Truly was a band from Seattle, a grunge supergroup of sorts that released a couple excellent records in the mid-’90s, signed to a major label but never found their traction commercially and failed to hit the heights of their hometown contemporaries. Today they’re mostly consigned to cult status.
Do a search on YouTube for “Truly” and the top results include Lionel Richie, Savage Garden and other Hallmark greeting card fare. The band’s biography on AllMusic is a single paragraph, and you have to do some digging to find even that.
It’s too bad, because Truly was a force to be reckoned with and made some of my favorite music of the ’90s. People who’ve heard them tend to be obsessed.
The trio formed in Seattle in the fertile year of 1990 with a solid pedigree: Hiro Yamamoto, former bassist from Soundgarden; former Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel; and vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Robert Roth, who had played with a band called Storybook Krooks.
Truly created guitar-driven atmospheric soundscapes that veer at times toward Portishead’s beautiful gloom and at others toward a wall of Marshall stacks noise. They’re a dark, plodding and atmospheric beast with vaguely sci-fi lyrics and serious songwriting chops. It’s a heavy sound with its roots in the first wave of grunge — the Screaming Trees/Mudhoney/Nirvana version, not the commercial, watered-down Bush and Silverchair dreck that followed. Roth himself called it “post-grunge.”
But timing was part of the band’s problem. Their debut LP, “Fast Stories From Kid Coma,” released in 1995, a year after Kurt Cobain took his own life and at a time when the music renaissance of the early ’90s was collapsing amid the record industry’s rush to embrace old habits. Grunge was kind of over by then, mostly. And Capitol Records, their label, lost the band in a shuffle of its own internal turmoil.
Here’s how Roth explained it in an interview in 2013 with writer Greg Prato:
And then about halfway through Fast Stories, Kurt died, and something really changed. The atmosphere in the industry went back to the one hit wonder: “Hey, let’s get a band that sounds like Pearl Jam or Nirvana, but let’s crank out some hits.”
And then there was a real backlash on Seattle. So those factors made it hard for us when our record finally came out; it was like the original grunge scene was on its last breath. Things were going well for us and it was exploding in Europe. There was demand for us to come back, and Capitol basically refused to let us go back there to tour a second time to follow up on the great press. KROQ wanted to add “Blue Flame Ford” to regular rotation and they were like, “No, let’s not spend the money on the tour support. Let’s just get going on the next record, we’ll try to be more organized about it.”
I discovered the band when I picked up a copy of the double-album “Fast Stories” on a whim in an East Village record store in Manhattan. I took it home and quickly became obsessed.
The album is plodding, heavy, orchestral and trippy as hell. It sounds like a head cold, a winter fog. Moments of sonic transcendence are liberally sprinkled throughout. The guitar effects, as on “Blue Flame Ford,” are delicious.
Two years later, the band released “Feeling You Up” on Thick Records. The songs are more diverse, ranging from the R.E.M.-like “Air Raid” to the western-tinged “The Possessions.” Sadly, it would be the band’s last release, not counting the U.K.-only rarities release “Twilight Curtains” in 2000.
In recent years, the band has done some reunion touring; the interview linked above even includes a great new song I’d never heard called “Wheels On Fire.” The band had teased it as a single with a song “No One Remembers the Game” in 2015 on Facebook. It was supposed to be released on Flotation Records but doesn’t appear on the label’s website.
The band appears to have gone silent since.
One final piece of nerdism:
Officially, “Fast Stories” is credited to Capitol, their only release on the label before they requested to leave. My two-record vinyl copy is on Sub Pop Records — Truly recorded an eponymous EP for them in 1991 — and it includes the excellent single “Aliens on Alcohol,” which doesn’t appear on the Capitol version.
One of those weird record-label arcana that diehards love.