There are few announcements that could have got our new year off to a brighter start than news of new album from musician, inventor of bizarre instruments and teller of strange stories Thomas Truax. Couple that with a UK tour, including a launch date at one of our favourite London venues, The Lexington, and we’ve started 2023 with a spring in our step and a smile on our faces.
Walking into a tent at Truck Festival in 2004 to be faced with an array of mechanical contraptions and watching the beautiful craziness that then unfolded as surreal tales were spun of the goings on in a weird world populated with talking animals known as Wowtown, is one of those musical memories that is forever etched into my hippocampus. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Thomas and his band of self-invented instruments since then but each show has been special, with the familiar thrill of old favourites combined with a new and wonderful surprise every time – a bit like a Kinder Egg if the shell was made by Willy Wonka and the toys designed by Salvador Dali. If you’ve yet to have that first Truax encounter, you’re in for a multi-sensory treat like no other.
The album, Dream Catching Songs, due for release on 20th January via the ever lovely Blang Records, features live drums from Budgie (Siouxsie & The Banshees / The Creatures) alongside his regular mechanical beat-keeper Mother Superior and promises to be an early contender for my album of the year. Thomas will be heading out on tour to promote the album starting at The Moon in Cardiff on 18th January (alongside long-term Joyzine favourite Pagan Wanderer Lu) and continuing around the UK until a final show at Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms on 25th February. A special album launch show at The Lexington in London is scheduled for 21st January – a full list of dates can be found at the bottom of this article.
We caught up with Thomas to find out more about the new album, a new addition to his mechanical backing band and the Thomas Truax live experience.
1) A lot has happened in the world since your last album, 2018’s All That Heaven Allows, and the news cycle has seemed almost unrelentingly gloomy. What impact, if any, has the outside world had on this record?
A lot. There’s a dark streak through many of these songs, but lots of brightness as well. In the end there’s a recurring theme of hope. Sometimes I’m as mystified as the next person where this hope comes from, but I think it’s part of the nature and mystery of music itself. It lives somewhere beyond the intellect and has its own logic.
Some of the songs were half-finished before the pandemic/lockdown, but in all the introversion and reflection that happened during that time (much of which I was working on the album) their trajectories were twisted in new ways. For example, I was struggling with completing ‘Dream Catching Song’. There was a final blank space where nothing I tried was working, so it sat blank for quite some time. Then one day the desperate, probably very common thought ‘I just want to hug my friends again’ came to me in a period of loneliness, and it occurred to me suddenly that that was the missing line. An example of turning lemons into lemonade, you might say.
2) Though you’ve previously collaborated with other artists on individual tracks, this is the first time I’m aware of you recording a full album with another person – how did the collaboration with Budgie come about and how did it change your approach to this record?
Yes well, there’s a common saying in music circles: that an album is only as good as its drummer. I’m lucky that Mother Superior, my self-made mechanical drum machine, is always pretty rock-solid. But between you and me, at times she lacks the ‘human touch’.
So especially when recording, I like to bring that in, if its the right person. Brian Viglione (Dresden Dolls, Violent Femmes et al) guested on my last albums. Budgie and I met in Germany through our mutual friend Paul Wallfisch (amazing musician who played on some of my early albums) years ago at the Big Beast Festival. We hit it off talking over dinner. I’d been a fan of Budgie’s since I was a teenager but he hadn’t seen me play before.
After I played, he said he loved it – it surprised me a little that he especially loved Mother Superior (drummers often get weird about ‘bands’ with mechanical drummers – for obvious reasons I guess). There was another little fest in Germany where we were both on the bill and, actually it was in this tiny little underground Jazz club (the Jazz Keller in Krefeld) after I’d played where I think I first asked him if he would be up for doing something at some point and he was, though it was a year or two later that we finally managed it.
My approach wasn’t that much different than in the past, I brought in a few fully written songs and some others that were half finished and more that were just rough ideas, maybe just a beat on Mother S. with a minimal guitar riff, or something like that.
Budgie just did what he does best, dove in and played amazing drums. This was all just before the pandemic hit and though I was hoping to try and get together more, we were in different countries and I don’t think either of us have been extremely productive with, well, long-distance working, so it wound up more like me getting selfish with what we had down and crafting those into finished pieces over a long period. I’d send him stuff occasionally when I was stuck or just to make sure he didn’t strongly disapprove of some edit I’d made or something.
3) Can you introduce us to the instruments on the new LP? Are there any new additions?
New addition is Luna, another mechanical beat making contraption I’ve been working on for quite a few years now. But she features only in a few places, she’ll have more of a presence as she grows, she’s relatively still unfinished. Not that any of my machines are ever more than works-in-progress. But most of this album, like most of my records, are pretty traditional rock instruments at the core.
