Eric’s Trip Turned Failed Romance into a Lo-Fi, Break-Up Masterpiece with Love Tara

Rewind, Album Reviews
Dusty Henry

With Rewind, KEXP digs out beloved albums, giving them another look on the anniversary of its release. In coordination with our Sub Pop 30 count-up and the album's 25th anniversary this year, we take a look at the beautiful and tragic debut from Eric's Trip – Love Tara

Love is messy when you’re young. Well, love is messy always. But it’s especially messy when you’re young. Navigating relationships in your youth can be a fool’s errand. You never want to make a mistake when feelings are on the line, but it’s also the time in your life where you’re supposed to be “learning from your mistakes.” It’s something we all learn to navigate in our own ways with continually mixed results. But when you throw in the element of creating music together on top of your relationship, you have a different concoction on your hands. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours will forever be the definitive “love triangle” story in the rock canon, but it’s far from the only one. Just ask Eric’s Trip. But let’s rewind the tape for a second. 

In 1993, Moncton, New Brunswick’s Eric’s Trip had the unique distinction of being the first Canadian band signed to Sub Pop (although the label did release the Nevermind The Molluscs double 7-inch single featuring Sloan, Idée du Nord, Jale, and Eric’s Trip earlier that year). Until this point, the band had been self-releasing tapes recorded almost exclusively on a cassette 4-track in a basement. So, as you can guess, they’re early work was marked by embracing their sonic limitations (or what some might call “lo-fi”). You can get other clues as to what Eric’s Trip sounds like before even playing their music. The band’s name was derived from a Sonic Youth track of the same name from their classic 1988 record, Daydream Nation. I’d argue that you can feel Sonic Youth’s influence in almost any 90s band deemed “alternative,” but in Eric’s Trip case it’s especially true. Especially in the group’s early work, Eric’s Trip thrived in noise. Waves of gruesome distortion coat every instrument on nearly every track. Guitars, drums, bass, and vocals all masked themselves in volume so radical that it felt like it could split the cassette tapes in two. 

White was the principal songwriter throughout Eric’s Trip’s existence, but the creative energy between himself and his bandmates are what defined the project – particularly his relationship with bassist/vocalist Julie Doiron. The two dated throughout the pre-Sub Pop era of Eric’s Trip while they were both in their late teens and early 20s. As the two shared vocal duties from song to song, their voices were crucial to what made the band work. That sensational energy appealed to Sub Pop when the label approached the band in 1992, only for the band to pass. They’d later come around in 1993 when approached again and would make their official debut on the label with their Songs About Chris 7-inch single. But all that was just a precursor to what would come next – their debut LP Lova Tara.

Just prior to their signing, things between White and Doiron weren’t going so well. In what would be a fateful decision, the couple took a romantic break. During that time, White began dating Tara Landry (aka Tara S’parrat of the band Orange Glass). In a 2009 interview with Exclaim!, Doiron reveals that she found out through a taped up page in White’s journal. She says, “It was bad. I read one line and I grasped what it was and I got really upset. Then we had a big fight and he apologized for all the stuff and I was feeling really hurt." The “break” then became a “break-up.” White and Doiron tried to keep this from the band, mostly so Doiron wouldn’t feel ostracized or have any impact on the work they were still doing. But the wounds were deep and both parties acknowledge that Doiron never forgave White. 

All of that can be a lot to deal with and, remember, they were all pretty young at the time. But then things get weirder. Doiron and White’s relationship continued to be a center of the band – or more accurately, a muse for the group. The group invested in a 8-track recorder, holed up in the basement and started recording what they thought would be an EP but would evolve into an LP as they went. White still retained his role as sole songwriter and the songs began to take shape into a quasi post-mortem of he and Doiron’s relationship. He’d eventually choose the title Love Tara. Yes, named after Tara Landry.

Which...dude. Not a good look. In a retrospective interview with Noisey, White illuminates some of how the women felt about all this, saying, “I think Tara may have felt that she was put on the spot, and turned into this character from a drama, which she wasn’t. The way we wrote all the songs made it seem more like a soap opera.” In the aforementioned Exclaim! Interview, Doiron, adds some context: "Rick seemed to think it was the perfect title; every boy in Moncton was into Tara at that time so I think he thought it was kind of clever."

I don’t give all this context to just air out some Canadian band’s dirty laundry from the early 90s. If anything, you could probably piece it together just from listening to the album. And that’s part of why Love Tara is such a masterful work. Yeah, there’s a lot of drama in the background and certain members come out looking worse than others. But what’s remarkable is the band’s willingness to make themselves this open. The band harnessed their hurt feelings and turned it into their debut record. That’s something bands who’ve put out dozens of records can struggle to do. Imagine having a quarrel with your significant other and then being like “hey remember that terrible fight we had? Well I wrote 15 songs about it and I think it’d be rad if you sang some of them. Sound cool?” Personally, I think I’d rather die. 

