INTERVIEW: Thomas Truax

thomastruaxCertainly one of the most intriguing and elusive characters to have emerged on the pop scene in recent times, Thomas Truax has been indulging audiences with his weird and wonderful style of music for over a decade.

Describing his sound as pop music from the moon his band consists of bizarre homemade instruments that include the Hornicator which has been described as a ‘pimped up gramophone’.

His new album ‘Jetstream Sunset’ which will be released on April 20th is Truax’s eighth studio album to date and the consummate rule breaker has said that both comforting familiar sounds and comforting strange sounds can be expected. Gigging NI’s Aine Cronin-McCartney managed to catch up with the performer before his show in Lavery’s Belfast on April 15th.

Who were the artists, bands and musicians that inspired you to become involved with music originally?
“Marcel Duchamp,  Alexander Calder, The Big Bopper,  Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Duke Ellington, Johnny Cash, Blondie, David Bowie, The Cramps, Tom Waits, Acid Ranch, Chrome, The Birthday Party.”

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you?
“Pop music from the moon. Or like something’s broken down in the basement.  Sometimes both at the same time.”

Your ‘band’ consists of a series of bizarre homemade instruments have you always been inventive and how has this influenced your sound?
“It makes it more mechanical and it doesn’t always fit within the confines of regular western scales, due to the fact that the frets on an instrument like the Hornicator are set up to make tones only a Hornicator could harmonize with.”

Could you describe any of your instruments for us and the inspiration you had behind it?
“Well, the Hornicator has been described by someone else as a ‘pimped-up gramophone’ and I can’t outdo that description.  It was just a great piece, an old gramophone horn, and I was just thinking about how they used to record directly on to disks or wax cylinders playing or singing into the large end of a horn.  So I thought I’d roll with that, attaching a mic to it and running it through a loop pedal, and it just grew from there. I still add new pieces when I get an inspiration for a new way to make sound through it.  Most of my instruments will probably always be works in progress.”

You treat your instruments as if they are members of your family what is it that makes you have such a special connection with them?
“In a way they since they are built largely from found parts and objects, they are like adopted orphans that I’ve literally lifted off the streets and am hopefully giving a second chance at a better life.  In another way, because they came from me, I conceived them in a sense, so they are like my children. “

Why have you opted for the one man band approach do you ever feel overwhelmed by the fact it is just you and your instruments?
“I hadn’t been interested in being a solo or one-man-band operation at all actually, but after doing bands for ages there came a point when my real drummers didn’t show up for rehearsal one too many times, and that’s when I decided I’d just build my own drummer that would always be there, and that I could turn off and on at will.  That’s where The Cadillac Beatspinner Wheel started.  She got replaced eventually by Sister Spinster, who in turn is now replaced by Mother Superior.  So you see, even when you build your own mechanical drum machines, just like with human drummers you just can never keep one around for the duration.

“And yes it’s overwhelming at times which may be part of the reason I’ve developed strong personalities for the instruments, so I can lean on them (sometimes literally) when I’m feeling unnerved.”

Do you think that it’s time for a one man band renaissance, that perhaps there’s a lot of emphasis to have to make music with people instead being able to explore yourself?

“No I think there already is a one man band renaissance and I don’t know how healthy it really is, I think it’s more healthy and sociable to make music with others and that people are becoming too isolated due to technology.”

You have been described as the musical version of Tim Burton what is about you that think is similar to the director? 
“There used to be more in common I think. Burton has made some great films but also a lot of bad choices. Remakes that don’t need remaking and so on, and I often feel like he’s not making films that he’s so personally invested  in anymore. But Ed Wood and Nightmare Before Christmas, I love those films, and Edward Scissorhands, I so related to that, growing up feeling like the awkward weirdo that wanted to live in the black and white Frankenstein house. Everything I touched in colourful suburbia got cut up and I was only happy back in that weird house in the end.  There’s a kind of visual ornate but jagged thing going on too, and a certain gothic sensibility, I suppose you’d call it. That’s what people see in common I think.”

Your new album Jetstream Sunset will be released on April 20th what fans can expect to hear from it?
“Some songs about driving in the dark, being a teenage Post-Punk, some comforting familiar sounds and some even more comforting strange sounds.”

You worked alongside Brian Viglione for your new album how did this collaboration come about?
“I met Brian when he played with the Dresden Dolls, at one of their gigs very early before they were signed and became, well, kind of big. We became mutual admirers, and I was invited to support the Dolls at their first album launch in Boston and subsequently toured with them throughout Europe in 2006. Brian was always intrigued by my mechanical drum machines and when our paths crossed again while we both were working on music for plays at the Theater Dortmund (in Germany), I invited Brian to join me in developing some rough new song ideas and recording along with the machines in Krefeld, a city nearby. They were really enjoyable sessions.  I was afraid maybe Brian and Mother Superior might run off together.”

Jetstream Sunset will be your eighth album to date how has your sound changed over time and how have you developed musically?
“I hope I’ve become a better guitar player/singer.  There are a lot of people saying I’m becoming more ‘accessible’ but maybe they’re just getting to know me better.  I reckon there’s a little bit more maturity and introspection and a little less anxiety.”

You became involved with Pledge music to help promote your new album how important do you think campaigns like this are to musicians and their fans?
“Well, funding your releases is really important, and when people actually dig into their pockets to help you do that directly it’s humbling to see that they have that kind of confidence in your potential to create something they’re going to enjoy and get something out of. In turn that makes you feel you’ve got to really put your heart and soul into it so as to not take that trust for granted.  So I think it’s a very good and very important thing, especially these days when an increasing number of people seem to think quality music is just free.”

You have always said that you have a problem following the rules when it comes to music do you think breaking the rules helps you create better music?
“Yes.”

You will be playing in Lavery’s Belfast on the 15th of April what can fans expect from your show?
“Remember in the original Frankenstein movie when Colin Clive first sees the hand of the Frankenstein Monster move under the blanket after the electrical storm, and he starts screaming: “It’s ALIIIVVEE!! It’s ALIIIVE!!!”   Maybe something like that.”

Thomas Truax plays Lavery’s Belfast on 15th April. Jetstream Sunset is released on 20th April.