Trapdoor Social found its way into my inbox via their powerful music video for the track, “Never Stop Listening”, featuring incredible footage from Standing Rock. Before I go on, check it out:
I was stunned when I read their bio. This has to be one of the most community-oriented, generous group of fellows who also make music, that I’ve heard of! They’re always seeking out opportunities to give back to their community, to music and other groups that need support. I asked the band about their music, generous endeavors and their stunning footage from Standing Rock. The band is Merritt Graves, Skylar Funk, Louie Gonzalez, Patrick Griffen and Ben Ebert. Skylar Funk represents the band and their answers below:
MFL: The philanthropic nature of your band is incredible. How do you find time to support so many environmental, and other, causes while also maintaining a healthy touring and songwriting schedule?
Skylar Funk of Trapdoor Social (SF): Thank you. We try to leverage our existing endeavors – for example, pre-selling the Science Of Love EP to fundraise for Homeboy Industries, or using festival revenue from Sunstock to help Kids Cancer Connection. There can be a lot of energy generated in the entertainment world… if we can use some of that to affect change, we can do it sustainably and still take care of ourselves.
MFL: Tell me the story of how you ended up at Standing Rock. Who from TDS was there to represent the band?
SF: The struggle at Standing Rock got our attention in the fall and especially after the election, feeling the need for direct action, we decided to go for the first week of December, when the Army Corps first threatened to remove protesters. Patrick, Louie and I went, along with a handful of other friends. We took the TDS tour rig with the solar trailer to charge devices for people and otherwise support the camp with our electricity.
MFL: What were the steps you took after visiting Standing Rock to create the stunning video for “Never Stop Listening” and why was this song fitting for the footage?
SF: Mexican filmmaker Alexandra Velasco was one of our crew, and upon arrival she applied for a press pass to shoot this project. She explored the camp, striking up conversations, helping with chores, and asking permission to take video portraits. I think you can feel the warmth of her connections in those portraits, and her scenery work is beautiful as well.
The song is about fighting for what you believe in, even when it hurts. It’s inspired by the burnout sensation you get when there’s so much bad news… As an environmentalist, personally, I’ve found it crushing at times to take in what’s happening to the world around me (especially since last November…) but I believe that we must stay engaged, informed, on the front lines.
I don’t think I need to explain much more… it felt like an obvious fit when we were planning the trip north and didn’t have a video yet for NSL.
MFL: What did you learn from your time at Standing Rock as musicians and as humans?
SF: It was incredible to learn more about native american culture and follow their leadership. There were plenty of other people there to help – folks who had dropped what they were doing to come from all over the world to help as well… Fantastic, generous, super interesting people everywhere.
Really the only kind of music in the camp was indigenous. There was a PA by the sacred fire where folks spoke and sang from the crack of dawn until late every night. We heard some beautiful vocals and flutes… definitely a kind of music I didn’t have much exposure to before.
MFL: How did TDS go from being a duo to a 5-piece and what has that transition been like?
SF: We have grown and changed shape since Merritt and I started the band in 2011. Mostly a process of changing members for better compatibility of vision and more belief in what we’re doing. I mean, what are the chances you have all the right guys from the very beginning? Growing can be painful but as a result everything gets better and better.
MFL: If possible, tell me how each of you found yourself living the life of a musician and reflect on one of your first memories of music.
SF: It was fun hearing from the guys on this.
Patrick talked about his first band in 8th grade being “horrible” and playing for an audience that was “either laughing or looking appalled at what they were enduring”… yet he had the time of his life, and knew in that moment he wanted to do it forever. He says music “is how I make sense of the world and how I deal with pain.”
Louie said “As a child, every time I found myself playing some sort of musical instrument, I found a certain peace within myself that I couldn’t find with any other thing. As I grew older and took playing music more seriously I knew it was something that I had to do for a living.”
For me, it was always a hobby – musical theater, jazz and marching band, a cappella and a funk jam band in college, songwriting here and there – until after college. I started working desk jobs with my degree, but I was watching some friends get into the LA music scene professionally and decided to go for it myself.
MFL: Are there any musicians out there today that inspire the sound and/or style of TDS?
SF: Death Cab For Cutie has long been an influence of Merritt and mine, and in fact their drummer Jason McGerr recorded drums on our first couple EPs… such an honor. Other influences include Muse, Radiohead, Tame Impala, alt-J, etc., etc.
MFL: Discuss a couple highlights of your current tour and name a couple destinations your looking forward to.
SF: We played the Black Sheep in Colorado Springs, one of our long-time favorite venues anywhere, on the booker’s birthday. We had a great time with him and a beautiful crowd. We also had extremely warm welcomes to our first shows in Chattanooga and Knoxville… so Tennessee is definitely a new high-priority stop on future tours. We’re really looking forward to a solar festival in Gainesville, FL, and a run up through the Pacific Northwest (my homeland) later this spring.
MFL: SXSW! Have you ever been? If so, how was your experience? If not, what are you anticipating most about this venue?
SF: Yeah, Merritt and I played it a few years ago when there wasn’t really much of a core band beside the two of us. It was pretty crazy… a million shows going on at once. Looking forward to being there but not 100% what to expect – we’ll set up the solar stage if we get a chance. Either way it’s an awesome town and I’m sure we’ll have a great time.
MFL: Finally, once your tour is up in March, what’s next?
SF: Touring off and on all spring, probably through the summer too. See, we really want to get back to LA for a while to get started on another album, but that’s when the weather gets really good for solar shows… So I imagine we’ll be on the road a lot this year.
Thank you to Jessica Mora for connecting me with the band and for Skylar for answering my questions and gathering the band to answer some of my questions as well. You can catch the band touring this month:
March 29th, Minneapolis, MN, Nomad World Pub