So, what does a record made by ex-lovers singing about their fallout sound like? Before you answer that, think about how you’ve felt in a break-up. Sad? Sure. Angry? Quite possibly! Detached? Oh hell yeah. Unsure about how you really feel about anything and just want to sit and watch TV until your brain numbs? Totally. Just like emotions vary from moment to moment in the wake up heartbreak, so does the vibe and flow of Love Tara. The album opens with one of the band’s quietest songs, “Behind The Garage.” White doesn’t just perform solo on the song, he sounds alone too. The strings of his acoustic guitar buzz with each strum, echoed by the quiet ringing out of a electric guitar somewhere in the background. His voice raises barely above a whisper, singing on the chorus, “How come it upsets you so? Shouldn't it be me who feels uneased?” You can visualize the awkwardness of the moment; White fessing up to Doiron about what happened behind the garage. He sounds filled regret more and more after each strum. As the song begins to gently fade out, suddenly your eardrums are rattled by the seismic punk of “Anytime You Want.” It sounds more akin to the feverish tapes the band made prior to their signing with a low rumbling bass holding up the punkish guitar riffs. Despite it’s jubilant feel (especially in contrast to “Behind The Garage”), the lyrics still hint at the drama at the core of the album with lines like “Find me another place to stay/Are you ever gonna let me see your face?” And just like that, after a minute of rattling rock music, the album dips down again into the low and stunning sounds of “Stove.” 

While you could hear Doiron singing backing vocals on “Anytime You Want,” “Stove” is the first duet we hear from the former lovers. It’s an early highlight and one of the most lyrically vague records on the album, although it’s easy to feel the disconnect happening between them. They sing about the same moment or idea from different perspectives loosely revolving around a stove at their friend Peter’s house. The verses nearly mirror each other perfectly with slight changes in both. Doiron sings, “I wish you'd slow it down,” while White sings, “I wished you’d leave me be.” In moments like that, you start to feel the disconnect. 

It’s a wonder the pieces didn’t connect earlier with the band and fans of what was really going on behind the scenes, especially with a song like “Secret for Julie.” Not only is Doiron’s name right in the title, the words she sings directly outline the situation she found herself in – even explaining the “we were on a break” stipulation. It’s weird to think White writing these words when they’re so damning to who he was and what he did. But it’s not what he wrote that sells it, it’s how Doiron sings it. The minute she starts singing, the song becomes hers. She sounds dejected, lost, and torn apart. Chugging chords resonate in the left channel of the mix, insistent pound of the drums in the right, but her vocals crossover to both. A similar thing happens with the penultimate track, “Blinded,” which finds Doiron howling over frenzied guitar riffs. She doesn’t just yell, she screams. In an elongated pause, you can hear her gasping for air before the song rushes into its climactic end. 

Love Tara doesn’t just succeed as a break-up album because if it’s lyrical content, but in the way it expresses the dramatic feelings with dramatic dynamics. The jolting feel of the record is unconventional to say the least. Even Guided By Voices never sounded this manic. The upgrade from a 4-track to an 8-track recorder makes a nominal difference in the quality, keeping the record still in “lo-fi” territory. And the record is better for that. If Love Tara were polished and refined in a conventional studio, I have serious doubts it would feel the same way. It’s a record that needed to be recorded in someone’s basement because that’s the emotion the songs evoke. Having that visual in mind informs the listening too. When I hear the album, I don’t visualize a band with headphones on while trying to get the perfect take. I see a group of sad 20-somethings sitting at home, smoking cigarettes, feeling like shit, and trying to figure it out with their guitars. It’s the imperfections of the recordings that really bolster this idea. You can feel people breathing between songs, a reminder of the real human people creating on the other end. Dogs bark in the background of “May 11” and innocuous chatter shows up at the end of “Allergic To Love.” 

Speaking entirely for myself here, but the first time I heard Love Tara I couldn’t imagine anyone else knowing about it. It felt so personal, and frankly kind of inaccessible, that that thought of another person knowing or holding the record so closely never crossed my mind. Obviously that’s not true and there were countless people who knew about it years before I was even aware of its existence. But that’s part of the albums magic. It’s a record made in a basement and meant to be played in your bedroom. It’s solitary, lonely, weird, exciting, depressing, and somehow makes you feel less alone. The band feels like they’re in the room with you, telling you all their problems because they have no one else who will listen. So you listen and you quietly relate. It feels less like an album and more of a break-up collage. The circumstances might be specific to the band, but the emotions are universal. No other record sounds like this. No other record could sound like this. You could never recreate the little moments or noises hidden in the mix or the way things came about. Love Tara does what every heartbroken person hopes for – to turn the shattered pieces of their heart into something beautiful and everlasting. 

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