You know that music that plays beneath the surface of your days? The songs that play through your head as you remember the events of your life? They always talk about your life “flashing before your eyes,” but they never mention the soundtrack.
Ours would be the sounds of Brian Transeau, better known by his recording alias, BT. From the first time we heard the soaring sounds of “Flaming June,” off his breakthrough album, ESCM, we were hooked. We’ve been conjoined musically (and spiritually) ever since, almost as if our life’s journey to this point had been scored by this musical genius.
After a lengthy four-year hiatus, BT has returned to his roots with the release of These Hopeful Machines, which embraces his dance music side once more, but also sees the producer push his sound out to new directions on what may be considered his magnum opus. “It just takes me a considerable amount of time to craft a body of work,” he told us of the gap.
It takes me that long to make a record because a lot of that is the obsessive and meticulous nature of the media that I create.
But for BT, it’s not only just about creating work that will last but also having to literally construct and create the instruments himself in order to push out the sounds that play inside his mind.
So after building those instruments and his signature “stutter-edit” techniques by hand for years, he’s put together a new company called Sonik Architects, which will release his own brand of products, such as the recently released (and highly addictive) Sonifi iPod application, where you can literally remix BT’s tracks on your iPhone.
Soon every budding DJ and producer will have access to some of the most imitated (but never fully duplicated) techniques and effects from the master himself.
“Over the next eighteen months,” said BT, “we’ll be actually releasing some of these technologies that I’ve been creating for years, so I’m really excited about that.”
“I find it flattering that there is a lot of derivative stuff out there,” he added. “I’m thinking why not empower people that are trying to emulate techniques and modalities that I come up with and give them something that’s actually really amazing and immediate to work with. I think they’re gonna end up coming up with things that are exciting, evocative and fresh in their own right.”
Even though you will soon be able to emulate some of BT’s personal production tricks, it takes a lot more than crazy stutter-edits to fully capture all the emotional content that each song on These Hopeful Machines brims with. This is a man who dabbles in circuit bending, which involves short-circuiting and rewiring things like toy instruments to make new sounds. Though he went to Berklee, the more you hear him talk and listen to his work, you realize that he’s from some other planet.
The most fundamentally important thing to me in composing is coming up with something that’s evocative and memorable but not in an obnoxious sort of Akon way.
“It something that lives with you and is meaningful but also means something different to everyone.”
Having worked with a musically diverse roster of artists over the years, from pop-contemporaries Peter Gabriel, Sting, Sarah McLachlan and even N’Sync, BT is a big fan of collaborating, especially on his albums. For These Hopeful Machines, he’s brought together a team of friends both new and old, like long-time collaborator (and muse) Kirsty Hawkshaw. He also features the equally talented Jes, who sings on standout song “Every Other Way,” which even comes complete with a crazy drum breakdown courtesy of Stewart Copeland from one of BT’s favorite bands growing up, The Police.
“Oh man, I’ve got stories for days, he’s so much fun,” BT said. “He’s one of the funniest, most cynical guys ever but also the most shredding drummer on planet Earth!”
But for everyone who comes near his orbit, they all understand and believe in the passion for perfection that he prides himself in.
“So many people want to write songs with me and I’m ‘OK, it’s gonna take six weeks, so pack a backpack and bring some granola bars because we’re gonna be here for a long time,’’ he laughed. “I really like to brew over these things for a while, live with them and have them take on a feeling of timelessness and significance.”
On the new album, he’s taken that concept one step further by releasing it as two individual tracks, which deliver nearly two hours of new music but without the ability to shuffle through the tracks individually.
“I decided to put it out as an album because people don’t really listen to albums any more,” he explained.
The records that I make are meant to be taken in as a whole. So I wanted to share them with people in a way that encouraged them to listen to the album in the way that it was created and intended to be consumed.
