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Transmissionary Six - Interview with Paul Austin and Terri Moeller

  by John Clarkson

published: 16 / 1 / 2003

Transmissionary Six - Interview with Paul Austin and Terri Moeller


The project of Walkabouts' drummer Terri Moeller and former Willard Grant Conspiracy guitarist Paul Austin, Transmissionary Six are about to release a second album, 'Spooked'.John Clarkson speaks to them about it and their forthcoming first European tour

The Transmissionary Six are a Seattle-based collective, which features the Walkabouts' Terri Moeller on drums and vocals, and ex-Willard Grant Conspiracy member and co-founder, Paul Austin, on guitars. Austin, wearying of life on the road, and burnt out by music industry politics, amicably left the hard-touring Willard Grant Conspiracy in June of 2001, after recording five studio albums and three limited edition live CDs with them. He shortly afterwards moved home from Boston to Seattle, where Moeller, his girlfriend, was already based. The Walkabouts, who have recorded over a dozen studio albums of their own, and the Willard Grant Conspiracy have both toured together and have also made regular guest appearances on each other's records, but it was only in the Autumn of that year that the pair first started writing songs together. Finding that they could work quickly and well together, and naming themselves Tthe ransmissionary Six, they went into Mount Analog, the Seattle studio of Tucker Martine, a producer friend, who has also worked with Beck, to record over the course of three nights that November their eponymous debut album, which they self-released at the start of 2002. The deliberately low-key 'Transmissionary Six' came out in an initial edition of just 1000 copies, but was then re-released with a different sleeve in a slightly larger edition of 2000 copies on the small Portland, Oregon label FILM Guerrero in May of last year. Described by the Transmissionary Six on their website at the time as "a headphones record made by strange shy people for other strange shy people", 'Transmissionary Six' is a brooding, introspective record of melancholic, beautiful tones, which features delicate, reflective guitarwork from Austin, and robust drumwork and eerie, world-weary vocals from Moeller. It was described by one source at the time as "David Lynch music" and a "cloudy dream far West of hope", and also drew the duo comparisions with Hope Sandoval, the Red House Painters and Tindersticks. The Transmissionary Six has since then continued to evolve, and has added into its line-up for both studio and live purposes several new members. It has just released on Return to Sender, an offshoot of the German label and distributor Glitterhouse, a new live album 'Go Fast For Cheap'. This album incorporates together 'De Soto', an album originally released on the French micro-label hinah in June of last year in a limited edition of just 50 copies, alongside several new live tracks. The group will also be playing its first three week tour of Europe in February, taking in dates in Germany,Belgium, Holland, Austria, the Czech Republic and Croatia and Slovenia, but not unfortunately Britain, before coming back to play the West coast of the United States in March. The Transmissionary Six also have a new studio album 'Spooked' due out as well, which will be released again in February on the FILM Guerrero label. Recorded sporadically over a two month period, it has many of the hallmarks of the last record-the thoughtful guitarwork ; the ethereal vocals and a similar cinematic sound-but shows also an increasingly experimental edge. At the time of the release of 'Transmissionary Six' record last year, Pennyblackmusic spoke to Austin on his own about his decision to leave the Willard Grant Conspiracy, and that first album. Back for a second interview, Pennyblackmusic spoke this time in what was a long and involved interview to both Austin and Moeller about the two new recordings and the forthcoming tour. PB : Why did you decide to call the new album 'Spooked' ? TM : To me, the word "spooked" conjures up images of something that has happened and had an impact on a person. It's something that has coloured the present in a way that's irreversible. One time I was walking down an old logging road with a friend. We came to a clearing and hanging from a tree, by a shoelace, was a dead chicken. I was definitely spooked. But on a scale of "spookedness" a dead chicken in a tree only rates about a 3.5. A "10" would have to be my experience growing up around the Green River murders - the largest unsolved serial killing in the US. Many of the women who were killed disappeared less than a mile from where I grew up, and the man they recently used DNA evidence to arrest for the murders lived about 10 blocks away from where I grew up. Now that whole thing was creepy and has definitely spooked me and a lot of people who lived in the area. PB : How does the title 'Spooked' relate to the album ? TM : It ties in with the art work on the album. There is a black and white photo on the sleeve that shows a house against a dark background. It has been taken looking through a mirror. The mirror is reflecting back, so it is kind of a retrospective thing. It looks spooky to me. PB : The last album was largely recorded by just the two of you. This one was far more of a collaborative effort, featuring the talents of various other people including a pedal steel player, and a violinist. Who