Band names are often non-sequitur, a pair of unrelated words that sound good rolling off the tongue. Trái Bơ is a Vietnamese word that literally translates to “fruit butter,” what Americans know as an avocado. According to Trái Bơ frontman and chief songwriter Adam Sewell, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the music.
“I just thought it was funny, like the way we call watermelons ‘watermelons,’ ” he said.
That casual approach is how Trái Bơ became a band in the first place. Over a plate of tofu curry at a Vietnamese restaurant in Haltom City, Sewell explained Trái Bơ’s on-the-spot inception.
“You know when Shipping and Receiving first opened up?,” he asked. “Basically, the person who booked it, she was a high school friend of mine, and she asked if my band wanted to play. I didn’t have a band, but I said yes.”
One might assume that even without a band Sewell probably had songs, but that wasn’t the case either.
“I guess I had some ideas, but really, I just got together with Taylor King on guitar and this other guy I know, Jordan Bell, on drums,” he said. “For that month leading up to the show, we just worked on getting songs together. It was cool.”
If Sewell has a songwriting method, it’s use whatever is on hand, write whatever comes to mind, and worry what it means after the fact.
Sewell hit upon this notion a few years ago. He’d been at a friend’s house getting into the usual weed-borne philosophizing engendered from being couchlocked and listening to records.
“I was really into shoegaze, just big-sounding, atmospheric bands,” he said. “I was trying to write stuff that was heavy and profound. My friend showed me a bunch of psych rock stuff, and he played me Thee Oh Sees.”
The simplicity of the California-based garage-rock band’s songs left a deep impression.
“I thought, Oh, these guys are just bangin’ it out, but their music still has all this emotional depth,” he said. “So that really inspired me to just write. My dad is a songwriter, and he always told me to just write it, to just do the thing. Just record it and worry about what it is later.”
Sewell’s dad always had people coming over to jam, so the boy grew up with an upfront dose of rock ’n’ roll. But what really made him want to be a musician was seeing School of Rock, the 2003 comedy about a substitute teacher who organizes his students into a band.
“I was in 6th grade, and I really liked the way [Jack Black’s character, Dewey Finn] told the kids ‘play this chord, play that drumbeat,’ and then they had a song,” he said.
Going with that “whatever works” aesthetic has taken Trái Bơ on an interesting path of lineup changes. At times the band has been a trio, a four-piece, a septet, and even a duo –– when Bell couldn’t make a gig in Dallas last minute, Sewell and guitarist Spencer Kenney played the show anyway, but not until after finding a downloadable drum machine app and making beats.
Sewell indicated that his band is kind of in a constant state of flux, though now he and Kinney are the core members. Their new album, Adulthood in the Context of Total Noise, is the product of the two sending each other halves of or mostly finished songs to each other and filling in the holes. But the constant shift in membership and sonic hallmarks suits Sewell just fine.
“We’re a different band than we were a month ago,” he said.
As it happens, the lineup is different –– the live band is now a four-piece, filled out by Jeremy Uwah on bass and Ethan Worland on drums –– but to Sewell, different is more in the context of his band’s constant evolution.
“I like groovy music,” he said. “But I also like textures. Right now, if I could sum up where I want my music to be, I’d say Slint and Prince mixed together.”
In practice, the band’s music is hard to pigeonhole. Adulthood in the Context of Total Noise is a collection of 12 tracks which Sewell describes as “humanist love songs.” Most of it was recorded in bedrooms, though field recordings are interspersed throughout. One song was recorded in a church at 2 a.m.
Adulthood in the Context of Total Noise debuts in digital format on December 12, though Sewell’s plan is to release it on wax, because he says the music needs to be heard as a unified product. In addition to some ambitious packaging ideas, Sewell wants to press it on gold vinyl.
“I want it to look like this color,” he said, pointing at a smear of curry sauce on his plate. “Over the past year, I’ve just become obsessed with it. It’s like, every time I see it, I feel safe or nostalgic.”
Sat, Dec 17, w/I Am Clark Kent and Sunbuzzed at the Yellow Sub, 1033 W Hickory St, Denton. $5.