Angel Du$t (Justice Tripp, center)
Photo: Kat Nijmeddin
Justice Tripp On Angel Du$t's New Album 'YAK: A Collection Of Truck Songs,' His Brotherhood With Turnstile & Not Acting Like A Cop Online
Like many others in the chest-piece tattoos and basketball-shoes set, Justice Tripp's early immersion in heavy music charted the course for his life and career. But parallel to Pennywise and Dead Kennedys, he communed with other genres—R&B, soul, pop, and rock 'n' roll. Most crucially, while studying rock history, the future leader of unorthodox punk band Angel Du$t learned there was punk before punk—and, in a sense, concurrent with it.
"I didn't know what hardcore was when I was six, you know?" Tripp tells GRAMMY.com of his early musical development. "I wrote this record touching on all the stuff I grew up loving." To that end, he cites Tina Turner, Prince, and Tom Petty as foundational—artists that some in the insular, masculine-to-a-fault hardcore scene might blanch at. The values he absorbed from those artists, though, are exceptionally, unmistakably punk: courage, vulnerability, and thinking outside the box.
"As far as a direct message, it's the same as it's always been," he says of Angel Du$t's new record, YAK: A Collection Of Truck Songs. "Just do your thing and don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, as long as it feels natural and authentic to you."
Due October 22, YAK: A Collection Of Truck Songs may have dyed-in-the-wool hardcore roots—after all, the band grew out of the bruising Baltimore group Trapped Under Ice. The same goes for Turnstile, who shares three members with Angel Du$t—rhythm guitarist Brendan Yates, guitarist Pat McCrory, and drummer Daniel Fang—and is having a banner year of their own with the critically acclaimed new album Glow On.
YAK's finest tracks, like "No Vacancy," "Fear Some," and "Cool Faith," show the band is far more inclined to ear candy the one they sprang from. Arguably, they bear far more similarities to alternative bands like the Violent Femmes or Teenage Fanclub than TUI.
Still, the album isn't a thumbed nose at Angel Du$t's heavy roots, but a lovingly executed off-ramp from them. To this end, they're in excellent hands with producer Rob Schnapf, who helmed edgy-yet-sophisticated classics by Elliott Smith, Guided by Voices, and other greats.
In an in-depth interview with GRAMMY.com, Tripp opens up about Angel Du$t's creative process, how his rough-and-tumble past shaped his demeanor and worldview, and why being a punk means not acting like a cop on the internet.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.
You've done interviews for years now about pushing against the orthodoxy of what hardcore should sound like. Have things loosened up in recent times?
I wouldn't say I get too much heat, you know? People are on board. They get what I'm doing. We're still involved with the hardcore community and everybody in our band does other bands that play to that community. Angel Du$t exists in that community on some level. But some people don't get it, and that's fine too.
YAK: A Collection Of Truck Songs sounds like you've absorbed many decades of folk and pop music. Early on, did you get into that stuff parallel to your interest in heavy music?
Oh, yeah. Definitely before heavy music, before punk.
Just rock 'n' roll. My family has always had rock 'n' roll and doo-wop music. And I guess pop music, too, on some level. They played a lot of stuff from when rock 'n' roll was pop. And then you're a kid and you find punk, and you're like "Oh, s***. This is me. I'm different. This is the stuff I identify with." That really sculpts who you are—or who I am, at least.
But I grew up with music. I got my first guitar when I was six, and I didn't know what hardcore was when I was six, you know? I wrote this record touching on all the stuff I grew up loving. I don't know how much this influences anything I was making, but my mom was bumping Rod Stewart and Tina Turner religiously when I was a child. And Prince—Prince is one I heard a lot when I was a kid that stuck with me.
I'm just taking in all those things I heard when I was a kid, All the things I grew to love about hardcore and punk-rock music in the last couple of years—learning about production and the things I love about production—and all the things that Angel Du$t as a band has learned to do throughout our different records.
We've made very different records, taking pieces of aggressive music that we've made and pieces of [other styles]. Pretty Buff was a pretty dialed-back record tonally and tempo-wise. It's finding a way to make something hopefully unique and creative out of all that.
I feel like part of getting into punk is realizing that it existed 25 years before the genre was coined. You get into '60s punk with the Nuggets box, and then you find elements of it in '50s artists like Link Wray and Gene Vincent, and then in the blues, and so on.
Absolutely. I grew with the punk that was around me at the time.
