Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Interview: Transona 5 Digs Up The Past

Transona 5 (Or Transona Five)
Recently, we were lucky enough to get a copy of the long forgotten collected works of Transona 5 on vinyl via Sonic Surgery Records. (Check out the review HERE if you missed it!)

This is a band whose music was released on CD way back when on small record labels that have since closed up shop. Because of that, they were kind of lost to time, but a fan who happens to own a record label, decided he was going to bring their music back to the masses.

In fact he started an entire label just to put out their music. Well, they stopped by the Glacially Musical Sponsorship Tower Sub-basement in order to set the records straight.

Glacially Musical: Thank you for taking some time to speak to me today.

Chris Anderson: We’re very happy to do it.

Rachel Smith: Hi. Thanks for asking us.

Annika Sparkles: *waves*

GM: Tell me about the origins of the band. How did Transona Five come about?

CA: Chris Foley and I had been friends for a while sharing a deep love of music, and one time while I was visiting him where he was working for the summer in St. Mary, Montana we got to talking about putting a band together once he returned to Texas. 
He kind of got sidetracked, but the following spring he showed up at my door. I played him a song I had just written, which happened to be our first 7”, “Mariposa,” and we decided to move forward with our plan. 

We placed ads in local alternative newspapers looking for bass and drums and Annika responded. We hit it off right away, and she had played for years with GP in various bands, so we had a band. Rachel came not long after, just before we recorded the “Mariposa” single, and Scott joined on bass after Annika left the band.

AS: That was a pretty magical era for disaffected youth in Dallas wanting to live an urban life and make pretty music.

 GM: Also is it Transona Five or Transona 5? I've seen it both ways.

RS: Either one works. If I’m remembering correctly, I don’t think we were adamant about one over the other. We used both versions on our small collection of singles and indie releases back in the day.

GM: What do you guys think about that someone created a record label for the purpose of releasing your music that's nigh on two decades old?

RS: It’s pretty unbelievable, and we are so grateful just for the experience. Richard and everyone at Sonic Surgery Records have been so generous.

CA: We had just started talking about doing it ourselves when Ish and Richard reached out to us. 

Of course we were talking about just a digital release. We feel extremely lucky to have this beautiful vinyl package. Mitch Greer really knocked it out of the park with the design. 

And having it mastered by John Golden kind of blows my mind.

AS: The whole process has my mind blown a little. It’s what we’ve dreamed about doing for years and I’m amazed with the results. A perfect recap for our sweet little band.

GM: The vinyl release of these recordings sounds truly amazing. Was there an analog trail?

RS: Thank you! Well, it started out in the 90s analog! 

With the exception of a few tracks, the majority of the songs were originally recorded near Denton, Texas at The Echo Lab (at the time, it was called 70 Hurtz) onto 2” tape. At the time, we were really striving for warm, analog tones and instrumentation, and when we could afford it, capturing that on tape best we could. 

That said, we are now all spread out around the country, all with different lives from back then - and collectively weren’t able to track down the tapes, or even the original DAT masters for that matter, for this release. I ended up digitizing the best possible versions I could find of each of our recordings (a digital copy of a digital copy) and digitizing some cassettes, which were probably a dubbed copy of a CD for all I know.

It was a little terrifying at first, actually. I was super paranoid about digital residue, degradation, popping, what-have-you, but, you know, DAWs have gotten so sophisticated, in the end it wasn’t such a big deal. 

After some engineering touches by Noah Landis here in the East Bay, we sent the material to John Golden at Golden Mastering Studios, who did just a remarkable job with the material, especially with what he was given. … 

So, short answer, it’s a hybrid!

AS: We put a lot of work into these recordings. 

Dallas was an much less expensive place to live back then, we all saved our money for studio time and made sure the recording were made right. Melatonin Bullet was recorded in the early early days of Dave Willingham’s studio out in Argyle and the air-conditioning was out. 

It was the summer and HOT. And HUMID. I know this may sound a little woo-woo but I *swear* you can hear the humidity on the Melatonin Bullet recordings...

GM: The labels that originally released these EPs is now defunct. Tell me about what it was like working with small labels.

CA: We mostly worked with Marcus Butler at Sandwich Records. 

He was fantastic to work with. He even put us up whenever we played Austin. But it was a hard time for the industry in general. He poured his heart and soul into Sandwich and put out a handful of great releases.

RS: Yes! Marcus was so fantastic - and funny! 

He really helped us out back then, setting up shows and making our early releases possible. Oh, and taking us to all you can eat fajitas whenever we were in Austin!

AS: I love Marcus. LOVE MARCUS. 

