Exclusive interview: Thomas Truax


Truax has a love-hate relationship with the rulebook.

It might seem like he’s chucked it out of the window musically, abandoning bandmates in favour of a motley crew of invented instruments, which he talks to like friends and builds himself starting with a single perfect sound.

 But he also pays acute attention to the rules he sets himself, adjusting his playing to his home-made drum machines Mother Superior and the Back Beater, which might run faster or slower depending on the heat, the electricity or anything else.

“It’s kind of like playing to a metronome,” he explains. “They’re supposed to build a rhythm into you so you can play without it. I’m still basically using one. People tell me when I start off the rhythms don’t seem that amazing, but then I play against them and they get complicated. There’s a molding of man and machine, like science fiction.”

So who’s in charge?

He pushes back his choppy DIY haircut, looking uncertain. “That’s a good question. We have arguments about it in the band, even onstage sometimes.”

‘The band’ consists of Thomas himself, his guitar, his Casio keyboard and four instruments of his own invention. He started building prototypes back in New York in the 90s after one drummer too many skipped rehearsals, but the finished versions reside in Britain fairly permanently. The Brits have more time for quirky, he says.

Mother Superior consists of a mallets on expandable sticks mounted on a large motor-controlled wheel. Between songs, the mallets are adjusted to hit drums at different speeds. The Back Beater is a shoulder-mounted version of the same, giving the effect of a Steampunk Doc Octopus. The Stringaling looks a bit like what might happen if a Chinese paper lantern and a bongo drum conceived. And the Hornicator – well, the Hornicator has a life of its own.

“All the instruments talk for themselves,” Thomas explains. “Somebody once compared the Hornicator to a ventriloquist’s dummy, so we obviously have a relationship. I’ll often find that he’s left tweets on my Twitter feed in the morning.”

The other crucial ensemble member is a loop pedal, with which Truax provides his own backing vocals and layers of texture, including sound effects courtesy of the audience.

“With the loop pedal you can do things that sound like maybe a five-piece band, and then go to just singing or playing one instrument. I think that gives a wider dynamic than your typical four-piece band.”

The music is all about incorporating as much as possible of time and place: on the first show of his current tour he parted the crowd like the Red Sea with his guitar, then ran madly through them, kicking dropped beer bottles around for the strange tinkling noise they made.

That ideology is reflected in the Monthly Journal album, released last month.

“I set myself a mission to create a song a month for a year. In a way, I put a gun up to my head, but that was the only rule. It forced me to respond to the immediate time instead of thinking about how it would all fit together in the end.”

Truax supports his work via a small army of fans – and a few fanatics – who just keep coming back and, luckily, bringing their friends.

“Some people might long for the mythical time when Pink Floyd would disappear into their mysterious castle and then bring out an album, but it’s history now.” Not everyone can be Adele, after all, he points out. “The flipside is that with the Monthly Journal I could write a song and get it online within a few days, and having feedback coming in on Twitter immediately. It changes how you work.”

Fluidity and openness to audience input are among the most exciting things about a Truax show. It’s why, while his recorded music is definitely worth hearing and frequently very impressive, the live shows are electrifying. Howling quaveringly into the gramophone throat of the Hornicator, his conviction is rock-solid.

“My conception of where reality ends and fiction begins is a little bit vague I think. I’m lucky because I’m working with true things, but in a fantasy context, whereas so much that you see online pretends to be true but isn’t.

“The instruments are good that way. You can build a 3D model in an animation program in minutes. When you actually start drilling holes in things and looking for the right size bolt to make it move, you realize how long that takes.”

I ask him what he’d build if he had unlimited time and resources.

“I’d really like to build something that would drive itself to the gigs, then set itself up and take itself down. It’s not like there’s a Hornicator repair shop on every corner.”

Time to hire a human to play percussion, perhaps?

“I don’t think so. At least the instruments don’t eat too much. And they’re fairly quiet on days off.”

For tour dates, see http://www.thomastruax.com/

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star