Ladies & gentlemen, Transona Five is not floating in space.
By Shannon Sutlief
AUGUST 17, 1998: Evoking images of cosmos-cruising starships with their ethereal melodies and row-upon-row of effect pedals, Transona Five is not about creating music for the new millennium and beyond. Rather, the Denton/Dallas quartet keeps its feet collectively planted, focusing attention on strong pop constructions without any grandiloquent futuristic philosophy. If Transona Five has a vision of tomorrow it's a stripped-down, efficient one more akin to The Jetsons than 2001.
Guitarist/vocalist Chris Anderson's goal is not to revolutionize music, but to release songs combining simplicity and versatility, the cornerstones of the group's ethos. Transona perpetuates their ideals on Duffel Bag (Sandwich Records), which hits stores September 1. Departing from the more maundering aspects of their previous work, the album traverses from silly-head-bobbing-faux-French pop to somber vocal harmonies. "Three-Way Glider," for example, floats like a balsa wood plane from a small child's hand, thanks to hushed vocals over light, peripheral guitars. Just as heavy eyelids bring on innocent dreamscapes, "Estrogen Blaster" rouses the listener to consciousness with an up-tempo organ and bopping drum beat. Overall, the album is a duffel bag of not-quite explosive, anti-drone guitar and organ musings tied up with a minimalist drawstring.
On this recording, as in their live performances, members swap their primary instruments while Anderson and keyboardist/guitarist Rachel Smith vocalizes prosaic and clear lyrics in front of guitar-based melodies and unobtrusive percussion. Unlike others in the wall-of-quiet camp, however, Transona Five, which also includes bassist Scott Marks and drummer G.P. Cole, never falls into the trap of perpetual monotony.
To everything there is a beginning and Transona Five's occurred in August 1993 after Anderson visited Montana and played guitar with friend Chris Foley. The two returned to Texas and placed an ad for a bass player and drummer. Bassist Greg Morgan caught sight of the words "Pavement" and "Stereolab" then answered the ad, suggesting Cole for the skins position. "That night we had our band," Anderson says.
During the subsequent three years, the band kept a low profile, honing in on their style. "We'd been playing a few shows but nothing real had happened yet. Then we found Rachel Smith, and things slid into place." In June 1996 the young instrumentalist was playing in Denton band Stereo 51, which was conveniently breaking up. "She played with us, not as an official tryout, but just to see and everything went right."
A month later they released their first single, "Mariposa." Morgan left the band and Marks, formerly of Skiptracer, joined. "With Scott came a cohesion that we had only come close to before. Finally, we were Transona Five," Anderson says. The group then released a split single with Houston's Schrasj and their song "Hey Hey Hey" ended up on a Pop Culture Press cd sampler. Finally after a year of waiting, Transona Five released their codeine-drenched melatonin bullet ep in July 1997.
Next came another period of hibernation during which they recorded what became Duffel Bag, which like melatonin bullet ep, was produced by Dave Willingham at his 70 Hurtz Studio in Argyle. "This whole period between the ep and the future has been a period of learning, actually," Anderson says.
Yet knowledge exacts a price and last May founding member Foley departed. "There's not much to say other than the usual 'different directions' thing - more like different philosophies," Anderson says. "He decided to take a break from playing this spring, but we didn't want to. Once we started playing without him it became apparent that maybe something should happen." Transona Five is once again four and will not seek a replacement for the upcoming tour or a name change. "We got the name from a Stereolab song, just as Stereolab got their name from a record label," Anderson says. "We liked their idea of nothing being new." Preceding Duffel Bag, and thanks to Marks' website, the band recently caught the attention of Italian astrophile Alex Di Gangi, who was compiling samples from atmospheric Ame-rican bands to expose overseas listeners to the moody sound. His own label, Sleepin' Corporate, released T5's single "No Door" as part of the split 7-inch Polyphase 1.
Transona Five has also wrapped up a fourth recording session with Willingham for yet another ep scheduled for a late fall release. On this occasion the band experimented with and included string instrumentation from Centro-matic's Scott Danbom, who played violin, and cellist Julie Carpenter. The yet-unnamed recording promises, not surprisngly, a "slight poppiness but with a somber minimalism that is our core," Anderson says.
With the two new releases in hand and another on the way, the band will tour the U.S. on and off throughout the fall. This is not their first venture out of Texas, says Anderson, who reports that Transona Five has garnered consistent trans-American accolades.
When asked if the band, like many others, suffers from Texas Syndrome - a common malady in which Texas bands get better receptions away from home - Anderson admits they have "Metroplex Syndrome." "The problem's not really Texas. We get a really good response in Austin. We get played on the radio there. The Metroplex is odd."
However, Transona Five has a solid local following, especially in Denton, which they call home, in spite of the fact that some T5 members live in Dallas, Anderson says being a band from Dallas "isn't cool."
"There are good bands that come from there. But Dallas has that gloss-rock identity," Anderson says, referring to the slick sound and image which many try to create.
With Transona Five's characteristic lack of pretentiousness, it just doesn't fit in.
Lisa Garrett contributed to this story.
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