Marcus, if you read this, I FREAKING LOVE YOU. Sandwich Records was an amazing label. You should seek out everything Marcus put out. 

It was a labor of love on his part and I am forever grateful for the hard work he put into everything he did for us and the rest of the DFW 90’s-era indie scene we came out of.

GM: There's no pigeonholing Transona Five. You tell me what the music is like.

RS: {I want to say something about drippy Texas heat, psych space folk, or something along those lines} 

Chris has a story about a pair of polyester pants melting on the backseat of his car …

CA: (laughs) My favorite description came from a review of the Duffel Bag LP. 

It said we sounded like a band with a great record collection. I think that sums us up pretty well. We came to music as fans first. 

We just wanted to make music we loved.

AS: Foley once said during practice “At this part I’m gonna make this green seaweed wavvy sound that goes up and down flatten out to an orange brick right a the chorus."

And he did. For me I looked at it as, well, we opened a musical box of tone and overtones where sound and science blended and um. Magical things happened. We cared about how our sounds came together and created other sounds. 

We listened to the room, the way we filled the room, the way we all came together to form larger instruments than our own. That the ringing overtones of my bass sound were influenced by the washy ping of GP’s ride cymbal and the guitars blending into an ocean of sounds while GP and I created the undertones that pulsed the whole engine along. It was a lot of fun both intellectually and emotionally.

GM: What are the major influences that created these songs?

RS: Stereolab, Helium, Pram, Low, The Feelies, Galaxy 500 & Luna, Spiritualized, Yo La Tengo to name a few.

Fender guitars and amps (we practically could’ve been sponsored by Fender) and analog keyboards.
Aside from musical influences, the indie music scene in Texas at the time was a major factor. 

Growing up in Dallas / Fort Worth / Denton in the ‘90s, we really got to know the other weirdos locally and in the major cities within a 6+ hour radius; there weren’t a ton of us out there! 

However, we were especially lucky that there was a burgeoning music scene with an emphasis on space rock, psychedelia, indie influences, all with a hint of a twang and reverence for beloved Texans, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Roky Erickson; and then there were bands like American Analog Set (who eventually relocated to Austin), The Theater Fire, Lift to Experience, Mazinga Phaser, and Comet.

And the heat.

CA: When Foley and I placed the ad looking for members we mentioned that we listened to The Velvet Underground, Low, Luna, Stereolab, and Pavement. But Rachel is very right about being influenced by our peers in Texas. 

The indie scene in Texas was incredible, especially bands playing in Denton and Austin. I think we forgot to mention Stumptone and Submarine on our liner notes. There were so many great bands playing at the time it was dizzying.

AS: Lower Greenville, Grinders Coffee, Skillman and Ross Avenue, Lakewood, The Carrot House, The Chuy’s family, Denton, the Argo.

GM: Even knowing that the whole band can't be there, one still has to wonder if there were any thoughts stirring about some live dates in support of this package...So?

RS: Nope. 

For me, it’s hard enough to imagine reuniting as Transona Five without Foley (our bandmate who died in 2007) who was a close friend and such an important part of the music, even after he stepped away. 

I feel that we’ve all moved on to vastly different projects and priorities these days.

CA: I think Foley’s passing was the final heartbreak for us. Our time as Transona Five was special, and now without him I think we’d prefer to keep moving forward with our current musical projects.

 Plus we’re scattered all over the U.S., which makes it more than a little tricky.

AS: I’ve moved on from those days. It’s a bit of a heart feel for me, I love what we did. I would love to make music again with such a focus on tone and overtone like we did. 

I haven’t come across musicians who like to focus on overtones like we did since we did it.

GM: What is it the makes a song a Transona Five song rather than some G-C-D pop tune?

CA: We were very excited about minimal song structures. We obviously had a deep love of Stereolab, but also bands like Low or The Velvet Underground who kept things pretty simple. 

One of my favorite songs on this new collection is “No Motor” because it is essentially one chord. 

I’ve since become more interested with slightly more complex songwriting, but I still get excited when a band pulls off simple, beautiful melodies.

AS: Our songs kinda...birthed themselves almost psychically? 

We’d be tuning our guitars then all of a sudden we’d have 4 new songs that emerged seemingly out of nowhere. We practiced very sincerely and religiously, it was a big part of our life, so we played A LOT and over time we just kinda...made stuff out thin air.
GM: If there's something you're holding back on, let it rip now! Especially if you've been waiting since 1996 to mention it.

RS: Ha! Not really. Thank you again!

AS: Um, even though I look like a cute boy bass player in those old pictures I’m actually a girl?


Transona Five's (5?) new retrospective is out now on Sonic Surgery Records. ORDER IT HERE.

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