tRANSELEMENt interview

At one of their sessions for John Peel, the great bearded eclectic one was naturally compelled to describe them as “weird”. DJ Magazine called their 2001 mini-LP Sour Blast “a distinctly different approach…(that)…will blow you away”. NME described their recent “Pendletones” EP as “a bright blast of leftfield creativity”. An ample case perhaps, to herald Transelement as one of today’s most important underground bands?  Quite possibly, but don’t trust journalists. Hold particular skepticism for those who tout a “New Rock Revolution” that’s neither new nor revolutionary. In fact, don’t trust this one either.  However go listen then just maybe you’ll agree with the agenda-crazed charlatans that we are.

Transelement’s sound can only have been born out of seasons in the abyss (a.k.a. Nelson, near Burnley). Asking the band to describe their hometown is met with, “No.” and “Do we have to?” I politely persist. “It’s been in steep decline since the 1960's and it’s not stopping and if you think about the time gap, that’s how low it’s got.” Drummer Mark Tattersall has his hand about inch from the floor. I ask this question because their current EP seems to have a fascination with the all things Pendle. For a start there’s a plastic scale model of Pendle Hill moulded by singer and guitarist Jay Stansfield gracing the cover. Actually, “the album isn’t actually anything to do with Pendle”, announces guitarist Karl rather surprisingly. “It’s the Beach Boys. Their original name was “The Pendletons” because they had black and white Pendleton shirts. And we like the Beach Boys and it was a strange coincidence. So primarily it was a tribute to the Beach Boys but it doubled up quite nicely with Pendle Hill”.

But conversely the name “Pendletones” seems consistent with the duality of an area such as the Pendle Valley where decaying post-industrial towns sit right in between rolling green moorland.  It seems fitting that a collection of ultra quirky split-personality sounds has taken such a name. Jay seems to agree. “I think it’s an inspiration to know that there’s a town that’s going down hill where you’ve got amazing countryside all around it”. Karl adds, “ It does reflect in the people though. The people are a big influence. I don’t know if it’s because of this, but there’s a bit of schizophrenia within the music. I think you could link that to the fact that we’ve got a scummy little mill town here and two miles away, we’ve got a beautiful valley and a couple more miles away, we’ve got all the race riots and a couple more miles away, there’s all this beautiful scenery. But I don’t know if that comes in to play when we’re writing”. On this point, Jay is keen to emphasis that song-writing for Transelement is an innate process. “I think it’s subconscious. We don’t think, “let’s write about Ribble Valley”. Mark justifies this. “We do it (write) to progress ourselves creatively and our feelings about living in that area.”

Part of the key to Transelement’s highly evolved sound come from the sheer amount of time that they’ve been together. Like much of bored youth they got together in school in their early teens with a penchant even then for experimentation. “We formed a band called “Quantum” when we were about 14 and it was like a primitive Add N to X”. recalls Karl, beaming with retrospective humour at adolescent naivety. “It was like some punky electronica. But obviously we didn’t think of it as that at the time.”

Prising out the origins of Transelement’s sound is a vast and rather futile endeavour. Part of the joy of Transelement is that you can definitely hear the echoes of luminaries such as The Beach Boys in their widely embracing sound but you can never pinpoint where exactly it is. It comes as no surprise to find an extraordinarily diverse musical background often owed to “musically obsessive fathers”. Jay grew up on dub, reggae and experimental stuff like Can, Karl’s and Alan’s fathers were into psychedelic and progressive music, whereas Mark was born to a backdrop of northern soul. But Transelement has always been a mobile concept and is always taking in new influence. Jay considers much of the music of his formative years as “just a chink of the past.”

