Q&A: Trans Am's Nathan Means On Playing And Reissuing 1999's Futureworld, Being A Part-Time Band And Re-Recording Their First Album

Liz Caruana
In the mid-'90s, before getting saddled with the term became a dirty word, Trans Am was one of the core members of the post-rock scene. While their label and scenemates in Tortoise meticulously concocted easy-listening fake jazz tailored for indie brainiacs, Trans Am played the part of the prog-obsessed miscreant crony, whipping up a sonic clusterfuck of driving, Krautrock-damaged synthery, testosterone-oozing dance groovage, fireballing drums and Vocoder action.

Now working as an erstwhile unit, Trans Am is touring behind the remastered vinyl reissue of 1999's Futureworld (Thrill Jockey), arguably their definitive futurist new wave statement. Sound of the City spoke to Means while he was traveling to a gig.

Why reissue and tour behind 1999's Futureworld?

There was just a lot of demand for it, you know? People have been asking for Futureworld for a long time; it's the classic. We got asked to do it (Futureworld) at a festival in Pittsburgh, then word got out to the promoters and there were some requests. So we started to go along with it.

So you didn't consider earlier albums like The Surveillance or Surrender to the Night? Those are also considered "classics" by some Trans Am fans.

[Laughing] I'm not sure how much demand there is for a Surveillance tour. Honestly, I was of kind of two minds about the whole "playing an album" tour. But it's a pretty good experience—getting back in touch with some songs we haven't played in a long time and also some equipment we haven't used in a long time.

What were you conflicted about?

First of all, it's sort of trendy right now, to play the whole album thing. That made me a little bit uneasy. The public might have one opinion about a band's album, but that's not necessarily the way a band might think about their work. It's like if you have a personal relationship to your records, it's hard to choose a favorite one. It's easier for the crowd, I guess.

It goes back to when bands do an entire album, it turns into a nostalgia act.

Yeah, that's another thing. It's like that Miles Davis quote about being in a museum. "Is this over now?" Or "Are we not current anymore?" But now I have a more positive attitude about it. I think, basically, Trans Am fans like this record in particular, and why not? It's been a good, interesting experience to play it.

Were Phil [Manley] and Sebastian [Thomson] into it, or did they have issues too?

The other guys... well. Sebastian, he was really against it and Philip, he was really for it. I had to be the tiebreaker here.

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