Band To Watch: Trophy Dad

First day of school icebreakers are always awkward, but sometimes the most seemingly incongruous friendships are formed that way, and occasionally they’ll even lead to serendipitous creative partnerships. That’s how Trophy Dad got its start. On freshman year move-in day at the University Of Wisconsin–Madison, Abby Sherman and Jordan Zamansky went to a mandatory floor meeting and were forced to go around and say who their favorite musician was. Zamansky said the Microphones, Sherman said Modest Mouse, and after bonding over a mutual love for Lonesome Crowded West, they began exchanging demos of songs that they had been working on separately, and decided to join forces so they could create something transcendent.

Central to the band’s appeal is the magnetic attraction between Sherman and Zamansky’s voices, which become entangled in warm harmonies that feel like they’re presenting two different perspectives on the same situation. That divergence crosses over to the band’s songwriting. Trophy Dad often sound like they’re two bands competing against each other: one values strong melodic hooks while the other prefers chaotic breakdowns and jammier, more experimental deconstructions. Shirtless Algebra Fridays — the band’s charmingly tinny and promising 2015 debut EP — highlights this push-and-pull dynamic, and it’s even more apparent on their follow-up, Dogman, which comes out at the end of the week. (We’re premiering a stream below.)

While Trophy Dad recorded their debut in a matter of days, they took their time with Dogman, and it shows. Put together over the span of a year, the extended development led to some shuffling around of the band’s lineup. Henry Stoehr, who produced their first EP and their latest, was added as a guitarist, and drummer Justin Huber came into the picture after their original one left. Dogman was self-recorded in basements just like Shirtless Algebra Fridays, but it sounds lush and punchy in a way that their debut doesn’t, and that clarity works really well with the band’s dueling approach to building songs.

“I feel like the new EP is a good signifier of where the band is headed,” Zamansky says over email. “We’re taking more and more time to deconstruct songs, think about textures, experiment with rhythms and dynamics. We’ve already written a handful of songs for a release after Dogman, and they’re a lot stranger, utilize empty space more, experiment with song structure.” Trophy Dad shout out fellow Band To Watch alums Palm, who they opened for last year, as an inspiration. You can draw parallels between the two bands when you listen to Dogman closer “Purple,” which approximates the sort of seasick mellow that the Philadelphia group does so well.

But, at least on Dogman, Trophy Dad embrace their pop side enough that it keeps them accessible; the most immediate songs on their sophomore EP are “Louis Sachar” and “Addison.” The former is a straight-up jam built around blown-out drums and Sherman’s engaging deadpan, while the latter serves as a convenient capsule for everything that makes this band so great. It cycles through a ton of different ideas in its six minutes, but they all sound fully integrated in one another, and they’re all catchy enough that they could potentially stand on their own as a separate song. But mashed together like they are, it becomes abundantly clear how good the band is at writing captivating hooks.

Trophy Dad is also skilled at creating compelling narratives to hang those hooks around. Dogman has a loose overarching concept that allows the band to explore some sensitive but important topics. “Each song on the Dogman EP deals with a different type of metaphorical ‘monster,’ including monsters like opportunity, romanticized love interests, the need for validation, crippling anxiety, low self-esteem… Very scary things that cause a sinking feeling in the stomach,” Zamansky explains. “Writing about these topics can be a way to try and make sense of them — writing about these ‘monsters’ helps strip away their ambiguity (which is perhaps the scariest thing about them) making them easier to think about and easier to deal with.”

The band presents these issues in a way that provide for the nuance they deserve. They’re clever songwriters, and the dual vocalist approach helps at alleviating any concerns that one perspective gets more precedence than another. While Zamansky wrote “Addison,” which tackles an interpersonal imbalance, Sherman takes the lead to sing one of its hooks — “I can’t be your man anymore” — and it feels subtly subversive. There’s a similar flip on “Purple,” in which Zamansky staccatos out: “I’m a louse/ This is my favorite blouse/ I’ll prance about the house.” Dogman is full of these sharp inversions that make for a fascinating listen.

There’s also a sense of playfulness and levity that threads itself throughout their songs, which helps punctuate how complicated and conflicted relationships can be. Towards the end of “Addison,” Sherman sings, “But if you fight me then I’ll have no doubt/ We’ll have no doubt,” but the way she enunciates fight purposefully sounds a little bit like “fuck,” and it’s a discrepancy that’s both musically delightful and achingly true-to-life, where the lines between love and hate can be so blurred. It’s in that nebulous middle ground where Trophy Dad really thrive.

Stream Dogman above, and check out the band’s upcoming tour dates below.

Tour Dates:
05/10 Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon
05/11 Chicago, IL @ Beat Kitchen
05/12 Bloomington, IN @ The Bishop
05/13 Cincinnati, OH @ Northside Yacht Club
05/15 Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight
05/16 Washington, DC @ Bathtub Republic *
05/17 Philadelphia, PA @ PhilaMOCA *
05/18 Brooklyn, NY @ Alphaville *
05/19 Cambridge, MA @ The Lilypad (early)
05/19 Boston, MA @ Makeout Point
05/20 Syracuse, NY @ Spit Fam House
* w/ Boon

The Dogman EP is out 5/5 via Sad Cactus Records. Pre-order it here.