INTERVIEW: Trans Am’s Phil Manley

Trans Am have been around since the 90s, and in that time they’ve explored everything from post-rock to electronica and Krautrock. They’ve always had hard rock influences, but never more obviously than on their latest release, Volume X. As soon as we heard the stoner rock and thrash vibes of a few of the songs, we knew we had to find out what was up with that. Guitarist Phil Manley was kind enough to answer our stupid questions.
Even though the bulk of the album focuses on your usual Krautrock/electronic sound, there seem to be some harder elements this time around. Is there a reason for that?

From the beginning Trans Am has also oscillated between genres pretty recklessly.  Every album includes some tracks that are hard rock and others that are more experimental electronic music.  Sometimes the peanut butter gets mixed in with the chocolate, but other times they stay separate.  ‘The Surveillance’ is the most acutely obvious example of this.  The rock songs are really hard rockin’ and the electronic songs are purely electronic.  I think we like to keep the rock element going because we are a very physical band.  The electronic stuff is a bit headier.  The rock stuff is more cathartic.  It’s more fun to play.  I’m a guitar player and I want to get my rocks off.  It’s harder to do that with the electronic stuff, personally speaking.

“Anthropocene” has a stoner rock vibe. What inspired that?

Drugs?  That riff was a total throwaway.  When we were planning our recording session, we each had to show up with a certain number of “ideas” to present to the band for consideration.  This was a riff that I threw together in maybe 5 minutes.  I actually didn’t really like it to begin with.  It was too stupid, in my mind.  But Nate and Seb liked it and it developed from there.  I’m a fan of the stoner rock genre, generally speaking.  I work as a recording engineer and I record a lot of bands that would fall into that very broad genre.  I’ve been a Melvins fan since I heard their ‘Egg Nog’ EP when I was in college.  I bought Earth ‘2’ when it came out.  Those records were very formative for me.  They seemed to stretch the boundaries of time and space and of my young, impressionable mind.  It kind of blows my mind to think about how bands like Sunn O))) and Boris and so many others have had so much success playing a style that is so old now.  I guess it all goes back to Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer anyway.

Why did you decide to go for the thrash riff in “Backlash?” Are you a fan of thrash metal? Did you look at any one specific song or band when coming up with that tune?

We are all fans of thrash.  I grew up on Metallica and Slayer.  I live in San Francisco and people are very serious about that shit here.  Metallica and Exodus are woven into the local fabric as much as the Grateful Dead or Santana.  It’s pretty great.

Trans Am actually had an amazing experience going to see Slayer play ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ in Cleveland a few years back.  This was before Jeff Hanneman passed away.  Dave Lombardo is even better now than he was on those records.  Totally mind blowing.

‘Backlash’ is actually a nod to the Manowar track ‘Wheels of Fire’, to be honest.  I wrote that song for a soundtrack.  It was scrapped, but wound up making it on ‘Volume X’ in the end.  The director wanted me to compose a song that referenced Metallica ‘Kill ‘Em All’.  He wanted something that sounded like ‘Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)’.  This is a stretch, I realize.  I did play some heavily fuzzed wah-wah bass in there if you listen closely.  Cliff Burton has always been a hero of mine.

Our magazine covers more extreme music; what do you think our readers might get out of this album?

Maybe they’ll like some of it and not other bits?  I’m pretty sure fans of heavy music can appreciate all types of music.  I know a lot of metal heads who are really into classical music.  Music is music after all.  If you feel it, then it’s real.  We are not interested in making fake music.  The world is flooded with fake music – music with all the trappings of what music should sound like, but without any of the substance.  It’s a facade.  Trans Am has been doing this for too long.  We are not interested in clogging peoples ear holes with fake music.  Hopefully, your readers will have a visceral connection with our music.

***Volume X is out today on Thrill Jockey. You can learn more about the band and order the record here. See them on tour at the locations below:

Thu May 22 – Washington, DC – The Black Cat w/ Heavy Breathing
Fri May 23 – Brooklyn, NY – The Knitting Factory w/ Dan Friel
Sat May 24 – Pittsburgh, PA – Smiling Moose w/ Microwaves
Sun May 25 – Chicago, IL – The Empty Bottle w/ Cave
Tue May 27 – St. Louis, MO – The Firebird w/ Ring Cicada, The Gorge
Wed May 28 – Kansas City, MO – Record Bar
Thu May 29 – Dallas, TX – Three Links w/ New Fumes
Fri May 30 – Houston, TX – Rudyard’s Pub w/ Vacation Eyes, Wicked Poseur
Sat May 31 – Austin, TX – Red 7 w/ Survive, When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth
Mon Jun 2 – Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom w/ Larkspurs
Tue Jun 3 – Los Angeles, CA – The Satellite
Wed Jun 4 – San Francisco, CA – The Independent w/ Dirty Ghosts, Death Cheetah