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Interview with Todd Trainer of Brick Layer Cake
By Holly Day
(more articles from this author)
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Minnesota lost its most blistering star when Todd Trainer, drummer of Shellac and formerly of Riflesport and Breaking Circus, packed up his bags after losing his job as a hair - care distributor and moved to Chicago to take up residence at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio Studio. With his faithful dog - an Italian Greyhound named Uffizi - at his side, Trainer began to work in earnest on his most fiendish of experiments: the entity known only as Brick Layer Cake. The result is his newest solo record, "Whatchamacallit," the third such release under the BLC moniker.

And, Good Lord, this new album is just gorgeous! Guitar lines that just dig their way slowly and painfully and repetitively through your head, pounding and pounding and fading to air - siren wails that drone and quiver in the background as though forgotten, joined by more and more layers and screaming and wailing and other Dante - inspiring guitar riffs. Lyrically, this is a joke, or frighteningly serious, or both, droning lectures about porn stars and rock stars and sock cocks and syringes, murder, being ridden like a buckin' bronco, and just a multitude of sins in general. This is the perfect record to play to get rid of the smart-alecky music critics at your next party, and all the girls, too. I spoke to the frighteningly long - limbed Mr. Trainer just hours before he was set to leave for the UK to host All Tomorrow's Parties with the rest of Shellac, as well as tour as a solo act through parts of the UK before returning here to the States.

[Holly Day] How did you first get into playing music?

Todd Trainer Playing music? Well, I was a fan of music at a really, really early age, due to my brother and sister being fans of music. So I was rocking at an early age. I started playing music, I believe, at age eleven. My brother was actually in a garage band, and he played drums and guitar, both, so I was fortunate enough to grow up with a drum kit in the house, and I started playing it at eleven.

[Holly Day] So do your siblings still play music?

Todd Trainer No. My brother, he'll mess around for kicks, but, no, he doesn't play anymore. In fact, my drum kit is now in his house, and I think he may beat on it on occasion, but no, he doesn't take it very seriously.

[Holly Day] So did you get a lot of support from your family when you decided to a professional musician?

Todd Trainer Well, I'm still aspiring to the professional level of musicianship that you speak of. Has my family been supportive? Yes, absolutely - you know, not supportive in the sense that they might have been if I'd been going off to law school or medical school - that's something that's more feasible as a future, I think. It's not like I set off to do this, it was a natural progression from playing in the basement to playing in a band. It's progressed from that point, obviously, as well.

[Holly Day] What do you do for a living when you're not playing music?

Todd Trainer Well, up until a year ago, I'd been working in Minneapolis and managed a warehouse that distributed brand name hair care products to salons nation - wide. And I worked for them for twenty years. Unfortunately, they went out of business in January of 2001. At this point, you can consider me a professional musician, as otherwise, I'm currently unemployed. But I suppose being unemployed has truly qualified me as a professional musician for the first time in my life, after 20 years of playing in bands. What I'm doing is I'm living here in Chicago at Steve Albini's studio, Electrical Audio, I'm living here for now for free, courtesy of Steve, which has been an absolute lifesaver, obviously. I own a place in Minneapolis currently - I own a loft - but I'm have that rented for the past year, and that's been my one continuous source of income. Living here for free is excellent, obviously, because it allows me the freedom to avoid working for a little while longer. Inevitably, I'll be looking for work.

[Holly Day] With this new album, I noticed there was a variety of instrumentation on it. And I was wondering, how are you doing to do this tour? Is it still going to be just you?

Todd Trainer Yeah. I've performed solo up until now, and I don't plan to change. I'll just be playing the guitar and voice parts of the album only.

[Holly Day] So what would you say this album is about, what the theme of the project is?

Todd Trainer It was quite thematic, actually, to be begin with. I made a conscious effort - it was borderlining - it was literally on the brink of being a concept album, if you will. I would like to do that sometime, although this album just didn't have enough highs and lows to make a complete package. I didn't want it to be a real singular perspective, and I also had accumulated quite a few songs over the past, so I narrowed this record down to a collection of what I thought was relatively cohesive material. I hate to think that there's an overall theme to the record.

[Holly Day] The titles mention "cake" and "icing" a lot, enough to make one think that might be part of a theme.

Todd Trainer Yeah. Icing has definitely always been a part of the visual aspect of Brick Layer Cake. All four records have had icing on the covers, both front and back covers - literally all the artwork that has ever appeared on my records is icing, so that's a theme, an aesthetic theme.

[Holly Day] Actually, when I was looking at the back cover, reading the titles off, I thought there were supposed to be 12 songs on it because the last four credits on the album kind of run in with the song title list.

Todd Trainer My records have been very confusing because of my use of icing in the artwork. Icing is a rather limited medium - I shouldn't say "limited." It's an unforgiving medium to work with, because you only get once chance to really do it right. I'm happy that my records are not loaded with information, not overwhelmed with unimportant information, and that has to do with using icing as a writing tool because it is a very difficult medium to work with. I just try to put the essential information in the liner notes, but I realize that in icing, sometimes, it's tough to differentiate the song titles from the credits. But anyone who hears the records more than once that pays attention to the song titles should inevitably be able to make sense of the album.

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