The Thrill of Thrill Touch (Vex X Thrill Touch)

 All photos are by Hannah Rosabal

All photos are by Hannah Rosabal

Thrill Touch continues to produce music that is original and trendless in a town that was very much only for the hardcore and ska scene. To explain why we at Vex undoubtedly enjoy Thrill Touch from the guitar riffs to the album artwork to the performances the band members put on for us, would be difficult for me to cover all in this one article, but we’re going to try.

 

First let me introduce them to you; Bianca (Bee) Ascencio on drums, the only girl in the group who keeps you on your feet during a performance as she quickly throws her percussion mallets into the air and switches them for drumsticks in the course of a half-second, Michael Gross doing vocals and guitar all while delivering the songs very theatrically with one hand to the sky – sometimes his whole body vibrating with the music, and Jake Irvin playing the bass while bowing his head, occasionally exchanging instruments, (I’ve honestly never seen multitasking look so easy) as he rhythmically jams out to the art him and his friends have created. They also include the keys and the glockenspiel, and I’ve seen them all take a go at these instruments. I think my favorite part of their shows is seeing them interact with each other, the chemistry they all share is undeniably charming and genuine. Thrill Touch hits a sweet spot of feminine and masculine energy without even trying to do so.

Their music fits no genre except maybe ‘alternative rock’, but only by the exact definition. They have an edgier and unique sound than most music today without being completely unusual. They’re eccentric in the best way possible. In 2014 they came out with the album ‘Thrill Touch’ with eight original songs. I could sit here and explain to you why each song individually is a piece of art, but that would consist of eight long paragraphs of me breaking down and dissecting them and saying things like why it was genius for them to bounce between borderline harsh noise with drum and guitar in the back to a calmer jazzier beat in track 6 ‘Harshness of the Sun’. So instead the standout tracks where ‘Freeway Overpass’, ‘Dancer for the Prey’, and ‘Trauma’ in that order. Trauma would have definitely been at the top spot in this album if it was longer and had lyrics.

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In February this year they came out with an EP that left us all wide eyed and wanting more. They completely delivered a whole other gift with My God Is Nothing To Run Away From with three amazing songs. Everything enhanced in this record, the sound, the vocals, and even their album artwork, which resembled 1950’s advertisement with a twist. We are so excited to see what the future has in store for them. ‘Right’ and ‘Freeway Overpass’ now share the spot of being my second favorite Thrill Touch song and of course ‘Trauma ll’ is my absolute favorite song, the first time hearing it literally gave me chills and I might have cried if I wasn’t sitting in a Denny’s parking lot. Later I discovered that it was written for their beloved friend John.

Thrill Touch is the product of three friends who are extremely talented as they are ambitious, that love each other, art, and music. They themselves and the music they produce is unlike anything else. We got to sit down with the three of them and ask about their journey and what’s next for them as a group.

How did the current lineup of Thrill Touch come to be?

“There was a show my friend Brian Santizo was putting on, it was Festizo 2011 …” Michael starts, “And he needed bands, so he told me to put together a band … so I got together a band. I put out a Facebook status … I got Kevin Miller and his friend Tabitha Misso …. Bee responded. I had initially thought of asking her … I’m glad she responded to the status.” “It was like a craigslist advertisement,” Bee laughs. Tabitha Misso ended up not working out as a bassist, however the band continued with two guitarist (Michael and Kevin) and a drummer (Bee). Michael doesn’t recall at what point they decided that they really did need a basisst, “… once Jake came on it was pretty magical.” The band sent Jake really bad recordings they had done with a label called ‘Turbo Chicken’. After, Jake had fully written bass lines for each of the songs for their first practice together. “I wanted to be ready!” Jake smiles. Michael notes that it showed him that Jake was not only excited to join, but also serious about being part of the band. “Was that the practice were we all wore pajamas?” Bee thinks back. “Yeah it was pajama jam!” Jake chimes. They recall the funny story about Jake being hesitant to wear pajamas to his first Thrill Touch practice in fear of being hazed. Eventually Kevin Miller also stopped playing in Thrill Touch, and then there were three.

