If you want to irritate Brian Transeau just ask him how he feels about being compared to Beethoven. “That’s a little unrealistic. Ask me that question in fifty years.” Consider the fact that this boy was hammering out classical music on a piano before first grade, and you’ll understand how some poor fool came up with that analogy whilst slogging away at flyers for the recent show at Orlando’s Club at Firestone with Crystal Method. Subsequent exposure to parental preferences ranging from soul to funk to folk, swiftly followed by his discovery of early electronica, hardcore, and the eventual revelation of jazz, completed BT’s musical education. By collecting assorted sound bytes and inspiration in locales as diverse as the hills of Cumbria and a tunnel in the woods, this unassuming, spiritual, and very personable man has developed a knack of touching “that spot on your spine where goosebumps are born.” Not ambient, not techno, not jazz, not classical, yet somehow combining elements of each to create the potion that can guide one’s body through the opening of one’s mind. We began with an aural encounter.
On a scale of wild man to tame man, where do you fit?
That depends on the circumstance. I think I’d put myself more towards the wild end of the scale. On a daily, chilling out basis, half way in between, but I can get really crazy at times.
What appeals to you most when you listen to music?
Emotion. That’s what appeals to me in any art form. I can be drawn in by different things, but if you look at a beautiful Van Gogh painting, or listen to Paganini or Rachmaninoff, the thing that they share is their emotiveness. It’s as if the person that was the vehicle for that piece of artwork would have burst at the seams if they hadn’t made it.
Does inspiration hit you like a bolt of lightning, or is there more method to the process?
Sometimes I’ll carry a melody around with me for a couple of months, and I’ll think “I have to get to a piano or an acoustic guitar in five seconds or I’m in big trouble.” Or I’ll have something in my head, and think that it’s someone else’s and copy written and that I’m just borrowing it. With “Flaming June,” I had that one in my head for two and a half months. I was just walking around singing it to myself until I realized it was something I needed to pursue, so I finally went to the studio and recorded it.
What triggers creativity for you?
Things of natural origin. When I’m doing something like we’re doing right now, I feel like a big sponge that’s slowly wringing itself out. My way of returning to being a spongeful of water again is to go for a nice walk in the woods. That’s why I choose to live in a beautiful, natural place. My record label’s been trying to twist my arm for three years to move to London. I love going to visit, but I’m a country boy. I live in a town with sixty-eight people, beautiful woods to walk through, and deer sleeping in my yard. I really miss it when I’m not there.
So you’ve spent a lot of time in the UK?
Forty-three or 44 times in the past year. I like going and working there, and the big crowds at the shows are mental. It’s amazing. It puts things back in perspective and makes me realize how lucky we are in this country. If I had money like Bill Gates, I’d buy everyone a ticket to anywhere but America for a couple of weeks, and let them see how fortunate we are. We bitch and whine and moan about the most unbelievable things, but when you go to a place like England, you begin to appreciate that we have working dishwashers and showers, and we don’t put butter and mayonnaise on the same sandwich. This country rules, and traveling has made me very patriotic.
What’s had the most influence on you from all those trips?
I’ve been exposed to such interesting music, musicians, people, and some really cool places, like Cornwall. I have a friend there who’s taken me on these nature walks and by the end of it we’ll have eaten a salad. Wild garlic, wild spinach and broccoli.
Do you have a favorite pub?
There’s a good one by a big church, but I can’t think of the name. I have a favorite name for one though – The Catherine Wheel. I think that’s a really cool name for a pub.
Yes, or for a band. What do you drink there?
Every once in a while I’ll have a good English lager, but my favorite drink is red wine.
What would be your ideal recording conditions?
Where I am, really. I built a little studio at my house in rural Maryland on 25 acres of beautiful wooded land. My neighbors have horses, so if I get stressed out I can grab some carrots and apples and go feed the horses. I’m in the ideal place right now – my dream set up.
What pisses you off?
Technical problems and not being close to a gym.
You seem to be getting more commercial exposure than some of your peers. Do you see that as a positive or a negative?
I’m not one of the people who subscribes to the elitist underground mentality. I think that anything good should be heard or seen. I want people to know what I’m doing. When you’re 15 years old and you find this little secret that’s special to you, it spoils it when others find out about it. That seems selfish to me. There’s also a big difference between being fairly altruistic about your work, true to what you do, and being a cheeseball and selling out. Prodigy’s a fine example. Those guys have been around ten years, and they’re doing what they’ve been doing all the time. Now people know about it, but I still have the utmost respect for their work.
Sometimes artists can grow in new directions, like David Bowie or Brian Eno, who seem to transcend through the ages with whatever they’ve picked up along the way.
That’s what I’m trying to do at the moment. I was discouraged from making ESCM, the album I’ve just made. They wanted me to regurgitate my first record. I could have done that in my sleep, but I wanted to keep growing. This was a scary record for me – it was like putting myself out there. Ima shows one facet of where I’m at both musically and personally, and I love that album, but this record was a lot more revealing. There’s things I didn’t even touch on the first album, and I’m overwhelmed by the response.
It’ll be interesting to see what you do next.
I’m already on it. I’m a good four or five tracks into the next album. I’ve been running around with my new mini-digital video camera, because we’re making the next album an enhanced CD. I was skiing a double black diamond run in Sundance and I broke it, but I’m getting it fixed.
What do you want to do that you haven’t done yet?
Hike Kilimanjaro, jump out of an airplane, regular bungee jump. I’ve inverse bungee jumped – where they tie you down and you fly up in the air. Have you ever tried that? It’s scary but not as scary as jumping off something really tall. I want to make at least ten albums. That’s a brief list.
Ok, so what’s the best thing you ever done?
(fast forward to the show at Firestone in Orlando) The house is full. The crowd is wild. The vibe is good.
So do you have an answer to that last question?
Yeah! The best thing I’ve ever done? Here, tonight. This is it!
Aw shucks, Brian. I bet you say that to all the girls.