Boston folk-punk trio Troll 2 performed at 88.9 WERS as part of Wicked Local Wednesday. After their set, WERS’ Kenneth Cox sat down with the band to talk about their origins, destigmatizing personal and political issues, and the importance of community.
The name, Troll 2. How did you think of that?
Zoe Rose Depaz: It was a joke.
Brian Fitzgerald: Yeah.
ZD: It started off as a joke and they [Brian and Chris] thought of it. We met in a basement DIY open mic.
Chris O’Grady: It was in a show house. It was called The Monkey Palace and had a regular open mic —
ZD: — and you could write in your name for slots in the open mic.
BF: Basically it was our gag name. We had an idea to make an actual band around it. Since it was our place at the time, we’d open up and I’d play and Chris would play and then one of the other guys who lived there would play. And that would be the intro. Then, the idea was when Chris got really drunk he’d do another set as Troll 2 and I’d play bass with him.
The first time we actually played as Troll 2 I saw it when I was mc-ing and I saw on the sign up sheet and I was like "Troll 2? Is that me?’ And I ran up and was like “Chris am I Troll 2?” and he said "Yeah." So we went up and luckily I knew a few of his songs. And then Chris got sober, and the sets started sounding good! [Laughs] But yeah, it was basically a spoof name that…
ZD: Slowly morphed.
BF: It stayed until it was too late to get rid of it; by the time we realized we were taking the band seriously.
ZD: I think the moment we realized “Oh, there’s no going back” was when we got booked at The Middle East with Pat the Bunny. And it was Pat the Bunny and Troll 2, and we were like “Oh okay, that’s our name now!”
BF: He said it on stage and we were trapped.
So it’s sort of a happy accident.
BF: Yeah. Occasionally regretful but usually happy! [Laughs]
CO: My favorite pastime is manufacturing meaning out of coincidence and random patterns. So naturally we discovered there's so many layers to it that makes it a great name.
ZD: Like you’re two actual trolls.
CO: We’re actually trolls, you know?
ZD: And we troll the internet.
CO: We like that it doesn’t really have any connotations. When you hear a band called Troll 2, what does that sound like?
BF: We’ve met some very good friends just because they came out because they were like “What could this possibly be?” So, the inexplicability of it has definitely served us, and I think that’s why we kept it in the end.
Your band describes yourself as “bluegrass soul punk,” which is an incredible combination.
ZD: We need to change that. [Laughs]
How did you develop that sound?
ZD: It was our backgrounds honestly. Brian had a punk background and Chris had a punk rock and also folk background. I had a very strictly traditional folk - not like singer/songwriter folk like Bob Dylan but like traditional Irish and bluegrass background. And then I left the folk world for a bit because I was really depressed and I fell in love with the blues, and the blues kind of saved my life. Then I got into more electric. Our other member of the band also had a rock background. So, it was kind of a... what's the word… an amalgamation of everything. I happen to sing very blues-y and they sing very punk-y so it kind of just worked.
BF: People do ask us, “Where did that sound come from?” We’re in a folk revival, the whole world and the DIY scene, and punk is in an even deeper folk revival. So people who come in from the outside of that are like “Punk and bluegrass, that’s crazy!” But it’s a really logical progression I think.
ZD: And there’s a whole community of it.
BF: There’s a big community of it. And if you look at the punk scene, the values of it, we share everything. We’re totally self-reliant but also cooperative. And we’re minimalist and we just want to be able to get up and go. And all of those things boil down to folk music.
ZD: And the politics of it are very similar.
BF: I remember I was playing rock bands and punk bands growing up and I think the thing that made me deliberately transition to folk in the end was that I looked around and playing in bars and stuff was getting kind of miserable. Begging your friends to come out and see, and playing for a couple of people waiting for the next band. I started realizing the after-parties were a lot better than the shows.
We’d wind up at someone’s house and they’d be like “Oh, you know that song?” The stripped-down jams were actually what I wanted my band to be. I think a lot of people had that same realization. And if you really follow the thread of counterculture music, it leads you to folk music pretty easily.
ZD: And s--t The Ramones are singing about or Patti Smith is singing about is also the s--t that Woody Guthrie is singing about. So there’s a lot of cross-pollination.
On-air you talked about how your lyrics examine everything from political issues to mental health. What role do you think your music has in raising awareness about these issues?
CO: Awareness is a tricky thing because it doesn’t really accomplish anything, and the people that need the help are already fully aware. I’m not a very powerful person, but I can play music, and I see that it has an effect on people, and that’s kind of the end-all be-all for me personally. Going to shows and being in spaces with a community that supports each other and having music to connect through, and the experience of that is all a thing that is inherently valuable.
ZD: And I think what Brian said on-air about spaces, and I don’t even want to say safe spaces, because there’s all kinds of people there, but just creating spaces where it’s like “This is a topic we’re singing about very loudly,” and sometimes it’s artistic, but most of the time it’s pretty blatant. That honestly destigmatizes it right off the bat.