else was involved in the recording , and what do you think they were able to bring to it ? TM : The first album was recorded by Tucker Martine at his Mount Analog studio in Seattle, and Paul and I played all of the instruments--even the ones we didn't know how to play and the ones we had no business playing. We recorded 'Spooked' with Kevin Suggs in his studio, and Kevin plays some guitar and pedal steel. Anne Marie Ruljancich plays violin and sings backup vocals. Ben Thompson plays percussion and brushes. These three play with us live, and add cool textures and melodies... so we wanted to try to capture that on this second record. Jon Hyde plays wurlitzer on a song. Hopefully, we can talk him into playing live with us. All these people are super creative and contribute parts and a vibe that Paul and I can't get alone. And...sometimes....if you're really nice...they'll record just for pizza. PB : Kevin also plays with the Seattle alt. country band Evangeline, while Anne-Marie has played both live and on record with the Walkabouts and Jesse Sykes and the Hereafter. Who are the other two though ? PA :Ben is a pal here in Seattle. He plays drums in a very speedy rock band called Evil Little Men, and has actually played live with us, along with Kevin, at every single show we've done so far, both in Seattle and out of town. Co-holder of the perfect attendance award. Ben also does most all the graphics of ours that you can see on our web site, and our show flyers and postcards and stuff. He has his own graphic design agency, and that's his day gig, but at night he still does CD and poster art for little indie bands like us. So he's sort of the renaissance man of the collective. Jon is a friend here too... he has his own band and also plays some sessions. He plays just about every instrument you can think of, and has a university degree in classical percussion. He'd play Shostakovich with orchestras and then go plug in his electric guitar and play his own songs in bars. So in a way he's kind of like Ben - both of them are sort of really advanced at what they do, but at the same time they never lost the ability to enjoy simpler, more raw, primal stuff as well which is pretty cool. PB : The last album was recorded with a real "anything goes" attitude. Was 'Spooked' recorded with a similar attitude ? PA : Oh, totally. I mean, why not? We just go from one thing to the next...that first record broke even, so we could afford to make another one. Sharing the music you make is just the best thing in the world. If you aren't in that world of trying for radio play and all, there's no pressure to recreate what you did last time that people seemed to like the best. You just kind of keep going in the same spirit. TM : We did a little more preparation beforehand with this one. There were some songs though where I wasn't able to be there one day, and then I would show up the next day and they would have already have gotten a backing track down that didn't even exist the day before. I would then just write the words for it, and then we would pull things together. There was definitely a looseness to this recording that I liked. PB : What do you think Kevin was able to bring as a producer to the recording ? PA : Well, he's really patient. That helps because we aren't real savvy about recording. When we brought him cassettes made on portable tape recorders, and everything was all hissy and weird, he didn't get bummed out. He went with the spirit of the project. Plus as he plays pedal steel, he can coax some great sounds out of that thing. So since the pedal steel was right there next to the tape machine, the writing and recording wasn't really separated into these two distinct phases. It was kind of one big blur. PB : Much of the new album, therefore, seems to have been created by experimentation and chance. Would that be a fair assessment ? PA : I think so, yep - that element of chance and chaos in the writing and recording process. It doesn't mean a writer is careless or doesn't want to work as hard... sometimes it's a lot more work. But ultimately it keeps things vibrant, a little off-kilter. I hope. PB : 'Big Game Hunter' on the new record , for example, has got a real rumbling sound to it. How did you achieve that ? Is that a sequencer you've got on there ? PA : There was no fancy sequencer... I was just playing my guitar through a delay, and caught it in a loopy sort of squall. It had a really cool grinding sound, like a train engine or something. I didn't know how I got it, so if I turned the amp off or down lower it would be gone since the feedback was driving it. So I left it running, screaming out of the amp, in our apartment for a half hour while I went and got some batteries for my walkman to record it. After that I just copied it until it was about five minutes long and we played over the top of it. PB : 'Jacques Cousteau', another of the songs, has a gale-like whooshing sound on it. How did you get that effect ? PA : The whooshing is a Stylophone going into a microphone that's plugged into a tube overdrive, mixed with feedback from shaking my mandolin around in front of an amp turned super loud. The mandolin... such a gentle instrument... TM : We had Ben come in and play walnuts on one song as well. PB : Walnuts ? TM : Yeah, they were walnuts on a string, and he played them and they added a really cool texture. At the very end of mixing we realised that we needed more percusion on another song. We didn't know what to play, so