Musician, inventor, teller of tall-tales and Wowtown resident Thomas Truax has been a Joyzine favourite for many a year, and the release of his ninth album All That Heaven Allows has done nothing to dampen our enthusiasm (check out our effusive review here).
We caught up with him as he winds his way around the UK on his latest tour to talk Hornicators, Trump and Granny Truax.
Your new album All That Heaven Allows is out now – it seems to delve more and more into the world outside of Wowtown than some of your earlier albums and address current events and issues more directly. Was this a conscious decision when you were writing it?
When we’re set upon by the daily affront to human decency which is Donald Trump, on top of all the other horrors of the current state of things, it demands some sort of attention. To say it’s troubling times would be putting it mildly, and though I think that one of the few things I have to offer my fellow man (as a performer, music maker, storyteller or however you define it) is some sort of healthy escapism, I’ve also been forced to question lately -like a lot of artists have- whether these might be times to not ignore what’s really happening (ugly as it is) because it is us, all of us, that need to work together to make some repairs.
Despite tackling some of the constant stream of unpleasantness that seems to dominate the news, the album is sandwiched by two tracks characterised by hope and love, with a closing refrain of the album’s title – what does the phrase mean to you?
In the context of the Douglas Sirk film from which the album gets its name, the title might refer to a kind of man-made ‘Heaven’ on earth, which is this postcard-perfect 50’s American town, where everyone lives in a harmonious way so long as they don’t break the rules. When an ‘older’ widowed woman falls for a younger man who is (God forbid!) a lowly gardener, her friends, family, etc. all turn on her. ‘Heaven’ wont allow such behaviour. But the title is much more multifaceted and open to interpretation than just that, and that’s partly why I chose it. Heaven is often defined as that place where mortality ends, eternal bliss begins and so on. But it seems even angels have to follow certain rules. And if experiencing degrees of heaven is possible here on earth, and I believe it is, there are still going to be those days we are beset by colds, heart attacks and mice swept up by crows.
We’ve been used to meeting new characters through your songs in the past, and one that crops up a few times in this album is your granny – how did she come to be such an important part of the record?
If you want some solid advice look to those that have been around the block a few more times than you. Keep in mind that our elders didn’t have all that internet noise and distraction when they were growing up. They had a lot more time to digest and ponder things. I remember when I was a teenager sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table with my friend John in New Jersey and his 90-something-year-old granny. It was quiet as we were all fully invested in our food and wine when out of the blue she just exclaimed “The Telephone! What a marvelous invention! Can you imagine that Harry was all the way across the ocean? He sounded like he was just right there in the room. Marvelous!” We burst out laughing but that was only because it seemed so random at the time.
Could you introduce us to the bandmates, both mechanical and human, who you worked with on the album? Were there any new inventions involved?
Mother Superior is my self-made motorized drummer.
The Hornicator – Built on the frame of an old junk shop find, a gramophone horn which I originally intended to be part of the Cadillac Beatspinner wheel (the first drummer I’d built) in much the same way that I’ve now got a horn as a percussion element on Mother Superior. The Hornicator is my ‘left hand man’.
The Hornmonica is new, it’s kind of a combination of 3 mini-Hornicators and some guitar tuning pipes.
As for the humans: Amazing Basildon-born/Berlin-based Gemma Ray sings on ‘Save Me’ and ‘Humane Train’.
There are some more contributions from ‘real’ drummer Brian Viglione (Dresden Dolls, Nine Inch Nails, Violent Femmes), cellist Pete Harvey (Modern Stories/Withered Hand), Paul Wallfisch (Swans/Firewater) and James Smith(Post War Glamour Girls). It’s a blessing to know and get to work with all these wonderful folks.
Since your previous album you’ve got married and relocated to the UK – did those events influence the record at all?
Yes, I followed my heart and it brought me to better places. I was writing songs both before, during and after. Music is always moving and it documents a journey.
You’re currently in the middle of a UK tour – how have the new tracks been going down at the shows
Very well for the most part. The biggest challenge is that old thing of having amassed too much material over what is now nine albums and you’ve got to pick and choose. I’m one of those that likes playing what some would call the ‘crowd pleasers.’ It’s hard to cut one of those to make room in the set to try a new one that might not go over so well, but it’s been comforting to see that people are interested in the new material, even when it might be a little more subdued than some of the earlier songs.
Aside from the album, you’ve also been releasing new material every month through the Full Moon Music Club – how has that been going & do you approach writing and recording these tracks in a different way to the album?
I love doing it but it’s also a challenge. The main difference with the Full Moon Club tracks is that I’m beholden to an hourglass in the sky which is the waxing moon. It tells me that I’ve got to get a track written, recorded and posted within a certain limited time, and that means I can’t leave things bubbling on the back-burner too long, or rewrite and redo over and over, which I often do (and sometimes that can kill or over-cook a piece). This can also be a curse, depending, but it does mean there’s going to be a topical ‘feel’ to each track, and that the subscribers are often going to hear something that maybe I was just working on to finish an hour beforehand. It gives it an immediacy, and I like that. That’s something that’s new to music releasing, and it can influence what we create.
I’ve also started to see patterns and progressions happen, a kind of continuum between the tracks. I wont go back and re-sequence them, so I do think about where I was last month and where we might be going this month. It’s like Star Trek, a mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life etc. I think they will work when assembled into ‘albums’ later. A lot of the pieces are instrumental because I’m not always very talky, and I don’t mind this because I think we make music partly to express things and ideas that aren’t necessarily in the language of words.
All That Heaven Allows is out now via Psycho Teddy Records and you can join The Full Moon Music Club at the Thomas Truax Bandcamp page.
Thomas is currently in the midsts of a UK tour and plays the following dates in March:
14 March, Wed: London, Paper Dress (Headline)
16 March, Fri: Railway Hotel, Clifftown Road
20 March, Tues: Cardiff, The Globe (supporting Bob Log III)
22 March, Thurs: Norwich Arts Centre (supporting Bob Log III)
28 March Leek Foxlowe Arts Centre (ST13 6AD) (supporting Bob Log III)
29 March Halifax, The Lantern (HX1 1BS) (supporting Bob Log III)
Interview and photography by Paul Maps