“I don’t know if other bands do this,” says Tommy Sanders, Teleman’s singer and guitarist, “but in our rehearsal room we had a white board, and for each song we’d write the chords up on the white board, write the structure out. We’ve got different colour pens and stuff. It’s very professional.”
The art of songwriting has been the driving force behind Teleman’s 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 band’s first record, 2014’s 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, “We’d 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.
“I’d say Pete definitely writes pop songs,” Sanders says. “And Hiro’s songs are quite traditional. Jonny’s are more unusual. He has a unique approach to playing the keyboard, he’s 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 Dad’s guitar. “I’ve always liked to write pop songs really,” he says. “I like hooks – whether they’re lyrical, or a guitar hook, or a catchy bassline. I like a chorus, a verse and a double chorus. It’s 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 I’m in and that I’ve been trapped in for the past 15 years. And then I think no, this is why pop songs work – it’s a winning formula, and it’s 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 it’s 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 you’re 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 Dylan’s lyrics, for the way that “a lot of them are very enigmatic, and even though you’ve no idea what he’s 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 I’m alone with you/ The air gets heavy and drips like glue” of first single, Fall in Time.
“It’s strange because the words just come from nowhere, without me even thinking,” Sanders says. “It’s in quite an abstract thing. Sometimes I don’t know what they’re about but other people tell me what they’re about. Or until I look back retrospectively and realise. It’s always been that way with my lyric writing. I feel a bit self-conscious about trying to explain them when I’m 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 Carey’s studio in Streatham, South London. Carey was chosen, Sanders says, because “his studio is a treasure trove of strange instruments and gadgets, just a musician’s 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 Carey’s 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 we’d 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 Carey’s telescope, “It had,” he says, “a very calming and settling influence.”
“Sometimes,” he says, “a record can take itself a bit too seriously. So it’s good to have a bit of a lighthearted side. It’s good just to enjoy making it, for your own sake — because if you’re enjoying making the songs then other people are going to enjoy listening to them.”
THURSDAY 27 SEPTEMBER
The Grove, Bristol BS1 4RB
Advance tickets available from:
Please note: The event information above has been added by the organiser. Whilst we try to ensure all details are up-to-date we do not make any warranty or representation as to the accuracy or completeness of the information shown.