We met BT at his hotel suite in central London the night before his hotly tipped Homelands appearance...
Hailed, as ‘The Father Of Epic House’, whatever that may be, BT is probably hated in elitist guitar music circles but more out of green eyed envy than mere disdain for dance act’s and DJs for not only is he a world renowned artist, a ball of blazing, blurred energy on stage, but a seasoned classical/jazz, keyboardist, guitarist, drummer, a musician since the age of four.
He has also scored the soundtracks to such acclaimed Hollywood films as ‘GO’, and more recently ‘Under Suspicion’. He has worked alongside Peter Gabriel on music for the Millennium Dome. Oh yeah, and he can single handedly compose and score music for 60 piece orchestras. This man is not a mere programmer. He is an artist who oozes talent and enthusiasm, and to top it all off, he is a nice guy!
BT, or should we say, Brian Transeau, is hiding out in Kensington when we happen upon him. He has been in the country less than 24 hours and has already played to a packed out club at the The End’s 5th Birthday Party. By anyone’s standards he should look awful and bleary eyed, slowly coming to terms with Jet Lag and sleep deprivation. Sickeningly he is not, although he is still in a bathrobe when we walk into his hotel room. He bounces across the room, hand outstretched and introduces himself. As if there were any doubt to he is. He looks exactly as he does on his album cover.
“You don’t mind if I eat while we do this do you?” He positions himself behind the room service trolley and begins to pick at the salmon and new potatoes before him. Setting up the equipment, idle chatter turns to his new album, ‘Movement in Still life’ – “I think ‘Movement in Still life’ is an encapsulation of all my influences and that was the cool thing about making the record. It was the first time I got to put out all of what I am as a person and a musician. On the first 2 albums, I was reigned by my record label, into putting out one style of music, when in fact, I have a really diverse and eclectic musical upbringing and I’ve studied and love so many different kinds of music; classical music since I was four, then Electro and Break Dancing when I was 12, then to playing drums in Ska Bands and singing and playing guitars in indie bands.
I went to Jazz college – Berkley School of Music, so getting to make this record was really the fulfillment of something I wanted to do for a long time. Influences, range from Rachmaninov, and Debussy when I was a kid, to Kraftwork and Cabaret Voltaire, when I was a teenager, right through, to some of the harmonic stuff that goes on in jazz. And in particular the sound of ‘Movement in Still Life’, was very much influenced by the ethos of new school break beat. That has been something over the last few years that has really captured my ear. Like, wow!, this is really interesting and unique sounding stuff…
So, what exactly is ‘Epic House’? Well basically Epic House is what people started to call Trance when we didn’t have a name for it. It was like, ‘What is this music with breakdowns and big intros and drops?’ and there wasn’t a name for it, so we were like, let’s call it……… Epic House! It’s what trance is now; one and the same”.
We chat a little more about random stuff, and as usuall, conversation leads off on a tangent. Onto the subject of cars to be precise. Boy talk…
“I love cars. My favourite car and my dream car is the Porche 955, the turbo. I love fast driving. I love motorcycles too, like classic Harleys. I’m a little ways away from the Porche. I have a three series BMW at the moment. It’s light, and it has a stick shift so it’s fast, but not Porche fast. Steven Hopkins, (The director of ‘Under Suspicion’), has got one. He said to me one day, ‘Dude just take the keys.) I got in the car, and I could seriously not work out how to shift gears on it so I stalled it about ten times. You can literally go at 85mph in second gear. It’s sick! Neck snapping! Ridiculous but great fun”.
Luckily tangents sometimes come back to reality.
People don’t just walk into writing film scores, the question begs to be answered: How do you get into Hollywood?
“I was out actively pursuing scoring films and it’s kind of a catch 22. No one will hire you until you’re a proven commodity and you can’t be a proven commodity until you’re hired for something. So I just lucked out, ’cause Doug Lyman, who directed ‘Go’ and ‘Swingers’, his first movie, which is one of my favourites of all time, he’s an amazing director, just called me up and said, ‘Look, I’m making a movie about dance music culture and I want somebody that really does dance music to do the score for it.’ I thought ‘this is insane!’. I’d wanted to do a movie the whole of my musical life. So Doug comes over to my house with this tape. He’s this mad guy with wild hair and he says, ‘Hey Man I’m gonna show you this video’. He plays it and I’m wetting myself laughing, running back and forth between my VCR and my studio saying, “Hey this track would be great for that part’ and so on.
