guys for joining me, this was great timing actually. I wanted to do this interview before I even saw that you guys were out of hiatus and prepping a V:D:C reissue and a new album.
Valerie: Where have you been?! Haha!
J: I’ve been listening to y’all for a while but I hadn’t been following the socials til recently so you’ll have to cut me some slack!
V: In other words you have a real life to take care of!
J: If only that was the case! I know that Sweet Trip used to consist of other members as well. Are you two working alone now?
V: Roby and Viet came first, then me. Aaron joined a little later, but now it’s just us two.
Roberto: Yeah they left the scene, Aaron owns a bar and has his own family, he just has way better things to do, haha! But we’re all still on great terms.
J: That’s good to hear. Mr. Burgos, before your time in Sweet Trip, you came from a background in hard hitting metal music. How did that influence the music you made in Sweet Trip? Was there a reason you decided to switch from pursuing metal in favor of the more shoegaze-y and IDM focused sound of the band?
R: I just sort of rode the wave and it led me to where I am right now. I really love metal, but I would never even dare play in a metal band, because it’s so incredibly difficult. For me, metal was a vehicle to learn how to play instruments. It taught me how to play the guitar decent enough to not sound stupid, but I would definitely say some of the intensity of metal kind of translates into the intensity of Sweet Trip’s sound.
J: I can definitely see it that way, especially in some of the extended interlude portions of V:D:C, where the sound starts off with a melodic dream pop-y sound, and then you have this gnarly three or four minute breakdown of this whirlwind of electronic walls of sound.
R: Yeah definitely! I mean, I personally never really look at how my favorite genres and artists influence the music we make, but you can definitely trace it going backwards. I started with metal, then in the early nineties, I guess you could say I saw the light? I was exposed to Sonic Youth, The Stone Roses, The Cure, ya know? Before I met Valerie, I was in this weird limbo of wanting to do something with metal but being equally interested in ‘90s alternative. And then I met Valerie, and she comes from a totally different background of like indie rock, goth, shoegaze and all that. In a way, she fished me out of the water.
J: You guys have taken a few different stylistic turns over your three studio albums. Based on your most recent release, “You Will Never Know Why”, how would you describe the music you make? In as abstract or as concrete terms as you’d like.
R: I guess I could explain it like this. There’s never a conscious decision to make a song or record sound like X Y or Z, it just kinda happens? For You Will Never Know Why, I think we just found ourselves in a more simplistic mode, where we found ourselves playing instruments more. Moving away from a lot of the more synthetic, computerized stuff just kinda happened naturally. It’s kind of like a chicken and the egg scenario. At some point, we started to like playing our instruments a little more, that influenced the songs that were coming out, and the songs that were coming out were making us play our instruments even more. We eventually just got to the point where we were just focusing more on the basic and raw elements.
V: It was a more traditional approach to making music, it was really our first time as a band trying to make songs with a Verse-Chorus structure, so there was a lot more practicing and memorization. With V:D:C, it was a phrase here and there, grab a mic and record, maybe Roby will throw in some bits and pieces here, or throw away what he doesn’t like. Who knows? Recording that album was a lot more relaxed because it was so improvisational. With You Will Never Know Why being more traditional in structure, it’s a lot harder to hide those imperfections.
J: The way you explained it made a lot of sense. The reason I asked was because to me, it feels like those two albums, while they definitely came from the same band, were born from completely different headspaces. I mean being six years apart in release, there must have been a lot of experiences in that time period that shifted your musical inspirations.
V: It was a very different headspace, it’s true. When V:D:C was in the works, I remember me and Roby would go to a drum n’ bass show one night, and then the next night we’d go to a shoegaze show, and the sounds and culture were just totally different between those two scenes. With the drum n’ bass shows for instance, here they are with their cargo pants, Vans t-shirts and DC shoes, and everyone is there for the floor shaking low end bass sounds. And then at the shoegaze shows you get all these ear-searing guitars and melodies. At those Slowdive concerts, you’d get those kids with the more sophisticated fashion, black turtlenecks, hair in a bob, etc. But we loved both worlds so much, and I think that’s kind of why V:D:C blended those two worlds together.
J: How did you guys manage to get noticed by Darla Records and have your debut album be a part of their “Bliss Out” series?
V: We made like 50 cassette tapes with songs from Halica, I don’t think Halica was done as an album yet, but we had like 5 songs and finished it and sent it in to a bunch of different indie labels. It’s a numbers game, ya know? You either hear back or not, and Darla was one of the first to show genuine interest, and so we met with them. We were attracted to the fact that they had a global distribution and they were really well connected with other indie labels like March Records and Labrador. We decided to sign with them and the rest is history! They’ve always been super willing to help us out.
J: So how active is Sweet Trip right now? Obviously I’m sure touring plans got put on the backburner, but are y’all diving headfirst into the recording process now?
R: Somewhere in the middle, haha. We’ve been active again for about 6 months after a pretty big hiatus. It’s still an ongoing process, but it’s definitely been getting a lot of momentum.
