Trophy Eyes: “It’s a celebration of life but also a question of, what the fuck is life?”

Australian punk rockers TROPHY EYES are entering a brand new era – and it’s not all sunshine.

Trophy Eyes called it a day. They were over. Done. ‘Suicide and Sunshine’ was to be their final album. An album made on their own terms culminating in a final thank you to their fans.

The decision came after spending two years locked down in Melbourne under some of the most stringent COVID measures in the world. It took its toll to the point that the band were resolute that Trophy Eyes were finished. They couldn’t record. They couldn’t tour. They couldn’t release content. “We were dying,” singer John Floreani admits.

“It was just bad for everyone’s mental health. The effort. The sacrifice. The hope. Hope is the biggest killer. Imagine spending ten years of your life constantly hoping and staying positive, being like, ‘It’s okay, that went bad, but fingers crossed, envision where you want to be and keep trying and keep trying’. Ten years of that will crush your soul. Honestly, it will destroy a person. So we were all much older than we were and a lot more tired than we should have been when it came time for that decision. It was very decisive. Our drummer Blake Caruso was like, ‘No, no I don’t want to do that’. The rest of us were like, ‘Man, I’m tired’.” 

“I could write for National Geographic or go back to school for IT. Everyone else has so much more life outside of Trophy Eyes. Music isn’t even our major thing, even. We all agreed that’s that.

“We would have been greedy if we asked for any more than we received. What we achieved and what I saw off the back of a couple of crappily written songs, I’m so so fortunate. So that’s where we were mentally. It was like, ‘What are we asking for from the universe right now? Another ten years of this?’ No, that’s it; it’s done. So we were very happy.

“We fought for it, tooth and nail, for 10 years, and at the end of it, we were like, ‘Okay, that’s enough’. We were all worn out, old, all 30 now, we are tired. It made a lot of sense.”

Now, having recorded the album and toured again, the band are less resounding in their conviction that Trophy Eyes will soon be no more. Instead, they’re taking each day as it comes.

“By the time we came home, we were all like, ‘Yeah, that’s what we wanted’. The plan was to see how it goes, and if it goes shit, then it would be like, ‘Well, we did our best and have given you one last thing; thanks for caring’. And if it doesn’t go like shit, if it goes well, then we might stick it out for another one,” he reasons. “I guess it came about from, ‘Don’t think about what anyone else wants or cares about; we’ve got to get our fulfilment now because it might be our last chance in our lives’.”

Despite that being the mindset now, while making ‘Suicide and Sunshine’, it was their last dance. That meant they did it their way and made absolutely no compromises. Unshackled and unburdened, they made the album they wanted to make for themselves.

“I don’t have to worry how well they go; I just have to worry if I like them – that was the biggest thing. You don’t care about the transactional result of these songs. Is it going to make me this big? Will it give me this tour position? Will we sell this much merch? Will I be able to buy myself a couch? It doesn’t matter anymore because you’ve already given up. You’re already like, ‘It’s okay; I’ve clocked off’. So, now you’re writing for your soul. And that’s a different thing entirely. You’re telling the story of your life now, and that’s what it was,” John explains.

So John started writing for ‘Suicide and Sunshine’ at the very bottom. He went back home. He visited his childhood home and moved into the same room above the bar he used to work and live in. “I stayed in the same room for three days drinking whiskey and writing. That, again, sounds so pretentious and stupid, but that’s what I did. I put myself in that environment, and I lived through it there. It was bad. It was like the start of Apocalypse Now. It was fucking awful. But I beat that, and I walked out on the other side,” he describes.

It was part of a necessary evil of getting to the bottom of the pit to dredge up the stories he needed to tell. Explaining his method for writing, he details, “When writing it, it’s cathartic, it’s overwhelming, it’s emotionally exhausting, and it’s violence because you go, ‘I’m going to write a song today’, and you write songs like this. You go down, you go right down into this horrible, dangerous place where you lock everything away.”

From thirty pretty decent demos, ‘Suicide and Sunshine’ began to take shape in the months that followed, and a concept began to emerge. The result, this fourth Trophy Eyes album, is life through John Floreani’s lens. It’s life and death. The good and the bad. Suicide and sunshine. Life with all its many absurd contradictions and beautiful snapshots.