4) What inspires you to make music?
When it started it was the usual story: a way to impress girls and howl about the misery of teenage life. And because I had such difficulty being social. Now I’m married to my dream girl and she inspires me. I’m happier now but in a way I’m still howling about the misery of teenage life. My teenage self would be aghast.
5) If you could collaborate with any artist from any era, who would it be and what would you work on?
Aw man, I’d probably have to say Leonardo Da Vinci. I turn to his notebooks for inspiration a lot. He just seems to have a passion for so many things on so many levels. He’d be a giant, hovering over my little inventions. I’d be like “I’m so unworthy.” But when I got back from what would surely be a mind-boggling experience I’ll bet there’d be some improvements. And maybe a killer album too.
6) You’re launching the album with a show at The Lexington in London later this month – will Budgie be joining you for the performance? If not, how has the process of reworking the songs to perform without him been?
Yes, I’m excited about that show and the whole UK tour. And no, Budgie won’t be on for these, though we have been speaking about making something happen later in the year. He lives in Berlin and the logistics just didn’t pan out. Also I do have this reputation as a solo kind of one-man-band (or man with his self-made bandmates) and though I think some shows with Budgie’d be great, I don’t want this record to be an indication that I’ve abandoned, well.. my ‘thing’.
There’s another saying amongst songwriters that if you can’t play a song on just an acoustic guitar with singing, it’s probably not much of a song. I always get nervous about playing with just guitar and voice, but lots of people I trust keep encouraging me to do more of that so I’m going to try and be brave about that.
That said, there’ll be more to it. I don’t dare leave home without my Hornicator. And though Mother Superior whines, she’s on for it too.
7) Who else is on the line up and what can you tell us about them?
David Cronenberg’s Wife is playing the London show and I love them. They’re on Blang Records. We go way back, they stayed with me at one point in NYC back in the early 2000s. Criminal minds with hearts of gold. It boggles the mind that they aren’t more well known than they are by now. But that’s the music biz. They’ll be a hard act to follow.
8) For anyone who’s not been to a Thomas Truax live show before, how would you describe the experience?
Well, I’ve only seen it from the vantage point of the stage and it’s never exactly the same twice so I don’t know if I can give a fair answer to that but my experience has been this: lots of smiling, a tear or two sometimes, a fair amount of shoe tapping and head bobbing, someone posting something to their instagram in the back, someone verbally disapproving. Someone goes ’Shhhh!’ Someone else gets annoyed by this. A fight breaks out, drinks are hurled, security moves in. A spark ignites something on Mother Superior and she begins to flame and smoke and spin out of control. The speakers explode and the sound person quits. A veritable barroom brawl ensues amongst a cross section of bright and intriguing people that seem to come from all walks of life. Some remain for the unplugged set that follows. What can I tell you? I love a music-loving audience with a sense of adventure.
9) What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
I’ll keep on with the monthly tracks on my long-running Bandcamp Full Moon Music Club (which gives subscribers access to everything Thomas creates, including exclusive specials), develop things with Luna, play more shows, catch up on some hoovering, maybe get a chance to read more than the first twenty pages of a book, and also – I hope – create something new which I wouldn’t dare divulge this early even if I knew what it was.
10) What one piece of advice would you give to any aspiring musicians?
On a business level, expect the goalposts to always be moving as this business is constantly changing and keep in mind that even the mega-stars started with zero ‘likes’, ‘plays’ or ‘follows’.
On a musical level: forget about all that business crap, real songs are creatures of the heart.
Dream Catching Songs is out on 20th January via Blang Records – pre-order on vinyl, CD or digital download via Bandcamp
Catch Thomas Truax live at the following dates:
18 Jan, Wed: CARDIFF, The Moon
21 Jan, Sat: LONDON, Lexington
27 Jan, Fri: PLYMOUTH, Marjon University (TBC)
28 Jan, Sat: EXETER, Cavern, 83-84 Queen St
3 Feb, Fri: BRIGHTON, Green Door Store
10 Feb, Fri: PRESTON, The Ferret
11 Feb, Sat: BIRMINGHAM, Centrala
16 Feb, Thurs: LEEDS, Hyde Park Book Club
17 Feb, Fri: SHEFFIELD, Greystones
19 Feb, Sun: NEWCASTLE, Cobalt Studios
22 Feb, Wed: GLASGOW, Hug and Pint
24 Feb, Fri: DUNDEE (Details TBA)
25 Feb, Sat: EDINBURGH, Voodoo Rooms
Find out more on Thomas Truax’s official website
Interview and photography by Paul Maps