Not many artists can say that they've accomplished what American producer BT has accomplished in their lifetime. Accumlating Grammy nominations, producing and writing for a range of big artist peers from *NSync to Depeche Mode, creating new production software and techniques and sticking with a career over the 20 years of producing electronic music are among the things that make Brian Transeau a legend among artists and musicians alike. Now add to the list his latest album A Song Across Wires shooting straight to #1 on the iTunes, Amazon and Beatport dance charts, and you've got the stuff dreams are made of. BT celebrated the release of A Song Across Wires at New York's own Marquee nightclub for a sold out show, and we got to sit down with the man himself to chat about his inspiration and excitement over the success of his new album. If you missed it, check out our review HERE.
EARMILK: Did you grow up in a musical household?
BT: That's a question I don't get asked a lot! I love to hear that while I'm doing so many interviews. I sort of didn't: my dad was an FBI and a DEA agent (crazy, as we're doing this interview in a club), and my mom is a psychiatrist. So my parents are very educated professionals. They were very understanding of how much I loved the arts, but they weren't into it – I mean my mom can play the piano a little bit – but interestingly enough my great grandmother was a classical pianist. She could play the dulcimer, the banjo, the viola. She played a ton of instruments and she was this amazing woman – Grandma Strand on my mom's side of the family. She was full-blooded Norwegian, she started the first soup kitchen in Michigan, and everyone in the community loved her. I've just heard so many stories about her. She passed before I was born, but I feel like this incredible point of connection with her. She was the musician in the family and I really never get to talk about her, so I'm really happy you asked that!
EM: So when did you decide that music is what you wanted to do for a living?
BT: It was really really early on in my life. My mom was putting Marx manuals in front of me, encouraging me to read diagnostic manuals on psychiatry when I was six years old. I was a smart kid, so they would put this stuff in front of me to see what happened. My dad would bring these things home from work, like bugging devices, and it's funny now that we use these devices that are small, because in the 80s when I was a kid we had these micro cassette recorders too. My dad would bring them home from work (I'm sure for some sort of nefarious surveillance purposes that I didn't know about), and I'd say, "Dad can I borrow these?" And I'd take them and record sounds around the house when I was a very little boy – like three or four years old. And I started studying piano shortly thereafter, but my love of music really started with sound before music. There's really this duality between those two things for me even to this day. Music is one thing and sound is another thing and the collision of those is what excites me; this idea the everything is music, everywhere you go: walking on the street, listening to the busses screech, going into the woods and hearing crickets and hearing the water. I use these microphones called hydrophones where you can record in water, microphones that actually record plants photosynthesizing, and I used some of these recordings on this record. These processes make the most incredible sounds you've ever heard that are so musical too. I have these other microphones called induction microphones that you stick on things and can't pick up any sound that's in the air, so all they pick up is vibrations and they show that everything around you is musical all the time. Music to me is more like sculpture, like there's this big block of clay that is life and it's just kind of organizing that and putting it into something that makes sense, that people can come back to and reference: and that's music. Those are the two things that have always defined me and it really started early.
EM: You've been involved in the dance and electronic music scene basically since it started. What have you seen change with this reinvigoration of the popularity this time around?
BT: It's incredible to watch what's happened this time around and I feel a tremendous sense of pride in watching it happen in this country. For 15 years, I'd go to Brazil and play for 25,000 people on a weeknight. I'd go to Hong Kong, Australia, places in Europe, and they'd get it. And now to go to Las Vegas, Nevada and to play in front of 30,000 people – I can't believe that's happened. I have these moments where I look at it and I think it's like living a dream. I think the changes are fantastic, but that the community of my peers as artists and promoters who have been doing this for a long time really need to stay focused. I like that we're doing events and we're talking, because we need to curate how this culture grows and not just say "here, we made something awesome and here it is," and then hand it off to corporate America where it gets cut up into little cubes and Saran wrapped. It's our responsibility, our community, because we have been doing it for 20 years already, to continue to do that. People are making crazy amounts of money now. I like to see that people aren't just selling off the interest in their company and that they're staying, want to be involved and engaged and to help the people that are coming up so that things don't get overly homogenized. I think that's the only danger we face. But we're good as a community, so other than that, I really do think it's the most amazing time for dance music ever.
EM: You've experimented in your music. You've worked with artists like Britney Spears among many. How has that affected your outlook on your own production and changed your style over the years?
BT: Over my entire career I've gone with the "I work with people I like," first and secondly "I work with people who do something different than what I do that I find interesting." Those are the two metrics that help me decide to work with someone. Everything from writing for an 110-piece orchestra, writing for film, to writing for someone like Justin Timberlake or Peter Gabriel; these are people whose interests are related but also different to mine, and I've found something about every single one of them very inspiring. It's funny because in my peer group, for people who have done this anywhere near as long as I have, a lot of them have found a thing that's very specific and branded it and grown that muscle as big as it can get. Then there's an expectation for the audience, the audience knows what they're going to get when they go to that brand, and they deliver. That being said, a lot of those guys that I know who've done that, most of them who've been doing it for 10 years, (I don't really know anyone who has been doing this as long as I have), a lot of them are miserable. They end up having to do things to appease people. They've got the jets and the $100 million residencies in Vegas, but I think there's a sense of creative emptiness to some of that. Whereas I don't have those things, but I've continued to experiment and I have this incredibly rich creative life. I get to work with people who do inspiring things, I get to make new technology (a big part of what I do is developing software), I'm writing for films and television and I am just always inspired. I feel very alive creatively.
EM: And you being inspired in turn inspires your listeners. Did you have a specific intent going into making A Song Across Wires?
BT: I did, honestly. It is one of the first records that I've made in a long time where I said, "this is what I want to do." I was very inspired by what started happening in dance music in this country, specifically when the hand grenade of bass music hit. Really though, in technology we call it a "disruptive technology" and that's exactly what bass music is: it came in and totally changed the topographical map for electronic dance music. Suddenly, we got hit with this thing that is so different than anything that has its root in disco: trance, progressive house, etcetera with four kick drums to the bar, back beat on the two and four, hi hats, those are structured around that. But bass music has its roots in rock and in hip hop, with the aggression of metal and genres like that. There's so much detail work in bass music that really reinvigorated my love for dance music. My inspiration usually comes from film composition or indie rock, not dance music related things. This was the first time in forever where I was like "wow, I find this very inspiring," so I took that aesthetic and applied it to the more dance oriented music that I'm known for – trance and progressive and whatnot – and this ended up being a record that's really informed by this change in dance music culture. That has never really happened for me, so it was an exciting record for me to make for that reason.
A Song Across Wires
- Armada Music