INTERVIEW: BT (2013)
Producer, artist, and tech guru Brian Transeau stands alone as one of the most unique visionaries in the electronic dance music world. Spanning nearly twenty years, his music has reached the worlds of clubs, radio, TV, movies, and video games. His new album A Song Across Wires is probably his most accessible to date, inspired by the current sounds of electronic dance music as filtered through his creative mind and rendered by his futuristic production techniques.
Ron Slomowicz: I have listened to your new album a couple of different times and it feels like I am at a festival, hearing all the big records at once – but really well-produced.
Brian Transeau (BT): Awesome, I really love hearing that. Honestly, it is the first time in years that I have been really inspired by dance music and I feel like this record is one that my fans have wanted me to make for years and I just wasn’t ready to. In this moment, I am deeply inspired by what is actually happening in dance music. It feels so good to hear that, I feel the same way and I can’t wait to share this record with my fans and peers.
RS: I have noticed that the big name DJs seem to do a pattern where they put out a big, banging club track, then a pretty song with vocals, then a banging club track- and it seems like you did that with both albums. You seem to do an esoteric, kind of ambient soundscape album, then a big well-produced vocal album, is that your pattern?
BT: That is a really cool observation and it is certainly not calculated, but I need to reevaluate my body of work based on that. There is definitely a seasonal thing to what I do, being that I go through cycles of inspiration where different types of things inspire me. For This Binary Universe it was being a new dad, discovering circuit banging, and writing and scripting a code for These Hopeful Machines. It was the same thing for This Binary Universe and A Song Across Wires, they were deeply inspired by the current dance music culture. You know how people have themed parties; it is the same with my albums, they are definitely themed. The themes are what’s inspiring me at that moment. I need to think about what you said and look at my work, though, because you are probably right and I am very impressed.
RS: I You are also doing it with the singles, because “Veroeren” was out there, then you had the pop vocal with Nadia Ali, and then “Skylarking” is kind of out there as well, and then the next one is the vocal with Aqualung, the pattern is there.
BT: You are right, I love it.
RS: Speaking about “Skylarking,” were you involved with the remixes of it with Ilan Bluestone and Maor Levi, or did someone else come up with those guys?
BT: Absolutely. Something about me that is sometimes good and sometimes bad is that I am hyperinvolved in everything. This is a true story, I was in between managers at the time of These Hopeful Machines and the manager that I was working with said to me, just let the record come out and don’t do anything and start with your new record; nothing is going to happen with it, the label doesn’t have the infrastructure to accommodate how profoundly good this record is. I said, “fuck that,” I was literally on roller blades going up the street from Nettwerk to the bakery and bought two dozen cupcakes and led marketing meetings. The point of that story is that I am hyperinvolved, especially with my graphic artist Gavin; we worked on the new logo for two months and I was involved in every single bevel and angle of it. I am always involved with the artwork, remixes, music videos, and sometimes do the editing myself. The whole point is that I love Maor and llan’s work, I picked them and approached them myself and they killed it! I can’t even tell you how happy I was with their remixes- first of all they are both really nice guys and both coming up, so it’s been cool to work with guys that are just starting to blow up. Secondly, they did a phenomenal job and I think that they really understood and felt the song and that doesn’t happen all the time. It’s more frequently than not that a remix is a paycheck between gigs, but these guys really got inside of the composition and did something special with it, I am really proud of what they did.
RS: Speaking of new talent, you worked with Arty and tyDi, two other up-and-comers, how did you choose them out of all the other people out there?
BT: A lot of people that I hang out with as peers or mentor to are people whose work I like. I remember years ago finding Skrillex on MySpace when he put up his demos, two years before he put out his first EP, and I approached him and we have had a friendly rapport ever since. It is all about finding cool music- if the people that make the music are cool themselves, then I have a lot to share, I am kind of in a band now and I like collaborating and making tracks with my people. That’s kind of how it usually works. Arty and tyDi are people that I knew and talked with when they were doing demos, it is awesome to involve people that are super-talented and may or may not be well known. I love it and it’s exciting.
RS: I have a really geeky question for you, I noticed that your song “Love Devine” is spelled devine, is that tribute to Richard Devine?
BT: Well, I don’t know. You’ll have to speculate on that, I will say that Richard and his wife are really important people to both of us and I love them. Nothing gets past you, does it?
RS: I work hard. Is Christian the vocalist on “Love Devine?”
BT: Christian and I wrote that together, but I sang it.
RS: Is it a challenge to work with your own vocals?
BT: Yeah, honestly it is. I really like writing male vocal songs with Christian and we have a great rhythm for doing it. His voice is so high, I mean so high, and usually the chorus just slips up to into super high vocal range. The biggest challenge is when I have to do the vocals because they are super high.
RS: Speaking about challenges, was it difficult to work with non-English vocals like with Bada on “City Life”?
BT: That was an amazing experience and I would like to do a lot more of that. I have always wanted to write non- English music, and when I was approached to do it with Bada, whose voice I love and knew about from performing in Korea so many times, I was thrilled. When we got together at first, she said that she wanted to write the song and then learn and sing it in English, but I was like “no, you have to sing it in Korean.” The song was so beautiful in Korean; my mom heard the song and was singing the lyrics back in Korean. It’s super-catchy. That is the cool thing with music and language, it doesn’t matter what language something is spoken in, when it is sung you can feel it, you don’t need to know what the lyrics are, and you can still understand the feeling. Does that make sense, it is a universal language…
RS: Makes perfect sense. I want to go back to something you just said, you mentioned that you were working with a band, what is going on with that?
