Trans Am in Austin, Texas, November 15, 2007
|Origin||Maryland, United States|
|Instruments||Bass guitar, synthesizer, keyboard, guitar, occasional vocals (English and German)|
|Members||Nathan Means (bass, vocals)|
Philip Manley (guitar)
Sebastian Thomson (drums)
Trans Am is a three-piece band which originated in Bethesda, Maryland that was one of the originators of "post-rock" in the mid 1990s. Their work centers on a cerebrally robotic, usually instrumental, semi-danceable, minimalistic format, with influences including Krautrock, heavy metal, hardcore punk, synthpop, electronic music, and folk music. They are known for constant touring (with bands such as Tortoise, Pan Sonic, The Fucking Champs, and Tool), cryptic album artwork, and continual thematic re-invention.
Nathan Means (bass, keyboard, vocoder, vocals), Philip Manley (lead guitar, bass, keyboard, vocals) and Sebastian Thomson (drums, bass, keyboard, guitar, vocals) formed Trans Am in 1990 near Washington, D.C.. The band started as a HarDCore project but the sound evolved as the members finished college to include additional influences: new wave, classic rock and experimental rock. In 1995 they began recording their music, which until 1998 was almost entirely instrumental. Their sound is generally marked with acoustic and electronic drums, guitars, electronics, and a varying amount of often-heavily processed vocals. Instrumental virtuosity (especially with the drums) is a focal point. All of their albums have been released on the Chicago-based independent record label, Thrill Jockey.
Their self-titled debut, recorded after just a few rehearsals, contained instrumentals which were largely improvised versions of simple rock-oriented motifs based loosely on 1970s bands such as Boston, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Yes. The album was produced by John McEntire of labelmates Tortoise at Chicago's Idful Studios. Afterwards, the band opened for Tortoise on a brief US tour.
In the fall of 1996, Trans Am released a self-titled EP which showed a greater reliance on electronics. The group expanded that approach to album length on Surrender to the Night (1997) and The Surveillance (1998). The band's sound during this period was reminiscent of such acts as Kraftwerk, Can and New Order interspersed with more rock-oriented material. In 1996, they appeared on a split 12" with Wingtip Sloat, which accompanied the zine Tuba Frenzy. One track from that record--"Starjammer"--was later included on the highbrow electronica label Mille Plateaux's double-CD compilation In Memoriam Gilles Deleuze. In their live shows, the band began to incorporate trigger devices and MIDI-wired beatboxes in order to perform their electronics-heavy songs. Around the time of the release of The Surveillance, the band started to perform material with vocorder-heavy vocals by Nathan Means.
Their fourth album, Futureworld, followed in 1999. The first side of this album featured songs with vocoder and the second side has all instrumentals, including the sprightly "Cocaine Computer". A music video for the title song was filmed and released. In 2000, the group followed up with the double album Red Line, recorded in the band's own National Recording Studio. A rarities collection, You Can Always Get What You Want, was also released that year.
In 2002, Trans Am released TA, complete with tongue-in-cheek promo photos featuring the band in boy band-esque matching white outfits. TA's cover art was a parody of a REO Speedwagon best-of collection. Though the album was essentially a spoof of the electroclash genre, it was mostly panned by music critics.
During the 2004 U.S. election year, the band released the politically charged Liberation, an album which questioned the George W. Bush presidency and addressed such issues as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the War on Terror and paranoia.
Sex Change, the band's sixth studio album, was released in 2007. Following the release, Trans Am did a tour of the United States with Zombi and The Psychic Paramount, seventeen shows opening for Tool, and played the Thrill Jockey 15th anniversary show in Chicago, Illinois.
In April 2017, Trans Am released California Hotel, an eight-song album on Thrill Jockey.