Building a reputation


first_imgThink of the one-man band and if you’re like me you’ll think of Dick van Dyke’s Bert in Mary Poppins, stamping and flapping his way around the streets of London. Chances are youwon’t think of Thomas Truax. But you should. Having just played atGlastonbury this year for four nights in a row in the Lost VaguenessChapel, the eerily voiced troubadour hit Oxford on Tuesday and onWednesday night was featured on Radio One in a one-man band special.And this one-man band is special. “I was just fed up of working withlive drummers” he drawls, “it kind of came about organically”. Truax decided that as asubstitute for unreliable bandmates and to fulfil his musical needs,he’d design and construct his own instruments. And these are no normalinstruments, but rather the Cadillac Beatspinner Wheel, the Hornicator,the Backbeater and his latest addition, Sister Spinster.“She’s retired actually”, he says lovingly of the Cadillac BeatspinnerWheel, a “Flintstones-era drum machine” whose primary feature is asmall motorised bicycle wheel that rotates, clacking, clanking andchiming its way past various musicaladornments on its frame. In fact she’s been usurped, her throne takenby Sister Spinster, a similar but smaller contraption. “I made SisterSpinster mainly because she can fit on an aeroplane,” Truax explains,although it’s hard to imagine the faces of airport security staff backhome at JFK Airport in New York, especially when Truax’ luggage alsocontains the Hornicator, a modifiedgramophone horn with strings and microphones that twang and sqeak withvarious other-worldly noises, and the Backbeater, a multi-prongedbackpack that flaps and snaps in rhythm. I ask Truax if theseprehistoric solutions to the one-man act problem are a reaction againstthe digital and synthesised age. “I haven’t made it a rule that I’llnever do something with a laptop,” he replies, “but it can be anunsatisfying live experience to see somebody bending over theircomputer. I try to think of what would interest me if I were in theaudience”. And it works. In the endless parade of sharp-suited,sharp-riffed and synthesised bands that plague modern music, jaws dropwhen anything as original as Thomas Truax strolls up on stage. “I liketo see where the sounds are coming from,” he says, and withoutrealising it, the audience find that they do too.But this is no straight novelty act either. This isn’t a mandesperately crying “Look at me, I’m wacky”. There’s music here too.Often rich in lyrics, Truax’ sound ranges from “dark, romanticlullabies to lively rock melodramas” and he is seen as part of the NewYork based ‘antifolk’ movement that prizes honesty, integrity andoriginality above everything else. “Personally, I try to steer awayfrom any specific labels,” he emphasises, “but the antifolk scene doesn’t really define a particular sound or even a particular approach”. Truax’ ghostly and mysterious tales hook the ear with theirmelody and the mind with their words, calling for references to CaptainBeefheart’s originality coupled with Tom Waits’ narrative abilities.But Truax’ creative drive isn’t limited to music. For several years hewas a stop-motion animator for MTV’s ‘Celebrity Deathmatch’ and hisdedicated fanbase is kept up to date through the Wowtown News, asporadic e-mail newsletter detailing the latest happenings in Truax’own fictional world, Wowtown. “I was brought up in Denver,” heexplains, “and it’s known as ‘Cow Town’. So Wowtown was my ideal placeto escape from the Cow Town”. In fact, the success of these stories alone has ledto requests from London’s Resonance FM for Truax to do an hour-longshow based upon them. “They wanted me to do it off the top of my head,”he says, “but I kind of have to be in the right mood for that, so Irecorded some stories with sound-effects and music”.With a smile he adds, “I’m one of those people who just bites off more than they can chew”.Nevertheless, things seem to be going from strength to strength forTruax. “The crowds keep building each time I go to a town,” he statesmatter-of-factly and he’s extremely modest about a recent NME articlebranding him as achieving “musical godhood”. Certainly, the interest iskindled by the unique gadgets and contraptions surrounding him onstage, but it’s the songs that charm you and regardless of whatevergimmicks surround them, a good song never loses its novelty.ARCHIVE: 2nd week MT 2005last_img

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