Raised from the ashes of their old band Pete and the Pirates with various side projects dotted around, Teleman have been playing in bands for over a decade.
Self-managing their own tours, hand-making their own merch with creative control over every last detail, they now know the touring scene better than almost anyone.
We caught up with front-man Tom Sanders during a rare few weeks of doing “pretty much nothing” to tap up some of that extensive knowledge and talk tours, excess and settling into a more civilized life on the road.
So you guys are in a little bit of a break right now, of sorts?
Well you know, not in a break-break way like couples do but yeah, we’ve had about three weeks of doing pretty much nothing. As soon as the festivals finished, we didn’t have anything in the calendar.
I’ve been just chilling out, writing at home a lot and spending lots of time outside in the garden and walking and stuff, catching up with friends. All the stuff that when it gets so hectic you don’t really have time to do.
Are you one of those people who get a bit itchy when you’ve got nothing to be doing?
Oh yeah! When you come back from tour the first thing you wanna do is nothing but I can’t do that for more than a couple of days really. The good thing about writing is that it’s always there, waiting for you to come back to.
I’m not one of those people that gets writers block, ever. I find it really easy to just sit down and start working, because I enjoy it I suppose.
There’s always a new route, if you find your normal way of writing isn’t inspiring you, just try something different outside your comfort zone, shake things up a bit and you can get really interesting results.
Do you find it easier to write when you’ve been on tour?
I find being on tour fine for writing. Some people just can’t do it at all, but I find it’s a really good time to reflect because you get so much downtime travelling and so much time between sound-check and shows. Songs that have been floating around in your head suddenly start to consolidate and you might think of lyrics or the theme to a song and the pieces can really fall into place.
Sometimes that’s what a song needs, you need to go away from it and have some time to kind of let it be what it wants to be. Sometimes with writing songs time is a real luxury. People will be like, “quick, quick churn out another song! Bang! Bang! Bang!”, people I know do song writing sessions where they just go into a room and write a song in a couple of hours, it works for some people but not for me.
This album was written much quicker than the first, right?
You could say that yeah, although some of the songs were kind of somewhere brewing, bubbling along, in the pipeline as an idea, waiting to be developed. Others were written really quickly.
Was it more the recording that was quicker?
Yeah, that’s definitely true, the recording was much quicker. The writing was about the same, quite a similar process of song selection; both the albums have songs that were pretty old and some which were pretty new.
I don’t tend to just be like, “okay, it’s time to write the next album” and sit down and write a selection of songs. I tend to have too many songs from all over the place from different periods of my life and then I suddenly think, “oh wow, these 10 songs are really good for an album”.
So it’s quite organic?
Yeah, it’s quite haphazard.
Do you think this latest album differs in the live setting at all from older material?
Well with the older stuff we didn’t record it in a very live way so we had to learn to play it. With this one it was the other way around, we’d been practicing them for so long and then we went and recorded them.
Now I think they balance themselves out and when we play live they really merge together in quite a nice way. With some of the new songs, we’re incorporating arpeggios and stuff in some of the songs where we’re kind of locked to the synthesiser - so Hiro [Amamiya, drums] has to play along to the synth and we have to follow Hiro.
When you’re not used to being tied down to a metronome it can be tricky. At first it was tricky but now it feels really good, really solid, you get used to the feel of that bpm. (Check 'Cristina' played live from the first record)
So it’s a bit more structured now, the way you play?
On some of the songs, two or three but with the rest it’s really free actually.
So is there a certain amount of improvisation that goes on?
Yeah, there are a few songs where we extended. We started doing it originally because we just wanted to have some fun; we wanted to have a place in the song where we’d just do whatever felt right for that show. From there you kind of discover stuff where you go, “oh wow I really like this bit, that thing you did last night on the bass was really cool, let’s do that again”.
You suddenly realise that you’ve got this really great repertoire of hooks that you just played in the spur of the moment and they turn into a whole sequence that feels really good. Then you do it the next night and it turns into this really great wig out. You should have the freedom to do whatever you want to.
It was also great when we were starting out when we only had a few songs as a way of extending the set, when you’re contracted to an hour and you’ve only got half an hour, you can double them!
Is that something that’s important to live music do you think, that it’s different from the record?
Yeah, I think it depends on the style of music you play and the band. I don’t really like it when I go see a band and it sounds like I’ve just put the record on at home. I kind of found that with bands like The Strokes, obviously they’re a brilliant live band in some ways but they don’t seem to break out of what they sound like on record, they’re kind of somehow in a mould. I like it when it’s different.
Who is a great live act to you?
Someone like Connan Mockasin, I’ve seen him play so many times and its always a bit different, you never quite know what to expect. Or someone like Ty Segal, you can never ever capture that energy on record, ever. So his live shows are always something which you can only experience live, you can’t find that anywhere else, even though his records sound great too.
On our tours a lot of people said, from our first album, that they weren’t massive fans of our recording but seeing us live is like a whole different thing, it’s really good. That made me feel like all the work has been worthwhile and that’s why we recorded the second album in a very live way.
