Teleman - Thekla - 27.09.18
I dont know if other bands do this, says Tommy Sanders, Telemans singer and guitarist, but in our rehearsal room we had a white board, and for each song wed write the chords up on the white board, write the structure out. Weve got different colour pens and stuff. Its very professional.
The art of songwriting has been the driving force behind Telemans second album Brilliant Sanity: the process of crafting of the immaculate pop song, the dogged pursuit of the perfect hook. The result is an album that appears fastidiously and impeccably made, but also charged with joy.
The bands first record, 2014s Breakfast, was a quite different affair. Put together largely in the studio, with drummer Hiro Amamiya only joining the band a couple of songs into the session, Sanders recalls how We recorded the songs before we knew how to play them, in a very bitty way, building them track by track, rather than just getting in a room and playing them.
Since then, both the band and their songs have solidified. Now a four-piece made up of Sanders, his brother Jonny on synths, Amamiya on drums, and Pete Cattermoul on bass, the process of touring has honed them into a spectacular a live act, fleshing out those studio-forged tracks, so that by the end of the touring cycle, Sanders says, Wed made up our minds that we wanted to record our next record in a very different way. Just us, in a room, playing together, to each other, in a very live and spontaneous way.
There was a good six months spent in that rehearsal space in Homerton, just the four of them, with their white board and their pens. By the time they resurfaced they found they had 50 new songs, but also a greater understanding of who they were as songwriters.
Id say Pete definitely writes pop songs, Sanders says. And Hiros songs are quite traditional. Jonnys are more unusual. He has a unique approach to playing the keyboard, hes never had any lessons, he taught himself how to play, so his songs do more unconventional things in their structure, his choice of notes and phrasing are less predictable, which makes them really interesting.
Sanders own songwriting forms the core of the album, and has, he claims, changed little from his teenage years when he was writing tunes about a monkey riding a motorbike on his Dads guitar. Ive always liked to write pop songs really, he says. I like hooks whether theyre lyrical, or a guitar hook, or a catchy bassline. I like a chorus, a verse and a double chorus. Its quite addictive when you write songs like that. I just find them irresistible. Sometimes I think Oh god, I have to break out of this formulaic songwriting cycle that Im in and that Ive been trapped in for the past 15 years. And then I think no, this is why pop songs work its a winning formula, and its gratifying.
The music comes first. A melody that hit him one day while walking to the pub with Hiro, for instance, soon evolved into the unabashed pop track Dusseldorf. The lyrics came later at first a stream of nonsense-words and gobbledegook, and then lines from a notebook Sanders had taken on a tour of Germany. Music is just pure joy, Sanders says. Sitting around making music is my job, but its also what I do for fun. Lyrics feel like something I have to focus more attention on. A lot of the lyrics were written on tour; when youre sitting down for eight hours on a tour bus just looking out the window.
And yet even more than Breakfast, Brilliant Sanity shows Sanders as an accomplished and distinctive lyricist, with a passion for the music of words themselves and an eye for the singular image. He is, he says, a great admirer of Dylans lyrics, for the way that a lot of them are very enigmatic, and even though youve no idea what hes singing about, each line has really strong imagery, pictures are conjured up right in front of you.
You can see this preoccupation with strong imagery throughout Brilliant Sanity in the deftness of its song titles Tangerine, for instance, or Canvas Shoe, in its recurrent references to devilry and fire, and in its most lingering lines a reference to a Chinese burn in Glory Hallelujah, for instance, or in the declaration Every time Im alone with you/ The air gets heavy and drips like glue of first single, Fall in Time.
Its strange because the words just come from nowhere, without me even thinking, Sanders says. Its in quite an abstract thing. Sometimes I dont know what theyre about but other people tell me what theyre about. Or until I look back retrospectively and realise. Its always been that way with my lyric writing. I feel a bit self-conscious about trying to explain them when Im not quite sure what they mean myself.
The band whittled their haul of 50 songs down to a more manageable figure and recorded them in Dan Careys studio in Streatham, South London. Carey was chosen, Sanders says, because his studio is a treasure trove of strange instruments and gadgets, just a musicians dream and Carey himself a really fantastic producer he works really quickly, he seems able to filter out the good ideas.
While the songs structure changed little, it was Careys suggestion that they choose core synthesiser sounds the Mellotron, the Roland Jupiter, the Korg Trident to help define the aesthetic of the album, a decision Sanders credits with helping to find certain tones and textures wed been struggling to find our demos.
But there were other influences, too, that perhaps brought more tones and textures to the album. Sanders talks of their time in the studio, of their collective obsession with the Vietnamese restaurant across the street, of how they would set the mood for recording each song using a series of coloured lights, and of how, in breaks from recording the band would go out on the roof and gaze at the moon through Careys telescope, It had, he says, a very calming and settling influence.
Sometimes, he says, a record can take itself a bit too seriously. So its good to have a bit of a lighthearted side. Its good just to enjoy making it, for your own sake because if youre enjoying making the songs then other people are going to enjoy listening to them.
THURSDAY 27 SEPTEMBER
The Grove, Bristol BS1 4RB
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