The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Things I Have Learned

Trans Am On Travelling The English-Speaking World
David Moats , November 11th, 2008 11:25

Thrill Jockey stalwarts and vocoder aficionados Trans Am dispel some myths (and reinforce some others) about the world cities they've called home. They talk binge drinking, border guards and blunt stones with The Quietus' Dave Moats.

Trans Am

After 2003's Liberation, the three members of Trans Am moved from their Washington D.C. base to some of the far flung corners of the world. Drummer Sebastian took up residence in London, guitarist Phil moved to San Fransisco and bassist Nathan found himself in Auckland. Their experiences resulted in 2007's Sex Change which featured an expanded sonic pallet and song titles like 'Sainsbury's v Tesco' which referenced their travels.

Always travel for the right reasons

Seb: We all chose English speaking cities because, let's face it, Anglo-centric cultures are the most advanced in the world. London is of course at the very heart this advanced society.

Phil: So advanced, in fact, that it's actually in decay.

Seb: I currently live in Stoke Newington but back then I was staying in in Camden.

Phil: Camden, hey isn't that the place Madness is from and where Jimmy Page invented 'the blues'.

Phil: I moved to San Fransisco because a friend of ours Tim Greene from The Fucking Champs ownes a house there and he had a room open. Plus we were all sick of living in D.C.

Seb: Well, let's be honest, there were girls involved for all three of us.

Phil: Yeah, I had been living with a girlfriend in D.C. on the condition that we would both move someplace together afterwards. It was kinda like retribution, but of course San Fransicso has great food, great scenery etc. so it worked out

Being mistaken for a Canadian is a compliment

Seb: A lot of times, people have preconceptions of what Americans look like. So if it's a loud pub and people can't hear very well they might not know I'm American until several minutes into the conversation because they expect me to be wearing shorts and a baseball cap or something

Phil: ..and be loud and annoying.

Seb: Yeah, people always ask me if I'm Canadian. It's like saying "Hey, you sound American but you don't act like one so you must be Canadian". I definitely take it as a compliment.

Nathan: Yeah, but really they're just being considerate. It's much safer for someone to assume Canadian because Canadian's hate being mistaken for Americans. It's like calling a Kiwi person Australian. They fucking hate that.

Keep in touch

We all live in different cities now so communication is hard. No, we don't use any new fangled video conference technology. [Phil] sent me some in-progress mp3s but I didn't listen to them.

Phil: We occasionally use the email, but I'm not sure that format's really going to take off.

London is not all gloom and doom

Seb: Despite what everyone thinks, London actually has nice weather. It's very temperate and doesn't rain as much as people say.

Phil: San Fransisco has terrible weather. It rains all the time and I have found myself being colder there that anywhere else I have lived. If you go even a half mile outside the city and the weather is great. I often look through the fog and rain and see Berkeley across the bay looking like paradise on earth.

Seb: Now the London stereotypes of bad teeth and bad food? They're basically true.

There really are lots of gays and drugs in San Fransisco

Phil: The drug culture in San Fransisco is a very real thing and it's probably the most annoying part about the city: kids on Haight Street panhandling or trying to sell bud or that kind of shit. There is the touristy element to Haight Ashbury and the city is full of yuppies but behind all the rows of Ferraris you have junkies hanging out on skid row.

Oh the other hand, the best thing about San Fransisco is that I never have to pay for pot. The other day someone shoved an ounce of weed through my mailbox.

Seb: Who?

Phil: It was my neighbor who had "totally quit" and didn't want it any more.

Seb: Coke is really really huge in London, much more so than anywhere else I've been.

Nathan: As you might expect there are a lot of pot-smokers in New Zealand, especially in the smaller towns where there's nothing to do.

Phil: I would have taken New Zealand for a crystal meth kinda place. So cheap and so adictive.

Nathan: Well, yes that too. There was a cabin near me that burned completely to the ground 'cuz it was a Meth lab.

There's more to New Zealand than sheep and hobbits

Nathan: The sheep to man ratio is quite high in New Zealand but there aren't really any hobbits. Lots of people seriously walk around barefoot everywhere, which I guess is sort of a hobbit thing.

Know your local drinking customs

Seb: All English speaking countries seem to have a binge drinking culture but only in London is public drunkenness completely socially acceptable. Sure it is technically legal here (in the States open alcohol containers are banned in in public places) but that doesn't explain why on the weekend you have these large packs of drunks stumbling down the street and terrorising people.

Nathan: New Zealanders seem to think it's fine too. The binge drinking culture there is much closer to England than what I'm used to. There is definitely an acceptance of people drinking in public and singing. And also being hung over. Of course people get hung over in the U.S. but you don't seem to tell anyone except your closest friends.

Seb: In America there is some moral, puritanical shame associated with hangovers, like there's something wrong with you. You certainly would never mention that you have a hangover on the job. Brits flaunt it like "Had a late one last night?"

Nathan: Pubs are different in New Zealand. They're much more spartan. 'Leaners' are really big. That's just a table wrapped around a tree but without any chairs.

Seb: I imagine that as a romantic, frontier kind of thing; as if to say 'we just got here ten years ago, the chairs are still on their way'.

Phil: And they all stand around them with their blunt stones, which are these massive slip on work boots with elastic straps. Antipodean working men wear them with shorts which is weirdly homoerotic but there it's a blue collar statement.

Never do speed before you get on a plane

Seb: It's very tempting to drink yourself stupid on long-haul flights but, when the flight is over six hours..

Phil: ...you have just enough time to be awake for the start of your hangover. The worst thing about travelling by far is Jet-lag. It sucks so fucking bad. Its like being sick but you can't fix it, you just have to lie awake in bed for hours. There's unfortunately no way for evolution to have dealt with that yet.

Seb: On trans-Atlantic flights I have lots of deep philosophical thoughts about my life and about the big decisions that I have made or will make. The kind of things you would normally worry about the next day, but since you're completely trapped you have nothing to do but get really introspective.

Nathan: Yeah Phil and I once simultaneously broke into tears while watching an in-flight version of Shakespeare in Love.

Phil: Well, that's because we took lots of speed before the flight.

Seb: There's a These Things I have Learned: "Don't do speed on your way to the airport".

Nathan: No, I think my lesson is "Don't Do Speed EVER."

Always bring an American Football

Seb: The two international borders which give you the most trouble are America and Britain because those are the two countries which are the most concerned about immigration. We've actually had the most hassle getting back into America. The best way to cross the American border by car is to have an American Football on the dashboard. If you have a frizbee that's bad because that signifies a car full of druggy, college dropouts; a soccer ball signifies poncy Eurotrash tourists; whereas an American football makes you look like clean cut, all American, heterosexual man. The only problem is that you might find yourself tossing the old pigskin around with the border guards and pretending to enjoy it.

Phil: Yeah, not cool.

Trans Am are currently completing a mini-European/Canadian tour. A live album and a studio album are in the works

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.