Just days before their debut record, Operator, was released in the US, we had the pleasure of sitting down and interviewing London-based band Telegram at SXSW.
To begin with, tell our readers who you are and what you do.
We are Telegram, I am Matt Saunders. I sing and I play lead guitar.
I am Pip and I play lead guitar.
I am Jordan and I play lead drums.
And I am Oli and I play lead bass and sing lead backing vocals.
We know you have a new album coming out called Operator.
Yes, our debut.
Tell us about it and why we should be listening to it.
Our new record should be listened to because it comes with two and a half years worth of studious try outs and trials, to the point that we’ve become to think it sounds like we sound live. I think we have spent a long time trying to be a good live band and the record is an example of that. I think the people who haven’t seen us live, the record is good example, minus of course the dream speech and the cable fuckery that occasionally happens on stage. It is pretty accurate.
Is it hard to get the same sound on a record you are making in the studio as you have on stage?
Obviously there is always a difference, but we recorded it live as a band and then opened up on top of it. The amps we used and the set up are all pretty much what we use live. The vocal sound is mainly through the same pedal we use, all of it is pretty much the same. The producer that produced is pretty much all about things being plugged in live, with not much messing around with what he does. He is pretty straight up.
We read that you had some trouble recording it. Like with a label, so you went out on your own. Is this correct?
Yeah, we did. We did some demos for various people and recorded with Don Cary, who is a great producer in London, who has recorded with everyone from Kylie Minogue to The Kills, to our friends Toy. He did our first single. We had a deal lined up with Sony Red and the deal was bought by investors tax break money and we didn’t know that at the time, but that is what came about. I think we were a little bit wide eyed and naive at the time, the buzz that was going on around that kind of thing, we were like ‘wow great’ and we sort of set back and waited for the recording dates to be decided. It just took too long. We pulled out of the deal, we felt like it was always going to be next week or next month.
Almost like you were being put off?
Yeah. They kept saying it wasn’t a case of it if, but a case of when. We could still be waiting here. So the decision to do that alone was taken strictly and we said okay this is how we are going to do it. We applied for funding and then we really got into the idea of doing it for ourselves. Everything. From the art work, bios, the videos, it was thought out by us.
There is no label involvement, which is something bands have to deal with a lot, especially if its a label like Sony, who are looking for certain boxes ticked. You have to tick boxes with them that you may not necessarily want to tick.
I think I can speak for all of us at the blog when I say, I can’t remember the last time we bought music on a major label, it is usually an independent label. I have always felt like the small independent labels seem to give bands more creativity.
Yes. When a band goes in to make a record, independent or not, it is which songs out of all of these, and they may not even be our favorites, but which ones of these will prick up the ears and get radio play, which would be considered like a single by the industry. All bands have to think of that, if it is major or not, but the major labels force that hand a little bit heavier.
You may not have a choice in who you work with or with the recording process, the art work, the video director. They want to see what they have done before, because they don’t really like them and you want to say, “Hey hold on a second, ideally who is the artist in the situation.” So we don’t have to deal with that. It did make it a lot tougher, we all work on top of being a band back home in London. We have to divide our time between that, the band doesn’t pay the bills or anything yet, and everything we earn from the band goes back into the band. That is just how it works. It feels good, we have our own label, Gram Gram, which wasn’t anticipated.
What are your expectations from being at SXSW?
We didn’t have any really. We just came down here to have a good time. We are not here looking for a label or anything. That’s kinda like a girl going to the prom to find a husband or vise versa. The idea that you can come to Southby and someone say you guys are amazing here is a deal. The reality is, besides the New York show being after this, was to kind of see what we are up against and see what is going on and what the vibe is in the States. I feel like we are in the right place. We didn’t come here and think ‘shit we are miles away from where we need to be’.
We have read several different descriptions of your music. Unfortunately, our interview schedule has kept us from seeing you perform, but we have obviously listened to the record. It has been described several ways, we think it has a psych influence. Other than your new song Tally Tally, that just seems so different.
