A Great Summer for Growing Tomatoes: In Conversation with Teleman

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Words: Sam Durham | Photos: Ross Jones

Teleman have a history with boats so it turns out. Before boarding Bristol’s very own Thekla for a sold-out show as part of their tour supporting new album Family of Aliens, the London pop group told stories of troublingly busy shows on wooden boats in France and the Netherlands, never too sure if the fire safety precautions would save them in the event of any such scares. Thankfully the group are on safe ground with us, the early sunset beaming over us as they discuss what a great summer it’s been for growing tomatoes, how Pharrell Williams should release the antithesis to ‘Happy’ and why the band pull such wonderfully diverse crowds.

Q: So summer is sadly over, any highlights? 

Thomas Sanders: Yeah, I think it’s been a great season for growing tomatoes. I’ve heard that from quite a few other people, mine did really well, even some of the varieties that are difficult to grow in England without a greenhouse did quite well, my brother grows tomatoes as well.

Peter Cattermoul: Moscoman just released a thing called ‘Picture’ which is really good, that’s a highlight, obviously not our music but someone we’ve worked with before.

Thomas: He produced one of the tracks off our last EP and he’s really good, me and Pete are quite big fans of his work.

Q: And over the summer, what records have been on heavy rotation for you guys? 

Peter: There’s a new one by BEAK> that’s just came out that sounds really nice, quite like a soundtrack. 

Q: Would you ever be interested in doing a film soundtrack?

Thomas: I’d love to, it depends also if you mean Teleman as a band recording it, cause that could be quite interesting thing wouldn’t it? You don’t tend to get a whole band to do a soundtrack, you get a guy from a band. Like Alex Turner did a soundtrack didn’t he, and Jonny Greenwood is quite big in the soundtrack business these days. It would quite cool to have the whole band do a soundtrack.

Peter: Maybe I’ll do a soundtrack, maybe that’s what’ll work better, just me.

Q: You’ve said previously how the band have come together creatively to make something more collaborative this time around, what sort of thoughts and direction does each member bring to the band?

Thomas: I guess on this occasion specifically, Pete worked on stuff that I had worked on, I had had an idea and Pete took it and twisted it. 

Peter: I had my way with it, not always to Tom’s pleasure. 

Thomas: That’s the beauty of it isn’t it, it would be weird if someone just loved everything all of the time, and a lot of times I write songs and they don’t go down well or they get put on the backburner. I think there’s something strange about people who just love everything, you have to be discerning. 

Peter: It’s always flattering though when someone takes the time to work on something you’ve made to try and make it better, even if they don’t get it right. 

Thomas: We’re all going towards the same goal of having a great sounding record, you’ve got to be pulling in the same direction, and I think we did get there more or less on this one. Jonny mostly just wants keyboards and stuff, I think everyone thinks that way, no ones pushing to get more guitar on a record are they? 

Peter: It depends on the song really, you’ve got to let it rule and everyone just does what the song wants. 

Thomas: But as a general direction we are going for less stuff, it’s so easy to keep putting stuff on a song. It’s like Italian food, you don’t have very many ingredients, but you get the best ones and you combine them in a really nice way, that’s my dream for making music. 

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Q: Often the lyrics can often be melancholic, but then matched with this quite upbeat, energetic music. Would you say many of the topics are sad, is it fun to play sad songs? 

Thomas: I wouldn’t ever want to write an overtly weepy song, cause I find those a bit sickening. Similarly, an overtly happy song is also really nauseating. I like lyrics that stop and make you think, or tell a story in some way or another. 

Peter: Have you got an example? 

Q: ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams? 

Thomas: I was literally about to say that. 

Peter: He should do one called ‘Sad’. 

Q: Yes, the antithesis.

Thomas: I’ve got some friends that I see quite regularly and whenever I go to their house they put on very sad music, it’s so depressing and it immediately brings the mood down, and I wonder why they like to do this to themselves. It’s mainly folk, it’s all acoustic and all the same, it’s like the people are falling apart. 

Peter: We live in sad times though don’t we in some ways, but also we live in happy times like Pharrell likes to remind us. 

Thomas: I think there’s a lot of songs on our new record that has a great danceability to them, they are quite upbeat and have a certain energy even if the lyrics might not be super happy.

Q: One of the most joyous things I saw at your Green Man set, there was a 13 year old kid standing in front of me loving it, a 50 year old dad to my left loving it. We all seemed to be there on our own, but we were all uniting. 

Thomas: That’s so great, I am really happy to hear you say that because I was thinking the same thing. In fact the last time we did our London show I was watching people leave the show and it was such a weird mix of people. There wasn’t a unifying thing about them apart from the fact that hey liked Teleman. It was such a weird mixture and that made me really happy, if everyone looked the same and they had the same lifestyle mould and the same interests then that would much less interesting wouldn’t it? 

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Q: Have any of your songs become a bigger hit than you expected them to be when you were writing them? 

A: Yeah, ‘Christina’ which was the first song we ever released, the whole point was that we would release a really downbeat song and it wouldn’t cause too much of an impact and we’d release our proper single after it. 

Q: Talking of sad songs, it does strike me as this, it can be quite emotional but also quite uplifting. 

Peter: There’s a bit at the end that gives you a payoff.

Thomas: I think having a relentlessly sad song, oh god, who would wants to listen to that and wallow in that sadness? Like Pete said there needs to be a bit of sugar to sprinkle on the shit. 

Q: When people listen to your music, what would you like them to take from it? 

Peter: I think they should just take what they want from it, give it some time and just enjoy as it is rather than listening to it while doing something else.

Q: Do you think people should take some extra listens, think about the lyrics and interpret a meaning or is it just a case of purely enjoying it? 

Thomas: From listening to other people’s music obviously sometimes it takes quite a while to get into a record and you don’t get it at first and that frustrates me that somebody might listen to our record and go “Nah I don’t like it, I don’t get it“. I don’t want it to be really impenetrable and this dense thing that you have to listen to again and again. I don’t think it is, i think it’s really quite accessible.

Peter: But there are layers, I think in whatever you are listening to as well I think it’s nice to try active listening and passive listening but generally it’s good to just listen for the sake of listening to music rather than while doing something else. 

Thomas: I do often get lots of comments from people saying “I’ve got this song stuck in my head“. I like that, I like that these songs get stuck in people’s heads, that’s a little box ticked for me. 

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Teleman are in the midst of their UK and Europe tour, check out all remaining dates here. ‘Family of Aliens’ is available now through Moshi Moshi Records.

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