Over the past 20 years, Brian Transeau—or BT, as we’ve come to know him—has been flexing his muscle in the realms of songwriting, production, and technology. Championed by Sasha early in his career, this Grammy-winning artist has left an indelible mark on the music industry as a whole. From his signature stutter-editing, to scoring films like The Fast and the Furious and Monster, BT’s catalog of accomplishments is quite extensive—and still growing.
Featuring recent hits like “Skylarking” and “Must Be the Love,” BT’s ninth studio album, A Song Across Wires, arrives on Armada on August 16. As the world watches his Twitter feed for the next big rant, we caught up with the veteran to talk about the new album and his recent controversial turns.
Tell me about the inspiration behind A Song Across Wires. What was the kind of direction you were going for with this album?
This is exciting for me because, typically, I’m drawing inspiration from elsewhere instead of my peer group and community—you know, because I score film and write music for TV shows and games—and so often my inspiration is usually things like that, or I love indie rock, or things other than dance music, or the EDM community at large. This is the first time in the past three to five years where I’ve been truly excited about what my peer group is doing. For me, especially around the time of the millennium, it was like really, really boring, you know? And sort of like, everyone in the club was a guy.
Oh, that’s still true.
[Laughs] You know, what’s funny is that’s somewhat true, but it was really bad then and it was very chin-stroking, academic minimal-type stuff. And the funny thing is that I actually like some of that music but when that movement became very popular, around 2003, 2004, I found electronic music really dull, and uninspired, and for me, the real disruptive technology in dance music has been bass music and bass music culture, because it’s brought to the table, first of all, a whole lot of participants in dance music who would’ve never found the music any other way—they would’ve been metal kids. And it’s interesting, it’s really kind of merged these two separate oceans—kids that come from progressive house and house music, to people that were into metal and hip-hop that then got into bass music… The two doors people walk through after the point of contact of EDM and bass music culture—that to me has been the most inspiring thing that has ever happened in dance music and it’s sort of reignited my passion for what a lot of people are doing, especially people that are just coming up. So this record really reflects that… I had so much fun making this record, so I feel like this is the first time, honestly, in my entire career, that I made a record exclusively of dance music.
What was the process you went through to create the album? Did you start songs on the computer? Or were you just hangin’ out in the studio for a while?
I’m that weirdo who plays all kinds of instruments and stuff, so frequently my songs start with basic instruments and I feel really genuinely inspired, typically only when—it’s a different kind of inspiration, more like an analytical inspiration when I’m using the computer, digital signal processing, but my songwriting always comes from having my hands on an acoustic instrument, whether it’s, you know, acoustic guitar, a glockenspiel. A song like “In the Air” by Morgan Page, I sat and wrote that song using completely acoustic instruments, and this record is the same. All of my favorite things that I’ve ever written I’ve done sitting at a piano.
Did the album turn out how you originally wanted it to? Or did you take some detours from the initial planning?
[Laughs] I’d say on the magnitude of order, about 85% of what I set out to do—I have this really weird ritual for making a record; it’s very formalized how I do it. It will take me a couple of years to finish a whole album, but excitingly though, I’ve recorded three albums in the past three years, which has like, never happened before in my life.
Yeah, you’re kind of like a machine…
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s crazy—in fact four albums, ’cause there’s this unreleased project with my friend Christian Burns that hasn’t come out yet, so close to five hours of music in the past three years, all of which is going to be released, which never happens with me, so that’s pretty exciting. And [it] also shows how technology now is expediting the process even for someone like me, who is this OCD recluse in the middle of the woods, making these huge sandcastles out of grains of sand, you know what I mean? Anyway, to answer your question, I have this really formalized way that I come about making a record. Basically, at the beginning of it, I’ll sit down and I’ll write this really, really long thing—pages, sometimes 50-100 pages—and I’ve done this with my very first album, where I talk about things that I want to achieve emotionally, stylistically, new techniques that I want to utilize, and it’s basically sort of a working blueprint for the finished record. I basically did that for A Song Across Wires and I got about 85% of the way there, which is like my mean average on all of my records. There’s 15%, not necessarily unfinished, but the path is 15% divergent.
Looking back over the span of your career of over 20 years, what’s something you’re most proud of musically?
You know, I’ve heard people call me—and I’m totally having a Bob Dole moment where I’m talking about myself in the third person, it’s always awkward for me—I’ve heard myself called the godfather of trance many times, even by my peers. That early in my career, back when I began making music, there wasn’t a blueprint for things, I was just making records in my bedroom, and just fresh out of the Brooklyn School of Music, and there weren’t breakdowns in a record, there were not builds in a record, and I attacked electronic music with this really unfounded experience with it. So I tried to do many experimental things, many of which I was criticized for originally—you know, like some of my friends would be like, “You can’t have a minute and half without beats in a record. What will people do?”
