Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Interview with Chris McDonell of Transfix

Transfix's Death is So Relaxing EP  was the first thing that I heard from the band. It was part of the Ascetic House January Program, of which I'm a big fan. It stuck out to me in the way that it combined deathrock, electronica, and pop in an easily digestible twenty minutes or so. From there, I checked out the band's recent self-titled LP, featuring great original pastel-laden art. This record had even more fully-formed pop song elements and was, to me, more impressive as a document of place and time, in addition to simply being a bigger product.

But lyrically, and especially in terms of song/album titles, Transfix resonated with me. Here were these primal human themes. Sex. Death. Nature. The spirit. How do these things relate and why are they important? It's like asking "why breathe?" You just kind of do it without pausing to think oftentimes before realizing that these are a few of the themes that connect our ongoing stories. But they're important parts of life, if not the most important. Sex made me. And death will take me.

I got in touch with Chris of Transfix, who over the phone sounds like a mix between Dorian Gray and a yawning cat, taking things as they come, though consciously focusing on artistic merit and output. He's working on new material too and is one of my personal favorite artists coming out of Olympia at the moment.

Jordan Reyes: What’s going on?

Chris McDonell: Not much, just working on a track, rolling a joint, having a cup of coffee.

JR: Sounds pretty great. Are you into art yourself?

CM: Totally. I make it for the band.

JR: Did you do the cover for the Transfix LP?

CM: Yeah, I did. It was supposed to be a take on Bummed by the Happy Mondays. Maybe you shouldn't put that in there.

JR: It’s really good. What did you use for the cover?

CM: I used pastels and then I had a photo of a sad Greek guy. I used that as a frame of reference and then did the picture in the Happy Mondays' style. It’s kind of hard for me to look at this one now but I’m pleased with it. After you spend a lot of time on something, though, you feel like you have to put it out.

JR: You think so?

CM: Yeah, for me. Well, I revisit again after a while. But when you constantly move forward you kind of say “fuck that old thing,” at least for a bit. I still love it.

CM: So the combination was of pastels and printer ink, the sort that screen printers use.

JR: What’s the track you’re working on today?

CM: It’s called “In the Garden,” which is a new one. I've had the song for a while, but I went filming with my buddy the other day in a Buddhist spot. We were kicking around in this community garden and catching footage of us dancing. This song has a beat that was inspired somewhat from Theo Parish, who was involved in the Chicago Footwork stuff. He’s got a track called “footwork” that is really sick. I hadn't heard him before and didn't know what to expect. But one of his videos has this minimal beat and people dancing in the city. I've always loved to dance so I took it as inspiration for this track.

JR: What kind of dance do you do?

CM: Hip hop, but a little off-the-wall. Definite feet shuffles. Tap dancing without the tap.

JR: Nice. I used to do a lot of dance myself – tap danced a little and did some break dancing.

CM: Hell yeah. I used to try to also in Texas. I would go to dance nights in middle school and high school at a teen center. It was mostly African-Americans and I wanted to fit in so I tried to break and I couldn't do it, but they’d have dance-offs or dance circles. Did you do break dancing ones?

JR: I did in high school and I did a lot of choreography. I was really into hip hop and Latin music back then. I didn't get into like rock until I was eighteen or so. I’m twenty-four now so it's like still catching up a bit, but I’m interested in the different ways people communicate with others. Dance is one. Music is one. Movies. It’s all interesting to me.

CM: I agree. It’s fun for me. I've always liked dancing to pop music. I’m happy with the project right now. I didn't realize I wanted to make that type of music until now, but I think it’s always been in my heart.

JR: Absolutely. I think the dance element is underdone in music. What do you use to record and write your music?

CM: Well, lately I've been on the MPC 2000 and I've been tracking to an 8-track, which has been a mainstay for my songs. I've used different synths at different times. I had the DX70 and some others that weren't very coveted. I sample a lot from digital ones. At the place I’m staying now is a Juno. I've been trying to set up studios all over and pop around.

JR: Do you just do music for your life?

CM: Yeah, I do. Music and artwork, but most of the artwork is for the band.

JR: Do you have a permanent lineup right now?

CM: Well, the permanent lineup as it stands is me and Scott, but there’s a continual evolution with other people in their involvement. Sometimes it’s more and sometimes it’s less. It wouldn't be the same, though, if Scott and I split.

JR: I’m looking at your bandcamp right now and it has stuff with Transfix and Torture by Roses – is that a project you’re attached to as well?

CM: Torture by Roses is, but Mary Jane, the other member in that band, has a new group called CC Dust right now. That stuff was recorded in around 2011 with the same 8-track I use now. We've since recorded things and will probably continue to do so, but Transfix is going to play a couple shows next month with her new group CC Dust, which is her and David Jacque. He’s a young guy who’s into electronic music. They’re going for a more poppy, Cocteau Twins, Cranberries vibe. She’s super powerful when she’s by a microphone.

JR: Where are you playing those shows?

CM: Both are in Olympia. They've only played one or two shows at this point.

JR: What’s the Olympia scene like for you? Any bands you particularly like?

CM: I like a lot of them really. It’d be hard to mention just some. There are some more popular ones and some local bands that will never see the light of day. I like the scene because it’s a close-knit community and everyone is down to help. You have resources.

JR: Cool. So you’re working on another full-length album now?

CM: Totally.

JR: Are there people interested in it?

