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Sitting Down with BT: On A Song Across Wires, His 9th Studio Release,the Dance Music Industry and More

I recently had a conversation with a teenage relative that prompted me to "quit" all of my social media. For those that don't have experience with this, I am describing a process of logging out of social networking apps and/or deleting them entirely until your thumb, as if by telekinesis, relogs, reloads and sucks you back into the world of #hashtag and thumbs up and who-will-take-the-time-to-repost-this-status-update.  I began to ponder today's tools and inventions and what living in a time when literally having the world’s information rapidly accessible at your fingertips means in relation to our responsibility with it.  I decided to use one of these tools, Twitter, to seek out an interview with an artist who, other than through his music, had previously been very unreachable to me. 

Brian Transeau, better known as BT, is a Grammy-nominated, classically-trained music producer and self-proclaimed math geek who released his ninth studio album, A Song Across Wires on 8/16.  Aside from an accompanying tour, BT has been putting the work in doing a slew of interviews, large and smaller scale, to self promote.  Keeping with the times, he has also been active on his own with social media, often interacting with his fans and colleagues via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

As a fan first, I would say I know a lot about BT.  I've followed his work for over a decade and, like many of his followers, have had experiences and nursed through many emotions alongside his catalogue of music.  The latest album, ASAW, was years in the making.  The first single, "Tomahawk", was released on October 31, 2011.  "Must Be the Love", the second single, produced with Arty and Nadia Ali, was released almost a year later on September  17, 2012.  When stopping in Detroit this time around, I wanted the highlights from BT himself, especially since he would be sharing what would become a groundbreaking day in his 20+ year career with a show in my hometown. 

Having the opportunity to use social media as a powerful tool, and the humbleness of BT, I sat down to chat with him before his show at Elektricity on 8/16.  ASAW had officially released and entered at #1 on the US iTunes Dance Chart and was in the Top 10 in at least 6 other countries just earlier that day. 

I was nervous to meet BT.  Through his work, he is a source of emotional and sensory stimulus.  I felt so honored to be able to shake hands with someone like him, who has accomplished and pioneered so much.   

Stepping in to the green room, I saw that the 3 records I had brought and left on the table were already signed and stacked neatly for pickup.  BT commented on how one of them was rare and he hadn't seen it in forever, thanked me for the interview and expressed his appreciation (the first of many times).  We started chatting about Lake Superior and Michigan's beauty as I finally calmed and we carried on ... as if having a conversation with an old friend I was just catching up with. 

MCB: So, tell us about your day...

BT: It was actually insane!  Like, real life crazy.  We woke up early.  My daughter went with her grandma and grandpa today.  She was working on something and achieved it and got rewarded with a "grandma and grandpa trip" to New York.  So we all got up early and they were catching a train at 6am.  Even being early risers, I was expecting to go right back to bed and then I opened my phone to see what was happening.  I was like OH MY GOD and literally I've charged my phone 4 legit times today.  Real life.  We can't keep up with it, it's insanity!

So we woke up with the record entering the iTunes Dance Chart at #1 in America which has never happened with any of my records in 20 years.  Never one time.  And then it got up to like 25 on the main chart today.  So all of that is ridiculously amazing, but the things that were happening with my fans today were so humbling and powerful that I don't even have words for it.  It was just a really emotional day. 

MCB: We feel it too, it's kind of weird.  I definitely felt this vibe from it all happening today amongst all of the fans online.  Social media can be weird, I have mixed feelings about it.

BT: I can understand that, I do too. 

MCB: I mean in all honesty it's the reason I'm sitting here talking to you right now, but at the same time,  it could be viewed as detrimental to real social interaction and too non-personal.  On the good side, to be able to have a global format to exchange with people that you may have never had the opportunity to do before, and connect on something, not to devalue it, but something as simple as a record release, feels awesome and is different from the fan perspective than what we've ever had before.  With that said, congratulations on everything that's happened today. 

BT: Thank you so much.  Leading up to this has been sort of crazy too.  I did an interview with an amazing writer named Curtis Silver that used to write for Wired.  We did a normal interview and he's a great interview-er and asks really thoughtful questions.  He's also an excellent writer.  So we have this really nice thoughtful interview and I have a nice rapport with him.  Then he went away to write the piece and posed this thing online saying, "I want to interview BT's fans."  No one's ever done that before, it was kind of a crazy idea.  I saw it and retweeted it, and then a Facebook thread started and it was literally one of the craziest things that's ever happened to me in my whole life.  This is God's honest truth, I haven't even read all of it.  I'll read like 3 pages of it and it's so extraordinarily emotional that I have to take a break. I have to keep reading it in pieces.  It's so unbelievable...humbling, it's crazy. 