The funny thing with that, it is kind what we first set down and wrote ( Tally Tally ). We started writing it but didn’t finish it. The form changed and the very end. I guess you could say there elements of Prog. It is like a palette cleanser in the set.
The Psych label for us is a funny one, because when we started Telegram, Toy who are great friends of ours and The Horrors, 2 or 3 years prior were milling around with the Psych sound and Kraut. That was going on and I guess we were sorta adament we were going to do something slightly different, have more of a punk element to things and there are sonically psych sounds in some of the effects going on, but I think in regards of how we feel about ourselves as a psych band, yeah we are into psychedelic things, but I think we consider ourselves more of a punk band, more of a Proto Angular.We really love Devo, there will be influences on the second record where that will become more apparent. A step away from the psych scene.
Who are your influences?
We always talk about Roxy Music, and we always talk about Eno and they are, they are big influences, but there are so many others, like Ramones, New York Dolls, The Cramps, Devo, Television, Richie Hell, lots of stuff. Everything from the seventies.
I was going to say, it sounded like we just took a trip through CBGB’s.
But also like Hot Chocolate, we like Soul.
The Horrors are big advocates of this. The Horror’s record collection combined is like a library of music and I have to honestly say they hands down started a scene and an interest which sparked a lot of things and the music tastes in our group of friends is so varied so everyone introduces everyone to things from house music to rare sixties psych. It is a broad spectrum of stuff, so when we are at a party, a two day event at times, at a friends house, we will go through an A to Zed like of genres and enjoy it. But for the interest of the record, and for the record, our influences are kind of Proto, Punk, Interesting Angular, lyrical guitar music.
Early punk happens to be my thing, and since you are punk fans, the one thing I find interesting is the continual argument on if punk started in the US or in the UK.
Oh, it started in America and I think it started way before people think it started. People forget about MC5. And you can go a little but further back as well with things like The Monks, very primal and very simple. British punk kind of made it into a culture I think. It was more a look.
Punk is a core meaning. Avril in an interview would probably say she was punk, but punk, what it is, it runs through several genres. It is an attitude, it is a distain with norm and a zest for kind of kicking against the grain. Doing it your way, but also, being acceptable to everything else as well, not being like fuck everything else it is rubbish.
If you look at the scene at CBGB’s, they were all completely different. Blondie against Talking Heads. That second wave for England was all kind of gimmicky and looked and sounded the same. We had the whole monarchy thing going on as well, with the Sex Pistols and the symbol of her with the safety pin.
Speaking of the monarchy, I am sure you are aware that the US is in elections at the moment and I am sure you have seen our candidates behavior, good and bad. Are elections in the UK similar?
Our elections are not funded by millions and millions of dollars. The world is so acceptable to whatever they read and are told to look at and to think at. It feels like watching a football game or a series, it is entertaining and that is the worrying factor, that politics here have become an entertainment thing as opposed to a political thing. In Great Britain it is very different, but politics still have us screwed and are strange. The boys running the country come from the same school. Something like the past 11 or 12 Prime Ministers have gone to Eton. When you look at it that way you kind of think, how is this real.
Who would you recommend us seeing while we are at SXSW?
Moonlanding. Do you know Fat White Family from the UK? It is a spin off with two of them and a bunch of old rockers. Sean Lennon was involved as well. We saw them on Tuesday and they supported Iggy last night.
Since you have been here, what has been your favorite place to visit?
The graffiti park.
Oh I wouldn’t think that was our favorite. I think just the whole kind of amount of it all, so much everywhere. The idea that we are at SXSW and if its not happening, there are still all these bars and all those venues. Baffles me that they exist in so many numbers. There is no other festival really like this. There is more going on here than any outdoor festival and its contained in a city which is crazy.
Many thanks to Telegram for sitting down with us and letting us get to know you a little better.