Being “eclectic” or sonically “diverse” is no rare occurrence. Doing it cohesively is another matter. Often we hear the musical equivalent of indiscriminate and disorderly spilling of every available paint onto the canvas. The results are usually a nasty, dirty colour – not with Transelement. Perhaps the secret to this is the non self-conscious and natural approach to song writing. Jay maintains that, “it (wasn’t) a conscious decision to form a band. The thing is that music is in our lives every single day and it’s part of you. It’s not like something you do. It’s something that is. We don’t plan writing a song…If we get excited by a bit, it’s got to be good. And not being bigheaded but if we like it, surely somebody else will.” Karl puts this and Transelement’s fondness for the every changing down to egotism. “The reason why the songs lead into one another is (because) we don’t sit still. It’s because essentially we’re a very selfish band. So when we write we do it for ourselves. If we get bored playing it we say, “Fuck this. We don’t want to play those chords again, so let’s change it”. So the chopping and changing came in that way. Not to be challenging, but to keep things interesting”. Boredom with song writing convention has brought about the disintergration of regular structure and melody. But again it works because as bassist Alan suggests, “it’s not quite that calculative”.

Lyrics seem to form in a similarly eccentric manner. Mark explains, “Lyrically, sometimes it’s, “you write a word, pass it on. I’ll write a word”. It’s automatic, quite often. That’s where the surrealness comes from”. Describing “Marlyborne Rusk”, a piece of wonderous avant-pop with about twenty feasible lyrical interpretations Karl explains, “We did the music and did the vocals in a stream of conscience.” The lyrics of Pendletones may be somewhat obscure but it’s a colourful, dreamy story-telling sort of obscurity that Jay summarises is “a bit of escapism”.

Two years ago on the strength of a rough ideas tape, Transelement signed to Glasgow Indie label Creeping Bent, once home to Teenage Fanclub and Alan Vega of Suicide. The publicity machine started rolling, securing Transelement a slot on BBC Glasgow’s “The Beat Room”, two John Peel sessions and articles in DJ Magazine, NME and The Guardian. I ask what it was like to suddenly garner the sort of attention that most bands crave. Mark is understandably restrained. “It wasn’t star-studded at all. We didn’t think, “This is it. Let’s quit our day jobs””. Jay is still eager to show some appreciation of mild success. “We feel proud of what’s happened so far”.

The Manchester music scene has sometimes been thought of as parochial, I ask if there’s any similarities up in Glasgow. Karl replies, “It’s quite incestuous, that whole Glasgow scene. It’s like Manchester. You come here and the amount of wank bands that sound like Oasis or The Stone Roses…well, it’s the same up there again…wank Mogwai.” I ask at little more about music scenes in general. Jay is sensibly reticent. “Scenes create themselves…It’s all about attitude, image and stuff and I wouldn’t like to think we were part of the scene because scenes come and go and wouldn’t like to think that’d happen to us.” Karl adds, “It’s unavoidable, but if you don’t think in those terms you can float in and out of it.”

I ask what's lovingly nipping at Transelement’s musical loins at the moment. Jay mentions The Flaming Lips. Karl’s face lights up with the joy one gets after unearthing a little known but particularly sparkly gem. “Stuart Dempster. There’s a big, big church in America and there’s a big cavern underneath it. Nine million gallons. There’s a natural 45-second delay in this cavern. This guy plays the trombone and he went down with a band of nine trombone players, someone playing conch and someone playing Tibetan cymbals and recorded this album…essentially it’s a drone album…there’s so many textures in there. It’s like listening to underwater music.”

I wrap up by asking what the future is for Transelement. Known for their prolific output (sometimes four records a year!) it’s not surprising to find extensive work in progress. “We’re working on the next album at the moment. We’ve started recording the first song.” Sitting tight is thankfully not something Transelement ever seem to abide by. Karl asserts, “It’s…like when you don’t tidy up for ages and it gets to the point where it gets on your tits”. I ask how the future looks for bands that by their nature are going to be underground. Jay calculatingly warns, “I think the clincher would be if they can evolve…then I think the future would be alright…If they carry on playing the same thing , especially if they’re part of the scene, then I don’t think they stand a chance.” Karl concludes, “It’s like Plankton.”

interview by :Dave Himelfield

all pictures (c) tina mcclelland 2002 

PENDLETONES is on general release via soviet union (dist cargo) CAT NO SOV006


(c) (p) musicdash 2003