Is that something that keeps the touring interesting for you guys too, to have a bit more freedom so it’s evolving and you’re not playing the same thing every night?
I think it’s really important to give yourself that freedom and that challenge, it should be a challenge. You should challenge yourself to break out and feel free to do whatever you want to do when you’re doing a show.
You guys have been playing in various bands for quite a long time, does touring ever feel like a means to an end?
No not really, the whole cycle of being in a band means that after you finish your tour you’ve got all this time to write and then when it comes round again you can’t wait to get back on the road.
The last few tours we’ve done I’ve really enjoyed, I don’t think I’ll ever reach the stage where touring becomes monotonous. I think it’s a really valuable part of the whole experience, meeting people and seeing how they react to your music, it puts it all into perspective.
Do you like to be in control of everything the band does?
In terms of merchandise, definitely. Jonny [Sanders, synths] is in control of the whole visual aspect of our band. It’s really easy in a way because all the design work has been done [by Jonny] and we just take an element of that and put it on a t-shirt for example, or we make some rubber prints and then we hand stamp the CDs and stuff.
It doesn’t take that much work but it does create something individual that you can’t get in the shops which I think is really cool.
Is the image of the band something that’s quite important to you guys?
I suppose the answer should be yes but for me it’s less important to be honest, I’m much more interested in writing music than what our image is!
Do you think stuff like merch and artwork is still important?
I think if you can make it all tie in together to get some kind of theme in place then that’s great, it makes more sense to people and they can relate to it better, you know who you are and where you’re going.
You can say “this is me, this is us” and when other people take control of stuff like our look where we get so-and-so to do our merch and this person to do our album and we just wear whatever clothes we wore to the pub last night to play the shows, all you’ve got then is your music to describe who you are which is obviously the starting point.
You have a very distinctive sound so you could create an identity just with that?
Yeah and a lot of bands do. A lot of my favourite bands don’t have any particular style at all, like Pixies or Pavement, you see them on stage and they haven’t really put a lot of thought into what they’re wearing or how their hair looks for example, but I don’t think a single person in the audience gives a flying fuck!
How much do you think about how you look on stage?
I think there should be certain amount of thought put into what you’re wearing but then I put a certain amount of thought into what I’m wearing when I go to the pub as well!
So it’s not a big difference between the stage and real life?
No, I just make sure I don’t look totally shit when I leave the house!
That’s the dream.
Yeah! It’s not that hard to do, I don’t own many clothes; I just try to buy clothes that fit me and stuff. We’ve never been a very styled band, or a very stylish band to be honest! I think we’re substance over style.
You’re always wearing nice shirts, that’ll do!
Yeah! We always manage to put on a shirt, that’s okay. We do have an iron that we take with us, if we remember it. Ironing our shirts is about as far as we go.
I’ve seen you describe your touring life as quite civilised before, is that still the case?
It never used to be! It’s starting to become that way now though, yeah. I didn’t used to like touring because it can become really unbearable when people’s drinking gets out of control. When you’re hungover nearly every day the shows start to suffer so people are feeling bad about the shows and bad about their health because nobody’s eating well and everyone’s on it all the time.
When we reign things in a little bit everything starts to make sense and we realise this is why we’re doing it, this is why we’re in a band! It’s about the music.
What’s a typical night on tour these days?
It will almost definitely involve having a curry and drinking beer and meeting lots of people.
But not too wild?
We try and limit the wild nights to maybe two or three nights of restraint and punctuate the tour with a few nights were things get out of hand. Especially if you’re in a city that you really love or you’ve met some old friends that you haven’t seem for a really long time.
But yeah, just because someone has given you 24 cans of beer, that doesn’t mean you have to drink them all! That’s what we used to think, that it would go to waste.
Do you prefer being abroad or in the UK?
In the UK you get a bit more satisfaction from the shows. I think it’s the audience, because it’s our country and we’ve had a lot of radio play, there’s a great intensity and you can feel a stronger connection. In Europe it tends to be the case that maybe they’ve read about you in a magazine or they’re excited to see an English band come by.
Europe has other merits too though, you’re looked after a lot better and life is easier on the road, it’s a bit grimier in England! Everything is a bit more grimey but it’s ultimately more satisfying.
I know you guys are really into European culture and Germany in particular; do those places influence your music?
Sure, ‘Düsseldorf’ was written in Düsseldorf funnily enough! And I wrote ‘Lady Low’ when we were travelling through Holland. I just wrote all of those lyrics very quickly in the back of the van as we were driving through. I was just writing stuff I could see out the window and adapted it to some other themes.
I really like writing lyrics on tour, I do struggle sometimes with words and there’s so much inspiration even if you’re just on the motorway. Somehow it just inspires thought and the creative process, just the feeling of moving seems to kick-start that.
Do you find it harder to write in a period like now when you’re just at home?
I do yeah when I’m just sat down in my studio. The problem is that I just end up spending a lot of time staring at a computer screen and I have to keep reminding myself that that’s not an inspiring thing to do.
How do you counteract that?
I just take a walk down to Walthamstow Marshes at the bottom of my road, it’s like being in the countryside, it’s a big open reserve and it clears your head.