MCB: Hearing these things and the way you are expressing it, it sounds like this never gets old.  That's nice to know.  I'm sure you do intend to touch people in a certain way, but to hear about it in that magnitude is probably the best sort of feedback. 

BT:  It really is incredible.  And one of the hardest things is, so many of my peers make music so quickly.  Especially now, things are so ephemeral.  Make it, get it out, make it, get it out.  The turn over rate is extraordinary with an exponential slope.  It's just going faster and faster.  The curve to success is literally bedroom producer to Main Stage at Ultra in 18 months and shrinking, seriously.  And that's off the back of two tracks that are good, but the trajectory and the rate of these things are going so far.  And I am this guy that for 20 years has worked in isolation, alone in a room, making these things that are meaningful to me.  So, when you hear people say things to me like what I have heard and have been reading over the last couple days...I can't even, I don't have words for it. 

I watched my mom read that (Silver) piece the other day and she just burst into tears.  It was one of the most amazing experiences in my life.  I get to watch my mom see that.  My mom is a clinical psychotherapist and she's had this very tangible, very direct impact on people's lives.  Every Christmas I see stacks of cards from people saying that she's changed their lives.  People that she hasn't had in therapy for 20 years.  I've always looked up to that about my mom and for her to get to see something like that in her life, like her son having an impact on people, that circle is really powerful.  Really powerful stuff going on the last couple days. 

MCB: I'd love to know a little bit more about the vocalists selection on the new album, other than yourself.  I love the work you've done with JES (Every Other Way, The Light in Things, Letting Go, Tonight) and NadiaAli (Must Be The Love) who are both on the album among a slew of great talent.  Some of these people you've worked with before and some not.  Do you steer the ship when you choose to work with certain people and how much of the creative content do you allow them to incorporate into your work? 

BT: JES is amazing.  Really amazing.  Emma (Hewitt) (Calling Your Name) I hadn't worked with before and she is really amazing as well.  A friend of mine growing up named Jon Silver, his dad was the only artist that I grew up around, his name is Jack Silver.  I dedicated my first record, Ima, to him.  He was this kind of hippe-ish vagabond photographer in a very conservative area, and he said many amazing things to me.  One of the things he said was, "Hire people whose work you love, and let them be themselves.  Let them do what they do."  I think by virtue of the fact that me having a point of connection with someone that is another artist, and we decide to work together, there is this expectation in terms of, I do this "thing".  There's a thing that I do.  It's emotional, it's very detailed, there are a lot of descriptors you could give it.  And so I think my friends that are vocalists think, Oh man, I've gotta come with this thing.  I try not to put reigns on people, but I think there's a certain expectation.  It's one of those things where you want to let the person be themself but curate that so it makes sense contextually with the body of work.

MCB:  The people you've worked with before know your style and have gone through the experience with you.  So following through, you pick them because you like what they do on their own, and want them to bring that to the table. 

BT: For sure.  Someone like JES, who I've done a bunch of stuff with will come to the house and we're literally cooking while writing.  I swear to God.  Or we're sitting on the back porch with acoustic guitars hanging out with crickets going and we just write.  When we wrote Every Other Way on These Hopeful Machines I had my Yamaha classical 6-string gut string guitar, she had a pad of paper and a pencil, and we sat on the back step of the house and wrote the melody and a good portion of the lyrics in about 15 minutes.  Then we came upstairs where my mom and daughter and a couple friends were over and sat and played the chorus of that song while singing for like 3 hours for everybody.  Really magical stuff like that happens at the house so I always love when these collaborations can happen in person.  It doesn't always work out like that but it's wonderful when it does. 

MCB:  On your house as your inspirational source.  You've been sharing with us online about your new studio and desk build coming together.  It looks to be very reflective of your style and probably something you are at a point that you needed. 

