One of the great things about writing about music is the fact that you are constantly being introduced to stuff you would otherwise miss out on. When I was recently presented with the the strange world of THOMAS TRUAX it felt that for the first time in a very long while, time stood still. This was a guy who appeared to be very much on the same page as myself, a page I’ve been stuck on for many a year.
As much a performance artist, as a musician, Truax’s world is dark and mysterious, not unlike the world inhabited in films like Eraserhead and The Forbidden Zone. It transpires that Truax is indeed a major David Lynch fan and has used his work to influence his own.
Truax, who plays 81 Renshaw Street on 28th April, uses all manner of bric a brac, bicycle wheels a speciality to provide a compelling twist to his unique brand of music. There is a definite 50s feel to his work, recalling crooners from that period, with aromas of The Cramps and horror and sci-fi B movies in there too. But within the retro lies something vital and contemporary too.
I recently introduced myself to Truax to see if my perception of him was too good to be true and gladly discovered he is all that and more. Welcome to the surreal world of Thomas Truax.
Firstly I can’t believe (and am slightly ashamed) that I have only just discovered your music. You appear to inhabit the same world as people like Kid Congo, Quintron and Coffin Joe (cult Brazilian horror legend), all heroes of mine, so consider yourself one fan richer.
That’s good company, thanks! I know Kid Congo. Quintron and Coffin Joe are certainly kindred spirits, there’s probably also some significance in that, while these may share some common threads they are all distinctly different as well.
Can I ask you, where did it all begin? When you realised you were going to be a musician, why did you take this most peculiar of routes?
I was born tinkering with things. I loved putting playing cards held in place by laundry pins in the spokes of my bicycle wheels to make them sound like motors. Things like that. Later I did play in a number of bands and tried to get it right, but it always seemed that just as we were starting to get somewhere, one member or another would give up. Eventually I built my own motor-driven drummer. She was more reliable and things began to move forward.
Who has influenced you?
My parents: My father with his carpentry shop in the basement and discarded bits that I was free to build things out of as a child (though he was certainly not into rock n’ roll, but that might also have been a significant factor in that I had to rebel). My Mother’s love of poetry and painting. In the music and art worlds I just love such a diverse range of things it would be hard to pin down. The Cramps, Dr. Seuss, Harry Partch, Tom Waits, David Lynch, Calder, Duchamp, Dada, Bowie, Debussy, Nino Rota, my wife, my friends, Punk and post-Punk have all excited and inspired me.
Do you feel you are cornering a market now or do you think you are in fact part of a niche movement that involves other like-minded souls?
I don’t feel like I’m part of a movement, and at first I wasn’t coming across anyone doing anything very similar, to my surprise, but occasionally I come across other -typically loner- artists that are building instruments and maybe approaching things in a similar way. More especially lately.
What percentage do you see your show as performance art? Do you think the visual aspect is vital in understanding what you do?
I don’t think it’s vital that you see what is happening in order to enjoy the music on its own, but there’s certainly a multi-faceted thing in going on – I try to avoid defining myself too tightly because as soon as you label something you bring people’s pre-conceptions of what to expect, or what they like/dislike about something they think they already know, into the picture, it might colour how they perceive it. However, I do fear I may be my own worst enemy in this department, because these days it’s more and more about ‘if you like THIS, you’re going to love THIS’, and the word ‘branding’ seems basic vocabulary to even young schoolkids.
I’m guessing you watch a lot of movies, there are a lot of cinematic references in your music and video clips. What kind of stuff are you into and to what extent does it shape what you do?
Jaques Tati, Fellini, Hitchcock, Roger Corman, John Waters, David Cronenberg, David Lynch as mentioned above. I met him in 2007 and did an album of cover songs that were featured in his films. He’s got great and diverse taste in music. Though I’d kind of prefer he’d make more movies instead of albums. I grew up very shy and would escape into movies. Still love them. I went to film school at NYU thinking I might become a film director. But decided while there that, being a night person, the filmmaker’s life just started too early for me so I chose music instead. I think Roger Corman’s creative economy on tight budgets had a big influence on how I think. I love a good story and an atmosphere of mystery and the anticipation of something potentially very exciting about to happen. I also love old black and white romantic comedies like Capra’s It Happened One Night.
What is a typical audience for you and do you think Liverpool audiences will understand your act?
There is no typical audience for me in my eyes. Everyone is welcome, there is no dress code. Bring an open mind though and I’m not fond of people that buy a ticket to listen to music and then talk through the whole set they paid to see. It boggles the mind.
I’ve had many good nights performing in Liverpool, lovely people.
I saw a clip of you with the late great Frank Sidebottom. He was (and still is) a great cult hero in the North of England. For some, he was nothing more than a comic figure but he was an incredible performance artist I thought. Is he someone you had heard of prior to that TV appearance and what was your understanding of him?
Yes, I’d seen/heard of him before and though I didn’t know much about him it was quite surreal and a special delight to see him there in the same room, playing along and asking questions about turning his Mum’s vacuum cleaner into an instrument and so on. I saw him in the dressing room sipping a drink through a straw but with the mask still on. I kind of nodded to him and he nodded back, it felt like we’d communicated through the eyes. A minute later I thought to myself, those are just painted eyes.
Is there an underlying message to your material do you think?
I think I’m communicating things through the songs and my shows but it’s not that I’m preaching or that I’ve set out with a specific agenda. It’s probably obvious that I believe in recycling and animals and love and thinking ‘outside the box’. That I both embrace and am wary of technology. Making music and art is a journey of self-discovery and a lot of times that journey takes you from a curiosity about something you may not understand through to a certain satisfaction that you’ve made that journey. You may not be able to relate that journey or what it meant to you in a simple explanation or words alone, but you may be able to communicate it, or just share it, through the repeated combination of sounds, textures and stories or thoughts you’ve assembled.
What do you think your trip to Liverpool will hold in store?
I reckon there will be hot sauce, joy, a hungover breakfast, and some friendly faces that I wished I saw more often.
Thomas Truax plays Howl At The Moon Vol 16 at 81 Renshaw on Friday 28th April. Tickets are available here.