How would you say that your sound is evolving?

“Well,” Jake starts in, “It’s really nice just to have us three.” They agree that it’s easier to concentrate on what they’re good at and what they need to fill in. With just three people they have an easier time deciding which direction the song will take. “Our sound evolving is really based on just deciding that three people is enough … because then you don’t have all the colors of the rainbow you have to work with.” Michael mentions how they’ve only been back together making music for about a year, so the question is still a little vague to them. “We don’t restrict ourselves,” Bee says, “And we’re not afraid to explore sounds.” They agree that their sound has a lot to do with trusting each other. They mention one way they began exploring is that they’re dropping their usual instruments for others they don’t normally play.

If 2011 TT met 2017 TT would they get along?

“I think I wouldn’t like me,” Michael laughs a little, “But that’s personal.” Bee thinks that they’d get along, “We still play songs from 2011 … we still listen to the same type of music.”

“I think if we saw them we’d be like ‘aw they’re cute’,” Jake says.

  And if they had their younger perspective meeting the present them? “I’d be like ‘ANOTHER GIRL DRUMMER?!’” Bee says. Jake says that he’d be impressed with how loud only three people could be. Michael says that he probably would have thought that his lyrics were corny, but that he might always think his lyrics are corny.

What is each of your favorite songs off of the new EP and why?

Quickly Bee and Jake agree on ‘On a Boat to carry us Home’. Michael says his is ‘Right’. Jake and Bee like ‘On a Boat to carry us Home’ because of the upbeat energy of the song. Michael shares that he believes ‘Right’ carries the same energy, but a little more subtly. He talks about Jake’s bass playing in the song and how he managed to squeeze in every subtle change of notes while playing.  

Which songs are your favorite songs to perform and why?

“It always changes for me,” Jake says. He mentions that he liked playing ‘Oscillations’ when he came back from New York. He explains that it has a lot to do with the memories the songs bring him like writing his bass lines with Michael. “A lot of nostalgia is involved,” Jake says, “But it changes … there are other songs that I like playing more now.” “I can give a definite answer,” Michael says, “…it’s ‘Right’.” He explains how the guitar can be heavy – metaphorically! He says that he never thought the guitar was that interesting and that he never had the intent of playing the guitar. So with ‘Right’ he can interact more with the crowd and he enjoys playing the keyboard. “…my musicality isn’t in an instrument,” Michael says. Bee without hesitation answers, ’Harshness of the Sun’, and Jake agrees. She explains how her way of playing the drums was one way before that song and how that song challenged her to play five different ways. “I felt like at that moment I was like ‘this is how I’m going to drum for now on and forever,” she smiles, “… no matter what I write it has to be as dynamic and different as I did for ‘Harshness’.”  

Trauma l and ll are both written for your friend John, do you guys have any other songs that are written for or about friends?

Michael explains that no songs are directly written for anyone in My God Is Nothing To Run Away From, but that in the past he has written songs for his best friend Carlos. He said that he wanted to express a lot of tender feelings he had for him and a lot of anger at points. ‘Oscillations’ was written for him and the difficulties he and Michael went through because of a boyfriend Carlos was dating at the time. “It goes ‘Been here so long, pardon my intrusion’ – it’s sort of a sarcastic song …” Michael starts explaining the lyrics, “ … when you’re friends with someone and they find someone in their life to sort of …not replace you, but to get the sort of thing that they’re not getting from you it’s kind of a big deal, you know?”  He explains that as young people it’s something we have to deal with; people finding other things in people that they can’t get from you. “It sounds like I’m in love with guy, but I am,” Michael laughs. The remainder of the songs he says are just general observations of people and society.

Can you walk us through a typical Thrill Touch practice?

