BT aka Brian

Interview by Jason Gross

You may not think you know Brian "BT" Transeau but trust me- you do and you will. Maybe you know about the Tori Amos collaboration or maybe you've heard of how he's become a European club sensation (though he's a steadfast resident of Maryland) or maybe you've heard his remixes of Seal and others or maybe you know about his origins in the legendary Deep Dish collective or maybe you saw him as one of the stars of the recent Big Top tour that just swept through America. Maybe you've just been lucky enough to hear his two CD's, IMA and his recent ESCM. Maybe I'll just shut my trap and let the guy speak for himself...

JG: You started out in Maryland?

Yeah, I'm here again now. I lived in Los Angeles for a while and it was crazy out there, trying to get a record deal. I was out there struggling while everyone wanted to sign the next Pearl Jam and they just thought we were a disco band. So I moved back to Maryland- I had enough of the quakes, the floods, the riots and the fires out there.

JG: What's the music scene like where you are?

Maryland's a really beautiful place. I grew up in the 'burbs and went to high school with Ali (Shirazinia) from Deep Dish. We got into break-dancing and got into all this kind of stuff. It's a cool place to grow up because it lacks the sort of musical prejudices that you get in a lot of places. Lots of friends who grew up in other places would only get exposed to one type of music. Here, we'd go to D.C. to a place called the Armory and see Black Flag and Minor Threat but we'd also see a lot of dance music.

JG: Did you get to see any of the Go-Go bands from D.C.?

Hell yeah! That stuff was so cool when it came up. It was all about the music. Now, there's violence associated with stuff. Back then though, you had Chuck Brown and EU and Trouble Funk. We were totally into all that stuff. We used to play go-go rhythms on our lockers at school.

JG: How did Deep Dish get started?

Ali and Sharem (Tayebi) wanted to make a record label around '93. I made this record and I was trying to get a deal and getting the major labels slamming doors in my face. So Ali and Sharem wanted to make a house label and they put my record out. We did some remixes of it at my parents' bedroom and some at a local studio where I used to mow lawns. We pooled our money together to get it pressed and put it out. We had 400 copies of the first one. Billboard wrote a great review of it. We didn't get a lot of money but it gave me the courage to make more records. The second one I did got in the hands of Sasha and Guy Oldhams and some European DJ's and then I got my record deal with Warners from that in '94.

JG: Was it strange to have the Europe market pick up on you without even going out there?

Yeah it was but it's kind of akin to the jazz guys in the '40s. They got no respect in America and jazz was considered urban heroin music. They all went to Paris and got respect and then America claimed it as its own idiom. I think that's what you're seeing a lot with electronic music today.

JG: Why do you think that is?

With house music, a lot of the originators of it like Carl Craig and Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson (I can't mention them enough) have gotten no respect except for outside of this country. Eventually it will be reclaimed as an American idiom. America is sometimes the last to pick up on its own creations. We're just kind of in the midst of building a base for this music. It's starting to make sense in America because this is a place that needs to be stimulated by more than two senses. When you have someone like Prodigy that makes sense in a video and performance context, that's paving the way for us and other artists doing simliar things. We just did a show in Seattle where we had 10,000 kids pogo-ing and stage-diving. If you make those kind of connections with the music, you start to see how it can work in this country. It just needs to be demonstrated here visually. The more that it's done, the more sense it's going to make here. It's just a matter of time.

JG: What about your work on your own after Deep Dish? How was that different from what you were doing before?

The stuff that I did for Deep Dish was really focused on the dance floor because that's where my head was at that moment. 'Embracing The Future' and 'Eternal Sunshine' were very personal music for me. It was a meeting point between things that I liked from the club sphere right through the things that influenced me as a kid like Vangelis and Wagner and soundtrack composers. It wasn't something that I really thought would make sense to anyone. When I played people this music, they'd say 'there's two minutes without beats- what the fuck are people going to do during that?' I said 'I don't care.' It was just what it was. That's just what I felt.

I just started getting so bored with music because it was so geared to specifically what makes a dance floor work. That's good for what it is but just on a musical level, that started to bore me. We'd done that before and we made it work. It's funny because this stuff wound up influencing European club culture tremendously. Now, the house guys are putting two minute breaks in their records and I was doing it five years ago! It's something that I never thought would make sense but it wound up that way.

JG: What did you think when you started getting these requests to do remixes?

