American artist Thomas Truax is playing at the Fulford Arms, Wednesday 18th May. We caught up with him to discuss his American roots, touring and creating his instruments.
By Jane Howkins
You’re currently embarking on a pretty extensive tour of England at the moment, how are you finding it?
I’m really enjoying it, I still get nervous about performing but I feel I’m finding some new level of relaxing and melding into the songs themselves on stage. My audience have so far been very generous giving me their full attention. Either that or I’m putting them to sleep.
You’re from America, how do you find the gigs compare between the two countries?
Well, I haven’t been touring America as extensively as I used to, but I did just play a show in New York and though I enjoyed it a lot I’ve always felt intuitively that my American audiences are a little more critical and maybe having less fun. That might just be me, but in the US it’s more like: “Wow, you are really stubborn to keep struggling to make a living at this.” While in Britain and the Continent people tend to say things like “Please keep doing this, we’re so happy you keep coming back!”
What would you say has been the best gig you’ve ever done, and why?
It would be hard to single out just one. For the most part the last few have been the best, because even after more than a thousand shows, I never stop looking for some new little way things could be even better or more enjoyable for both the audience and myself next time.
You emerged as part of the anti-folk movement in New York, which is obviously a very creative city. What is the music scene like there?
I played the Sidewalk Cafe open mic in New York a lot when I started doing what developed into what I do now, which is loosely where the ‘antifolk’ thing centered, and found it to be encouraging and supportive. But it wasn’t so much a common musical thread as just a lot of singer/songwriters and some bands all doing their own thing. That may have been the closest thing I saw to any sort of what you might call a scene in NYC. It’s a question I commonly get asked, but I never came across many bona fide scenes in that city. I’ve never really felt part of one, or wanted to be part of one. Many of my friends there and I have discussed this, it’s a common question, ‘what’s the NY scene like’ and we always tend to agree, there really isn’t one. Certainly not one scene that encompasses all that goes on there.
You’ve been linked with the Steampunk movement, perhaps due to your inventiveness when it comes to music. Is Steampunk a big influence for you?
I had never heard of Steampunk until I’d been doing my ‘solo’ thing with the instruments and such for a couple of years. I understand why steampunks like what I do and I see what’s in common; mainly that I build my own things and some of them are made of old brass pieces that reflect that victorian era. That is: gramophone horns, as in the one I used for my instrument, the Hornicator, or the Saxogramophone. But aside from that, I do all kinds of things that wouldn’t fit into that necessarily. I’ve met a lot of steampunks, they are imaginative and don’t take themselves seriously, and the events I’ve been asked to perform at that are ‘Steampunk’ events have been really enjoyable, but I don’t really align myself with any scene or movement like that.
You’re known for making your own instruments and using them within your work, how did you first start doing that?
I was involved in bands before I went ‘solo’, and I got tired of members quitting after long investments in time and planning, or just not showing up for rehearsal or letting you down for the millions of other reasons that come up, so one day I decided ‘fuck this, I’ll just build my own drummer’.
What’s your favourite instrument you’ve made, and why?
They’re all like family members, it would be unfair for me to choose one over the other. But my third and current drum machine Mother Superior and I have a good relationship, and I wouldn’t dare go on tour without my Hornicator in tow.
Do you manage to bring many on tour with you, and is hard to get them all assembled when on the road?
I have 5 or 6 that I can fit into the car. I have long sound checks and many of my days ‘off’ between shows are spent repairing one thing or another. There is a price to pay.
Do you have any plans for any new instruments for the future?
Yes. But I don’t know what they’re going to be until I start building them.
Who/what would you say you are most influenced by? Is there anyone you recommend our readers check out?
It may be that the biggest influence comes in trying to counter-balance the fact that in the last few decades things have become less and less tactile, more computer-based and virtual, music is more electronic, and so forth. I like to touch things, solid things. To see what happens when you bang that against that, or pluck that, and so on. To move around and sing and try to create communal experiences in rooms full of sound, where you can see what is really making that sound, whether it be a guitar or a drum machine made of bicycle wheels and hubcaps.
Why do you think someone should come and see you perform, and what can one expect from a Thomas Truax show?
Some laughter, some tears, and probably a few unexpected things.
Any last words for the fans?
I am really grateful that I do have some fans out there. The size of my audiences vary quite a bit from city to city. I have a great appreciation for people that are willing to come out of the comfort of their houses and take chances on original live music.