ARTICLE CARRIE BATTAN
PHOTOGRAPHY SETH FLUKER
STYLIST HAZEL ONG
ROBERT ALFONS, AKA TRUST, MAKES SUCH COMPELLING AND COHESIVE MUSIC HE REQUIRES A BAND NAME. A NEW ALBUM, JOYLAND, EXPLORES THE DUALITY OF LIGHT AND DARK, MASCULINE AND FEMININE, ECSTATIC GLEE AND EXQUISITE GLOOM.
When you hear the first single off Joyland, the sophomore album from Canadian electro-goth act Trust, you assume two voices are present: amid the basement-booming throb and the trademark slippery, low-register vocals arrives a featherlight new tone, a feminine foil to the song’s brooding masculinity. So it’s a surprise to hear that Robert Alfons, whose distinctive moody growl shaped the sound of Trust’s debut record, is responsible for both.
“It exemplifies crazy mood swings the way that I experience them,” Alfons says one Friday evening, in his hometown of Toronto, where he’s lived on and off for most of his adult life. “But at the same time, it’s also like a playground. It’s not literal and it’s obviously a chance for me to be creative and slip into a character and perform.
“I wanted to make opportunities on this record to record duets with myself,” he continues. In conversation he’s soft-spoken yet direct, serious but not self-serious. Ultimately, he bears little resemblance to his recorded persona. “Those [new] tones were a bit too maniacal for the first record,” he says. “[But] I have to keep it interesting for myself.”
It’s especially important for him to play around with new tools now that Trust—which began as a collaborative act, with Austra’s Maya Postepski—is Alfons’s solo project. Solitude seems to be a natural state for the vocalist, who says he passes much of his time on e-mail coordinating the logistics of the Trust project—the tours, the recording, the promotion. He acts as his own manager, a rare situation for an artist in an age when the industry has become a Rube Goldberg machine of booking agencies and factory-like management companies. “[Having a manager] is a very intimate relationship,” he says. “And I haven’t found the right partnership with someone who will take it on.”
Aside from his preference for being a one-man show-runner, Alfons has a respect for simplicity and seclusion in his everyday life. Solitude had a restorative effect in his world following a marathon tour in support of his 2012 debut TRST, after which he returned to Toronto to relish a routine of doing very little. Taking solitary walks, visiting the waterfront near his new apartment, playing video games—these are the experiences Alfons sought after the whirlwind of travel and work. “It was stuff that I hadn’t been able to do for years and years,” he says. “Civil, human things. I felt so grateful.”
Solitude has also helped spark creative development, in the guise of wanderlust. Alfons experienced a bit of a breakthrough a couple of years ago, during a solo trip to Argentina, where the ideational seeds of the new record were planted. He went there on something of a whim, acting on a fascination with South America and a desire to travel in a setting he hadn’t experienced before. “I was alone there,” he said. “I felt really isolated. I was like, This is the start of it.” At the time he was reading The Autobiography of Red, the best-known work of revered Canadian language experimentalist and oddball author Anne Carson, which is partially set in Argentina.
The book struck him in a way that books can only strike young people during formative, soul-searching experiences, often in foreign countries, and he latched on to one passage of Carson’s in particular. “At one point, the book focuses on two characters,” he explains, recalling Carson’s words as though they’re sitting in front of him. “They’re young and they have a connection, and she describes them as two superior eels at the bottom of the tank, and they recognize each other like italics.
“It’s a special sort of quaint idea,” he says. “It really sort of revved me up.” Alfons grew up in the small city of Winnipeg, which is situated in the Canadian prairies, where he says the sky is “bigger than you’ve ever seen it before.” He says he feels a pull toward that sort of landscape, and could see himself moving back to the prairies one day. It’s important for him to maintain a connection with the natural world.
“Is that cheesy?” he asks me. “I remember David Byrne saying he would never take pictures of a landscape or a cloud and thinking, But why? Watching the sunset—there’s nothing that could be better.”
Hair & Grooming Robert Weir Stylist assistant Christopher Barbosa