The last time I wrote about Telekinesis was in October, 2008. A lot has happened since then. After finishing the album, Michael Lerner found a home for it, signing with Merge Records. He then put a band together that seems to fit together perfectly, featuring members of Discover America, and formerly The Prom. Since then, they’ve been on tour with Ra Ra Riot, Cut Off Your Hands, Death Cab for Cutie, An Horse, and hitting the infamous SxSW.
The debut album arrived in April filled with power pop to last you all summer long. The songs bring out a sense of familiarity, that you feel like you might have heard them before, or maybe you’ve been waiting to hear them. The song ‘Awkward Kisser’ sounds like it could have easily come out in the mid-60’s, but fits perfectly in 2009 along with the rest of the tracks. Telekinesis isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or anything with their songs, but expand on formulas of pop music that sticks in your head and has you humming along.
Recently, I had the chance to see them play at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, and they absolutely blew me away. They took the stage after a great set from An Horse, set up their gear, and filled the tavern with power pop for around an hour. For a relatively new band, it felt like they’ve been playing together for years. The live full band version of ‘Calling All Doctors’ was a pleasant surprise, and totally brought a new life to the solo piano version on the album. I had the chance to ask Michael Lerner a few questions about the new album and tour:
Kyle: Ok, first question, who is the fellow that you have stuck on your guitar?
Michael Benjamin Lerner: I have no idea! I’m not so sure who he is, but it is a cutout from this super old picture that I found in an antique store in downtown Seattle. It was a bunch of old pictures. I just love looking at pictures and movies from the 50s. Things looked so much cooler back then. Simple.
Kyle: So how did you come about having Chris Walla produce your debut album?
Michael: Well, Chris and I met through Jason McGerr, who plays drums in Death Cab for Cutie with Chris. We’d only been introduced a handful of times before one day when I received a message from Chris on my MySpace that said he liked the songs I had up on MySpace. At that point, I think it was just Coast of Carolina and some other random demos up there. I don’t think that the band was even called Telekinesis at that point. So, a week or so later, we went to see Death Cab in Bremerton, WA on the kickoff for their Narrow Stairs tour. After the show, Chris came over, and matter of factly said “Hey, can I make your record?” And I of course said yes. And that’s really how it went down. It was really quite amazing, and I can’t quite believe we made it happen. I feel lucky.
Kyle: I read that each song was tracked and mixed in a day. What was it like working at that pace?
Michael: It was amazing! Since we were doing it all on tape (tracking and mixing), it just felt like the right way to go. The whole Don’t Look Back approach. When you’re on tape, it’s already that way, but when you’re by yourself trying to make a record, you’ve got to keep things moving, and keep things spontaneous. Chris was great at moving things forward in that way. I think it worked out in the end, and I don’t think the record would sound the same if it weren’t done like that. Maybe for better or worse, but I think for the better.
Kyle: Do you think the songs would have changed much, had you spent more time in the studio?
Michael: Yeah! I work in a recording studio when I am not touring, and I see so many bands think themselves to death in the studio. It’s a real shame. Music is, to me at least, supposed to be sloppy and full of mistakes. It’s supposed to be flawed. It’s supposed to be imperfect. I think computers are, to some extent, making records very dull and boring. They sound lovely, and people dig it, but sometimes it’s just uninspiring because it’s always this quest for perfect. It’s like, if you’re writing a paper for school now, you can type it up in a word document, and then pick it apart and re type and switch out words and paragraphs, and it’s easy to overthink it. If you’re typing your paper up on a typewriter, you can’t do that. It’s in the moment, and maybe it’s the wrong word, or maybe it’s a funky way to say a sentence, but in the end, that’s what makes it exciting. It’s the same with making records on tape, versus computer.
Kyle: Most of the music on the record was done by you in the studio, how did the band come together?
Michael: I met Chris, David and Jonie while working at the studio. I was engineering Chris’s record (Discover America), and David was playing bass on it. I basically just asked both of them if they wanted to go on some tours with Telekinesis, this was all before the Merge thing ever happened, and they all agreed. Jonie is David’s wife, and David said he’d never go on tour without her, so here we are, us four. It’s really quite amazing, and they are the closest people in my life right now. They are so incredibly talented, and lovely. I cannot even begin to express how lucky I am to have them to play this record with me every night.
Kyle: Are the drums your main instrument? Had you thought of playing anything else on tour?
Michael: Yeah, they are. I started playing them about 10 years ago, and it’s honestly the only thing I’m really comfortable with doing in a live situation. I play a bit of acoustic guitar some nights, and that’s fun because it’s a big challenge for me.
Kyle: So you’re on tour with the lovely band An Horse, have you done much horseback riding?
Michael: Ha! No, unfortunately.