“The monkey wrapped his tail around the flagpole, to show his asshole, and one, two, three…”
Most of the information available on the internet about Trio is a regurgitation of their Wikipedia article. Three burnouts write songs in a barn, Beatles associate Klaus Voorman sees them play, they record an album, and then there’s “Da Da Da”. The song catapulted the band into international one-hit-wonder stardom and ultimately relegated them to the confines of European new wave and German pop compilations. However, in this context, their first album is a fucking head scratcher.
Trio’s debut album, Trio (1981), stands in stark contrast to the nascent Neu Deutsche Welle (NDW) movement that would come to define German popular music. While bands like Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft and Ti Tho applied lush, wet synth tones to create discotheque ready dance tracks, Trio is, at its best, dry as a bone. Peter Behrens plays a cocktail drum kit, Gert Krawinkle, a deconstructed Stratocaster, and Stephan Remmler carries vocals in a Teutonic zombie’s drawl. The electronics on the album are used like children’s playthings: single note leads on the electric organ, sloppy manipulation of a toy guitar, and contact mics stuck on Remmlers’ throat.
The songs themselves cover a milieu of genres that would seem stilted save for the overarching aesthetic. Tracks like “Ja Ja Ja” and “Los Paul” verge on the frenetic energy of L.A. hardcore. “Kummer” drones along with an octave repetition and melodic melodrama that could well suit Iommi and Ozzy. “Sabine” is a near-straight rip-off of The Specials. This is hardly a pop album, despite the fact that the band’s inciting motivation was a commercial success.
“Ja Ja Ja”
Trio did a tour which included 39 record stores following the release of the album and were met with feeble recognition. This is important to note considering that it was following this tour that “Da Da Da” was produced. The band were all thirty-somethings at this point, perhaps one reason that they did not associate themselves with NDW. Playing those record stores instead of exclusively clubs must have given them an eye into the commercial viability of certain sounds over others. Young Germans who otherwise might have had to remain at home watching Hitparade had the opportunity to react. At any rate, they found themselves out of the barn and into the streets. With this new lens, Remmler and Behrens fiddled their way into success on the Casio VL-1.
The album was re-released in 1982 to include “Da Da Da”. After that, the band began to embrace more lush production and would include bass, multiple guitar tracks, as well as digital effects on their recordings. Even Behrens minimalist military style drums would be covered up by default keyboard beats. Their early songs did eventually bubble up again in the United States in the 1990s. The Jesus Lizard covered “Sunday You Need Love” early in the decade. The Oblivian’s also covered “Sunday You Need Love” in addition to “Ja Ja Ja” on their first record in 1995.
Despite the overwhelming success of their iconic novelty song, Trio’s early material can still be recognized for its muddled aggression and half-hearted take on Anglicized Caribbean music.
Perhaps this album, as their later album Trio and Error (1983) suggests, is an experimental project. A broad display of underground music from the time developed to see what exactly would work with young commercial markets. Voorman did say that Trio’s approach was “more profession…than what the Beatles did”. Could this album preliminary be R&D wrapped up in a Dada expressionism? Well, even if it didn’t get the kids going then, it can still get you now.
“Los Paul”, Radio Bremen 1982
Photo from: https://www.laut.de/Trio