Top image: Telegram, photo by Jim Tobias
Telegram’s first radio play spurred from an iPhone recording sent to Marc Riley (BBC Radio 6 Music) on a whim. This also ended up being their third ever gig together, after previously playing at a shop in London that hosted gigs on a Sunday afternoon.
A subsequent meteoric rise was unexpected from the band itself, but not from music A&R who attended the onslaught of gigs that followed and looked to invest in the group’s Roxy meets proto-punk sound. Matt Saunders (vocals/guitar) says that: “When things happen at that velocity, it means the structure of what you’re doing takes a lot of battering,” and in Telegram’s case, this meant retaining their artistic output. Saunders, Oli Paget-Moon (bass) and Jordan Cook (drums) recruited Pip Stakem (guitar), and headed to the Docklands, London, to record their debut album Operator with DIY producer, Rory Attwell, in a purpose-built studio on a lighthouse boat.
Telegram tried to capture the state of mind of a live performance, and it’s audible. But this is something they’re well versed in, after touring extensively in 2013, with singles such as Follow, Regatta, and Inside Outside aiding the hype surrounding their name. Saunders explains why long-awaited Operator probably couldn’t have been released any other way. A band that personify ‘there’s a reason for everything’.
Clementine Zawadzki: How has this time in-between releases shaped your debut album?
Matt Saunders: It was strange because the first round of gigs we did weren’t your usual ‘playing to your friends in a bar’ somewhere. I guess the first thing that happened was we headed out on quite a few tour supports off the back of Follow, which was great, we were able to cut our teeth a little bit on the back of quite lively, packed out shows. Then went to Europe and to Japan, and during this time we had a record deal lined up. It was a classic situation with a major label, and we got dragged along for nine months and there was no momentum with it, so we decided to go on our own. Regardless of any money or champagne cork opening, we wanted to get an album recorded. The industry is a bit bothered and there’s nobody able to take risks on bands that aren’t ‘straight down the line going to sell this many records’, or mainstream. We were determined for it not to be a flash in the pan single, so it’s been real hard work for the last year, but totally worth it.
CZ: How did you choose which songs would make the album?
MS: We had maybe seventeen or eighteen tracks, but then we narrowed it down. It’s funny, we went with eleven, the more songs you squeeze onto a vinyl record, the less quality of sound, because you’re basically trying to squish more information onto the same surface. So, we actually left out a track or two. We were trying to construct the track listing – beginning, middle, and end – because we wanted it to be really strong throughout and for those songs to peak, but the CD version has the two extra songs also.
CZ: Is creative control something that’s become apparent through this process?
MS: I’ve spent the last two months working on the artwork for the record sleeve, CD, posters, screen printing stuff, and editing a video that we shot. I come from an art school background, so it’s more a hobby than a professional thing, but it was nice to have a project that gets to be used, as opposed to just ending up in my studio and never seeing the light of day. The idea of turning around at this stage and giving someone the task of coming up with concepts for the album just didn’t make sense at all. It could sound a little ego-manic to do it all yourself, because I do think if you get the right collaborator it could be great.
CZ: You’re working on a video at the moment. Which single is this for?
MS: It’s for Taffy Come Home, which is about being born somewhere and then living somewhere else, and also I think it’s to do with the madness of a city and the calmness of rural home. But then also perhaps the calmness of rural home being too calm, and then the madness of the city being attractive. And it’s about stealing from service stations. There’s no security whatsoever and you can get iPhone covers, all sorts…
CZ: And how have you found using PledgeMusic?
MS: We had to get our heads around it, but we threw ourselves into it and wanted to make it more interesting. We had signed artworks and different versions of posters and t-shirts. We put up a free gig, saying we’d do a wedding or 50th birthday party, and in capital letters ‘ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD’ and the one person that bought it is in Seattle, which is bizarre. In my head we thought we’d be playing in someone’s garage in Leeds. So we’re going off to Seattle just before SXSW. It’s either two things; a fan of the band is going to put on a night, or we’re going to be playing in a barn and we won’t ever leave. I played at a wedding in a covers band once for The Horrors’ drummer. Weirdly, the service was on a boat as well.
CZ: And you’ve got your UK tour soon…
MS: Yeah, we’ve got quite a lot of dates, stretching a few weeks, and the final show is in London at this great new venue called The Moth Club. It’s a working men’s hall, so we sort of cherry picked that venue, but after that we’ve got a couple of weeks and then it’s the U.S. It’ll be good to play live again.