Listen to Trans Am’s “Obscene Strategies.” If you cannot see the music player below, download the free Flash Player.
OK, local music trivia time: Which Chapel Hill band contained two members who worked stints in the cafeteria at UNC-Chapel Hill dormitory Granville Towers in the early ’90s? Polvo? Nope. How about Small? Try Trans Am.
You’re certainly thinking, “They’re not a local band, dude.” Au contraire, true believer. The Thrill Jockey cybo-tronic rock dudes that now call San Francisco, New Zealand, New York and London home started out as a lowly local group, vying for any gig they could get. Guitarist Phil Manley says it was kinda rough on the Hill. “We lived there the summer of ’93. It was fucking hot and we did not have air conditioning,” he says from the road. “Our neighbor hated us because we rehearsed all the time, and our house was a shack with a tin roof. No joke. We were loud and she was bummed. It was a very formative summer for us.”
Their first gig was at a less-than-storied local music venue: the Chi Phi house on UNC campus. “It was the frat up the street from our shanty house,” Manley points out. “It was a disaster. Nathan broke a bass string on the first note of the first song. Who breaks a bass string? I don’t think he’s ever broken one since then. There were a handful of people there, but they kept their distance. We drank their beer.”
And how about that cafeteria job, the one with plastic hair nets? “Such a shitty job,” says Manley. “We weren’t even 21 yet. I remember it was an issue when we played at The Cave. They weren’t sure that they should let us in to play the show!”
Ah, to be young and in love with rock music. Trans Am would later base themselves around D.C., and most recently, they split across three continents and two American coasts. But, for a night, they’ll be back in their old stomping grounds. And what will be the fondest memory for the men of Trans Am as they roll into another coming Carolina summer? Manley laughs: “I mostly just remember that it was really hot and hard to find weed.”
Trans Am plays with the excellent Zombi and The Psychic Paramount at Local 506 Thursday, April 12, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 day of show. Their latest, Sex Change, is out now on Thrill Jockey.