For the past 17 years, punk rocker Alicja Trout has been playing music all around the globe. From the Arctic Circle town of Tromsø to the brothels of Hamburg, Trout’s distorted tones and raw energy have shaken the walls of some of the world’s most intriguing cities, as well as the rebellious hearts of the counter-culture youth. It all started when Trout was in her early teens, playing simple tunes with basic chords and trying to feel out REM songs “in her own way.” It was around then when the future garage rock goddess would stumble upon MTV — which at the time, actually played music — and find herself infatuated with the sounds of the counter-culture-youth.“MTV used to play Blondie, the Ramones and Billy Idol, which eventually led me to Gen X. It even seemed like early U2, a band I now can’t stand, was a gateway to something like Sex Pistols or Dead Kennedys,” Trout says. “Then, as MTV became more ‘metal,’ it led to Sonic Youth and that band is a gateway in time to 70s punk.”
When Trout was around 21, she got a four-track and started recording songs with layers, as well as writing her own lyrics. Before the world knew it, Trout was playing with the apocalypse-themed band,Lost Sounds.“It just was the style of music in my ability. I was really attracted togaragerock because green mohawks and spikes were never my style, but I liked sarcasm and weirdness and hate in music,” Trout says.“It was paying homage to rock ‘n’ roll’s original inspiration while mainstream music was becoming more and more a very controlled, corporate industry. It was not an intentional contradiction but a natural one.”One of Trout’s most recent musical outlets, the River City Tanlines, is a three-piece rock ‘n’ roll band fronted by Trout that has been playing in the Bluff City and beyond for more than eight years.“The band started with a different lineup but the point was to have a simple band, no keyboards and easy songs. The first incarnations included Matthew from Bare Wires/Warm Soda; Patrick, who had played bass in Lost Sounds; and Lori, who I played with in the Ultracats,” Trout says. “When I got together with Terrence and Bubba, the current lineup, we sounded heavier and found our sound.”
Trout has toured with her bands all around the world, showcasing their, as well as her own, raw talents everywhere from the golden West Coast of the U.S. to Spain’s shining capital, Madrid, to the always-freezing Arctic Circle and many other cities.“Music has allowed me to travel to wonderful places and meet wonderful people,” Trout says.Trout recalls one her more memorable string of gigs while touring with one of her earlier bands, Lost Sounds. Trout and her band played community centers throughoutthe Central European countries, Slovenia and Croatia, which at the time were recovering from revolutions of their own.“We were playing to kids that had grown up during a revolution; it felt odd to play to them because all our songs were about paranoia and conspiracy. I felt like, ‘What do I know about these things compared to these kids?’”reminisces Trout.Though Trout has traveled across the continents, she still is an active Memphis musician and was one of the handful of native Memphians to play this year’s Beale Street Music Festival. She has also been featured on MTV’s “5$ Cover,” which highlights some of Memphis’s most talented local musicians.“I like Memphis. I was very intrigued by its musical history involving Sun Records and the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll,” says Trout. “But I still wish when I was seven my family had moved to Los Angeles or Santa Cruz or San Francisco or something instead of Memphis.”
Trout’s previous band, Lost Sounds, which put out four albums and a handful of limited releases before disbanding in 2005, was one of her most well-known groups in the garage rock world. It also featured Goner legend and late Memphian, Jay Reatard.“Jay was incredible to play with because of his sheer talent, in both the songs and the charisma he brought to rehearsals and shows,” says Trout. “We were a productive team, though he was explosive and could be scary at times. We were always interested in recording and making new stuff.”Trout has been a mother since 2007 and has two children, the oldest Valentine and newborn Violet, to whom Trout gave birth just a few short weeks before taking the stage at the Memphis in May Music Festival. They are her two real-life “Flying-V’s,” she jokes, referencing her signature 1980 Gibson “Flying V” guitar.“Being a woman in rock ‘n’ roll is an ‘old hat’ by now, but being a mom gave me a new look at myself and my music. Do I want to talk about hate, vengeance or being immature anymore?” Trout asks.“I’ve been a parent for almost six years now and I’ve had to be responsible; I’ve had to be a disciplinarian and shop at Target, buying into consumerism and capitalism.”
Trout says it took her quite some time to write the latest batch of River City Tanline songs since being a mother and having a change in agenda. But in the meantime, she says her more “sentimental songs” have gone to her other band, Mouserocket.“Becoming a parent, you lose one identity and gain another, but it takes a while to find the new one. You meet new people through your child and you lose old friends since you can’t stay out at bars and parties or tour like you did before. The people who were your friends forget you and the new ones have no idea of your old identity. It’s like you are a popular kid at school and your parents have to move and suddenly you’re a ‘nobody’ at a new school,” Trout says about motherhood.With two children and a lifetime’s worth of other musical projects, Trout continues pushing forward with her current band, the River City Tanlines, by continuing to tour when able and making new music for years to come.“I plan on doing sort of the same as I have…a few tours when I can, an album here or there. But once you have kids, your creative pace is slower no matter how many great ideas you are stillhaving,” says Trout.
The Priestess of Punk
Hard-rocking River City Tanlines frontwoman Alicja Trout on garage rock, worldwide touring and motherhood
By Samuel Prager