Having just released a new song and with an album scheduled for release in the next six months, Thomas Truax is having a busy year. At the moment he’s raising funds for the album through Pledge Music, a fan-funded project, whilst continuing to be a multi-talented instrumentalist. MTTM caught up with him to discuss his latest ventures.
MTTM: How much has your music been influenced by your time in New York’s antifolk movement?
Thomas Truax: It’s definitely had an influence, most importantly in that the main energy in that scene was directed towards encouraging to do your own thing, to just get up there and do it even if you weren’t a master-musician or developed talent. This was unusual in New York City where the more common message is “if you’re not the best, you’re not good enough for us.” It was a nurturing environment for new acts and a good platform to try new ideas. However, it wasn’t all exciting and wonderful. There were also a lot of singer-songwriter types passing through those antihoots that were just strumming acoustic guitars and doing poor Jeff Buckley imitations. That also had an influence on me in that I felt the best thing I could do for the bored audience after a string of those was to come on with some crazy invention like my ‘Hornicator’ and liven things up a bit. That worked, and it made me realize the value of ‘thinking outside the box’, creating songs outside the confines of what you might call the songwriter’s typical toolbox.
MTTM: Where do you draw inspiration from for your songs?
TT: Everywhere. I’ve written a quite a few songs about insects, and astral subjects like the moon and stars make a lot of appearances, as does the sea and the weather – All very natural, musically inspirational things. But then technology rears its head as a recurring subject matter, all these rhythmic mechanical things bombarding us all the time. I also just look at basic human dilemmas, and at personal relationships with which I’m struggling, and loneliness. Sometimes when you’re feeling most trapped or lost, that’s when the music steps in.
MTTM: Why did you start making your own musical instruments?
TT: Partly because I was bored with the status quo. Instruments that you buy have been developed and refined and sound beautiful, but if a New York club books six acts a night, one after the other, and it’s always bass, guitar and drums, you start to hunger for the sound of a spring-doorstop being plucked. Or at least I did. So that’s why there’s one of those on my instrument ‘the Stringaling’. There’s something seductive about sounds you’re not used to hearing in a song context. Even if it’s not such a pretty sound, peoples ears prick up and they say ‘What’s that?’ when they hear an unusual sound.
Obviously great and imaginative use is being made of this in electronic music with samples and such now, but in a live setting I like to see what’s making those unusual sounds. And I like to play and build things, I always have.
MTTM: Your instruments are made from a wide range of materials, what is the strangest material you have used?
TT: Probably Amanda Palmer’s scraped-off vocal nodes that she donated to me to incorporate into an instrument.
MTTM: Your website says there are more instruments in the works, can you give us a hint as to what to expect from your next creation?
TT: I’m liking the idea of using fish scales to play scales, so I’m looking for the largest fish scales I can find.
MTTM: Do you have any tips for budding inventors or musicians?
TT: Don’t get too overly caught up on the business side and developing your ‘profile’, all that is supposed to reflect something genuine underneath. Go down to the riverside and look into that water and ask yourself “What really turns me on” and work with that. Expect to fail ten times for every one time you succeed. If you use a loop pedal, use it in moderation. A flatted-fifth chord through a distortion pedal will hook them every time, even though they may not look happy on the outside.
MTTM: What prompted you to start your ‘Twelve Tracks/Twelve Months’ project?
TT: I started looking at how my traditionally released albums always contained a certain number of songs that were like time capsules of a particular time of the year. For example lets use an analogy: a photo taken in August might have someone in shorts in the sunshine. When lumped in with the other songs and released at a certain date – let’s say your August photo comes out with the album in January and it’s cold and snowing- it can feel a little out of place. In thinking about this, and looking at this new potential immediacy that releasing something fast on the internet allows, I thought it seemed a good idea to release songs very soon after they’d “happened”, so that they still fit into the feel of the time at which they’d been created. Maybe it’s a little like blogging with songs. I decided to call it ‘Monthly Journal’ because at the end of the year I’ll have a kind of twelve-entry collection of pieces that document, in a way, a year in a life experienced in 2011, and twelve songs are just about right for a proper album.
MTTM: Do you have any plans to release a new album soon?
TT: Well, the previous question kind of touches on that, in that I will release the Monthly Journal as a full album (with a hard copy version available) in January of next year. Currently I’ve started a fan-funding Pledge Music drive to help realize its completion.
Thomas’ Pledge Music page can be found here