Tommy Trash has a fascinating theory that I totally agree with: If Mozart were alive today, he would be writing electronic dance music on synthesizers.
“He was a complete genius, playing on the latest instruments,” Trash says.
“They didn’t have synthesizers back then. I’m sure if they did, he’d be all over them.”
Tommy Trash (who DJs Sunday at MGM Grand’s Wet Republic dayclub) knows Mozart’s music by heart, because he was a piano-and-composition major at University of Queensland in his native Australia.
So yes, Trash, 25, is a popular and fun DJ-producer with residency gigs at Wet Republic and MGM’s new Hakkasan nightclub (where he gigs on April 21).
And Trash’s new single, “Reload,” is a collaboration with DJ-producer Sebastian Ingrosso and vocalist John Martin of Swedish House Mafia fame.
But Trash arrived on the electronic music scene only because it was a natural place to go after studying (and partying hard) at a conservative-classical school.
Now here’s the thing about classical music schools: They teach you to become subtle interpreters of other people’s songs. In other words, you spend much of your life performing notes off of sheet music of Mozart’s hits.
As a result, quite a few classically trained musicians are bad at composing their own original songs, because their brains are trained to replicate those classical melodies, which have been coded into their DNA since they were kids.
So here is my question for Trash: How was he able to overcome all that classical memorization in his head in order to write his own new songs?
That is a good question, he says, because his music school “was very straight-down the line classical” where improvising was “sort of frowned upon.”
Fortunately, he started composing songs on piano at a young age.
“My first piano teacher always encouraged me to make up my own tunes. I would still read stuff off the page, so I can read music. But I was always encouraged to improvise and listen to tunes on television, and try and copy the melodies of TV ads.
“So all the doodling I did on the piano led me get into composition. That was happening from when I was 5. I was always making music from day one.”
Trash is also a trumpet player. But no trumpet teachers encouraged him to improvise. Therefore, it’s nearly impossible for him to compose new songs on trumpet.
“When I got to 17 or 18 years old, I could improvise on piano, but I could not improvise to save my life on trumpet — even though I understood the whole improvisation technique,” Trash says.
So his advice to young musicians and to teachers:
“Anyone can make up stuff, no matter how basic, no matter how much of a beginner they are. If you encourage that from the very beginning, then you develop those skills over time.”
(Yes, and Mozart started composing at age 5.)
If you are an older musician, you can still learn how to compose, Trash says.
“I don’t think it’s ever too late to start doing it,” he says.
“I just chose not to do it on trumpet because I found improvising on a single line instrument quite boring. Whereas on piano, you can make chords, bass lines, melodies.”
And since he is a pro on piano, he is a pro on synthesizers, which means he can compose entire orchestral pieces on synthesizers plugged into computers.
In fact, Trash plans to become a composer of movie scores.
And he started going down that road by creating movie music on synthesizers.
But then he decided to go into electronic dance music.
Or, as Trash describes that transition comically: “Somewhere down the line, the flutes got replaced by kick drums.”
If Mozart were alive today, he’d be saying the exact same thing, I’m sure of it.
Doug Elfman’s column appears on Page 3A in the main section on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He also writes for Neon on Fridays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.