But in the case of Thomas Truax, it’s no lie.
On Friday, October 6 he returns to Southsea for a tour to mark the release of new single Save Me, a duet with British pop-noir chanteuse Gemma Ray.
A veteran of the New York anti-folk movement, he is a true one-man band. Aside from his guitar, he creates his own fantastical instruments (his website is worth a look) that flesh out his sound. For logistical reasons, only a selection of this menagerie of musical beasts can join him on tour.
‘I’ve got a vehicle now. I used to do touring by train. But I had a smaller drum machine, Sister Spinster, which folded up into a case. (His newer, bigger drum machine) Mother Superior, I didn’t start dragging her around until I had a car.
‘A couple of years of doing trains, I enjoyed it, but it was heavy-duty, lugging around these cases with a guitar on my back.
Everything I’ve liked and been influenced by has tended to stand outside the typical labellingThomas Truax
‘I’ll definitely be bringing Mother Superior and the Hornicator (a combination of gramophone horn, mic, strings and various embellishments). And the Stringaling, and various other bits and bobs, and the guitar of course.’
Thomas, though, is acutely aware that he may not be perceived as entirely serious. But his inventions began from a love of finding interesting new ways of making sounds.
‘I walk a really fine line, in that risky area where people say you’re a novelty act, when it all originally stemmed from me making music, and the instruments came after.’
Finding a label for what he does is also problematic. As he says of his association with the anti-folk movement: ‘I’ve got mixed feelings about that. For the person who came across what I do via the anti-folk movement or following links to that scene, then it’s a good thing. But it’s the same as any other label that’s put on you – it also can limit you if you come across people who haven’t heard you and don’t like that label, like: “He’s anti-folk”, “Oh, I hate that”, then they’re not even going to give you the first listen because they’ve already decided they don’t like that sort of music.’
Asked to describe what he does and Thomas admits, he’s found wanting for a neat summation.
‘It’s always a struggle. My wife said, call it mystery romantic music. I think that’s a good name as well, but that doesn’t include every element.
‘Some people will say it’s esoteric, or whatever. I’ve tried to think of clever ways of describing it. One thing I like to say is it’s like a magic show on a rock’n’roll train, but that sounds a bit gimmicky too, doesn’t it? Or like it’s a show for kids.’
With many of his eight solo albums released on his own label Psycho Teddy, Thomas seems to take pride in not playing the music industry game, and remaining something of an outsider.
‘Word of mouth is often what keeps me alive: “You’ve got to see this guy, he’s got these crazy instruments”, and people sharing videos online.
‘These days things are so geared towards branding yourself and marketing yourself, and I have sometimes wondered if I haven’t really made every popular effort to not do what would be healthy for my career – to say you’re this, and this crowd will like it, and all you need to do is put yourself in front of them.
‘But everything I’ve liked and been influenced by has tended to stand outside the typical labelling.’
I have been on different record labels and distributors, but I think it was Tom Robinson recently put a tweet up saying the term unsigned doesn’t mean anything any more. Stop using it. Even bands that are well-known for being on major labels, everyone I know like (collaborators and touring partners) Amanda Palmer and Duke Special have got off their major record deals.
‘But I would say the main demon in my life is trying to cover all the bases, doing everything myself and realising you can’t entirely or you move like a snail.
‘I’m so committed to the DIY thing, but you can’t do it all.’
The Loft, Southsea
Friday, October 6