In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Dr. Stephen Troum, songwriter, singer and guitarist for The Troumatics, spoke with arts and culture editor Marcheta Fornoff about the band’s upcoming concert at the Southside Preservation Hall and the new song they will debut there.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Marcheta Fornoff: Thank you for taking the time to sit down and chat with me about your new music. Remind me of the name of the new song and what inspired it.
Dr. Stephen Troum: The new song is called “Cross That Line,” and I introduce it as meeting the right person but at the wrong time. What that means is you meet someone who you really connect with, but the problem is you’re both involved with other people that may or may not be a great relationship. So there’s a conflict: Are you going to kind of stay where you are and stay as friends or are you going to explore this new love? And that’s the premise of the song. Are you going to cross that line?
Fornoff: Since it hasn’t been released publicly, will you describe the aesthetics of the song and the ensemble performing on it?
Dr. Troum: My band, The Troumatics, there’s mainly three of us: guitarist, a bass player and a drummer. And then, of course, in the studio you get to add (more) guitars to it.
It’s sort of got an old school, almost an oldies ballad feel to it. It’s a very familiar chord pattern for those of you that are music connoisseurs and have a musical background. But what makes it unique and different from some of these older ’50s and ’60s type songs is the melody of a storyline. It’s not as edgy as a lot of our music is. Certainly we’re more influenced by late ’80s or early ’90s college alternative rock. This song is a pleasant little ballad, but still tells a poignant tale.
Fornoff: Mm hmm. Your band, The Troumatics, is word play on your last name, correct?
Dr. Troum: It is. My last name is Troum. The name of the band is The Troumatics, but it’s also a play on my medical background being a trauma surgeon. Although I’m a hand surgeon, I did a lot of trauma (care) and the trauma that I saw in my training and the traumatic events that I have been exposed to.
Fornoff: Will you expand on that a little bit more? I think you’ve mentioned becoming a hand surgeon as a way to pay for your music.
Dr. Troum: It’s funny. I’ve been enjoying music and it’s been a hobby — writing and recording and making my own home demos — for decades, really ever since high school. But when I chose my profession, I chose to go to medical school.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to finance my hobby now and get a little bit more serious about studying the craft of songwriting and writing songs and putting a band together and doing it on a much higher level than I ever did when I was in college or even medical school. Of course, you don’t have time to do a lot of that stuff. So my music had to be on a back burner for a while. We got shut down for COVID for a while (at work) and I had a lot of extra time to write music.
Over the years I’ve collected guitars and recording equipment. When people see my guitar collection, they’re like, ‘Oh, in case the doctor thing doesn’t work out, you have a backup.’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? Being a doctor was my backup. (My) plan was to be a rockstar.’ But I guess my common sense prevailed and I ended up going to medical school, and ultimately specializing in hand surgery. That’s enabled me to do a lot of things that I probably wouldn’t otherwise be able to do if I was a starving artist or something like that.
If you go
What: A Very Itchy Christmas starring The Troumatics
Set times: 5 p.m.: Daryel Sellers
6 p.m.: Big Heaven
7 p.m.: Itchy Richie and the Burnin’ Sensations
8 p.m.: The Troumatics
Location: Southside Preservation Hall
1519 Lipscomb Street, Fort Worth, TX, 76104
Tickets: $10 online or at the door
Fornoff: When were you able to finally get more serious about your “Plan A” and put the band together?
Dr. Troum: This really all started in 2019 or 2018. I’d always played jam sessions with friends, and I was cleaning out my closet and I found an old stack of cassette tapes, which had all of my old demos I had written and recorded at home. And it just so happens I still have a cassette player, and I was able to listen to them. They were awful. I mean, terrible. They were almost unlistenable. The lyrics were bad. My singing was horrible, and I’m not saying I’m a great singer (now) by any means, but this was bad.
However, I was able to listen to them and say, there are some good musical ideas in here that I think are still relevant. And so I got back into songwriting. I joined the Fort Worth Songwriters’ Association and the Dallas Songwriters Association and was able to intermingle with other songwriters and learn more about that skill. I had another set of people, besides just my family, that could listen to my songs and give me true critiques. I just really worked on the science of songwriting and expressing myself through that. I took all these old song ideas, and I started maturing them.
I got to get some friends of mine to play instruments and see if they’re interested in being an actual band, learning these songs and going into a studio. I was fortunate that I was able to find a couple that would play with me, and that’s how The Troumatics got started. Our mission is to have fun on stage and turn people onto our music.
Fornoff: What is the scientific approach to songwriting?
Dr. Troum: What you learn is that songs can be broken down into verses, choruses, bridges, and there’s a tried and true formula a lot of good songs follow. (It’s) not strictly the same formula every time, but if you deviate too much, it gets a little too weird for people in general. I stick with some of the tried and true formulas and come up with musical ideas first, where I’m just playing around on my guitar. I’ll come up with a riff or a chord progression that I think would make a good verse, then I’ll develop a chorus, and for most of the songs, I’ll develop a bridge. Then I see, what emotion does the music make me feel? Is it angry? Is sad? Is it happy? Is it energetic? And then I think of subject matter that meets that emotional criteria ad start developing the lyrics.
I’m also one to come up with the lyrics just driving around in my car. And then I’ll write it down or record it on my phone. I have a stack of lyrics that are just looking for the right song, and ultimately they all find each other.
Fornoff: You have a show coming up just before Christmas. Talk about how that came together and who else will be featured with you.
Dr. Troum: That show was put together by a guy named Richard Keller, who is also known as Itchy Richie and his band the Burnin’ Sensations, and he reached out to me after hearing about us through other social media and podcasters. The four acts are: Daryel Sellers, Big Heaven, Itchy Richie and the Burnin’ Sensations and The Troumatics. It’s at Southside Preservation Hall in Fort Worth. It’s a good way to rock in your Christmas weekend, if you’re so inclined.
Fornoff: That’s when you’ll debut your new song?
Dr. Troum: Yes. We’ll be playing the new song, and we also have a Christmas song that enjoyed some radio play recently called “Whiskey Christmas.” We’ll be playing that as well because there’s only a narrow window when you play it at shows where it’s appropriate. Sometimes I’ll play it in the spring and kid around that, ‘Well, it’s a Christmas song, but it’s also a drinking song. It may not be the season for a Christmas song. There are those that argue that it’s always the season for a drinking song.’ But yeah, we’re going to play “Whiskey Christmas,” the new song “Cross That Line” and then our regular set of favorites.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.