Q & A with Trans AM

In 2002, Trans AM released T.A. on Thrill Jockey Records. The album was panned by many critics and seen as a deviation from the standard Trans AM sound, due in part to vocals being featured on every track. The record prompted one Pitchfork reviewer to write “I’m not sure exactly what’s happened here– has Trans Am changed or have I? TA is, by some margin, the band’s worst record.”

Trans AM followed up T.A. with Liberation, a politically charged album without any lyrical content. The album was better received by critics and Trans AM fans, but still had people scratching their heads because Trans AM had released a “serious album”.

Seen as a sign of union, not division and largely considered a “safe” album, 2007’s Sex Change assuaged fans’ worries that the band was moving in directions they didn’t understand.

Here’s a few quick questions and answers with Washington, DC’s Trans AM:

When Trans AM were last in Halifax in 1997 (for the Halifax Pop Explosion), there were reports that they drove gearheads nuts by putting duct tape over the names of their keyboards. Was this a regular occurrence for Trans Am? Why?

Yeah. Companies obviously place their brands prominently on their
instruments. It looks cheesy. We pay for the gear and then advertise
it on stage for free? Bad deal. A band’s gear looks much cooler with
brands mostly eliminated. So tape over it! Or at least demand some
free gear to advertise it. (We have no endorsements.)

What would Trans AM change about the last three albums; T.A. (2001),
Liberation (2004) and Sex Change (2007)?

They were fine, but multiplying the sales figures by ten might have
been a good start. I think we could have done some things better, but
each album has its own area and time and place. We’re not too
precious about our “work” – we’ve got eight albums, so a few stinkers
is OK. It’s the only way to get anywhere new.

Was T.A. received the way it should have been?

Again, we were trying to make an 80’s pop record just before
electroclash really exploded and people figured out what they wanted
to remember the 80’s as. Our album is not as cohesive as I’d like. It
was also completed right after 9-11 which kind of put the “party all
the time” vibe in a weird light. But in retrospect, maybe more
partying and less fear would have been the “responsible” decision.

Does Trans AM, themselves, consider Sex Change a “return to form”?

Well, we didn’t do anything but try to make a Trans Am record, so
maybe in that way, yes.

Is it frustrating creatively to have critics/reviewer/fans decide
what is and isn’t Trans AM’s form?

We’re past that. We know what we sound like, sort of. I guess I’m
glad that a “return to form” is a positive.

Will there ever be another Trans AM/Fucking Champs project?

Well, we could easily do stuff with those guys, but The Champs aren’t
really an active band.


What is one thing about returning to Halifax after more than years
that excites Trans AM?

We’re hoping for the coldest and darkest Halloween ever. Also, our
second show at that festival we played last time was one of the few
where I remember us really getting our asses kicked by another band.
It was the afternoon, we were in poor form and the Mooney Suzuki
wiped the floor with us. So I’d like to get that taste out of my
mouth.

Trans AM play the Marquee this Friday October 31st with Grand Theft Bus and the Jimmy Swift Band.

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Halifax Podcast Explosion

CBC Radio 3 has posted a podcast of Saturday night’s Marquee show featuring The Ruby Coast, The Got to Get Got, Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains, and Islands.

The Got to Get Got play Tenerife around 16:30 into the podcast and Let’s Roll Around Our Graves and Get Dirty in the Afterlife around 22:36.

Here’s a creepy video of Mark Mullane:
TGTGG – Blood Test

The Hour Blog Marred By Poor Writing

Last year, Jess Watt and Jenn Good covered the Halifax Pop Explosion for CBC’s The Hour and man did they hate Windom Earle:

Windom Earle, or as I like to call it, possibly the worst band I’ve ever heard. A never ending interlude of repeated chords that never found a hook, or a chorus and never really ended until a much appreciated break for some Bon Jovi Karaoke in the middle of the set. Their big song beef chowmein, apparently a local favourite made me hungry and wishing I was eating that instead of listening to this. It was band camp gone wild up there; the sax player who was to his credit playing like it was life or death, almost took himself out with the sax and ended up air-guitaring… on his sax. That kinda sums it up really. Windom – Playing long and loud doesn’t make it sound any better, although bonus points for the cowbell.

Please consider that this is from a pair whose musical taste is suspect to begin with:

As someone who loves, understands and constantly defends The Killers, who are one of the best bands of our time

This year, Jess Watt, with a year of covering superlative festivals like V Fest, Edgefest, the Vans Warped Tour and NXNE under her belt, came back to Halifax, stayed for three days,took some terrible photos, saw about 10% of the bands and declared that the festival had fizzled.

