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BT - Mad Skillz BT

Interviews

CD Now Interviews BT

BT's Journal of Still Life

By Peter Gaston
CDNOW Editorial Staff

Brian Transeau, better known to the dance music world by his initials, bursts through like a dynamo over the telephone line from Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club. "Excited" hardly describes this man's attitude. Partly, it's because on his recent U.S. tour he's discovered that American audiences have embraced the music he loves. "People are starting to come around to this kind of music in a performance context, and I wasn't sure that would ever happen in this country," he says. Certainly, he's feeding off the energy of being back home in the D.C. area, his lifelong home until a recent move to Los Angeles. "I miss Maryland so much," he laments. "These are my people here."

And it's not just D.C. people getting into his material anymore. BT has become one of dance music's marquee names, riding the tide of his 1997 album, E.S.C.M. -- a record that defined progressive house music -- and a slew of high profile projects. Working with some of trance music's current icons -- particularly Sasha and Paul Van Dyk -- also served to elevate Transeau's status.

With his third solo album, Movement in Still Life, BT takes a rather pronounced turn from his past recordings, so much so that one magazine dubbed him "Trance Defector." Nu-skool breaks, hip-hop, and new wave pump forth from the album alongside the kind of gorgeous anthems that earned BT his wings. As he explains to CDNOW, Transeau isn't dissing the trance community, but rather embracing everything he loves about dance music in a sort of musical journal. He's not bashing genres, but rather the rigid walls that separate them.

CDNOW: People definitely seem to be tuning into the whole scene a bit more, correct?

BT: What's happening is that it's growing exponentially. Literally every month, people are getting more and more comfortable with this. The curve is not linear. It's exponential. The more it happens, the more comfortable people get, and the more often people get the whole ethos and aesthetic of the whole thing. That really is happening. Every month, the amount of understanding changes. It's wicked, man. I just can't believe it's finally starting to happen in this country.

You've certainly done your part by making an album that's really accessible from a lot of different directions. You've got the whole package -- hip-hop, nu-skool breaks, trance, progressive house -- and it seems like a great introduction to dance music as a whole, to explore the different genres within the genre.

Right on. That's cool as shit. I appreciate that sentiment.

It also seems like a journal of sorts. Perhaps a little nostalgia for the days when all of this really started.

Totally, and I really appreciate the journal comment. That's how I'm always describing making records, and that's totally what it's like -- a way for a musician to keep a journal. There's definitely a lot of nostalgia on there, man. I grew up listening to music in the '80s, bands like Depeche Mode, New Order, Cabaret Voltaire, Frank Tovey and the Fat Gadgets, the Cure, the Smiths, and all that stuff. That's the music I listen to that makes me feel like making music, you know what I mean? Bands like New Order made me fall in love with the sound of guitars and electronics together. There's also stuff on there that's kind of where my head is now. It's a mixed bag of the different things I love.

"The whole energy of this music is one of anti-establishment, like the punk movement. It's very DIY, kids in their bedrooms with a couple hundred dollars of boxes making records."

The variety here almost makes a statement to the whole dance music genre to bust down these walls that have been constructed between different subgenres.

Totally, man. It's so true. The whole energy of this music is one of anti-establishment, like the punk movement. It's very DIY, kids in their bedrooms with a couple hundred dollars of boxes making records. To split it up and to fragment it like that takes away our strength. Then it turns to infighting. It's not about that. The dance music community has been so open minded and supportive, and embraced so many different kinds of amazing music from drum-and-bass to techno to trance to hip-hop. It should always be a case where if you like something, that makes it good. It doesn't have to fit into what people expect from a certain idiom of music.

Well, recently in Urb magazine you said that a lot of the stuff coming out now is "pure wank."

