Trash Pile's ‘weird and ugly’ music speaks to these damaged times

Formed as an online recording project in the early days of the pandemic, the band will make its live debut at Spacebar on Saturday, Oct. 7.
The Trash Pile
The Trash PileCourtesy the band

The Trash Pile started as the name of a shared online file where throughout the pandemic a group of friends deposited the digital recordings they were creating — snippets that ranged from noise-rock instrumentals and spoken word passages to ambient sound collages and everything in between.

Gradually, the collaborators worked together to form these scattered odds and ends first into full songs, and then into albums, and then eventually into a series of musical projects with different names and musical vibes. 

The songs recorded under the name Jackrabbits Palace, for instance, tended toward shoegaze, while World of Truckdrivers focused more explicitly on the grotesque, a concept that fueled everything from the music (industrial, gritty) to the lyrics, which give off an unbathed, oily sheen. Witness the title track to Loathsome Charity, which includes a reference to wine bottles filled with piss and ends with the narrator unhinging a man’s jaw and ramming his face so deep into the soil that the sediment presses up against his colon.

“World of Truckdrivers … speaks to this dirty, toxic male element in our society,” said group member Jon Wilkins, who has long been drawn toward this seedier societal underbelly, addressing it both in the poetry he wrote two decades ago (portions of which have been updated and included in the band’s songs) and in the more recent verses he composed throughout the pandemic. 

But the most collaborative releases fall under the Trash Pile moniker, including TP3: The Algorithm, which musically blurs the line between dark electronica and post-punk and captures a deep distrust of the digital age. “The machines are dreaming of imprisoning,” Wilkins urges on “Feedback Algorithm,” barking his words amid a crunch of electric guitars that sound ready to devour anything in their path. (Collectively, the Trash Pile musicians are responsible for more than 20 albums released in the last three years, all of which are available to stream on Bandcamp.)

Despite these technological misgivings, the Trash Pile has existed almost solely in cyberspace up until this point. (The sole photo in existence of the four was taken at a Nine Inch Nails concert in September 2022.) But this is set to change when Wilkins joins bandmates Jeff Demo, Luke Bowers and Drew DiBacco in concert at Spacebar on Saturday, Oct. 7.

TP3, as with a number of the band’s recordings, has its roots in the pandemic and the massive social and political upheavals that ran parallel to the arrival of the coronavirus, including the insurrection of January 6.

With The Algorithm, this focus landed more specifically on an increased reliance on technology, and the endless Zoom chat boxes and social media posts that served as a sometimes-poor replacement for human contact, as well as the ways the algorithm could further tailor these experiences in ways both subtle and overt. “There was this feedback loop of using these screens, and what you were consuming on these screens, and then even what’s being given back to you based on what you’re looking at,” Wilkins said. “And it’s trying to push back against that, or to disrupt it, in a way, and expose whatever kind of machine is under that feedback algorithm.”

Wilkins has long harbored a fascination with these darker undercurrents, though it has taken different forms throughout the years. In his early 20s, it surfaced in poetry that was most often internalized, functioning as an outlet for the conflicted feelings brought about by these external circumstances.

“It’s a lot of being inside of yourself and trying to figure out how to express that, and trying to figure out where you go with your life,” said Wilkins, whose more recent writings for the Trash Pile have taken a comparatively outward view – less about his internal struggles than his concerns for the world at large, particularly as a father raising children within it. “There’s this feeling that things really aren’t getting better. … And I think that has grown into kind of reflecting more on recent events, but also these feelings of being responsible for the lives of other people.”

These ideas surface most cleanly on the Trash Pile album Born with Tails, which at times finds the band exploring how the lessons absorbed by the young can take root and flower amid the wreckage. “Explain the rules of capitalism, explain him a factory,” Wilkins recites. “And he may lead the revolution.”

Musically, Born with Tails serves as yet another departure, though Wilkins was able to draw a through line that connects the seemingly disparate projects released by the crew.

“With that one we decided we were going to mess around with that late ’90s, early 2000s techno, but again really make it weird and ugly,” Wilkins said. “Kind of like everything else.”

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