DIY steampunk star Thomas Truax builds momentum
- Credit: Archant
Madcap American musician Thomas Truax tells Alex Bellotti about building his own instruments, Terry Pratchett and his new record, Jetstream Sunset.
He may be a New York native, but there’s no doubting Thomas Truax’s British sensibilities. As the man himself says, the “land of Wallace and Gromit and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” feels a natural home for his madcap style, and were it not for dastardly VISA issues, he would have prolonged his residence here beyond the two years he once spent living in London.
Thankfully, the musician is returning to the UK with a show at the Lexington this Wednesday to promote his new album, Jetstream Sunset.
A self-styled one man band, Truax (pronounced ‘troo aks’) is often associated with the cult genre ‘steampunk’ and is renowned for his unforgettable live shows which see him play a range of stunningly original instruments created with his own two hands.
“From my mind it’s not that eccentric and I’m not that much of an oddball, I’m just myself,” says Truax. “Maybe eventually other people will see it that way as well, but I’ve always been kind of surprised at how much people talk about me as though I’m from outer space.”
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There is certainly an other-worldly charm to the gothic tones of his past work, but Truax’s latest album is equally one of his most accessible. While making use of signature instruments (including ‘The Hornicator’, made out of an old gramophone horn, and Mother Superior, a motorised drum machine which looks like an old spinning wheel), he also enlisted Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione for the recordings.
The result is a compelling collision of sounds harking back to Lou Reed and Syd Barrett; songs including I Was A Teenage Post-Punk and Shine As Brightly As You Can are strange but familiar, with simple, infectious melodies. Was this a deliberate approach?
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“Music is on a lot of levels wanting to communicate – it’s a communicative thing, you want to touch people’s hearts and minds and find common ground no matter how off your rocker you are.
“So in a way intentionally yeah, I’m not trying to do something that’s mainstream but I’m definitely trying to connect with people and it’s not my goal to do something just for the purpose of weirding people out.”
Having begun his musical journey as part of the early ‘90s anti-folk scene alongside contemporaries such as Beck, Truax is keen to not associate himself too closely with steampunk “because it isn’t really what I do”.
Over the course of eight albums, he has picked up fans including Jarvis Cocker, Terry Pratchet and David Lynch – whose film music he once made an album of covers with.
He describes Lynch as “a funny guy… kind of an all American boyscout”, while the recent death of Pratchett naturally came as sad news.
“Ironically I met him at one of those Steampunk things. I talked to him for a bit but we never broached the subject (of music), it was later another author who said to me, ‘You know Terry, he’s a huge fan of your music. He wants to redo his Desert Island Discs and take your (Full Moon Over) Wow Town record with him.’”
Truax partly began combining his love of building and love of music because he was sick of watching musicians just spinning records and playing songs off a laptop. “If you’re going to see a live performer and pay money for it, you want to see someone making the sound live,” he says, and this is why he has taken his live shows to such energetic heights.
“I definitely come off the road with back problems and knee problems. I’ve occasionally fallen off a table and been in hospital a couple of times for injuries which seemed like a good idea at the time but later I wonder what I was thinking. But that’s rock n roll I guess.”
Thomas Thaux plays The Lexington, Islington, this Wednesday. Tickets are £8, £6 advance. Visit thelexington.co.uk