BT:  It's beautiful and it's so exciting to be able to show it to friends.  We're not done, we are just starting the wiring process now, but we do have things roughly laid out.  The artist that made my desk is unbelievable.  It's a 200 year old Wormy Maple tree, naturally felled, it was struck by lightning.  It was milled into these inch and a half slabs and it took the guy a year to build this thing.  The first three months he built it out of cardboard.  I sketched proportions of what I wanted to make and then he never made anything with live edge, which is the bark of the tree.  It has no right angles in it so its like master master class even for a master carpenter.  The first thing we did was build it out of cardboard.  Then we changed the measurements.  It's made my body length so I can reach the top of the heads up racks without even doing anything, it's insane!  It took forever and I've been working on a laptop for a year, but it's starting to feel like it was worth it. 

Tony and Jono from Above & Beyond came to the house today to visit and come down to the studio.  Tony was like, "You know what Jono, I'm moving to the country... you guys can stay in the city."  I guarantee you they are going to go back to England and he's going to move to the country.  It was cool and exciting to see them that revved up about it. 


MCB: Speaking of JES and Above & Beyond, she had a really good guest-mix on their ABGT show today.  She did a sick mashup of Iris with Skylarking... I don't know if you have this yet, but get a hold of it.  I'm sure it was in honor of the great day today. 

BT: Yeah I heard that it was awesome.  I need to hear that.  Wow, that's amazing. 

MCB: Lastly, I just want to know your opinion.  Do you think it's still important to clarify with people about the DJ vs. Producer argument?  It's an old conversation, but with the DJ Mag Top 100 going on again this year, which you've expressed is not the end-all-be-all, but do you think it's still important to inform people.  You've said you are not a DJ, you don't DJ while on stage, is it still important to be a part of that category. 

BT: I would have answered you differently to this question before today.  Jono and Tony and I had some amazing conversations today.  They said to me, 

"We don't care about this thing at all, and you shouldn't either.  You are a legend, it doesn't matter if you are on that list or not.  That can be a springboard for new people that are starting up.  You've had such an impact, it doesn't matter at all."  

So before today I would have said that it's important.  The reason why I've thought it was important is because some of the American festival promoters look at that as some metric for success.  It's the weirdest thing when in actuality a large portion of that list is paid for, and bought, and that's just the reality of it.  That's the truth.  I'm not just saying it to be inflammatory or anything else.  I mean, I know people that are spending fifty, sixy, seventy-five thousand dollars on Twitter-sponsored ad campaigns for that and then buying advertising.  That is a little disheartening.  I think the people that have been around for a while feel a pressure to be a part of that when in actuality what it's great for is spring boarding new talent. 

MCB: You could even relate it to new fans as well.  They might be just getting into the music and want to check the list and listen to something new. 

BT:  I'm honestly conflicted about it.  I really appreciated what (Tony and Jono) were saying to me today.  Everything about today has made me feel like whatever it is you do, you can only be the best at being yourself.  Today was like a real reboot day for me that I'm going to be thinking about 6 months from now.  It's made me focus on some different things in a positive way.  I'm just incredibly grateful to my fans and people that have said all the incredible things that they have said today.  It's been an amazing day.

(An incoming Tweet chime sounds and BT's assitant informs us that Above & Beyond has just played Skylarking as a nod to BT at their gig at Echostage in Washington, D.C.)

BT: They are great guys.  It's really rare, guys like them, and like Armin (Van Buuren).  They are these super grounded, family guys, but they have incredible success. 

MCB:  I think it can be obvious, even to us who are more on the outside.  If you are into the music and know your stuff you can tell the difference between who is passionate and probably doesn't have their ego getting in the way or a superstar status thing.  Through the art I feel that you can kind of tell.  I'm not surprised at all that they are great guys. 

(We are now getting the signal for showtime, and I can't believe how quickly time has flown...)

MCB:  Do you still get nervous?

BT:  No (he laughs).  Not at all.  I wish I did.  I remember when I had piano recitals when I was 6 or 7 being like, holy crap and freaking out.  I am ready to rage tonight.  I've got a lot of  energy and I can't wait. 

MCB:  Well I am geeked.  This is a really special day and I personally have been waiting for this for months.  I'm glad we did this before your set so now I can put my hair up and dance my ass off.

Rage we did.  BT brought down the house with new instant-classics and old favorites.  You could tell that he was on Cloud 9 the entire night and the fans were right there with him, many singing along with tracks that had only been heard in their full magnitude just hours before.  After the show BT stayed to chat and take photos with every single person waiting to see him.  He thanked me again for the interview and I thought that the most rewarding part of the experience was the unsurprising first-hand confirmation that BT is definitely one of those rare, super grounded, really great guys. 

A Song Across Wires is out now via iTunes, Amazon, Beatport and direct from Armada Music.