Best of What's Next: Telegraph Canyon

Music Features Telegraph Canyon
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Best of What's Next: Telegraph Canyon

Hometown: Fort Worth, Texas
Album: The Tide and The Current
Band Members: Chuck Brown (bass, vocals), Tamara Cauble (violin, vocals,), Austin Green (drums, bells, keyboards), Chris Johnson (lead vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica), Brian McCorquodale (piano, keyboards, pedal steel, percussion), Andrew Skates (organ, piano, accordion, guitar), Erik Wolfe (guitar, vibes, bass drum)
For Fans Of: Broken Social Scene, The Flaming Lips, Old 97’s

Americana rockers Telegraph Canyon recently returned to their Texas hometown from a three-week tour of Europe, where they played shows just about every night and sometimes in front of crowds as large as several thousand. But not long after frontman Chris Johnson shifted the band’s bus into park, he and his six bandmates began planning a small U.S. tour that’s currently underway. “We’re just going to continue to book tour on top of tour, and, hopefully, they’re successful,” Johnson says. “It’s like, if you build it, they will come.”

Telegraph Canyon doesn’t do things half-way. The four-year-old septet pens sweeping, ambitious songs full of sepia-toned melancholy and thoughtful fury that are as finely orchestrated and wrought as any Appalachian Spring. If a song calls for, say, a xylophone or marching-bass drum, then one of them procures the instrument and quickly learns it—all of the bandmates are multi-instrumentalists.

The band’s most recent LP, 2009’s The Tide and The Current (out on Velvet Blue Music), is a valentine to subdued monumentalism. The bells and martial beats, the swirling violin and wheezing harmonica, the jauntily strummed guitars and Johnson’s nervous, reedy voice—every element and every note is vital though not always in the fore, allowing for that most important ingredient: space. Johnson’s epic lyrics demand it. Though he’s quick to ride a wave of pure sonic force, he seems most comfortable between the broad choruses and majestic passages, waxing philosophical over wishy-washy friends and lovers (“Shake Your Fist”), contemplating birth, death, and rebirth (“Into the Woods,” “Reels and Wires”), or glorying in nature (“Safe on the Outside”). No “baby, come back” tunes here.

“There are two ways to go when you have this much manpower, fingers, hands, and feet—really big or really small,” Johnson says. “We try to use both—in most cases, back to back. It’s all very natural the way we make music. Epic or fragile, it takes everyone letting it blow or laying off. They’re both enjoyable and only make the other stronger.”