It all began with a photograph. A photo of Earth from Apollo 11 became John’s jumping-off point. Just this tiny little planet floating in space that we’ve all lived on became his fixation. Like it or not, his lyrics kept pulling him to this spiritual place of observing life, or what we know of it, in full spectrum. John doesn’t align himself as someone “spiritual”, but “I’ve done a lot of hallucinogenics,” he laughs.

“I’m not a person like, ‘There is a guy up there in a white robe with a big old beard, and he created everything’. I’m leaning towards the idea that the universe created us so we could see the power and the beauty of it all. That sounds really acid-y but yeah… I’m not a spiritual person, but I know myself very well, and I’m very well-connected and comfortable with myself in every aspect.

“That’s where those songs came together, and they are a bit deeper than normal Trophy Eyes songs of, ‘This is what happened here in this town’. It’s a little bit more of, ‘What does life mean?’ ‘It’s good to be sad, and it’s good to be happy because one day, we’ll never feel anything again’. It’s a celebration of life but also a question of, what the fuck is life? That’s how it became structured.”

So, the album starts with ‘Sydney’, but before the song kicks in, there is a “cosmic” journey of spiralling synths designed, according to its architect, for the listener to question their place in the galaxy before arriving in the Australian city.

“What I wanted was for the album to start far away from where that photo was taken, and then you locate in on Sydney, and you find the guy, which is me, and then the story unfolds. And then it starts moving,” he explains.

As the warm synths from ‘Sydney’ bleed into ‘Life in Slow Motion’, the stage for the album is set as John soothes about the impermanence of life. From there, the focus shifts, and family comes into view. ‘My Inheritance’ is a modern pop song with the eviscerating line of “I wish I could love you / and I wish you were dead”, while ‘Runaway Come Home’ lays a troubled relationship with his mother to the backdrop of a monumental cacophony.

There are drugs, addiction and self-loathing from song to song, but nothing hits with the same devastation as ‘Sean’.

‘Sean’ is not a tribute to the person but an account of John’s experience of the day his friend died. He reflects on the surreality of the Top 40 on the radio in the taxi and the sunshine on the day Sean took his own life. He remembers not believing the warning signs. He remembers, “In the second verse where I was talking shit about him the day before he killed himself, and I was like, ‘Aahhh, he wouldn’t do it. It’s attention’. And our producer, Shane [Edwards], was like, ‘You can just leave that out if you want to’, and I was like, ‘No, the whole world has to know. The whole world has to know that I was like that. I was that shitty human being’. And that makes it more real because we all say that.”

It’s a tough song, and it sits, unflinching, right in the centre of the album. It’s unavoidable. “I realised if ‘Sean’ wasn’t there in the middle, then you’re not going to cry,” John says. “You need to cry because crying is part of feeling better.”

And when it came to recording the song, John shed more than his fair share of tears. “I couldn’t even track ‘Sean’ without crying,” he recalls. “My producer had to get it in takes. He let me smoke in the booth, and I got blackout drunk recording it, so by the time I heard it the next day, I had no idea what I had tracked. I was like, ‘What was it?’ and he told me, and I heard my voice and was like, ‘Oh my God, this is shit. Like it should sound more like a conventional song’, and he was like, ‘I’m not touching it’.”

Photo Credit: Tahmid Nurullah

And there ‘Sean’ remains on ‘Suicide and Sunshine’. Its emotional release and the opportunity to cry is rewarded with the more upbeat lead single ‘What Hurts The Most’. While on its own, the song charms with a simple, hooky chorus and sun-drenched, stabby guitars but in the context of the album, the scars from ‘Sean’ aren’t fully healed and give the song an extra dimension of longing. “It’s not a nice song either,” John admits. “All the songs are pretty dismal.”

Away from the sprawling synths, there are moments where Trophy Eyes of old still appear. ‘Kill’ has this brooding, threatening bass line. ‘OMW’ finds a balance between Nine Inch Nails and Oasis, with an industrial-sounding opening giving way to a modern, poppy vocal.

