Wire Train is not a band with whom I have much history. I’ve taken a deeper dive into their music only in the last few years.
But I’ve known about the band since I was a pre-teen, and I had encountered … in a chamber a long time ago. Rather, this album represents one of the main avenues I used to discover new music: the public library.
I first encountered Wire Train through music magazines. They may have garnered a few paragraphs in Star Hits (the U.S. version of U.K.’s Smash Hits) but it was enough for me to note their name.
When I grew disenchanted with radio at the end of sophomore year in high school, I turned to magazines to direct me to music that Honolulu radio programmers wouldn’t touch. I was also learning more about classical music at the time, using Roger Kamien’s textbook Music: An Appreciation, which my dad bought for an appreciation class he took at a community college.
Classical music was easy to come by at the public library, so I would visit various branches of the Hawaii system, borrowing records and tapes of Broadway musicals and common practice repertoire.
Rolling Stone ran an article about the best albums from the 80s and mentioned Entertainment! by Gang of Four. Out of curiosity, I did a catalog search for “gang of four” at the library and discovered Entertainment! was available for loan. So I borrowed it.
It didn’t end there.
I borrowed XTC’S Skylarking and R.E.M.’s Green, which was actually a new release at the time. I was overjoyed to find 10,000 Maniacs’ The Wishing Chair listed in the catalog but dismayed by the perpetual status of “In Transit.”
If the library had anything really popular — which would have been classic rock in the vein of your Beatles or Rolling Stones — it was probably already checked out. But I didn’t search for any of that. I wanted to find music by post-punk bands, and I was surprised to find myself having quite a bit of success.
I can’t remember if searched specifically for the name “Wire Train” when I discovered one of their albums was available at a branch in Waipahu. Most likely, I may have followed a keyword result. I had gotten my drivers license by then, and I made the trip out to Waipahu to borrow a tape copy of … in a chamber.
I put it in the deck, and right away, the sound of the drums and the tempo of the opening track told me the album was released in 1984. A quick check of the copyright date on the case confirmed my suspicion. (Even back then, I was already hyper-aware of how music was recorded.)
When you’re a teenager, anything older than 2 years was already considered ancient history, so I copped a bit of an attitude toward the album. I thought it was OK, but I wanted something newer.
I wouldn’t really think about Wire Train for another 30 years.
As usual, an encounter at the thrift store got me curious about the band. I picked up a vinyl copy of … in a chamber the moment I spotted it in the bin.
Wire Train was a solid band at the time, and yes, the music on … in a chamber is reliably post-punk — danceable with lots of ethereal guitars. Though hailing from San Francisco, Wire Train could be played alongside A Flock of Seagulls, The Alarm and The Cure, and you’d think they were Brits.
The band would go on to record four more major label albums, but … in a chamber was enough of a regional hit that it’s been reissued a number of times: an expanded edition in 2019, and part of a three-album compilation in 2020. Yes, I have grown to like the album enough to have both.
Out of all the music I discovered through the Hawaii Public Library, … in a chamber seems like the least plausible encounter. Waipahu is a working-class suburb of outside Honolulu, and a new wave band from San Francisco would have been absolutely ignored by the neighborhood patrons.
If Wire Train were played on local radio, it was probably the University of Hawaii station, which couldn’t be heard beyond three miles from campus at the time.
So it makes we wonder how it ever ended up in the collection in the first place. I’m just glad it was.