Interview: A Conversation with Teleman

“If it doesn’t spark joy then just throw it away…”

On April 8th, the second album from Reading’s Teleman will be available to the world. Brilliant Sanity, has been described as the band using the art of song-writing as their driving force and on April 1st, they set off on their 26 date European tour.

It’s 11am on a cold February morning when I call Tom Sanders from Teleman. Immediately it feels as though I’m interrupting, “I haven’t really started my day yet unfortunately”, he says dejectedly, “straight after this conversation, the day will start”.

Un-phased, I press on. What does Sanders have on his list? “Music! Just working on some new songs actually”. As an act whose second record is yet to be released, I found this information surprising. “For some reason as soon as we finished this last album I got this huge influx of musical inspiration. I’m just trying to capture it all now because it feels exciting!” he states. “Once the pressure to write something goes you tend to find some true inspiration”. Alright, things appear to be getting a little chirpier.

Suprisingly, it’s a quick chat about Kanye West that looks to be the golden ticket in ppening him up. West had held his album unveiling the night before at Madison Square Garden. Cinemas around the world were to screen the first performance of the new record but, sadly, all the event turned out to be was an advert for his new fashion range while The Life of Pablo was played from his phone. “Wow. That is just insane. It’s sad. I want to cry” comes the response. Are Teleman tempted to do something similar for Brilliant Sanity? “We don’t have a fashion line. It’s not one of our strengths unfortunately” Sanders says with a chuckle.

Teleman

I’d first seen the band first perform the single ‘Dusseldorf’ at the Green Man Hwyl festival in February of 2015. Even then in its early form it was one of the stand out tracks of a set that included a few new ones. Tracks that haven’t appeared on the final record, “we ended up scrapping a lot of them because after playing we were like ‘naaah, didn’t like this’ he clarifies. It became somewhat of an auditioning process over the next few months while the band were trying to settle on what would become the final track list. “Some of the ones on there aren’t the obvious choices. We went for less of ‘the bangers’ and some of the more understated ones; ones we found more interesting”.

So are those ‘bangers’ gone for good now or could they make a comeback in the future?

“They’ve been scrapped. You won’t see them again. There’s just too many songs around to keep revisiting them. They come too quickly”.

Some bands have songs floating around for years, constantly trying to fit them in to upcoming records.

“Yeah that’s a funny thing isn’t it. I don’t find it helpful to keep digging up stuff. I remember hearing an interview with someone recently. They were saying that they had a song on the latest record that they had tried to put on every album. Each time they tried either the style was wrong or the emotion was but now they finally understood how it was supposed to be done. I heard it and thought ‘that doesn’t sound right to me’. To me it was a song that had been shoe-horned in. It was probably just time to move on and write another song”.

I’m not aware of the opinion of many bands on the subject, but you’re the first I know of to just willingly scrap a track like that.

“I was listening to the programme Woman’s Hour the other day and there was Japanese lady on there who was a guru for tidying your house and throwing things away. People pay her a lot of money to come and streamline their life and their possessions. Her golden rule is to go through everything, take everything out and if it doesn’t spark joy then just throw it away. I think that is just such a brilliant way of putting it.  You can do the same with music. Listen to it, if it doesn’t spark joy, then just put it on the scrapheap. Not necessarily a happy song, just sparks joy in terms of it being ‘wow, this is interesting’.”

Is that in any way linked to the album title? Where did the name Brilliant Sanity come from?

“It came from a conversation I was having with someone. They were a Buddhist and they described it as a moment in your life where suddenly everything makes sense. It is actually some kind of meditative term. It describes the feeling where you really know yourself and what’s going on. I should really work out what it means properly because I’m sure other people are going to ask me that question [laughing]. Let’s just say that it’s a moment of extreme clarity”.

Is that how you feel about the record?

“Well it’s just taken from the title of one of the songs. It just sounded like a really good name for the album. It fits in with where we were and what we were doing. Everything was just making sense”.

You’ve mentioned that in the making of the record you took on a new professionalism in terms of having chord structures, etc, written up on a whiteboard in the studio. Was that a different process for you?