I started auditioning pans from the kitchen, along with a wire rack for cooling cookies, so those ended up on the album as well. PB : Were there any other similar odd examples of experimentation ? PA : Sure, lots. But hopefully they coexist with the more structured elements, so it isn't "here's the weird stuff" and "here's the more traditional stuff". Although some songs seemed to feel more straightforward, and we didn't muck them up just to be bona-fide indie rock or something. My favourite moment on all of 'Spooked' comes during 'Almost Every Dog' in which Terri is turning the gear on a socket wrench while singing. I love the metal creaking sound on that. PB : Can it sometimes be hard to balance "the weird stuff" with the more structured elements ? PA : If we had a big budget and weeks of studio time, it would be harder. Every creative decision would magnified just because it can be - that's just human nature. but working with limitations can be a good thing. There's no time to second guess everything. You just get a head of steam going. and hopefully what feels instinctively right at the time is going to still feel right later, even though there's a ton of ways to do stuff. y'know. Is that piece of taped dialogue from the radio pretty cool in context of the song, or does it sound like a gimmick? It is hard,yes, but not hard like working with math theorems or digging ditches by the highway for the government. Hard in a good way... it lights up the creative half of your brain. I forget which half that is but you know what I mean. PB : How long did 'Spooked' take to record ? TM : We started it at the end of September, and we finished it at the end of November, but we usually worked on it for only a couple of days a week, and for just a little bit of time here and there. It wasn't like we went in and blocked out a bunch of time and then went in and did it. PB : So it was a lot more piece meal ? TM : In a way ! Yeah ! The cool thing about working that way is if a song still needs something, you can allow time for that something to find you over the course of a few days or a week or, however, long. PB : The original album featured cameo appearances from the likes of Gabriel "Naim" Amor and Marianne Dissard between the songs. Does this album feature similar cameos ? PA : There are a couple of things like that, yep. Nobody you'd recognize as themselves, though, if you know what I mean. PB : You have also got a new live album 'Go Fast Nowhere ' just out on Return to Sender. It consists of tracks from two live sessions. The first session consists of songs from the 'De Soto' album. Where were the other songs, which didn't appear on 'De Soto' recorded ? TM : We recorded those at Kevin's as well. PB : Were you surprised when Return to Sender asked you to put out a live album ? TM : Yeah, definitely. .It was an honour because it is a really cool series, but it was a surprise for sure. PB : You are about to embark on a three week tour of Europe, before coming back to do further shows in the States. Who else will be going on the road with you ? Will it just be the two of you, or are you taking the full live band ? PA : We'll be a trio, and occasionally a quartet as another friend will sit in. But for the most part it will be Terri,myself, and a friend named Maz Morsink, who we've known for years. He has a recording and mastering studio and also works a lot as a live sound engineer - you might have seen him on the recent Thalia Zedek or Willard Grant tours there in the UK. But he's also a really cool guitar player, and is up for the kind of textural drones and waves we're into. It's our power trio lineup I guess. PB : When you left the WGC you were burned out by touring, Paul ? Are you looking forward to going back on the road now ? PA : I was kind of burned out in general, not by any one specific thing. Playing your music for people and seeing new cities and stuff is so cool. It was fun then, and I think it'll be fun now.Maybe I'm back to where I can more fully appreciate how lucky I am to be able to do it. PB : What about you, Terri ? What do you hope to get out of the tour ? TM : To just go and play the songs. I mean I have never toured as a singer, so that will be a pretty good experience I am sure. It will be fun. I am looking forward to touring again with Paul and Maz, and the other guitar player who I haven't met yet. PB : Terri, the Transmissionary Six is your first experience of working as a vocalist. Were you nervous about doing this at first ? TM : Yeah ! It's a lot worse than playing the drums. I used to say that I would never play music if I didn't pick a barrier instrument that kind of shields me from people in a way. It has been a big step for me not having the drum set. It is a good feeling, sitting behind something big and heavy and which makes so much noise. PB : How do you think your singing has developed over the course of the two albums ? TM : I think I am just a little bit more confident, about singing out a little bit more. I guess I am a little less afraid of things and I have a little more of an ear for things I like, rather than things I like but which don't work for me (Laughs). What's been really good about that too is that there has been a lot of dialogue between me and Paul.. PB : How do you divide up songwriting duties ? Is there one person who perhaps contributes more of the lyrics, while another person contributes more in the way of melody ? TM : Paul definitely contributes more in the way of