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Synesthetic Inspiration: An Interview with Teleman

Those that deny evolution would be hard pressed to explain Teleman. The Reading, UK quartet sprung forth from the demise of Pete & The Pirates, a group championed by Zane Lowe and his fellow BBC jockeys, known for “punk blasts of power” and “kraut-rock frugouts” (as Rough Trade brilliantly put it). After a glorious eight-year run ending in 2012, the band hung its hat, allowing vocalist and guitarist Thomas Sanders, his brother Jonny Sanders the drummer, and Pete Cattermoul to split off together in search of new musical frontiers.

The result was a brand new beast altogether. In Teleman, Jonny moved over to synth duties, which made room for the intuitively clever trap work of Hiro Amamiya. The focus moved from loud, persistent riffs to subtle arrangements that employ brilliant use of space. Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos has publicly praised their song “Steam Train Girl”, saying, “the notes just seem to hang in the space. There seems to be absolutely no excess, nothing bombastic in the playing. It’s all quite delicate. But the emotion behind it is all the powerful as a result.” That track and many other gems are on their debut LP Breakfast, released by Moshi Moshi. We had a quick word with frontman Thomas to discuss his creative process and we can expect from their September 26th show at Glasslands.

The visual theme you guys often work with involve these colored circles, used very creatively in all your music videos. How did you arrive at this mosaic? Four colors for four band members? The “back to where we started” lyric in Cristina? 

This originated from when Jonny and I were pondering over an idea for our first video for the song “Cristina”. We wanted something that was going to be ridiculously simple, almost and antithesis of a normal music video. The first lingering chord of the song seemed to want to be represented by a basic form and colour; you could say it was a synesthetic inspiration. The video developed in this way, and these humble coloured dots were quite pleasing to us so we adopted them as a motif which we’ve used in our artwork and videos.

You have often said that you’d like to leave your lyrics up to interpretation, but there are so many provocative fragments. Can you provide us any clues as to which themes to listen for? I was especially curious about the “rolling heart gathering moss” passage.

There is a saying that “a rolling stone gather’s no moss.” It’s a great phrase; you have to keep moving and learning or you’re going to stagnate and rust. I liked this metaphor applied to the heart – to be open to new emotional experiences in life, and to make the heart beat fast sometimes!

Three of you were members of Pete & The Pirates which had more of a guitar-based, punk rock edge. Was the incorporation of synths difficult? Or were you guys experienced with these techniques before forming Teleman?

Jonny played the drums in Pete and the Pirates, but he was always a secret synth player. Pete is also a very talented keyboardist, so it was only natural that we’d want to move over some way into that territory. We still love the guitar, and it features quite heavily on our record.

You guys like to get right into business when you play, without dealing in gimmicks or banter. How is the live Teleman experience different from the record?

That’s right. I’d rather not say anything at all but I don’t want to come across as rude or arrogant. It’s just that I find playing live quite daunting and I just really want to focus on the music and not on being an entertainer. I sometimes wonder about my career choice, as I don’t really like people looking at me! Hopefully people have come to listen to us playing the songs as best we can, and not to see a grand spectacle. The songs have a different character when we play them live. I think they are looser and we like to play around with structures and instrumentation here and there so that we aren’t just regurgitating the record. It’s an ever changing process, so our live shows are always being honed and tweaked.

Thank you, Thomas! Cop tickets to Teleman’s 9/26 show with LOLO and Laura & Greg here.


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