One of the coolest parts of my job covering live music is when an opening act for the artist or band I was sent to cover completely knocks my socks off. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does it makes me feel like I just found buried treasure.
This happened most recently back on October 11, when I covered the LA-based band Starcrawler at the Larimer Lounge in Denver. The opening act that night was a local threesome called The Trujillo Company. I was at the venue early enough to hear The Trujillo Company go through their sound check, and I realized early on that these guys weren’t just another opening act.
The Trujillo Company is Mike Trujillo (guitar and lead vocals), Leny Trujillo (drums), and Mark Hibl (bass). And no, Mike and Leny are not related (although they admit that there have been times in the past when they played off of that assumption, just for kicks). Their music has been described as part grunge, part “stoner rock”, and part heavy blues. When asked to categorize their style Mike semi-reluctantly uses the term “heavy rock”, just before he talks about how he doesn’t like trying to pigeonhole music into single genres.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Mike recently, to talk about his journey from a 15-year-old tinkering on a borrowed acoustic guitar in Cheyenne, Wyoming to the front-man of a band on the verge of releasing their second album. The Mike Trujillo sitting across from me drinking a cup of coffee didn’t scream “rock star”. He comes across much more like a family man with two children (which is exactly what he is). But put him on stage, and just watch as that rock star alter ego takes over.
A Denver native, Mike moved to Cheyenne when he was in elementary school. Concerned with the growing level of gang activity in Denver, Mike’s father made that move to hopefully give his son a fighting chance of avoiding what might have eventually led to an inevitable collision.
Mike was always musically inclined, but it wasn’t until he was 15 that the allure of making music swept him away. It was hearing “Immigrant Song” from Led Zeppelin that tipped the scales – he now wanted to be a rock star. During summer break from school he borrowed an acoustic guitar and started teaching himself to play. At the end of the summer he had to return that acoustic, but he found another family friend with a second acoustic he was willing to let Mike use. He actually gave that guitar to Mike, in exchange for Mike’s agreement to never part company with it.
And yes, Mike still has that old acoustic. In fact, you’ll be able to hear him playing it when the new album is released next year.
Mike returned to Denver in 2007. In 2009 he met Leny Trujillo at a birthday party for a mutual friend. The two clicked instantly, but both were playing with other bands at the time. Mike was playing guitar for the indie/alt-rock act Take to the Oars, but eventually left that band because he was interested in doing more vocal work. In 2014 Mike released a solo album called To Pick Ourselves Up under the project name Disgrace The Traitor. But when that effort didn’t take off, Mike decided to reevaluate his direction, and took some time away from music.
It would be three more years before Mike and Leny would reconnect, and agree to get together to jam. The old chemistry from their initial meeting eight years earlier was nearly palpable, so those initial jam sessions soon evolved into The Trujillo Company.
Mike explains that the name was the result of pride in their shared surname, combined with a “taking care of business” attitude. From day one Mike and Leny committed themselves to being the hardest working band out there… an attitude they still take great pride in today.
The Trujillo Company played their first gig in January of 2018, as a power duo. In 2019 the band released their debut album HOME which was hailed as a “dirty rock and roll masterpiece” by Bandwagon Magazine. The Trujillo Company had arrived, and it looked like the sky was the limit.
Then came 2020, and the event that crushed the hopes and dreams of more up-and-coming musical acts than can be counted. The COVID pandemic put a stop to the one thing The Trujillo Company needed to keep the momentum going… the ability to perform live in front of audiences.
One of the things that stands out when you meet Mike, and you chat with him for even a few minutes, is that he’s a true believer in making your own luck. He sums up his approach to life as follows…
“Never give up hope, no matter what things get in your way. Keep believing in yourself. Things will work out – maybe not when you think they will, but in their own time.”
It was that attitude that propelled Mike and Leny through the tough times in 2020 and 2021, when they had to come up with new ways to stay relevant and keep things moving forward. They released two singles… “Follow The Leader” in 2020 and “Novocaine” in 2021. And between those two releases they evolved from a power duo to a power trio, adding bassist Mark Hibl.
Hibl’s addition to the band is an example of Mike’s belief that things eventually work out, in their own time. He and Leny were interested in having Mark join the band from its inception. But Mark was playing with another band at the time, so that plan was shelved. When Hibl came available in 2021, he seamlessly stepped into the lineup. His addition allows the band to continue to evolve, and to take their music in directions they couldn’t as a duo.
As Mike and I are finishing our discussion (and our coffees), a message comes in on his phone. I can tell by the broadening smile on his face that it’s something good. “You wanna hear something from the new album?”, he asks.
Mike, Leny, and Mark tracked the new album over the weekend of October 22 – 23, working with Grant Husselman, who specializes in location recording. For The Trujillo Company’s new album, they spent three days in a vacant warehouse. Grant is mixing the album now, and had just sent a song called “Down Below” to Mike to listen to. You want to talk about being in the right place at the right time? I’m about the be the first person outside the band’s inner circle to hear this new song.
And the verdict is…
Incredible. If this tune is any indication of what the new album is going to sound like, we’ve got something special in the offing. Mike tells me that they’re probably looking at a release date sometime before the middle of next year, and that the plan is to release a couple of singles each month beginning in January. No name yet for the album – they’re working through several ideas.
You can tell that Mike is incredibly happy with “Down Below”, and excited to hear the final mixes of the other seven songs on the album. That makes two of us. The band is hoping to schedule an album release gig in advance of the formal release date – Denver Entertainment Hub will have the scoop when that gets scheduled. We’ll also be covering the band’s next live show, with a full review and photos. In the meantime, check out the band on their website, at www.thetrujillocompany.com. You can listen to their debut album and subsequent singles there, or on your favorite streaming service. Do it, my friends. You can thank me later.
Article and photos by Rick Witt www.rickwittphotography.com