Watt, admittedly, missed out on most of the headliners including: GZA, Holy Fuck, The Inbreds, Monotonix, Josh Ritter, and Jay Reatard. I can understand that she didn’t arrive until Thursday thus missing out on Jay Reatard, Josh Ritter and the Monotonix, but how the hell could you skip out on the Brutal Knights, the Endless Blockade and the GZA?

What is most puzzling are the comments that the Pop Explosion fizzled and was “marred by poor attendance and bad venues”. I can’t prove or disprove the attendance comments, only knowing that the Gus’s Pub shows all did incredibly well, Josh Ritter sold out and there was a healthy and energetic turnout for Jay Reatard. I don’t need to disprove the bad venues comment. Watt does that on her lonesome.

If there were so many performance marred by bad venues, why write:

Already going into The Seahorse I knew this was going to be a good show. Boston’s Scarce admittedly have a very warm place in my heart.

Not to mention the sexual tension in a few of their songs. Wow, the room was heating up.

or

Saturday night…the finale of the Pop Explosion. What better place to end off the weekend, then at the best venue in Halifax, The Marquee, with CBC Radio 3 presenting and transmitting live.
Locals, The Got To Get Got kicked off our night, playing with a full band, in full form.

or, better still…

First stop, the legendary Gus’ Pub on Agricola Street. Though out of the downtown core, Gus’ Pub felt like home, full of unknown to me, though friendly folk. The bartenders embraced our requests for local brew, Moosehead Dry. Introduced as being from, ‘just up the street from the pub’

I must be missing something.

Reading through Watt’s review of the Pop Explosion, you get the feeling that she enjoyed the festival more than she wants to let on. Scarce, the Got to Get Got, the Stance, Ghettosocks, Sebastien Grainger and the Mountains all receive rave reviews in the entry, so what exactly fizzled about this year’s Pop Explosion? Could it possibly be you showing up in the middle of it and missing great sets by bands like Vkngs, Statues, Horses, Attack Mode and Retribution Gospel Choir?

You can’t blame this one on Windom Earle, you missed their set too.

HPX 08 Highlights

Starting HPX with Jay Reatard set the bar high for memorable performances, but the energy of that show was maintained throughout the week at most of the shows I went to.

I was unprepared for The Monotonix insane antics at Gus’ Pub on Wednesday. The show was inspiring and their chaotic crowd participation put smiles on a lot of faces in the crowd. So many highlights from this show, but luckily I managed to capture one of my favourite moments – an impromptu street party outside Gus’ Pub around 1:30 am that ends with a stage dive off a traffic light:

We played at the Marquee on Thursday with Instruments, Murder Sounds and Holy Fuck. It was a joy to share the stage with those bands, and we managed to have an awesome set thanks to an audience armed with 20 dodgeballs, and a wireless keytar.

photo by Scott Blackburn

photo by Scott Blackburn

Friday I did sound at the North St Church for the 6015 Willow St DVD launch. Play Guitar sounded great with Jef Simmons on drums. The Maynards played a lot of great new songs from their upcoming album. The Got To Get Got did a stripped down set. VKNGS were loud and awesome. This guy liked them so much, he did a cart wheel in front of the sound board:

Goth

Photo by Rebecca Young

I rushed over to the Marquee to catch Ghettosocks and The Gza expecting it to be sold out. It wasn’t. Ghettosocks was great and DJ Cosmo demonstrated why he won the DJ Olympics. The GZA was disappointing. He was sorely lacking a hype man to finish his lines for him. Things picked up when he jumped into the audience, but it must have taken a lot of energy out of him because he sat on a stool for much of the remainder of his set. He seemed a bit confused and tired.

Saturday started off great with manwiches and music courtesy of Just Friends/Let’s Get Baked at Gus’ Pub. The bar was packed, and Mike Evin was working the crowd with his gospel pop. After finishing breakfast, I headed to the Zine fair which was also packed. Great selection of zines and posters, as well as tarot card readings, caricature artists, and crafts.

I popped into the Pavillion to see Special Noise play a great set then headed to the Music Room for a sound check. I was lucky enough to be doing sound at a venue with the best acoustics in the city for some of the nicest acts of the festival.

Brian Borcherdt was playing his first solo show in months. Ever since his side project, Holy Fuck, started taking off, he has barely had a chance to sing or play a guitar. So this show was a treat to the sold out audience. Polaris-prize nominee, Basia Bulat, headlined the show playing autoharp, ukulele, a Steinway piano, and acoustic guitar. She rocked the autoharp and charmed the crowd.

Afterwards I checked out Islands at the Marquee. This show was packed and Grant Lawrence did a great job hyping the crowd introducing the bands. I wasn’t really into Islands’ newer material, but the tracks off Return to the Sea had everyone singing along.