by Ryan Wilkinson
photo: Rob Scheuerman
How many times have you felt that as much as you’ve grown, you still don’t have life figured out? Like those “growing pains” of reaching adulthood should have stopped at each of the last few milestones, but for some reason they seem to cling to you like that one dude who won’t leave your DMs even though you haven’t responded in months? I know it’s something that I and a lot of my friends have dealt with (hell, apparently it’s all I write about). The good news is that we’re not alone. Reader, meet Tru.
Rocking from North Jersey with a self-titled EP already under their belt, Tru know all about growing pains. That phrase can refer to any number of aches depending on who you ask, but the struggle of finding a place in life (and the growth that comes with that) have been such a central part of singer and guitarist Pat DeFrancisci’s life the last few years that he wrote their new EP – appropriately titled Growing Pains – all about them. “I wrote these songs about really trying to understand where I’m at in my life right now,” he says, “where I thought I would have had it figured out already.”
Finding a path in life is hard for just about everyone, but it’s especially hard when you’re trying to scrape by in a pricey city like DeFrancisci is. “I live in New Jersey near New York, and I work in midtown Manhattan. I can’t live in New York on an artist’s salary. I needed to figure out exactly where I needed to go and work my way to find something that I can just support myself with, rather than just follow my dreams and hope that that would work out. I tried that, and it didn’t really work out. So now I feel like I have this focus on the feelings that I have about it, and they really came out on this record.”
When he says he’s tried to follow his dreams, he means it. Before Tru, DeFrancisci played guitar in several hardcore bands (including the still-active Threat To Society with Tru’s drummer, Steve Cieri). But it wasn’t until he ran into Keith Williams at the wedding of a mutual friend that he found a group with whom he could create music the way that he wanted. Knowing that he liked Williams’ writing style for guitar and vocals, he asked for some help getting some songs together. After bouncing ideas back and forth, the two enlisted Cieri to drum for them and North Jersey scene veteran Cindy Ward on bass and harmonies, and the four of them hit the studio.
Working on Growing Pains with two singer/guitarists could have turned into a dramatic competition between egos, but DeFrancisci says it was one of the most collaborative processes he’s ever been a part of. “If I can’t figure out a verse, [Williams] is a little more lyrically inclined than I am, so he’ll help me on that. I’m much more of a rhythmic person who wants very heavy, driving backgrounds, and he’s more of a lead guy.” Those two styles combine into one cohesive force on Growing Pains, creating a seamless flow from hook-filled, fuzzy tunes like opener ‘The Graduate’ and the album’s namesake song ‘Growing Pains’ to the aptly-named emo grunge of ‘Loneliness’, and finally into the dreamy, acoustic wishful thinking of ‘Peace of Mind’. In just five tracks, Tru manages to both hit many of the sounds that indie rock has made popular, and encapsulate the stifling frustration of trying to hold onto a dream with one hand and fight off life’s hardships with the other. But maybe it’s easier to keep your eye on the prize when your goal can be summarized in one simple statement:
“I want to be the loudest, catchiest band that anybody is ever gonna hear.”
While Growing Pains is certainly loud and catchy, cheerful it is not. When I asked about the band’s penchant for bright, upbeat tunes with pessimistic themes, DeFrancisci pointed me to their one-line Bandcamp bio: Happy music for sad people. “No matter how catchy the song is, if the lyrics fit we go for it,” he explained. “A lot of the songs that me and Keith have written are very transitional. I thought those growing pains would have been done in high school. But I’m starting to realize as I get into my adult life – and same thing with Keith and everybody else – they happen for a long time. And there is no time set on it.”
You can hear that realization click in the EP’s closer, ‘Peace of Mind’, as DeFrancisci searches for the stability that he thought he would have by now, “wherever that may be”. Struggling with low wages and high rent, the current generation of young adults is faced with a difficult decision – following their dreams, or settling for a steady paycheck – made all the more confusing by older generations that try to push them in both directions. “The recession in 2010, 2011 really affected a lot of people our age, even with people that wanted to find a regular job, regardless of those of us saying ‘fuck everything’ and trying to be in a band. That really got me into writing a lot of these songs. I do think that our generation has it rougher than a lot of other people, because if you think about our parents, they had high school degrees and were able to buy houses. Able to figure out their lives.”
Today’s young adults may have it rough, but DeFrancisci still sees a light at the end of the tunnel. He speaks about a line from ‘The Graduate’, “You would have learned to swim,” with some hope: “We’re trying to learn to swim, we’re trying to figure out our place right now. You tread water until you really figure out where you wanna be.” Treading water might not feel as productive as swimming, but as long as we can keep our heads above water, we still have time to learn. He offers his own growth with Tru as an example: “Writing these songs really helped me out through a lot of the hard times I was going through. Because I never wrote lyrics before, I never sang before. This is the first time I’m doing any of this stuff, because I was always too nervous to do it, and finally I just said, ‘Fuck it. I’ve got these songs, I’ve got these feelings, I’ve got these emotions that I wanna put out there, and I hope people like it.’”
Sometimes it just takes the guts to go for it and the determination and hard work to follow through, and after two years of playing shows and, according to DeFrancisci, “really trying to just get our shit together and get it out there,” the chances taken seem to be paying off. Growing Pains was just released in June by New Jersey-based record label Sniffling Indie Kids, but Tru are already thinking about getting a full-length together for next year. A formidable writing force backed by the experience and intuition of all four members, they’ll be a band to watch in the rising North Jersey music scene as they learn to swim beyond the place where they’ve been treading water.