Both discs offer compelling rides from start to finish. The surefire, crossover smash “Suddenly” launches things in fine style before giving way to “The Emergency,” which is destined to close a thousand club nights over the coming year. Not only are these cuts completely energetic and emotional but both also boast BT’s vocals, which he’s become more emblazoned with in recent years.
“I sing on quite a bit of my music and I love singing on stage,” he said. “I really love it in a performance context but I think of myself less as a singer and more of a composer.”
His vocals take things back to his teenage years by embracing his inner rock star on “Love Can Kill You,” and the fabulous “Forget Me,” which closes out the first disc in memorable fashion.
“I had lots of eye-liner, combat boots and kilt moments on those,” he laughed in a nod to his 80’s music upbringing. “And of course the Sony Sports Walkman, which is dating myself a little bit but it was such a part of the coming of age process for me.”
He even embraces his first cover by singing on and reinterpreting the Psychedelic Furs classic “The Ghost In You,” which is also the album’s closing number.
“I loved The Psychedelic Furs so much as a kid,” BT said. “Covering that song, I just wanted to share with people what that song made me feel. Not to be try and be an accurate reinterpretation but just the feeling I had.”
It’s pleasant surprises like these that really help elevate These Hopeful Machines to become one of the most complete (and diverse) dance albums of our time. While these tracks sonically take BT’s sound to the next level, it’s his songwriting that continues to grow as well.
“I think that some of the strongest melodies and lyrics will often have this kind of oblique and ambiguous nature,” he shared. “Some of the songs I’m most proud of, like “Satellite,” from my album Movement In Still Life, is one of those songs that so many people come up to me and say, ‘I experienced this,’ or ‘This song got me through.’ People have such different interpretations for that song and there are a handful of tracks I have like that. But that’s always another self-imposed hurdle, which is trying to make something that’s memorable and that can mean different things to different people.”
We then asked BT if he had any musical heroes that he follows and has continued to grow with much like we have with his music.
“The consummate band for me that does that is Depeche Mode. I really have a relationship with that band. They’ve actually reached out to me several times but I can’t bring myself to correspond with them because they’re such heroes of mine. If we weren’t able to sit around and break bread together it would actually ruin ten years of my life.”
“They’ve captivated me since I was a kid,” he added. “That band means so much to me, I could talk about them for hours and hours and the same goes for New Order. They just document such a significant chapter in my learning process.”
BT is about to embark on a tour backed by a full band and we reminded him about his most recent tour, for This Binary Universe, which saw him perform the album in its entirety. We happened to catch his performance in Anaheim, which he remembered fondly. He then promised to push the live band performance to a whole different dimension on his upcoming tour.
“We’re bringing it back! I can’t even tell you how excited I am to get out on the road,” he said. “The last tour, I was playing really beautiful, self-reflective, introspective music and so I am beyond excited to get back out on the road with a full live band.”
We’re gonna be playing my whole discography so we’ve got some really special stuff in store.
We pressed him and asked if he had any live mash-ups of his tracks planned in store, a la U2?
“Oh hell yeah,” he exclaimed. “Absolutely. All that and more!”
As for when he plans to bring the band back to the City of Angels?
“It will be late spring, early summer and we’ll be out there with a full live band,” he shared. “It’s gonna be really special.”
No doubt there’ll be some devilish debauchery on the road this year with the band but when we asked BT what his most recent sin was, we were were a little surprised to discover yet another talent.
“I baked some chocolate chip cookies yesterday which kicked all kinds of ass,” BT revealed. “So I’d have to say gluttony.”
“If the music thing doesn’t work out,” added his good friend and fellow Sonik Architect, Rana Sobhany, “I think we might have a BT bakery.”
She then disclosed that he already even owns an apron. And a pink one at that.
Chocolate chip cookies aside, we’re pretty sure BT’s music career is safe, especially after releasing a masterpiece like These Hopeful Machines. With each passing album now, BT is further cementing his legacy as one of the most forward-thinking musicians of not only of his generation but also of all time. No matter how long they take, we’ll be here, ready to continue growing right along with you.