It was really exciting, more than overwhelming. I was just ready to go. I was waiting to do this my whole life. I felt really blessed. I knew that I had to do this and go for it. It was great, and still is great, to hear people appreciate something that means so much to you. When I was in Los Angeles, I was doing all kinds of different music and I was encouraged away from electronic music- it made sense to no one at the time. I was more encouraged to play guitar and do singer-songwriter type shit. (laughs) It would been so unfulfilling for me as a musician for me to pursue something that my heart altruistically wasn't in. Just to be recognized for something that means so much to me is such an awesome fucking feeling. It's an all-good situation.

JG: When Ima came out, do you think that was a departure from your early material?

Ima is kind of like a culmination of a couple of years' worth of work. The thing that's cool about that record is that it sort of charts my growth musically in that two year period for me. I think that it maybe didn't change me, it broadened what I thought was acceptable. Like I said, it was selfish personal music that I made for me and I didn't think anyone would understand. It's like music that I made for me and my dog in my bedroom.

The first time that I saw a whole dance floor full of people bugging out to 'Embracing the Future,' I was ABSOLUTELY blown away. It was some of the greatest moments of my life. Seeing that did change things as I saw that you could do these things and that music could build and swell on the dancefloor. It changed my outlook on what was permittable. If you're really connecting with yourself musically then ultimately that's what's going to connect with people. It's not trying to think about what works. You can sit down and drink and talk with your friends and listen to it or you can throw it on at a club and it makes sense.

JG: How would you compare that with ESCM?

I think that just as Ima was an adequate reflection of where I was at personally and musically at the time that I made it, ESCM is a reflection of where I'm at now. That's a cool thing about making records- in ten years, you can sit back and listen to your albums and you'll know where you were at.

JG: So what does this music say about you now?

It honored some of the things that influenced me musically that I haven't been able to express on record because of the technology or the time or the finances. Recorded strings aren't cheap and I've wanted to do that for ages because I studied symphonic orchestration and classical writing as a kid. I've always wanted to put those things in records. So we have this kind of 12-tone, Bela Bartok kind of contemporary segues between tracks and then we've got 'Love, Peace and Grease' that honors the things that incited my interest in electronic music in the beginning. Then there's things on there that reflect other sides of me musically and personally that I haven't addressed. Ima has a very spiritual feeling to it and reflected one part and one feeling of me. ESCM addresses some parts of me that I haven't addressed before that are darker and uglier but have everything to do with where I'm at now. Like 'Solar Plexis' and 'Orbitis Teranium.' Then it's got things that make sense in the context of Ima like 'Flaming June' and 'Content.' I'm really proud of it. I have a real feeling of closure with that. The coolest thing is to sit back in ten or fifteen years and listen to this and chart your progress as a person.

JG: Where do you want to be in ten or fifteen years then?

I really want to keep growing as a musician and a recording artist and learning all I can and continuing to broaden my musical spectrum and create an awareness of what I'm doing, especially within this country. We've had a lot of success outside of America and I'm really excited about America getting their heads around to what we do. I really want to continue to create great music and videos and make some slamming-ass tracks for the next album and get more into the realm of film soundtracks. I'm really interested in that and we're finally getting stuff placed in there. 'Love, Peace and Grease' is in STARSHIP TROOPERS. I did a song with Richard Butler (Psychedelic Furs) that didn't make the cut of ESCM but it's going to be used in this Bruce Willis movie. I just have a lot of music and a lot of learning and I want to keep doing it.

JG: Where do you think the whole phenomenon of techno and electronica is going?

I think it's a double-sided thing. It's been fantastic for all of us who make this music to get all this attention but at the same time, it's a misnomer to limit it to this sudden out-cropping of music. There's been music like this for ten or fifteen years. Today it's made a paradigm shift of everything- it influences every type of music. It's great that there's a growing awareness of techno but it's impact is so much greater than what can be hyped or written about that it's not even funny. Think of Butch Vig or Beck or Flood- they've all listened to drum and bass and really underground things that are happening. It's much more all-encompassing than some small out-cropping of music like the Chemical Brothers and Prodigy. It's a really exciting time for music and the awareness of this is going to continue to grow.

For the first time since I was a kid, I'm finding records at the store that excite me. Like Logical Progression or Beck. I haven't been so excited since I picked up the second New Order album. I was so sick of all that alternative shit. It was really cold. I love Radiohead though- their new record is awesome. That's the kind of music that I like to make. The best kind of music you don't love instantly- it grows on you and then it gets under your skin.

JG: Could you name your favorite CD's or LP's?