They’ll freak out, and stop dancing altogether…
[Laughs] So when I hear people call me the godfather of trance, that really means a lot to me because I feel like I pioneered some ideas very early, and formed their way into every facet of dance music, and I feel a tremendous amount of pride and ownership for that.
As a veteran in the industry, what do you feel is your role to impart to the younger generation of dance music producers?
It’s such an amazing thing, there is this really organic symbiotic relationship of the generation of upcoming producers now and it’s another thing that I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to participate in, and the reason for that is, no one did it for me. I had people that helped me, but not really people to help mold and guide me. I feel so blessed to have had Sasha pick me out of this really long list of people who were making music at the time, and in essence, take me under his wing. I got my first record deal like that, and so from that experience, I feel this tremendous amount of responsibility to help out people that are coming up, perhaps more so than what I experienced myself. I feel a lot of my work, as it were, in mentoring people is talking to them about their core motivation, what they’re doing this for, and helping them have a mission statement—you know, like what is the end goal? ‘Cause if the end goal is to play the main stage at Ultra and have sex with a lot of girls, then you’re fucking lost, honestly. So I feel that core work is helping people with their end goal, to make sure it is transformative and rooted in something good, you know?
You’ve had a couple of hot topics on Twitter recently and it kinda touches on your desire to see the community go a certain direction. How much of what you want to see happen do you think you can actually accomplish? Twitter is a very public place to voice your opinions or concerns.
Yeah, I realize that…
Well, you’ve made some very serious allegations. Do you regret using such a public platform in voicing your “concerns”? Do you feel like you’ve made your point and you’re done? Or there is still more you have to say?
Yeah, there is a whole lot more I want to say, for sure, and I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to say the things I have said and will say. Backing up, you asked a really great question that I have to answer first, like how much of that work do I feel like I can do, and the answer to that is, I don’t know. I don’t have an answer to that question, but I look often to my peer group. It’d be really easy to point some people out, but people that are my age who are fathers, many of them are fathers with daughters—I’m not just talking about artists, I’m talking about promoters, people within the industry—and I think, wow, there are some things going on in the industry that people need to speak up about, and they’re too ashamed to, or they don’t think it’s cool, or they’re worried about people saying shitty things to them, and I don’t have a problem with that at all.
[Laughs] Yeah, I’d rather talk forcefully, truthfully, than clam up, because it means [you're going] along with the herd… I’ve had 30 artists, prominent artists, come up to me and say, “You know what—we’re fed up with this shit, too, and we’re really proud of you that you did that; we don’t have the courage to do it.” So, I’ll be the guy who takes the heat for it, that’s fine, because I know that it’s important to other people, too.
Well I’m half jaded raver and half in the music industry as well as being a fan of the music, and watching how the younger generation has come up into the community, I almost kinda feel that people using their sexual nature is inevitable. Do you feel that the things you’re preaching against in our community is even worth it? I mean, I don’t know—it may just be where we have to go before we circle back to a different area.
I want to make a really strong distinction, though. What I’m talking about isn’t some moralist, puritanical worldview. I’m perfectly comfortable with people celebrating their sexuality; it’s got nothing to do with that. Specifically, what I was speaking out against was young girls objectifying themselves and then a community saying they deserve it because they do it. I mean, it’s a cyclical thing. All you gotta do is pick up a fucking Gloria Steinem book and read it and it talks about that kind of oppression and objectification of women; it’s been happening for literally hundreds of years. And I think teenage girls tweeting naked pictures of themselves and people saying, “Oh, why are you defending them? They’re just sluts,” that’s a big problem—a really, really big problem. I’m not talking about girls, you know, taking pictures of their friends, getting crazy on the weekend. I’m talking about young girls, probably fatherless girls, sending naked pictures of themselves to an artist, and that artist retweeting them, and that is the bulk of their Twitter feed. I have a serious problem with that, and everyone else should, too.
Yeah, but I mean, if it’s their desire to do so, how much of what they’re doing do you actually feel you should have a say in?
Well, I don’t know. I mean, honestly, it is what it is. I said my piece with it. I take issue with it, I don’t think that it’s right, both for the young girls involved in it and for the community that thinks it’s okay to objectify them. I mean, it’s the same thing as someone saying a girl deserved to get raped because she was wearing a short skirt. It’s preposterous, it’s not right, and whether you’re a musician or not, it should be an issue that rubs you the wrong way.
Considering how much of a heavyweight you are in our industry, do you think it’s dangerous to be speaking out on things like this in your position and having everyone looking at you?
I don’t know. I’m not sure…