Truemaster Trimingham -- AKA, DJ Trumastr -- is one of the best DJs, if not the best DJ, in the Capital Region. And one of his annual events -- Beat*Shot Spins for J Dilla, now in its sixth year -- is back this weekend at The Hollow in Albany.
We talked with Trumastr this week about his name, making it as a full-time DJ, the influence of J Dilla, something he'd like to see changed about this area, and... whales.
You've gotta have the best name in Albany, it has such great alliteration and rhythm. Is there a story behind it?
I wasn't born with that name. However, it has a spiritual significance. It is the name that I use on all documentation, for the exception of my birth certificate. So my passport, my driver's license.
I was going to school in Boston and I came into my own as far as what I was going to do with my life, where I was going to go with my life, and I decided I wanted to be an educator. So the name Truemaster -- true comes from the root for truce, which is an agreement, and master comes from the Latin root maestro, which means teacher. Therefore my name means one who agrees to teach.
And that's kind of what I've been doing, almost all my life. When I was 16 I was a camp counselor, a lifeguard, I went to school in Boston and I went to school in Albany, and I got my undergrad in world history and my master's in classroom teaching, and then I was a museum educator for 15 years, which I retired from in December. During which time I got into music, further and further to the point that I could live off it, and pursue music full time. And that's what I'm doing now. Kind of like my own boss, which is neat.
But I'll always be an educator. Because I like to inform people, learn from from them, learn what they like, and give them something new to enjoy. But now it's with music. So Truemaster will always be there -- it's a lot less artistic than it is spiritual. It just happens to have an artistic ring to it. A lot of people hear my name and they're like, "That's the perfect DJ name!" But that name existed long before I touched a turntable.
I like this idea of how you felt like you were coming into who you are, and you picked that name based on it. I like that idea of people not really picking their name until they know who they are.
The name that was I given is the same name as my father -- which I won't say -- but if you really wanted to know you could just find out what my dad's name is. But that's my dad's name. You know, that's who they saw when I was born. But you need not name me the same as that guy to know that I'm his son. Because we look so much alike. (laughs) For real, it's like, who are you if you are not your father?
But once I realized that I had a path that I was going down, I wanted a name that fit that.
You mentioned that you're now basically making your full-time living off music. I think a lot of people would be surprised that a DJ here in Albany could do that, that you might [instead] have to be in New York or some really big city.
I think one of the advantages that I have is that I'm pretty social. I will admit that -- I get it from my mother. She's a very good networker, and she's very good at putting people at ease and putting them in the same room at the same time and connecting people. I get a lot of that from her. And having a solid music base, a background -- grandfather was a jazz musician, my uncle was a classical musician, he went to the Hartt School of Music and he actually built and designed harps, he was like one of the only people in the Northeast who did that. And there was constantly vinyl being played in the house as kid. My mom and dad would go to the discotheque on a Friday night and if they heard a couple of things that they liked, on Saturday when we would go to the mall we'd grab those records, and they'd play them in the house. So I feel fortunate to grow up in a time when music wasn't so corporate.
And having that background makes me a lot more selective in the music that I play, that I listen to. And I'll listen to some commercial stuff, some radio stuff, just so I have my hand on the pulse. But as far as music that I'm genuinely interested in, I really have to use the internet. Really dig, go to blogs, listen to old stuff, listen to obscure stuff.
All of that is to say that my musical taste has placed me at an advantage where I can actually go to a venue and say, I have this idea for a night. I'll make the flyer, I'll promote it. If it's something that you guys are interested in, let's give it a whirl. And I'll sell it. And if it doesn't work out, we'll end it in six months, or a year, or whatever. But we'll give it a chance. And every one of my jobs has pretty much been like that. It's never been a situation where a big night club called me and said to me, "Hey we want you to DJ here and play Top 40." Because, to be honest with you, anybody can do that.
I'd rather not do that. I'd rather present a unique musical experience. I never put a set list together. Every time I get down to play, all the music, it's random. It could be anything from Boz Scaggs to Will Smith to Drake to Madonna. It can go anywhere, as long as it feels good and it's mixed well and it surprises people. People can tell when I'm DJ-ing that something artistic is happening. You know, there's not a machine back there, there's not some robot. There is a creative process that's happening with that DJ who's behind the turntables. And I actually use turntables.
So I always try to challenge myself musically and come up with something new and innovative each week. Like last week the theme was "red, white, and blue" -- but it wasn't like a patriotic thing. It was "Blue Moon" by Tony Bennett. "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes. Or "Time for Some Action" by Redman. So I really try to reach and dig and get creative ... so it's not just some guy playing music.
The event you have coming up this weekend -- Beat*Shot Spins for J Dilla -- is in its sixth year now. How that'd come about, and what can people expect?
In the mid 90s there was a song that came out from The Pharcyde called "Runnin'." And it really blew me away, I'd never heard anything like that before as far as hip hop production goes. It was very unique. The guys were singing on it, the bass lines were crazy, the drums. It was just the most outrageous hip hop production that I had heard since I had been listening to hip hop... and, you know, I was born in 1972. So when that song came out, I was like, "What is this?"
I was over a friend's house in Staten Island. We were talking about it, I was like, this new Pharcyde album is crazy. And he was like, "Yeah, there's this producer, his name is Jay Dee. Q-Tip introduced him to the Pharcyde."