V: Yeah, it was about six months ago that we reconvened, and the next thing you know, Roby is on his Twitter account telling everyone we’re working on a new album, so, ya know, we can’t turn back now, haha!
J: The hype is here now, so now you gotta deliver!
V: Yep, and tourwise, at least before all this COVID-19 stuff started happening we had some really cool shows booked in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but a lot of that is getting pushed back now. But for now, we’re looking into live streaming, maybe on Instagram or Twitch.
J: Were y’all going to take the tour nationwide?
V: Oh yeah, we wanted to, I know that we got asked to do a festival in Texas, we were going to start out local and then expand it from there, but hopefully we get to do that later.
J: Are there any emerging acts right now you find particularly engaging that people aren’t paying enough attention to?
V: I don’t know if this counts, but these two DJs from San Francisco called Dyatron Industries are lifelong vinyl collectors, and they’re a huge inspiration for me and I find loads of cool music through them. They spin everything from disco, electro, darkwave, synthwave, industrial, junglewave, all that cool stuff. I don’t really feel like enough people are paying enough attention to them. I mean they have a Mixcloud account and they stream off of Vault Radio and all that, but I feel like more people should listen to DJs like them. I’m definitely inspired by DJs and what they play because they play all these obscure bands that I never would have found otherwise. But bandwise, I like this band called Pinkshinyultrablast, they’re kinda shoegaze-y, but at times they kinda have a metal undertone to some of their music. They’re Russian so they’re not well known here, but they do tours over in the UK and Russia. They kind of remind me of when we were starting out, trying to do things differently when no one’s paying attention, and then years later, people start coming out of the shadows to say they really like our stuff.
R: I totally agree with Valerie about the Diatron Industry DJs, those guys are super awesome and diverse. Their sets are kind of like going to a music library and just being overwhelmed with the sheer amount of music you never knew was out there. It’s a learning experience but it’s also very enjoyable. As far as bands go, the last thing I was blown away by was the Hand Habits record that came out late last year. They did a live show on KEXP and that was such a gorgeous performance, I’ve been a fan ever since.
J: What y’all said about some of the bands you like who are doing new and interesting stuff while no one is looking really stuck with me. I personally feel that your work as a band has been criminally overlooked by many people over the years, including many notable publications. Have you noticed a resurgence of interest in your music with the rise of online music forums and discussions that give fans of your work a bigger platform to discuss it? (Especially when compared to the initial release of your albums.)
R: I think maybe you nailed it, because me and Valerie have been pondering why is this resurgence happening? Like what is driving all this interest? And for some strange, stupid reason it didn’t occur to me that it’d be the internet.
V: There is definitely a ground swell happening now, and a lot of it is still based around word of mouth and college radio, you know stuff like that. And I mean, we’re still fairly underground, we’re not hearing from, you know, Pitchfork, KEXP,–who’s that guy doing the YouTube reviews?
J: Anthony Fantano? He has actually mentioned y’all before.
R: Has he really? I didn’t realize that.
V: But yeah I mean even though we aren’t being approached by big media publications, I do see a big groundswell happening around our music and that’s super cool to see, and it’s because of people like you.
J: I’ve heard through the grapevine that you guys are working on another Sweet Trip project together. With this being the longest period between album releases for you guys yet, what do you hope to accomplish with this release, and how can we expect this outing to be different from your last? Have your experiences and travels since then influenced the music making process in any way? Are you bringing in any outside musicians into the recording process, or is this strictly an artistic endeavor between the two of you?
V: This time it just feels like a much more extroverted process. Like ever since people on the internet started taking note of us, people have been asking us to come back. And now that it’s actually happened, we’re just trying to share pieces of what we recorded here and there, and it’s a super cool feeling to involve people now. Before, when we recorded our earlier albums, we didn’t have the internet to help people find our music so it kind of just felt isolated, we’d create the CD, and who knows who was gonna buy it? We didn’t know who the audience was, but now we do, and we feel the love from you guys.
R: We really didn’t know who we were recording for, that’s totally true. And now, thinking back on it, I do remember thinking, “who’s really gonna get it”? I was glad Darla saw something in us, but I was always curious who we were making music for, and it was never really clear to me until now that all this love and support has been brewing for several, and now I kind of sorta have the answers, and it puts a face to that group of people, which is really cool to me. I think our music appeals a lot to–I feel like outsiders is a terrible word–but you know, that group of people that really invest themselves in music because they feel it’s the best way to express themselves, especially obscure forms of music like shoegaze and stuff like that. I love finally having the answers to who’s listening out there.
J: I know I’m looking forward to it, I really hope y’all get the recognition you deserve this time around. Thank you guys for taking the time to talk with me!
R: Yeah, thank you man, it really does mean a lot to us, we’re looking forward to seeing where we go next.
Sweet Trip’s music is available to stream on all major platforms. “Velocity:Design:Comfort” will be reissued on vinyl on May 1st, 2020.
Featured Image by Sweet Trip