Monday, 26 May 2014

Musician and hornicator inventor: Thomas Truax

Thomas Truax is one of the most original and heartwarming solo performers. The New Yorker, who lives in the fictional town of Wowtown, has toured the globe charming audiences with his gaggle of invented steampunk instruments.

His most notably sidekicks include the Beatspinner Wheel of Sister Spinster, as well as the giant Hornicator, which he's been known to drink through. 

The eccentric was once challenged to show how he makes an instrument. Given many items retrieved from a recycle bin, within 15 minutes he created a rhythmic invention which he looped through effects with water and rubber bands. 

We're very pleased to invite him into the desert to feel the heat of deciding his top eight tunes. "First I have to make a disclaimer: it is impossible for me to choose a definitive absolute eight best songs of all time. Because there are just so many great songs, and because the perfect song for a rainy Tuesday morning is not necessarily going to be so perfect on Wednesday night," he says. 

"Music is always in motion, even within the span of a song, that's part of it's appeal, and the nature of it. It may repeat but it moves and changes as it goes along, takes you places."  

Here are Thomas' choices:

Harry Nilsson - Moonbeam
This is one of my favourite songs, and in a way it illustrates what I'm talking about. Don't work on your computer while you listen to it, sit back and close your eyes and really listen to the narrative and let the music and words take you on their circular ride. 

It comes from a time when people did such things. It's beautifully simple and it's worth your full attention. This song puts a smile on my heart.

Lou Reed - Walk on the Wild Side
If you have the original 7", you'll notice that the B-SIDE is 'Perfect Day'. Yes, it's THAT good that another all-time-classic is only the B-Side. In 1972 a mainstream hit with references to transsexuals, male prostitution and so on, well, talk about sockin' it to the man... 

It's a transcendental song that shoots straight to everyone's gut instincts about living life to the fullest rather than playing it too safe. When I was a DJ at Avenue A sushi bar in New York many years ago I would challenge diners by playing songs like The Senator & The Cabin Boy by Alice Donut and they'd be horrified and want to leave without paying their bills. But without fail once I'd segue into Walk on the Wild Side everybody was back in their seats smiling with seaweed in their teeth and loving the DJ again.

Raymond Scott - Powerhouse
Raymond Scott's had a huge influence on me, probably since before I was even aware of it, watching cartoons as a kid. (Carl Stalling often unfairly gets the credit because Scott's tunes were licensed to him and then Stalling's name appeared on the cartoon credits for 'music'). Powerhouse just rules.   

Debussy - Clair de Lune
What can I say? It just transcends the realm of such things as a best songs list. Soul soothing.

Santo and Johnny - Sleepwalk
This is a timeless, haunting song. There are lyrics (there's a great Betsy Brye version) but when I heard them I thought I already heard/knew them all in the instrumental version, because the guitar sings them. Or maybe it's John Barry's 'Born Free' which is pretty much the same melody/progression. 

Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood - Some Velvet Morning
I think the song itself clearly describes all you need to know.

Alice Donut - The Senator & the Cabin Boy
I love Alice Donut like a parent finds their own ugly baby beautiful. I discovered them the way local bands used to be discovered: a xeroxed flyer with their logo, maybe made with a sharpie, wheat pasted to a lamppost (or some illegal surface) on Avenue A in NYC.

I liked the name and I liked the way it was written, with an eyeball for the 'I" in Alice. So I went to the show. And then I went to their shows every time I could over the next many years. They reminded me a little of local bands I knew from Denver like Acid Ranch, but they were a bigger-city version. Nothing is photoshopped or airbrushed out in Alice Donut land.  Life is ugly and stinky and loud and freaky, and always delivered with a kind of insane grin. 

As a side note, a little over a decade ago, after Donut split up, and just before I started doing my solo thing,  ex-members Stephen, Sissi and Michael had me in to audition as a potential new singer for them (but probably as a band with a new name) which I was really excited about. It was a kick to do that, playing with my local heroes. 

Then they had me back a second time, and it started looking like just maybe it was going to turn into a real thing. Then Tomas Antona, the original singer who had quit, decided to come back and Alice Donut was alive again. In the grand scheme of things certainly the best thing for all concerned.

The Cure - A Forest
For me after decades this song is still really exciting and full of deep layers of mystery and a real dreamlike atmosphere. This band has been so widely influential by now that it's a little bit  like David Lynch movies: they were startlingly unique when they arrived, but ubiquitous stylistic imitators have made their impact - though still considerable - less distinct. When I first heard it, it was not quite like anything I'd ever heard before. 

I was turned onto Seventeen Seconds by a guy that worked in a suburban record store in Colorado. I bought 'Never Mind The Bollocks' by the Sex Pistols and he said 'If you're into that weird British shit you should check this out'. At the time in America it was a rare import and I didn't know what the band looked like or anything else about them, at that time you didn't look up bands on the internet so there was a mystery about it. You just listened and stared at the cover which had very little information on it.  

It was also during the time I was doing my first band ever and it was a revelation, both to me and the other guy in the band, who was not as overwhelmed as I by the discovery. He said 'is this the kind of music you want to make? It's like...graveyard music!' I liked that description, and he saw that. I guess that was the beginning of the end of that band. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Artist and Agony Aunt: Piney Gir

Angela Penhaligon, aka country-folktronica songstress Piney Gir, is my latest guest on Desert Isolation Discs as she tells me the eight tunes she couldn't live without in a desert.

Piney is an acclaimed artist who has released five albums, toured the globe including playing Glastonbury festival and was a member of both Vic Twenty and The Schla La Las. Her chirpy disposition and venerable accordion skills have won her fans worldwide and her new album is hotly anticipated. Perhaps most importantly, she's ShadowPlay's agony aunt with her popular PG Tips column

A Kansas City native born into a religious family, her exposure to pop music as a child was limited. Here she tells me how that affected her attitudes to music, why she moved to London and why a certain noisy Boston, Massachusetts band are actually rather romantic. To download the show as a podcast or subscribe click here.

An here's Piney in action in the fantabulous video to The Longest Day of Spring