INTERVIEW: Thomas Truax | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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In New York in the late 1990s, a disgruntled musician by the name of Thomas Truax decided he was no longer satisfied with unreliable band members and that he needed to embark upon his own musical adventure. Since then, he has gone on to tour tirelessly, write prolifically and gain a loyal fanbase eager to see what he will produce next. And it’s little wonder those fans rely mainly on guesswork, as Truax performs with a backing band made up of his own bizarre inventions as if he’s the result of an experimental gene-splicing between Tom Waits and Wallace & Gromit, with a unique style of music to match, so unique in fact that Wikipedia describes his genre as “Outsider Music.”

In preparation for his upcoming tour promoting his new record Jetstream Sunset, Thomas reflected on early days and revealed how the idea for the inventions came about. “I was doing bands for quite some time and drummers were scarce and notoriously unreliable. They would always disappear, or end up being offered a better gig, so one day I decided, ‘Screw that, I’m going to build my own drummer’ and began working on the first machine I ever made, which was called the Cadillac Beat Spinner Wheel, which was made out of bike wheels and a motor. It wasn’t like a grand master plan, but when I started performing with that machine people almost gravitated towards it and it made me think that I should forget about my bands and just do this and I haven’t looked back since.”

Truax’s instruments all carry with them their own stories and personalities, which their creator was more than mindful of when it came to deciding of which he was most proud before explaining the birth of his most bizarre creation the Hornicator. “Y’know, thinking about it, I’d say pride isn’t the word. They’re all like my children, so I don’t want to upset any of them. Secretly people will say that one child, Joey, is the best, but that the other, Emily, behaves wonderfully, but I don’t want to be like that. Having said that though, the two main ones that I’ve got are Mother Superior, the current drum machine, and then there’s the Hornicator, which was a fluke of a creation after I found this gramophone horn in a junk shop and thought it would make a great part on a drum machine and would look cool. I tried that and it didn’t, so I started making noises into the large end of it and realised it had a great sound. I started attaching different things to it, like strings so it could be played almost like a harp, then put it through all my pedals and used the rim to tap out rhythms. I had no preconceived ideas for it to begin with and I still don’t know what it is, or what it’s supposed to do, but it works.”

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“when I started performing with that machine people almost gravitated towards it and it made me think that I should forget about my bands and just do this”

With such an inventive mind, Truax explained what it was that initially made him want to use his talents to create music instead of anything else. “I’d have to give you that same old answer: the money, the fame and the girls backstage. All young people wonder why anyone would want to do anything other than be famous and have people crawling all over them and in the beginning I thought that, although I have since found out it’s a complete myth. I used to enjoy a lot of British music when I was younger, like David Bowie, Siouxsie and the Banshees and other freaks from outer space or from under the stairs or wherever and their lives appealed to me more than the boring ones that everyone else seemed to want me to have.”

Being a one-man band, Truax posited his ideas about writing music as a solo performer and how he is not confined by any writing rules or conventions. “I don’t really have one rule and I try and change my method as much as possible so I don’t end up creating things that are too similar. For the new record I had to be a bit more linear because my friend Brian Viglione, the drummer from Dresden Dolls, and I had this idea of him playing along to my various machines and those recordings turned out fantastically, but from the beginning I’ve found most success, with my instruments and my song writing, from just playing around and changing things and ordinarily if a routine starts to develop, I try to break it in order to keep things different and interesting. I suppose I routinely break my routines.”

As a New-Yorker who moved to the UK but now resides in Germany, Thomas discussed why he had to move from the UK and why he stays in Europe now before explaining how his strange fanbase developed. “I came to the UK originally because fans there seem to enjoy an eccentric weirdo and I seemed to fit the bill, as well as that I love British music, so it seemed right to do it. I had to go to Germany for practicality. I would stay in the UK if I could, but it’s difficult to for artists to get visas and residence permits and things unless they’re Madonna or something, which I’m not, so I have to play by those rules.

“I’ve got kind of a core fanbase and I don’t know where they come from. Some come back and say “Oh this is the fifteenth time I’ve seen you” and I think that’s insane – I would never come and see my own act fifteen times if I didn’t have to. Then there’s an extra crust of people who come because they’re curious or have heard a bit and want to explore more. What I do is pretty good for word of mouth, so there are always new people there being dragged by their friends and I’m very lucky that I have so many people who return and bring new people with them. It’s very difficult for music people to get noticed these days cause there’s so many of us. But for every person who likes your music, there’s probably two or three more who might but haven’t discovered you yet, so it’s a constant process of finding those people and I’m lucky that my fans help me out so much.”

Thomas Truax will play at the Newcastle Mining Institute on Sunday 12th April.

Photo credit: Markus Jansen

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