“Lotta smoke breaks,” Jake laughs. “Show up to my house,” Bee says, “Hug and kiss each other.” “That takes twenty minutes,” Michael adds. “I usually show them stuff, like if I cleaned the garage I’m like ‘Look at this clean garage, guys!’ … and then we’re like ‘Do we want to eat first and then set up or set up first and then eat?’ And then we’re like ‘We should set up first.” “And then we grudgingly set up,” Jake says, “… and then we’re like ‘good job guys’.” “Taco Bell break!” Bee sings. “If Taco Bell wants to sponsor us now is the time,” Jake says. And then they jam for SEVEN HOURS – with small smoke breaks in between. They will practice a certain part of a song for twenty minutes, the entire band claiming that their phones are filled with loop recordings. “A lot of times those parts will just end up being a small part of the song,” Michael says.

Do you see touring in the near future?

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“I want to,” Jake says with stars in his eyes. Michael with the same starry eyes, “I want to, too…. But honestly probably not.” They agree that touring won’t be happening anytime soon, but that they will eventually. They talk about how they have a lot going on, but then Michael says, “Well maybe we can just pile it on a weekend.” “Maybe next summer,” Bee says. She explains how time and funds are just not on their side.

You have been described as beautifully orchestrated chaos, would you say that’s true?

They all become joyfully confused and demand to know who said that. “That’s such a nice compliment,” Jake says. “That’s awesome,” Bee agrees. “That’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to say,” Michael smiles. Bee explains how it is a compliment because she’s always being described as a heavy drummer though she doesn’t listen to heavy music herself. In her heart and in her mind she feels as though her music is chaos.

If TT could jam with any musician alive or dead who would it be?

“Oh Jesus,” Michael thinks. “That’s really hard because all my favorite musicians are alive,” Jake feels bad because he wouldn’t want to pass up working with someone who’s dead. “Jam as in just like jam practice or can we make a song with them? Because jamming and making a song is different,” Bee says, "I ain’t trying to jam with you, I want to make a song with you. Like why are we just going to fuck around playing? No, let’s make a song.” “If I had to say anyone right now I’d say David Byrne,” Jake says. “Is it weird that Kim Deal popped in my head?” Bee asks. Michael worries about vibing well with the musician so he finally picks Beethoven. “So he couldn’t hear me,” Michael says.

Word on the street is that you guys did a Modest Mouse cover, do you guys see any more covers in the future?

“Yeah,” Bee starts, “But we’d make it our own.” “It would sound like Thrill Touch,” Jake says. They have mixed emotions about covers. They love them, but they can be annoying. They recall the days they use to play the Modest Mouse cover and how people use to ask for that song all the time. “I think – right now - we’re focusing on making new music,” Bee says. Michael agrees with Bee and says they’d pick a song that would fit with their future sets. “I’m totally up for covering Beyoncé!” Bee says.

I’ve noticed at shows that a few members of the audience will get a little weird towards Bee, how do you all handle this? Have any of the other members in the band experienced weird or unwanted behavior from audience members?

“When I’m up there and I hear drunk guys…” Bee pauses a little and Jake finishes, “Cat callin’.” “Yeah I just ignore them,” she says. She’s done things as simple as waving at boys while she’s performing and they’ve freaked out. Michael recalls how inconsiderate one man was being by yelling at Bee that she was ‘hot’ and how he made her extremely uncomfortable and he ruined a video recording that was being shot of them. “It’s so frustrating … why do we have to be like that? We’re going to start dealing with it in a more direct way,” Michael says, “Usually we just keep an eye out.” He talks about a time when ‘The Gay Boys’, a band from Arizona, Jake, and himself gathered around Bee because a man in a cowboy hat was being sketchy around her. “…it’s understanding that having a girl in our band is going to come with some baggage,” Michael says. “From other people,” Jake says and Michael nods in agreement, “Yeah from other people that’s really wrong.” Jake mentions how in the past he’ll stand in front of Bee so the men making her uncomfortable don’t have a direct view of her and Bee agrees that that has made her feel more comfortable. Both boys answer that they’ve never experienced that themselves.

“I love these guys … I think they’re quite literally the best group of artist that I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” Michael says, “and being friends with.” Bee and Jake ‘awe’. “Then write that we made out for thirty minutes,” Jake tells me. 

 Listen to their new EP here, like them here, and follow them here

All photography by Hannah Rosabal and find more of her artwork here.