melody, and I probably do more of the lyrics, but the cool thing is that, if I get stuck, he'll come up with a line and it just builds from there. It's fun being able to work on that stuff together. PM : Yeah ! You've now been on the FILM Guerrero label for just under a year. Were you surprised when John Askew, FILM Guerrero's owner, asked if he could distribute the Transmissionary Six ? TM : Yeah, because Paul just sent him the CD because "Naim" was on it. Since then we've become friends with him and his wife, and we've been down to Portland a few times to see them and they've been up here to see us. It's been great. PB : One of the good things about FILM Guerrero is that it has got a real DIY attitude. It leaves bands pretty much to their own devices, encouraging them with help and support when neccesary to see projects though from beginning to end. Do you see that as something which particulary suits T6 ? TM : Yes, absolutely. PB : Is self-management an integral part of the T6 experience ? PA : Geez, I don't think we do enough to even use the term "management"!We don't practice as a band... when we have shows, we invite people to come and play with us. This will be the first real tour we've done and who knows if it'll ever happen again ? PB : Do you do no rehearsing at all ? Does that lead to a lot of improvisation on stage ? PA : Well we play together, but I guess it doesn't feel much like rehearsal because there isn't a list on songs with everyone playing specific parts, and we all bear down and try to execute those parts. We just kind of drift along. There is a lot of improvisation onstage, sure. A lot in every single song. But everyone listens well, and doesn't mind playing really minimally or just laying out for long stretches. Sometimes that doesn't sound like improvisation to people, because when people think of improvisation they think of high energy jazz combos or something, where everyone is wailing and there's all this information for the listener to take in. But if there's five people onstage, and two are playing a fairly dense part and one is barely playing and two more are not playing at all, to me that's still five people improvising. I mean silence is very much a "part" to play also, if it serves the whole at that moment. PB : You originally formed the Transmissionary Six with no expectations and wanted to keep it it at least initially very low key. You self-released 'Transmissionary Six' and didn't plan to release any records through other labels and had no definite plans to tour. You now have four albums out on three different labels, and are about to go to Europe for three weeks. Are you surprised at how much everything has grown and developed ? TM : Yeah, I am really surprised We made the first record just for fun. I never figured that people would be interested and like it. It was something that we did just to amuse ourselves, just so that we could make music and do something that we both loved doing. PA : Well, we made a record, and people liked it, so a year later we recorded another one. We also have the live album out, so it seemed like a good idea to do a short tour. Luckily we got put in touch with an agent that doesn't mind when we say 'only small venues! the smallest you can find!'. Although in a couple of cases, there is one big venue in a city and they wanted us and it was right on the route, and so we said geez,okay. When we're playing a place like that in February, somewhere way too big for us, for a tiny little group of people... well acutally no scratch that, because I'll expect a dozen people and if two dozen show up, that *still* will surprise me. So... yes, I am. PB : Terri, what plans do you have with the Walkabouts in the near future ? TM : I am not entirely sure. We haven't talked about it yet. Chris Eckman (the band's vocalist-Ed) just got married and has been living in Slovenia, so we've all been kind of doing our own thing. I would imagine that we''ll do something else, but I am not really sure when yet. PB : Paul, you have done various things around Seattle on your own, including playing on the soundtrack to accompany two silent films. Do you have anything else planned like that ? PA : I'll lose my job to do the tour, so when I get back I'll need another one right away, and a friend at the Klondike freezing plant offered to put in a good word for me at the factory. That's all that I have immediately planned. PB : Thank you both of you very much for your time ! The photos that accompany this article were taken by Lara Oliver

Picture Gallery:-
Transmissionary Six - Interview with Paul Austin and Terri Moeller

Transmissionary Six - Interview with Paul Austin and Terri Moeller

Transmissionary Six - Interview with Paul Austin and Terri Moeller

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Interview with Paul Austin (2002)
Transmissionary Six - Interview with Paul Austin
Ex-Willard Grant Conspiracy guitarist , Paul Austin has recently formed a new band Transmissionary Six with Walkabouts' drummer Terri Moeller. In the band's first interview, he talks to John Clarkson about the band's eponymous debut album.

digital downloads


Cosmonautical (2008)
Uplifting and epic-sounding chamber pop on fifth album from previously melancholic Seattle-based band the Transmissionary Six, which is their most accessible album to date
Radar (2006)
Get Down (2005)
Go Fast for Cheap (2003)
Desoto (2002)
Transmissionary Six (2002)

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