I think I was a little kid when I got the Pennywise record. And then I went back and got the Dead Kennedys CD. Which is, of course, before that time. But I kind of grew up with punk of that era. And then, when I was in my twenties, I discovered the Stooges and Iggy Pop, and that's kind of been the obsession for me.
Iggy Pop's my favorite artist of all time, 100 percent. In his career, there's a lot of peaks and valleys, but the one thing that nobody can take from that man is his endless rock 'n' roll nature. His desire to create something new—just to do whatever the f*** he wants. You may not love this record or that record, but he did his thing. I love everything he's done on some level.
But what you're saying about the history of rock 'n' roll, I think the Stooges are a great way to discover that. They talked openly about their influences, and you can dig into that. They talked openly about the blues, and you can dig into that. You see all the stuff in the '77 era of punk that came from what the Stooges were doing. It's a good beacon right there in the history of punk rock and rock 'n' roll music.
What's your favorite off-the-beaten-path Iggy record that isn't Fun House, Raw Power, or The Idiot?
Aw, man. That's tough. Some of those records—no offense—I'm not listening to the whole record. Just a couple of songs. Blah-Blah-Blah is really good. I don't know if we can count Kill City. Can we count Kill City? It's Iggy Pop and James Williamson. I'm gonna go with that, for sure. I also like some of the newer stuff he's done. Post Pop Depression. He's kind of all over the place.
Both Angel Du$t and Turnstile grew out of Trapped Under Ice, embracing sounds not necessarily from the hardcore mold. They went in the direction they did, but how did you choose your own instrumental template—acoustic guitars, synths, and mellotrons?
Honestly, I'd say we all went in that direction—do you know what I'm saying?
We all make music together; half of Turnstile's in my band. We all grow together and push each other. In the times I'm learning about synths and production, at the same time, those dudes are over there in Baltimore—I live in LA right now—doing the same s***. We're showing each other music and teaching each other stuff all the time when we're together.
I've been really interested in sounds and playing with different synthesizers. That's something I got from Rob Schnapf, the producer. Those dudes are over there actually learning to play the keyboard. Like, I can't play the keyboard. I can f*** around and make sounds. I can push the E note, hold it in and maybe add something else to it.
But it kind of blew my mind when they were here recording the record. Dan [Fang] was playing—actually playing—the piano and keyboard a little bit, and Brendan [Yates] came a week later, and he's doing really good at that stuff. We're all growing and pushing each other at a similar rate and taking different things from it.
When you listen to the Turnstile and Angel Du$t records both, there's a lot of growth—a lot of new tools—just used in very different ways.
When I think of Rob Schnapf, I think of his work on Guided by Voices' Isolation Drills. Great record.
I've been a big fan of Rob before we worked with him. It happened almost by accident. A friend linked us up, and he's a producer on a lot of my favorite recordings.
But I still didn't know his whole catalog, so when we were in the studio, I'd end up referencing something—"I like this one song from the '90s and they did this thing!" It'd always be him saying, "Well, what we did was…" and that's how I found out he did that record.
I referenced Guided by Voices and he was like, "Well, what we did was this on the record." I was like [Stupefied] "What?" That was a good way to know his catalog better.
You can take this question any way you like: What did you want to say with these songs that you didn't in past ones by any band of yours?
A theme I try to say on every record is: Just try something. Get out of your comfort zone and do something. But I don't know if I'm saying something that hasn't been said in the past—at least in the context of music. Maybe I'm speaking of elements that exist in music that I hadn't spoken to before.
But as far as a direct message, it's the same as it's always been: Just do your thing and don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, as long as it feels natural and authentic to you. Hopefully I spoke that message louder and clearer than ever before.
I've read that you're a big Tom Petty fan. What do you take from his music? To me, it's a sense of humility and courage I don't hear in a lot of stuff these days.
I think you nailed it. He was a great songwriter, obviously. His voice was so vulnerable. That's one thing I really strove for on this recording. He was up there in the list of people who influenced that particular element.
But then, you could say Tom Petty was not a great singer, you know? He was definitely great in the way he uses his voice to move people, but on a functional level, there are better singers—you know what I mean? But he could speak so honestly and so vulnerably.
I relate to that. There's great singers out there. If you want a great singer, that's not really what I'm trying to offer. I'm just trying to give a piece of myself and create some moments on the record that spoke to that.
There were some [makings of] songs where I was listening to Tom Petty and didn't think much of it. And then I heard it as the songs were developing. I think one of the only songs I handed to Rob and was like "I want to reference this sound on the recording" was "Time to Move On." There's some drum tone—and the relationship with the vocals—that I wanted to reference.
