Tom Sanders talks us through the recording of Teleman's new album & reveals what happens when things go horribly wrong

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 14 Mar 2014
  • min read
Teleman have emerged from the ashes of Pete and the Pirates as a lithe, electronic indie juggernaut, ready to derail the nerd-pop template.

A handful of early tracks, such as Steam Train Girl, Cristina and Lady Low, offer emotional wallop and whimsy in equal measure, and carry all the hallmarks of songwriters and musicians who have mastered their craft.

Like alt-J and Django Django, they are unrestricted by the longstanding British indie mould, swapping guitars and skinny jeans for a looser sonic palette and a more synthetic production approach.

The band, made up of Hiro Amamiya, Peter Cattermoul and brothers Tom and Jonny Sanders, have been holed up in the studio with former Suede guitar ace turned production whiz Bernard Butler. The recording was part-funded by the PRS for Music Foundation Momentum Fund, and was put together on and off throughout 2013.

The fruits of this collaboration – the debut album Breakfast – will be released on Moshi Moshi Records on 26 May. With a sound described as Robert Wyatt meets Pet Shop Boys meets Velvet Underground, Teleman’s set promises to be a smorgasbord of sonic shapes and pop hooks.

The band will be on tour throughout April and May, and are supporting Metronomy at Brixton Academy on Friday 28 March – see their website for info:

We spent a few minutes with Tom before their support slot with Connan Mockasin at Bush Hall, London, to hear about the band’s new sound. He talks us through the recording process and reveals what can happen when things go horribly wrong…

Really well. I first saw Connan in 2007 or 2008 at Wireless Festival completely by accident. It was pissing down with rain and I walked into the first tent I came to and he was playing. It was one of the best gigs I’d ever seen.

He’s changed quite a lot since then hasn’t he?
Definitely stylistically. He’s also changed all his band members since I first saw him. I guess he’s on his own journey – most musicians are in some way or another. But whatever he’s doing, it’s never predictable and it’s always interesting and challenging. Nothing is too serious, there is always something light hearted in what he does.

It’s interesting you talk about Connan’s evolution because the same has happened with you hasn’t it?
Yep, I suppose, but in a different way. We quite consciously wanted to make it clear that we were a new band. We finished Pete and the Pirates completely and drew a line under it and three of the five of us decided to start a new band with Hiro, our drummer.

What did it feel like to start from scratch again?
In some ways it felt a bit scary because we’d spent so many years building something up. You hope you haven’t just wasted those years of your life, but I don’t think that was the case at all. In some ways it was daunting but in other ways we’d gathered a set of skills which meant we know what we’re doing now, in terms of choosing people to work with and the realities of being in a band, touring and the whole industry. That stuff is invaluable and now things seem like they’re happening a lot faster for us.

How has your approach to making music changed since then?
I guess I care a lot less about what other people think. I’ve always just enjoyed writing songs in the most simple sense – as in melody and words. I think now there’s definitely a greater variety of instruments and arrangements that we’re using but I think there’s something simpler going on. There are a lot less guitars and more space. It’s hard to answer that question because songwriting is always something that happens spontaneously for me without much thought going into it.

No – I don’t really listen to music to be honest. I spend all of my free time writing and recording. And there’s so much amazing music that other people are making, I don’t really know where to begin. I don’t actively try to discover any music, I listen to whatever comes my way really.

The stuff I’ve heard of Teleman so far sounds really efficient. Was it a stylistic decision to simplify your sound?
I think that’s what I was trying to explain earlier - I don’t particularly want to hide the words under a stack of reverb or guitars. I want the lyrics to be audible. I like songs to be concise. Efficient is quite a good word. I think if something is really good you can do it for quite a long time and it doesn’t get boring. I always tend to work in a fairly traditional pop song format. It’s not something I’ve done deliberately, it just happens naturally. Most of my songs are around three minutes long but there’s a reason why – it works. People worked that out about fifty or sixty years ago.

Your debut album is out soon – what do you think of it now it’s finished?
I haven’t sat down and listened to it as an album ever. To be honest, it took us a really long time to record because we did it in a really piecemeal way – literally the odd day here and there. I’m obviously really familiar with all the songs though and I’m really happy with the recordings. There’s an interesting soundscape within the songs and the album. There’s sonic variety.

Bernard Butler produced it – how did he get involved with the record?
Our management, Moshi Moshi, played him a couple of demos that I’d made and he really liked them. So we did a track as an experiment to see how we all got on together and figure out what he was going to bring to the project. It was brilliant. The original demo of Cristina was really sparse, and although the single was still sparse, he really opened it up. He added more in terms of structure, instrumentation and arrangement. He totally got the whole vibe of where we were coming from. So we decided to do the whole album with him. He certainly added his own sound to it and tidied it up quite a lot. He made it more impactful.

Obviously you’ve recorded a lot in the past – have you ever had a really terrible experience?
We once recorded a whole album in quite an expensive studio and then didn’t use any of it – that’s about as terrible as it gets! It’s a waste of money, a waste of time. That was an example of the producer and the band not really being on top of things and no one really piping up and saying, ‘Hey, this sounds really shit’. We went the whole way and recorded it and then someone else told us it was shit. Sometimes it goes like that and you make expensive mistakes. But you learn from that.

So how do you avoid that sort of stuff these days?
I think you come to learn what a great recording session is – you know straight away if it’s working with your producer or sound engineer. They should understand what you’re going for and help you find the right instruments for the sounds you’re trying to make. It happens quickly – things should happen spontaneously. When things are stagnant it creates a bad atmosphere for making music.

Teleman sound fully formed - did you have a good idea about what you were going for before you started recording?
Yes. We knew we wanted to use drum machines and keyboards. They were things we hadn’t used that much before. We wanted sparseness. Some songs turned out to be really dense and thick with sound but others have that emptiness I really like. Bernard picked up that we wanted to do something a bit more interesting. We didn’t just want to have guitars, bass and drums pounding away for three minutes.

What does the future hold for Teleman?
We’ll be on the road playing this album to people then as soon as possible we want to start on another record. I think a lot of bands feel like that – you work so long on a record that when it’s released you’re already thinking of the next thing.