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Trey Gruber’s Devastating Songs Live On in a Great Posthumous Compilation

The late Chicago songwriter’s recordings will debut on the expansive double LP ‘Herculean House of Cards.’

by Josh Terry
Jun 24 2019, 5:02pm

Photo by Bailey Lecat

Trey Gruber’s time in Chicago's indie rock community was brief but his presence was deeply felt, and still resonates today. With his band Parent, he wrote searching and vulnerable songs with an authenticity that transcended the crowded field of bands translating classic records from the ‘70s into a current Midwestern context. The group had only officially released one song, the raw and devastating "I Tried," and rarely if ever toured outside of a handful of local shows. But Gruber’s magnetism and talent were so undeniable it immediately galvanized the small pocket of the city’s music scene.

Gruber died in September 2017 from heroin and alcohol addiction just as interest in his band was at a fever pitch and plans for a debut album had started to become a reality. He was 26. His death rocked the community but his partner Jessica Viscius of the Chicago band Bunny along with his mother Désirée Gruber, while grieving, decided to dig through his entire recorded output. "Immediately after Trey passed away, we all knew we needed to do something with his music," Viscius told VICE. "We wanted to make sure that more people than just our community in Chicago got a chance to hear it."

The result is the double LP Herculean House of Cards, which is premiering below ahead of its June 28 release.

While Viscius and his mother helmed the project, Gruber's collaborators like Paul Cherry mixed the record and his bandmates like his cousin Garret Knisely and roommate drummer Tyler Bixby helped uncover his songs. It's a lovingly and meticulously preserved collection that along with a self-released vinyl product is getting an official digital release via local archival label Numero Group, one of Gruber’s favorites. [Disclosure: The author of this piece wrote the liner notes for the LP and was a friend of Gruber's before his death].

Spanning 25 songs, it's an effort compiled from 130 home demos, studio recordings, and audio from live shows. The LP highlights Gruber’s versatility; songs like "Summer City" highlight his breezy sensitivity while others like "Momma’s Way" and "The Leaving" show his power as an unflinching songwriter. On the latter, he sings, "The world is hell without you / Wish I could change your mind / Cause I cannot change mine."

Herculean House of Cards is a heavy listen given the circumstances of its release but undoubtedly one that's cathartic and rewarding. It's a document of a resilient and charismatic musician whose potential was limitless but unfulfilled. In a statement, Gruber’s mother writes: "Trey did not wake up one morning and choose to be an alcoholic/addict. No one ever does. But he did choose music. He chose to become a musician and he chose to work at it." She continues, "This album isn't just a commemorative collection of good music—it’s Trey’s heart and soul and story through music and our way to keep helping people through his artistry."

Listen to the full album below and watch the video for "On Fear," which was directed by Frank Frankowski above.

Pre-order Herculean House of Cards here. Net proceeds benefit the Gateway Foundation, an Illinois rehabilitation center where Gruber received treatment.