Ian Shelton of Regional Justice Center and Militarie Gun is another iconoclast in this space. What do you appreciate about working with him?
Dude, Ian's my man. He's just relentlessly motivated, which is incredible. I can't believe he gets as much accomplished as he does.
I'll talk about an idea—like, I want to do a video or something—and he comes to my house and we start riffing. Then, he casually goes home when it's appropriate. I find out later that he was working on this video that morning. And after he left, he went and recorded some demos for the new Militarie Gun songs he's working on.
So, the next time I see him, we might get together and be like, "Hey, let's riff. Let's play guitar and sing or something, and go over some ideas." We get together and do that. I don't know where he finds the time. The man's on tour with two different bands.
I really appreciate his desire to step outside his comfort zone. That's what I appreciate most about artists—especially in current times. In guitar music—in rock music—I think people are more afraid to do that than ever. And then you have somebody like Ian Shelton who gets off on it and wants to keep pushing himself. He inspires me to do that more.
I feel like to be that motivated, you have to have an imaginary gun to your head at all times.
Dude, you just nailed it, man. I know he's like this, too. I love the gun metaphor.
Last night, I was getting ready to go to sleep and I got an idea in my head. I'm still recovering from COVID: "I should be asleep right now. I've got to rest." But then I was up and set my little studio up and started riffing until 5 a.m.
You just can't turn it off if you've got that type of brain. It'll haunt you through the night and keep you awake and make you a crazy person. But it's just worse if you don't acknowledge it and scratch the itch. Again, Ian Shelton's definitely a great example of that.
I'm not trying to be like, gothic, emo guy, but I don't relate to a lot of people on an individual level. I have people I really love and trust. Ian is somebody I trust, who I know differently than a lot of them. He has that creative, psycho drive. Maybe he doesn't think I'm a weirdo that I stay up all night and don't have a real job, quote-unquote. He's fully down.
What makes you so distrustful of others? Why do you keep your cards so close to the vest?
I'm from a crazy place, up top. I've seen crazy things. I've seen people murdered. I've seen the evil nature of people, and it manifests itself in different ways. If you're in Baltimore, certain things happen—someone might get murdered! If you're in L.A., it's the same s***—people being selfish and greedy.
I mean, [obviously,] murder happens in L.A. But in a music-business sense, I've seen it. That's why we started our own record label—me, Brendan, and Dan—because we've seen the greedy nature of people and said, "Hey, we can do this. We can contribute this." Not that that's the only incentive; it's not like it's a spiteful thing because we've seen people do bad things. But we saw that we can do things better and treat people better than this.
For me, it's always been like that. I've got a tight little group of people that I really trust and, I think, understand me. That's Brendan and Dan. I try to be human and let people in. I have a lot of really great friends and people I trust, but when I say "a lot," it probably doesn't mean as much as it does to some people.
Angel Du$t. Photo: Kat Nijmeddin
I don't want to be like "Yo! I'm a tough street guy! I've seen murders on the street!" That's real. I've seen people do really ugly things. Then, you live your life and get away from that particular environment, but it follows you. It's in every environment. You see this in [all kinds of] people. It's not outside the nature of man to be s***y. It leads to a tighter circle. Being smarter about the kinds of people you have around.
It might sound strange because I think the average person knows I'm really nice. I'm really friendly. I might even say I let people in easily. But the second I see it, I can't. When I see selfish motives in a person, I just turn it off. I do that a lot. That's probably, definitively, one of the most specific personality traits I have: My unhealthy ability to cut people off.
I think of banal evil all the time, specifically, the way people treat each other online. Ruining someone's life on Twitter fulfills the classical definition of the word.
Dude, it's insane. You're so right. I see that on the internet a lot.
I was talking to someone about the evolution of social media. It's always this pattern that happens. The first social media in my recollection was Makeoutclub, which was a long time ago. I want to say it was about 20 years ago. And then it got weird with buying and selling. It became a marketplace on some level. And then it got sold out and died out or whatever.
And then it was Friendster, I believe. Same thing. Social media has the good intention of people connecting with each other, and then it becomes buying and selling. It switches and switches. It's gotten to the unhealthy point now where it's a place to sell something.
And now, on social media, people see it as a way to sell themselves. They project the fantasy-life of themselves on the internet to sell you something. I don't have the energy to do that. Maybe it's jaded-old-man talk, but I don't really give myself on the internet. I actually have friends and people I care about.