“Old Trophy Eyes but new,” as John describes it. “Without knowing, it takes a ‘Lavender Bay’ and ‘Nosebleed’ section of that album. It does that same job that those other two songs did, not that we were intending it to do that, but it played out that way which I thought was really funny, like, ‘Shit, we can’t help but do that’. That’s honest, true, Trophy Eyes.”

Even when the album looks like it’s found a ray of happiness on ‘Sweet Soft Sound,’ John tempers it by explaining that it’s not a love song for his girlfriend but about capturing the feeling. Likening the song to the album’s artwork, a blurred portrait stuck between two moments, “It’s a snapshot of that one millisecond that will be lost in the ether for eternity.”

The song had been through a few iterations as a Springsteen-style track, and it got a Coldplay ‘Fix You’ treatment too, but, in the end, this ballad is stark acoustic guitar, strings, and Billie Eilish-inspired whispers. It’s a song that John spent a lot of time perfecting but ended up as one he is most proud of on the record. “That kind of love, I’m not sure many people are lucky enough to experience that, and I had to make sure that I got that off my chest before I die. I had to write about that experience,” he admits.

Whether it was knowing the band was over or feeling as though he was observing the world from space, John Floreani has become more of a documentarian than a songwriter on ‘Suicide and Sunshine’. He is obligated to tell the story, warts’n’all.

“This is my job as a writer to make sure the story is being told,” he begins, likening his responsibility to Herman Melville, whose story of whaling stamped a place in time for all those who read it.

“I’ve got to write it because it happened, and it’s got to be documented. It has to be done. Jeremy Bolm from Touché Amoré said, ‘I made a pact to myself. If I was ever to raise my voice, I would be as honest as I could be no matter what it would destroy’. That changed the way I wrote for the rest of my life.”

And to change anything, like he could have with ‘Sean’ or in the lines about his family, would be dishonest. “It would make my art less credible,” he says.

In equal measure to making sure the band left no stone unturned sonically, John made sure nothing was left unsaid either. After all, this was their final chance to say it.

“Life is such a beautiful thing. All these stories are so unlikely that they should ever happen, which makes them so beautiful, but they’ve got to be documented. That’s what I consider my job. I’m not trying to sound like a martyr or sniff my own farts here, I still hate everything I do, but I still do my best to just write it down as it happens,” he explains.

So, as the final track came around, their last hurrah, their farewell, Trophy Eyes pull out all the stops for ‘Epilogue’. “Considering the moment and the meaning behind it, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s the best piece of work I’ve ever done. That’s the first time I pat myself on the back like, ‘That was correct’,” John confesses.

“My only regret / is you never had a chance / to trade places with me / see yourself from where I stand / what a spectacular view / that I had of you,” he sings to wrap up the song, the album and Trophy Eyes completely all after one of the best angsty rock band chorus lines ever written.

If it really is the last word from Trophy Eyes, then they couldn’t have said it any better. It’s a heartfelt appreciation for every person that has checked out Trophy Eyes in the last decade. But, for John, whether it’s Trophy Eyes or not, the driving force for him has always been the battle against himself.

“My internal monologue is like, ‘Fuck yourself. You’re a failure. You’re a loser’. Constantly. All day. Every day. ‘You’re gonna fuck this up. You can’t actually sing. No one out there gives a fuck about you’. So walking out there and doing it, I thank myself for that because I beat that guy, and I come into the venue, and I show up every single time and do my absolute best. And I thank everyone for being there, but that’s not what powers me out there. Weirdly enough, it’s proving me wrong every single time. My conscience is a liar,” he smiles.

So, in the end, Trophy Eyes come out victorious. In ‘Suicide and Sunshine’, they made an album for themselves, and it turned out to be the most accomplished of them all. It’s raw. It’s honest. It’s real. It’s like how John Floreani sees it. If this is the end for them as a band, it’s on their own terms. If it’s not, then the future looks bright; maybe John will buy that couch. Either way, rightly or wrongly, life goes on. ■

Taken from the July 2023 edition of Upset. Trophy Eyes’ album ‘Suicide and Sunshine’ is out 23rd June.