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Volume 91, Issue 28

Friday, October 17, 1997

pigskin pummel


You are under surveillance

©Chris Toliver
SIDLE UP TO THE FIRE, OL CHAP. Maryland trio Trans Am bring their mix-mash of rock'n'stuff to Call the Office Friday night at midnight – and admission is free with an Age of Electic ticket.

By Richard Moule
Gazette Writer

"It's urgent, raw explosions of power," declares Nathan Means of Trans Am. The bassist for the instrumental Maryland-based trio is a man of few words when it comes to describing the textures of the band's yet to be released third album, The Surveillance.

For fans of this Thrill Jockey (Tortoise, The Sea and the Cake) label act, this new-found aggression shouldn't come as a surprise. On its 1995 eponymous debut and this year's Surrender To The Night, Means, guitarist Philip Manley and drummer Sebestian Thompson beautifully straddled genres, fusing rock instrumentation, analog and digital electronics to create abrasive, minimalist rhythmic patterns and DJ-style juxtapositions. But Means insists while Surrender to The Night rightly garnered comparisons between Kraftwerk and Led Zeppelin, the band's listening tastes this time out have changed – wavering between metal anti-heroes Manowar and the Finnish electronica duo, Panasonic, with some vintage Chrome thrown in.

"There's definitely more metal now," offers Means, straightfaced, quickly adding that Trans Am hasn't abandoned its electronic side. Recorded at a friend's studio in their home town over a three-week period, The Surveillance is the trio's first attempt at self-production. Tortoise percussionist and current Stereolab producer, John McEntire, had twisted the knobs on the previous albums. And while Trans Am is proud of McEntire's work, in the end "it was cheaper for us to do it ourselves," Means says. It was also just a matter of more control.

"When you have a technician there, supposedly to do your bidding – I mean obviously John has his own ideas and a lot of them are really good – but if you can't push the buttons on the machine, then things aren't going to come out exactly as you intended. You lose something in the interpretation between those two.

"Also in going into someone else's studio, you're going to be a little unsettled. But if you go into a studio you're more familiar with – we thought we might get better performances," explains Means.

And live performances have always been the best place to judge this four-year-old band. Just as their name suggests, Trans Am is a sleek, lean, turbo-charged machine. Think Six Finger Satellite without the self-conscious '80s references. And while they have toured with Tortoise and UI, the band is currently on the road with neo-prog-rockers, Don Caballero.

"I think when you play with a band you like, you tend to step it up a notch as far as your own performance," notes Means. "All the bands we have played with, have put on really good shows at a certain point and you just learn a lot from watching other musicians."

The same could be said from watching Trans Am. The band will preview many of the new tracks from The Surveillance when they rock Call the Office tonight.

To Contact The Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997