I do think one thing that's specific about our particular music community is that it is a community. I know a lot of the people that I interact with on the internet. I do post on the internet [like], "Hey, it's me. I'm doing good. Here's this little update on my life." But it's interesting how it's so much about branding at this point.
It's hard to be a fully branded internet persona all the time. If you can make your life look perfect and then you come see me at the show, I'm still a dude from Baltimore who's seen murders and s***. I can't be that internet guy all the time—everyone's friend and s***.
Well, people are projecting more than their perfect house or relationship these days. Moral purity is their brand—it's used as a hammer.
And you've got to bring everybody down who isn't exactly like you. That's very far from who I am.
Don't get me wrong: This isn't me being like, "Yo, f*** cancel culture!" I have a moral code. I do think the internet has brought attention to a lot of those evils of man that we're talking about. I think, in a lot of ways, it's helping make the world a better place.
But I also see people being petty and evil on the internet, trying to tear people down for not being exactly like they are, and that's f***ing crazy to me. It's bully s***. I didn't like bullies when I was a kid. Bullies have kind of changed now. You can't bully someone for what they look like or who they are, and that's real. The difference is that in the era when I grew up, there was no internet for people to talk amongst each other, so you'd go and beat 'em up [Laughs].
"As far as a direct message, it's the same as it's always been. Just do your thing and don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, as long as it feels natural and authentic to you."
I don't know if that's the right way, but [the current method] has created a level of policing where people are always looking for someone to call the bad guy—to tear them down and make themselves look better. That's ugly.
If we're really trying to create this perfect utopia that people are selling on the internet—I don't know, man. People need to talk more. Just talk. There are a lot of people in the world I don't agree with, but I can talk to them and find mutual ground and respect for where they're coming from.
Obviously, there's that place where I can't rock with you. People are just different, and we're not going to see eye-to-eye, and that's fine. But at least we talked. We gave it a shot.
Like you, I'm not interested in a prosaic discussion about "cancel culture," which can go in all kinds of embarrassing directions. It's just not OK to be a bully—full stop.
I'm not a cop. I'm not a police officer for a reason. I don't want to be a police officer. I'm a punk rocker; that's my identity since childhood. It's not my job to police everybody, but it is my job to stand up when I see someone doing something actually wrong. There's a big difference between the two.
To guide the conversation toward the light a little bit: I just saw you co-wrote Turnstile's "UNDERWATER BOI." That's a fan favorite right now.
It's a minor contribution. Brendan, straight-up, is like how I was talking about Ian Shelton. He's one of my biggest influences—a brilliant songwriter. He's always pushing himself; he's always pushing me. I was just lucky to be in the right time and place and have a minor contribution to the song. Maybe he gave me too much credit for it.
It's cool to be a small part of a writing process like that and then be able to sit back and listen to it as a fan. Because, again, I couldn't make that song happen. That's Brendan's brain. It's really cool to be part of that team and have any role in or influence on anything they might be doing.
Both bands have been blossoming at once. Is it inspiring to watch Turnstile rise while you do your own thing?
In the last couple of years, we've had a more conscious songwriting process where we don't want to influence the other too much. We don't want to make the same music. We're not super in each others' faces with everything we're writing, but it's not like we hide what we're writing.
I wrote most of this record myself. A lot of times, in the past, I would have song ideas and bring them to the team. We'd all flesh them out together. I wrote these songs, sent them to Dan, and Dan reworked some things—changed a lot of drum stuff. He took my ideas and made them real. Later in the process, Brendan and Pat flew out.
Before that, my vision is complete. I tried everything; I gave it all I had. These are my songs before anybody gets to re-decide the song structure. They're complete before anybody comes in and starts turning stuff. Brendan and Pat came in and contributed so much on top of the songs that I didn't see.
I'm really happy with the outcome and everyone's input. It was a unique way of making a record together that we'd never really explored.
Before we jump off, where do you see Angel Du$t heading in the future?
Anywhere. I'm down to go anywhere. I never want to approach a record with a game plan in mind. I never want to say, "This record is going to be this." You just make songs and use all your new tools—the new things you learned—and apply them to what you're doing.
For me, in this case, it's production. I knew virtually nothing about producing a record, despite making so many in my life. I just kind of show up and play guitar and sing. As with this, Rob Schnapf—and Matt Schuessler, his engineer—let me in on that process and showed me so much.
I feel like I have more tools than I've ever had in my life, right now. If anything definitively will stand out, it's going to be in terms of production and trying to explore that department.
Angel Du$t has an identity as far as our songwriting and guitar sounds. But it's time to try some freaky s*** on the computer.