BT: It is semi-known knowledge that Christian and I started a band and over the last three years I have recorded five hours of music which is an absolute record for me. I have recorded and released Morceau Subrosa, If the Stars are Eternal So are You and I, A Song Across Wires, and a bunch of singles and remixes. Christian and I are making a project called “All Hail The Silence” and we are actually almost done with an album that is truly a band. We wrote a handful of songs that we didn’t know what to do with that didn’t fit either one of our records or for the people that we wrote them for. We decided to make an actual band, not some DJ/singer project or a side project but an actual band that has its own aesthetic. The record sounds like it fell directly out of 1983 and 1984, there were no computers used. I wrote all of the music and Christian wrote and sang all of the lyrics. It is like an ’80s duo in the sense of having an Human League, Erasure, Bronski Beat, Cabaret Voltaire, early Depeche Mode, New Order sound, it literally sounds like a record from 1983, and it’s crazy.
RS: Awesome, I love synthpop! I remember a while back you said that you were not a DJ and you were one of the first people to perform with a laptop. Listening to the album and the transition from “Vervoeren” into “Calling Your Name,” I am wondering if that going to be what you are going to be doing with your live shows, or is that what we can expect to hear?
BT: Yeah somewhat, that is actually a mix that works really well and I have only played that once but the reaction to it was amazing. I have sort of softened on my position of being a DJ in that I feel like I was in an early generation of people doing that, the lines have blurred now to an extent that if you are playing electronic music live, people look at that and call that DJing and I am okay with that. It used to be that if someone saw that you were using a laptop people were like “what the hell are you doing?” I was performing with an alpha version of Ableton Live before it was used for what we now call, colloquially, DJing. It was weird when people would see you with a computer; I performed with synths and drum machines for years and years and I was an early adopter with using a computer. When I started, it just made things a lot more live. I would say that I have softened on my position quite a bit, but I still consider what I do live electronic music and sometimes it is like live remixing.
RS: When you do a song like “Must Be The Love,” do you think to yourself “wow, this is going to be a huge hit”?
BT: You know what’s weird about that song is when we started it, we wanted to make something and see how moving it could be. I think that a lot of people, even EDM people plan and set up to make an absolute weapon, but when I write songs I think about how I can make a song that has so much feeling in it but translates into a piece of dance music. When that record was done and I heard it, I was wowed and knew that it was an exceptional piece of music. You never know how people are going to receive it, but I knew that it was going to be a big deal because the feeling part of it gave me a massive feeling in the middle of my chest. Sure enough, it came off really hard in front of thousands of people. It is never really the angle, for example, with “Skylarking” I listened to that track and it wasn’t a really big track to me. When I put it on the album I felt like it was a beautiful, one-feeling-for-ten-minutes, uplifting, progressive slow piece of trance music with no drop, but when it was received the way that it was by people and my peers I was blown away. Some of the music now has a huge build and a huge drop and that song doesn’t have that, it has a beautiful rolling feeling, but the way that people responded to it was as if it was a piece that had massive drops, it was a pleasant surprise. At the end of the day I am just trying to write music that has a lot of feeling and a lot of meaning that people are moved by.
RS: I see you as a pretty peaceful kind of dude and very spiritual almost, I was kind of shocked by the whole Borgore thing that was going on on Twitter, can you talk about that?
BT: Absolutely, I will just give you a little morsel of it. Honestly, at the end of the day I am a father to a young daughter and I felt that his behavior, not just limited to him, but that his derogatory objectification of women is really negative and something that we don’t want in dance music and something that I don’t want to see happen to young girls. I felt the need to speak up about it, and interestingly a lot of really prominent artists reached out to me, some publicly and some privately, and thanked me and agreed that they didn’t like what was going on but were afraid to say something. I like to say things truthfully, whether they are positive or negative, and when it comes to the glorification of objectifying women I don’t agree. I am not talking about women celebrating their sexuality at all and it’s not from a superpuritanical moralistic world view. I happen to love people celebrating their sexuality, people were actually having sex in the audience at one of my shows in Philadelphia and I don’t care, express yourself and that’s good with me. What I don’t like is when there is one person in power standing over someone that is being objectified and being made to feel like an object. That is not good, and so I felt the need to say something.
RS: A long-term fan wanted me to ask you what ever happened to the Vincent Covello album.
BT: Oh my God, first of all thanks for that question and secondly I don’t know and I need to know. Vince is someone that is a very private person and we fall in and out of touch over a course of years, I haven’t spoken to him in a while and I need to know that myself. I love his voice and his songs so much I can’t even tell you, I am going to be out his way this weekend and you have inspired me to get a hold of him.
RS: What happened to the “Alien” and “Catch Me” songs that you did with Plumb?
BT: That’s a good question and I am impressed that you caught that. Basically we wrote a song and couldn’t meet in the middle, it was BS business stuff and so it didn’t happen. It stinks, because I love Plumb’s voice. She has that whole Nashville old school thing around her where she has like three managers, five label people, and two attorneys, and it’s like “who am I talking to,” it is like doing an interview at Xerox or something. It is a slow-moving wheel and we weren’t able to get it all worked out in time, I love her voice and I hope that I can do something with her in the future.
RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
BT: I would like to give a tremendous heartfelt thank you for supporting me so that I can do what I love. I think that they are going to love this album, it’s a record that they have asked me to make for a long time and I just wasn’t ready. I hope they enjoy it.
Interview conducted July 2013.