So literally a week later he flew me out to LA and I go the job. It was a mad thing. And he really fought for me too, because Sony had wanted to use a traditional film composer and he really wanted someone who came from the dance community to do his movie. He really wanted it to be realistic and legitimate so if you were watching a club scene you would be hearing something that would really be playing in a club. It was an awesome experience. It was totally different to the last film I did, in terms of the experience of it. The first one was all dance music, which is what I do on my records. This second one was a traditional score. I just finished it recently, it’s got Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman in it (Under Suspicion) and it was just insane. I had to sit down and write out pieces for a 60-piece orchestra manually, so it was really, really challenging. It was so different to sitting with a bunch of sythesisers and drum machines and programming stuff. I’d watch the footage, then sit at the piano and write the themes, and literally sit with pencil and paper and write out stuff for Violin, Viola, Cello and Contra Bass… it was stuff I’d studied as a kid, but I hadn’t done it for years and years and years. It was really challenging. Really rewarding though.
To stand in front of an orchestra of these stunning musicians who could sight read something first take and hear my own stuff coming back is awesome. There is nothing like the sound of being in a room with an orchestra. There is no recording that has done that justice. We recorded the strings at a church in Seattle, and my conducting is really rusty, so I hired someone to conduct for me. We did do well time wise which is something really unusual for films. It’s so expensive to record strings that you usually go up to the last possible moment with the string players. We had 50 minutes left over which is unheard of, so they saved the last 3 cues and ganged up on me, gave me a baton and said you have to conduct the last three cues. I haven’t conducted since school, I was like, ‘Please don’t do this to me, I’m gonna bite it hard!’ but I got up there and I practically didn’t remember how do count in 4/4 time. But it came back to me. By the end of it I was like ‘Bah bah bah bah!!!! Dah daha daha!’ Just spazzing out. You get so into it. It’s amazing what a conductor actually does. How much they control the dynamics of an orchestral performance. You have an intense control over the dynamics – it was an awesome experience”.
Is this something you’d consider doing full time?
“I don’t know if it’ll be my main thing. What’s cool, and I feel really lucky about it, is that there’s not really anybody else making records and doing movies at the same time. It’s a great outlet creatively and very dissimilar to what I do on my own records. So I enjoy doing both of them. I’m sure at some point I’ll do movies full time, In 10 years or something, when I want to kick back, chill out have a family, relax. It’ll be a while yet though, I’ve still got a load more spazzing out to do and keyboards to break”.
If you could be in any band, past or present, who would it be?
“Radiohead are my favourite band of all time. I would play the harpsichord for those guys, the Ukulele even – anything to get in the band.”
‘Movement in Still Life’ opens with the most hilarious answer machine message. (You have to hear it to believe it). What’s the story behind that?
“Me and Sasha have a private contest as to who gets the craziest answer machine messages so we’re always trying to top one another so I beat him on that one. He gets some crazy ones too. This kid called him at the studio one day, and we were trying to work. He’d been standing at the same tube station all day calling from the same payphone. He was like ‘Dude, I’m still here, I’m at Tottenham Court Station, pick up the phone.’ Sasha’s like ‘Who is this guy?’ It was crazy! We get hysterical messages but the one on the album topped them all. It’s so funny!”
Conversation turns to the upcoming Homelands England event, UK festivals in general and how eclectic the line-ups tend to be.
“Britain is one of the only places on the planet that does that. You make festival line-ups diverse. If you go to a show in America, we don’t have proper festivals like where you pitch a tent sort of thing, but if you go to one of these shows you can pick a band and every single other band on the lineup will sound exactly the same. If there’s Korn there’s gonna be Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit too. I think that festivals are really good for dance acts because it gives them exposure to different audiences. The people that listen to Primal Scream will come into a tent and listen to myself or Sasha or whatever. People that listen to Paul Oakenfold might wander over and listen to Supergrass or whatever, so it’s good for everybody I think. It keeps people open minded.”
What are you listening to at the moment, then?
There are some great dance acts knocking around – a guy called Andy Page, over in Australia, who’s doing this project called Hi-Fi Bugs, which is one of the coolest things I’ve heard in ages. At the moment, the albums I’m listening to are the new Supergrass album, Travis – I love them [nevermind! – Ed] – and this early 20th Century composer, Pendorechky. It’s hardcore. It makes the darkest, Drum ‘N’ Bass, look like a walk in the park!”