And then I started following him. Not like a stalker, but every time I would buy a CD I'd look for Jay Dee on it, and I's looked to see if he made something on it. And then I'd start buying singles. And you gotta understand, this is before the web, so you're literally flipping CDs over and going to the store, and looking on these cassettes and CD singles.
So my love and my passion for him grew and grew and grew. Then he passed away in '06. I felt like a part of me was gone. You know everybody has that person in their life, you know everyone's got their Lennon or their Hendrix or their Michael Jackson. They have that person who they really connected with and really resonated with. I know people who say what I say about Dilla about Bob Marley, you know what I mean?
I've always been about the music, the sound, the emotion that is created from music. So that's why I like jazz. J Dilla had a very jazz-influenced sound. He basically revolutionized neo soul, he created a whole new era of soul music in the mid 90s. And he was producing for some of the most famous hip hop and R&B people -- people like Erykah Badu, D'Angelo, Janet Jackson, Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Common, Busta Rhymes, The Roots.
There's [now] tributes to him all over the country, California, DC does one, of course there's one in Detroit which is where Dilla is from, there's one in the city, there's one in Boston. And the Albany one, and the Dilla Foundation will be there, they've been coming for the last three years.
I wanted to celebrate his music and sound because it means that much to me. It seems to be growing nicely. This year we're not doing bands, but some years we'll have bands that cover his work. Or we'll have artists who were influenced by his work, they'll fly up to perform just for the price of the plane ticket or train ticket. I make t-shirts for the event. This year we're fortunate enough to be doing this at a place that actually has a kitchen. Henry, the executive chef at The Hollow, is also a J Dilla fan -- so he decided he wanted to make a menu that was reflective of J Dilla.
I started doing this before I really was aware there was a foundation. I just wanted to celebrate his music. ... It just kept on growing. And then the J Dilla Foundation was formed. It raises money so that kids can learn about sampling, learn about vinyl, learn about beat making, they can learn about the musical creative process that made Dilla who he is, and find that in themselves.
So I thought it was important to do this event, and to celebrate his life and his legacy twofold -- you get to hear this music, and you get to contribute to the foundation. So, after we pay our bills, we send a nice check to the J Dilla Foundation.
If you could remix some aspect of Albany, or spin it differently, or give it a different beat -- what would it be?
I would like for the police to be a little bit friendlier to the people. I'm just being honest. From personal experience, to what I've witnessed in the past few weeks in the news. I really feel like there needs to be more camaraderie between the people and the police. It really can't be an us-against-them.
I can't put all the blame on the police. But there is a certain level of discomfort, that they need to be more aware of, that they present. And that's probably not the answer you were expecting, but I feel like it really, really is important.
I'm glad you brought it up, because obviously it's an issue that's important to a lot of people. Are there specific things you'd like to see them do to help the situation?
I've been talking to a lot of people about this. I think diversity and sensitivity training should be the order of the day. Because, at the end of the day, you're here to protect and serve, and make people feel safe -- not make people feel uncomfortable. You know, it could just be the tone of your voice.
I recently experienced something. And it's really difficult for me to be angry with police because my father is a retired, decorated detective from Manhattan. He was a police officer for 25 years. That's very much part of my culture growing up as a child. And I've always been on the side of the law, I've always respected what the police do, and I understand how difficult their job is.
But, my father, he'll be the first to tell you, there's some [officers] who are what you're accustomed to and what you see, and there some who could use more of a bedside manner. So it's that type of thing. I just think it's really important for the overall comfort and wellbeing of our city.
I'm trying to do it through music. I'm trying to make people feel good and comfortable through music.
Last question: As you mentioned, you were a museum educator at the State Museum. I remember that you did a program about whales for kids. So, what's your favorite fact about whales?
Let's see... oh, they're like all flying around my head and I'm trying to grab one. It's like my head is an ocean and each fact is a whale swimming around and I want to give you a good one.
Humpback whales migrate 6,000 miles a year.
I heard a story about an orca that put his chin on an iceberg so a seal could slide down into its mouth. That was a friend of mine, a ship captain, who told me that one.
Adult male and female humpback whales don't eat the whole time they're in their breeding ground ... from December to May. Then they head back up north and pig out.
And that's the other thing, these are like the largest animals on the planet and they eat the smallest thing, the krill and the plankton.
The most elusive is the biggest, which is a blue whale. You find them by accident. And they're the biggest thing that's ever been on our planet. The blue whale, 400,000 pounds, up to 100 feet in length. Nothing, brontosaurus or brachiosaurus, none of those guys were as big.
Sperm whale goes all the way to the bottom of the ocean in pitch black and uses echolocation to find squid while holding its breath for 45 minutes.
It goes on, dude. I've learned so much about them. I flew back and forth to Maui and Alaska so I could take pictures and listen to their songs, and just be out on the ocean. I'm actually going back in April, just for a few days so I can take a few boat trips, so that I can get my humpback whale fix.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The 6th annual Beat*Shot Spins for J Dilla event is this Saturday (February 1) at The Hollow in Albany. It starts at 8 pm and tickets are $10.
DJ Trumastr spins at Justin's on Lark on Thursday and Fridays, and McGeary's on Sunday. He also does special events -- like the upcoming Front Parlor night at The Linda -- and weddings, bar mitzvahs, and all sorts of parties.
photo: Upstate Photographers
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