CM: Yeah, I’m pretty sure that Perennial is going to put it out.

JR: Cool. You guys have worked with them before, right?

CM: Yeah, we put out a cassette with them, but my old band Family Stone put out a 7” with them a while ago. He’s just a friend, but it has to make sense with the money too (laughs).

JR: Have you finished some of those recordings or are you working on them?

CM: Yeah, they’re finished for the most part, but there are a couple that need to be mixed. I’m kind of on edge until it’s done, which should be in a couple weeks and then we’ll get it mastered.

JR: You released your self-titled on an LP, a Cassette, and a CD. What was the process behind getting all those formats?

CM: Well, Ben from Night Moves was a fan and he contacted us. It’s been a slow trickle. We don’t have a huge following, but the people who are interested are generally pretty down. So he put out the cassette and at that point, I thought that would be the only format, but my friend Chapin from Dutch Tilt decided to do the LP, and I handmade the CDs in Portland.

JR: Did you do the album art for the CDs and cassettes too?

CM: I did.

JR: What’s up with the sun on them?

CM: That’s kind of a Transfix logo, but I hadn't used it in a while. I've always been interested in the imagery and symbolism with the sun since I was younger. I got that as a tattoo when I was younger. I think it also had to do with being in the Northwest and looking for that.

JR: Is that true? It’s really cloudy all the time?

CM: It is. Yeah. The sun is also really powerful here too since we’re in the Northern Hemisphere so it’s blasting.

JR: There’s no middle ground, then?

CM: Oh, there is. Even today there’s somewhat moderate cloud cover. You can see the sun under a blanket.

JR: You have a t-shirt that says “Transfix” and then underneath “Sex is Death. God is Sex.” What did that come from?

CM: Well, I was picturing an album called that for a while, but that didn't happen. There are a bunch of demos and tracks I made and one of the tracks is “Sex is Death. God is Sex” and it’s a sampling of myself playing it over and over again. I wanted to go super bonehead with it. There will still be a bonehead release in the future, but this next one isn't it.

JR: Bonehead is all right, though.

CM: Yeah, I like that stuff. (Laughs)

JR: What do those words mean to you?

CM: At this point, not much, but I think at the time, I was at a point where I was trying to have sex, I guess. I don’t even know to be honest. I like the juxtaposition of the words, but I can’t remember it meaning a whole lot to me. I like it on the shirt.

CM: Actually, no. I remember. I was kind of inspired by Milk Music who has a shirt that says “Cruising with God.” It’s not the same, but I think it’s where I got that. His t-shirt designs have always inspired me. I love the guy’s artwork too.

JR: Do you think a lot about spirituality and states of being?

CM: I do. I like thinking about those things.

JR: Have you come up with any conclusions that maybe I can learn from?

CM: (laughs) Oh shit, man. Not really. You could probably tell me better, Jordan.

JR: I doubt it.

CM: (Laughs) Well, I respect the whole age thing. I’m twenty-seven. I feel like the more years you have, the wiser you at least can become. That’s the goal for me. To become better situated and calmer.

JR: Yeah, calmer would be nice.

CM: Totally. Yeah, that wedding about killed me from a few days ago.

JR: Oh man.

CM: Not really, but it was heavy drinking. I don’t think I’m built for that anymore.

JR: Yeah, I stopped drinking in January, but it just started getting to my mood and energy and I just decided not to have to deal with it.

CM: For sure.

JR: Have you ever had any near-death experiences?

CM: Yeah, I have. I've had a couple. The one that comes to mind is when I was with my friend Dandrew. We were in the Hill Country in Texas because he had a house out there. We were driving from Austin and acting really boy-howdy about it. We had a twelve-pack of beers and were drinking the whole way. I remember thinking “This is pretty fucked, man.” We’re going down this road about 70 mph with two lanes, no median, everything is pretty sketchy. I’m thinking “This is pretty fucked up.”

CM: Anyway, nothing happened. We got to his house in the Hill Country and shot guns and hung out. Did donuts and got drunk. The next day we were driving back to Austin because he had to go to class at University of Texas and he was stressed out. We were going fast. This truck was passing on our left and it had a trailer attached to it. He merges in the left land and almost hit the truck, but he did hit the trailer. Then he pulled the wheel hard to the right and we started doughnuting on the freeway.

CM: We were in a Jeep. I put my hand up on the roll-bar to steady myself and the Jeep rolled into the dirt to the right off the freeway. The Jeep rolled on my hand and we fell straight upright after a couple rolls and I remember the smoke was clearing. That was probably the most near-death for me. I had blood all over me and blood on my hand and head, cause I had hit that on the roll bar.

CM: It ended up being chill, though. I remember going to the edge of the highway and I saw a white sun there, super bright in the summer. These nice folks stopped and they were drinking a Dr. Pepper and I remember asking if I could have it because I felt like I had that card or ability or something – I needed some sugar or something. Then the EMT was coming and that set me into full relief. I felt like I had died in a sense, but I knew that everything was going to be all right.

CM: It was funny because they took us to this small hospital in Hunt, TX. They put a staple in my head and they sewed up my hand, which was fucked up. All I had was cut off shorts. I had no shoes or t-shirt and I had blood everywhere. They gave me a Tylenol 3 and as I walked out into the small village, I had to get shoes and a t-shirt, looking like a bonafide freak for at least a little bit.

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