Man, they took all that stuff so out of context. They wanted to make it about something that I wasn't saying. What I was saying, just to clarify, is that the stuff I love and identify with, specifically in terms of progressive house music, is really soulful, powerful, emotive, well thought out, well produced, non-lowest common denominator. The stuff that I don't like is really cheesy, lowest common denominator music about three elements: the top line, the break down, and the build. But I still think there are people making a lot of really classy, soulful progressive house music. That's the part they didn't want to hear. They wanted to hear that I hate most kinds of trance records.

Obviously, that's not true. You work with a lot of these guys anyway.

Totally. I love what guys like Oliver Lieb and Paul Van Dyk do. I hate that ATB and those sorts of people have prostituted this stuff. You listen to an ATB track and then you listen to Sasha, and the difference is as obvious as listening to Led Zeppelin and Rachmaninoff.

On that note, let's talk about some beautiful music. "Running the Down Way Up" on Movement has that lovely acoustic guitar riff, and such a dynamic duo of collaborators with Kirsty Hawkshaw and Mike Truman [of Hybrid]. How did that track come together?

Mike and I have been friends for a really long time, and we'd been talking for ages about doing some music together. We finally said let's get together and do some tracks. I went out to his place in Wales. Kirsty has been my friend for, like, forever, and she's my hiking partner. So I just called her -- we had never worked on any music together -- and I said she should come hang out with Mike and I, and work on some stuff. It was amazing. Talk about journal. My journal entry for that track is being out in the Welsh countryside in a grove of trees where Mike's house is. Waking up in the morning, working on music, and, at around 7 every night, walking for an hour through the woods to get to the local pub. It's like an hour away, so it's like a big thing to go. So me, Kirsty, and Mike would just walk through the woods, Hansel and Gretel style. It was awesome, just a great time.

Nice. Now, about some of those other collaborators. First of all, do you have any idea what the hell [former Soul Coughing frontman M.] Doughty is talking about?

It's funny, because now I do, but before I totally didn't. "Never Gonna Come Back Down" is a funny story. I recorded the music beforehand and sent it to him, and he's like, "Yeah, I dig this. I'm going to come out and sing on it." We did two takes, and on the first take he's singing from the Book of Revelations in the Bible …

… and on the second he's talking about how hot DJ Rap is, right?

Yeah. So I just cut it together and made some sort of sense out of it. The weird thing is that it totally does make sense. He's one of those people who's like a grandparent who, when you're driving in the car, is like [in older person's voice], "Oh, 7-Eleven. Oh, Long & Foster Homes." He says whatever's around him; he mirrors everything. A lot of his rhyming and flow comes from New York City living. When you put that into perspective and filter it through, he really does make sense. I've gone through every line in the song with him because there were things that I didn't understand, like "pay you on a chorly rate." He's a madman, but in a good way, you know?

"I hate that ATB and those sorts of people have prostituted this stuff. You listen to an ATB track, and then you listen to Sasha, and the difference is as obvious as listening to Led Zeppelin and Rachmaninoff."

What's up with your project with Sasha?

We did it ages ago, and it's pretty much done. We need to go and tidy some things up, and then that will come out. It's really beautiful, ambient world music, basically. [Peter Gabriel's Real World studios] is an awesome place to work.

You've had a chance to work with a lot of pretty phenomenal people in the biz. Are there any other people you're itching to work with?

There's a bunch, and there's some that just do not do collaborations, and that's why I haven't gotten to work with some that I do dig. Someone I'd really love to do a track with is Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode.

Would that be like connecting with an idol?

Totally. Everyone's like, "Oh, you work with these really cool people." I'm thinking this is the shit that my 14-year-old self would be doing cartwheels over. I'm looking up all my childhood heroes. I'd love to do a track with Harriet [Wheeler] from the Sundays.

What about Mr. Sumner?

Yeah, I'd love to do a track with Bernard Sumner, or a track with Thom Yorke from Radiohead. You know, I'm starting to sound just like that guy from Office Space. We've been imitating that all day: "Now I'm going to need you to come in on Saturday."


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