Once local to Washington, D. C., Trans Am went global in 2004 when bassist-guitarist Nathan Means moved to Auckland, New Zealand, guitarist-keyboardist...
WASHINGTON — Once local to Washington, D.C., Trans Am went global in 2004 when bassist-guitarist Nathan Means moved to Auckland, New Zealand, guitarist-keyboardist Phil Manley to San Francisco and drummer Sebastian Thomson to London.
What reunited them was “Sex Change,” the instrumentally focused trio’s eighth album, recorded in New Zealand. Most of the tracks were written in the studio and recorded on borrowed instruments.
“It’s expensive to bring gear on an airplane when you’re only allowed two checked bags,” Manley explains, “so we were just forced to work with what was around. We wound up having some really great friends down there — we’d toured there five times — and they loaned us all kinds of crazy stuff.”
The musicians had not seen much of one another since 2004’s “Liberation” album and tour. According to Manley, they were in New Zealand “because Nathan lived there and he and his girlfriend just had a baby. And it was really good for us to be isolated down there, so far away from everything. We just went into the studio and locked ourselves in there for a few weeks.”
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The studio was at the Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand, which owns the original mixing board from London’s legendary Trident Sound Studios (Elton John, Paul McCartney, David Bowie). It was finished at the Okropolis, the Brooklyn, N.Y., studio owned by the band Oneida, Trans Am’s frequent tour mate, and mixed at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco, making “Sex Change” international and bicoastal.
The results include the atmospheric electro-pop of “First Words” and “Exit Management Solution,” propulsive psychedelic synth-rockers “Conspiracy of the Gods” and “Tesco v. Sainsbury’s,” the sinewy electro-funk workout “Climbing Up the Ladder” and a yearning “4,738 Regrets.” There’s also the playfully funky “Obscene Strategies,” a nod to Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies,” a set of cards created by Eno and painter Peter Schmidt in the mid-’70s positing aphorisms and working principles to guide artists through moments of creative pressure or stasis.
Eno sample from the original “Oblique Strategy”: “Honour thy error as a hidden intention.”
“Trans Am” with Zombi and Black Taj, Neumos, 925 E. Pike, Seattle. Box office opens at 8 p.m. Tickets: $12 at the door or at www.ticketswest.com. Ages 21 and up. Information: 206-709-9467.
Trans Am samples: “Take a nap”; “Pillow Fight!”
Fun has always been a factor for the band, longtime friends since their junior high school days in Bethesda, Md.
“Nate and Seb were in the school orchestra — Nate played the cello, Seb played violin,” Manley recalls. “I played the saxophone and was in a different band, but we all knew each other back then.”
Trans Am formed in 1990 but didn’t begin recording until its members finished college five years later. Their self-titled debut, recorded soon after reuniting, featured instrumental, largely improvised tracks. Over the course of eight albums and several EPs, the band has explored, celebrated, parodied and variously extrapolated their key influences — ’70s and ’80s synth-pop, prog-rock and German-rock filtered through more modern approaches of dub, electro, techno and drum ‘n’ bass.
“People often bring up the eclectic quality of our music, almost like it’s genre-hopping,” Manley says. “I feel with this new record, there’s a wide range of moods and tonal palettes, from space funk to heavy, dirge-y rock” like the roiling “Shining Path” and thundering “Triangular Pyramid.”
As for the band’s future, Trans Am’s members are all involved in other bands or projects and, Manley says, after the current tour, “we’ll probably break again for a while; I don’t know if it will be as long as the last break. Nathan has actually moved from New Zealand to Portland, so we’re not quite as separated as we were the last few years. We’re just going to take it as it comes.”