“Yeah! I can’t really remember when we got the whiteboard but it got to the stage where we had some many different songs that we kept forgetting which key we were playing them in. We just had to write that shit down because we repeatedly changed the structure of the songs. Our brains were just all over the place. It made a real difference! Everything was just floating around in the ethos before that. I recommend whiteboards for bands!”

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Do you wish you’d had the whiteboard for Breakfast?

“The whiteboard and knowing about sparking joy. I wish I’d taken that approach a lot earlier on because I think we’d have saved a lot of time. Also taking more time to ask questions like ‘is anybody else not feeling this?’ rather than just flogging it and flogging it. There was one track where Pete was like ‘I don’t like this song’ and then we suddenly all sparked up saying that ‘no, I don’t like it either!’ We’d spent something like two months trying to figure that song out”.

Although you’ve been through the process a number of times, it’s the second time you’ve been through it with Teleman. Did it feel like that dreaded ‘difficult second album’?

“I have been through the process a number of times now; you could say that this was the sixth time. It feels very much like the second time though because I’m completely immersed in Teleman. Does it feel like the difficult second? Yeah I guess that it did. We deliberately didn’t want to do the obvious thing of a record full of poppy bangers. Some of the songs we put on were not your obvious choice. But it wasn’t *really* difficult.

Will you make it past album number two this time? You’ve had two with Pete and the Pirates, two with Tap Tap and now two with Teleman.

“I think so! Unless something terrible happens! Literally after the mastering had been finished on Brilliant Sanity I had that influx of songs that I started to enjoy getting down. I can’t demo them quickly enough!”

Ryan Adams did once release three records in one year…

“It’s good to break the conventional model because it can be frustrating. You can’t release things after the festival season because you then can’t play the festivals. You can’t release a record at Christmas because nobody is interested at Christmas. It has to be at the beginning of the year! I’d prefer to just release it when it’s ready”.

Surprise drop a third album?

“That’s a good idea. Thank you for the advice!”

Your press leading up to this record mentioned that you were aiming to ‘craft the immaculate pop song’ and that you were in the ‘pursuit of the perfect hook’. How do you feel that went? Were they not in any of the bangers you scrapped?

“A banger for me is something really catchy that people latch on to really quickly. One that people go crazy for at gigs. It can be any tempo and any style. Maybe banger is the wrong word… Well, you know, all great artists contradict themselves [laughing]. I’m kidding, I’m kidding!”

“It’s always exciting when a songwriter suddenly realises that they’ve stumbled across a great song. I say stumbled across because sometimes it feels like you didn’t write it, more ‘discovered’ it. You get a feeling of ‘wow!’ then play it again and, ‘Yes! OK, this is a good song!’. That’s always an exciting moment and there’s always that pursuit.

So which track do you feel you achieved that best on? 

“My personal favourite is ‘Fall In Time’ because I really like the recording of it. It’s a bit weightier than some of the other songs too. We released it as a little teaser for the album. I actually really like ‘Brilliant Sanity’ too. Those are probably my two favourites.

Do you have an underlying theme with the album or is it just eleven songs?

“It’s just eleven songs. I’ve never written a concept record. I think it’d be really restrictive and I don’t think it’d be a good idea”.

Worked for Adele… Although her albums just tend to be about heartbreak.

“Yeah, that’s quite bleak isn’t it? I guess people can relate to that though, around the world. The Flaming Lips did one about a robot didn’t they and not many people can relate to that, but that was also a pretty successful album”.

Moving on briefly to the upcoming tour. You’ve said previously that the Brudenell in Leeds is your favourite venue, yet you’re not playing there this time. Why?

“I don’t know! I’m looking forward to playing The Wardrobe though so I’ll report back on how it compares [laughing]. The Brudenell though is a great place, I love it. The whole environment is perfect, it’s my perfect venue I think. It’s got a lovely little old-school bar attached to it. It’s spot on”.

I’ve noticed that Green Man has got a Teleman sized hole in its lineup too. It’s new album release year!

“We’ve played the last two… maybe three years there though. It’s irregular to get two years running so if they called us back again, people would talk. That’s another favourite of mine though. It’s changed so much but it’s still the best to us. We knew we wouldn’t play this year but hopefully we’ll be back next year”.