I think there is still a stigma around a lot of things, like feminism, around mental health, around race and class, and all these things we sing about. I think once it’s out in the open, like the elephant in the room, it’s like “Oh, that’s the f-----g elephant, we can talk about it.” Or, we can have a community where people are in the audience, and it gives them permission to speak honestly. And that is really amazing to witness and be a part of, and be like “Wow, this is not about me.” The music is a facilitation so that people can have honest conversations about where they come from and create connections.
So it’s more about having your audience see themselves within your music.
ZD: Yeah, and hopefully heal! And hopefully have really meaningful connections. That’s all I can really hope for in life.
BF: The other best thing about this, Zoe and I were in art school together and we were in the music scene and the art scene. The understanding was that were the broken people in society, and we’re all crazy, and we got to a point where can talk about this. We can talk about addiction, or mental illness.
CO: You know, we could bring it up.
ZD: Because when everyone around you is crazy, it’s like, oh, we’re all crazy! [Laughs] It’s very liberating.
BF: When we got outside of the scene, we tried not to be very insular with the scene. We always tried to go and play for other people. We realized that this mental illness and addiction, and our various political anxieties aren’t ubiquitous in just our scene, they’re ubiquitous everywhere. And we’re actually lucky in the DIY scene that we have a dialogue going on about it. The most exciting part is that people will play in townie bars in Upstate New York, or North Dakota, and people that we really didn’t expect to jive with our music will come up to us and be like “That song about drugs, I totally get that!”
ZD: Or like “That song about farmers” or whatever…
BF: So that’s what’s been the really exciting thing. That’s why we’re excited to be working with Joel Greer and Summit Indie Fest.
ZD: He’s a phenomenal community organizer and youth leader out of Lowell.
BF: Not Lowell… Lawrence
ZD: Sorry, I lied. [Laughs]
CO: The other L mill town.
ZD: And he does amazing music and art organizing for the community. Specifically for at-risk kids from low-income households, and he’s just amazing.
BF: It’s amazing doing rock and roll in a college town. But we realized that our services are required elsewhere, and we’re trying to figure out how to work that angle.
It seems like community is very important to Troll 2. What does creating a community mean to this band?
ZD: [To Brian] Well, you said on air that you see yourself as more of a community creator.
BF: Yeah, I’ve made friends with a pastor — I’m not sure if he’s a pastor or a reverend or what — who comes to the coffee shop I work at. I was looking at what he does and I thought “I’m not so much an entertainer, I’m not even so much of an artist that I thought I was.” I think my service outside of playing music to the people around me is more like the role a pastor would fill, in that you get everyone together in a room and say “Hey, I’m gonna try to say what’s on your mind, and now we’re all here together, and now we can talk about this.” And it’s more about the audience’s relationships with each other than it is to us.
ZD: I think it means different things to all of us individually. As far as Troll 2 goes, Troll 2 arose from a DIY community, and we’re very aware of that and grateful of that, and we prioritize that. So, we try to give back to the community that gave us that foundation.
What’s next for Troll 2?
ZD: The big news, literally yesterday we made a big announcement. We were a quartet, and we are now a trio. Our awesome mandolin player is off to work in New York City with youth in the Bronx doing art and music, specifically around climate activism and social justice. It’s a great non-profit called Clean Green Music Machine, CGMM. We’re sad to see him go, but he’s doing really kick a-s s--t. So, we’re a trio now, that’s the big announcement.
And we’re recording as a trio hopefully with a lot of featured guest artists this summer. We have a big tour this summer with an amazing band called Out of System Transfer from New York.
BF: That’s the big news!
ZD: We’re in the middle of metamorphosis, I think is the best possible way we could say that. We are in transition, and hopefully we come out like a little butterfly.
BF: The last album we did felt like a good lesson. [To Zoe] Did you ever have Ken Ruby, the sculpting teacher at SMFA?
ZD: Yes, I did.
BF: He had a good lesson that every piece of art is correct the third time you make it. And we did an EP, which is really our third big recording.
ZD: And that was amazing.
BF: It was amazing. We looked at it and we were like “This is the finished Troll 2 album!” This is what we’ve been trying to do for the past four or five years. So, now this next one is like onto the next thing, and we’ll get that wrong twice, and we’ll do it right for our sixth album. [Laughs]
Where can people find your music?
ZD: We’re on Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes. We’re on Facebook, Instagram. We’re on Twitter, but I will say our Twitter is just us attacking conservative politicians and has nothing to do with our music.
CO: It’s mostly a troll account.
ZD: It’s literally just us trolling people. Sorry, not sorry. We’re on YouTube. I guess another important thing is that we have a YouTube series called Noise Complaint that was very DIY, and we’re kind of revamping that as well.