From The Desk Of Trans Am: Rent Free San Francisco

After 24 years and 10 albums, we’re still trying to figure out Trans Am. A statement of misguided complication or exaggeration? Maybe. But the trio—guitarist Phil Manley, bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Nathan Means, drummer Sebastian Thomson—hasn’t exactly made comprehension easy considering its non-linear progression, lack of canned press statements and refusal to submit to expectation. Trans Am’s throw-at-a-dartboard-and-see-what-sticks approach notwithstanding, the band finds itself with a 10th album in its laps. Volume X (Thrill Jockey) leans toward the streamlined sensibility of 2007’s Sex Change, snidely and playfully existing somewhere between krautrock, post-rock, electro-rock, punk rock and other prefix-rock. Trans Am will be guest editing all week. Read our new feature on them.


Manley: For the past eight years, I have worked as a recording engineer at a recording studio in San Francisco called Lucky Cat Recording. The owner opened the studio in the Potrero Hill neighborhood 20 years ago. When the studio first opened, the neighborhood felt like the edge of the earth. There was a tent city outside the studio up and down the block. RVs parked on street were literally mobile homes—though some of them were not so mobile. It was not uncommon to find used syringes on the stoop of the studio back in those days.

A massive and rapid redevelopment of the Mission Bay neighborhood has recently changed the neighborhood. Instead of tweakers stripping copper wire on our stoop to bring to the metal recycling center on the corner, we have scientists and doctors busily walking to and from work at the new UCSF medical campus. Which got me wondering, where have all the tweakers gone?

I recently signed a lease on a new recording studio, El Studio, which is located in an industrial nether region of San Francisco. I think it’s technically in Bayview, but it could be part of Dogpatch? It would be a stretch to call it the Mission. If you wanted to get creative, you could call it Bernal Heights East. Anyway, our new street is home to the S.F. public-school bus depot as well as the largest USPS mail sorting facility in the country, so I’m told. It’s pretty desolate, and there is nary a fancy coffee shop anywhere within miles.

Amongst the heavy industry, I noticed a class of people who didn’t seem to be working, but just hanging around. They weren’t really heading anywhere in a hurry as tweakers usually do when they’re on their way to cash in recycling. They also weren’t living in cars or on the street. I also couldn’t help but notice the sound of a generator running 24/7. It seemed to be coming from across the parking lot in an old cement building. A hole in the fence allows access for what seems to be a community of marginal characters who inhabit this large building. Could it be a squat? Well look at that. It is a squat.

I’d say there are anywhere from 10-20 people living in this building. While I think there is a certain sketchiness to their whole operation (I can imagine a True Detective-style inverted pentagram smeared on the interior walls in human excrement), I’m pretty stoked to see so many people living rent free in San Francisco.