Telekinesis: Settling into Space

Music Features

Just over a month ago, Telekinesis’ Michael Benjmain Lerner bought his first house. Located just southwest of downtown Seattle in the neighborhood of Arbor Heights, where a few minutes’ walk can have you looking out on the waters of Puget Sound, the mid-century dwelling is still getting settled into. High up on his list of priorities at the exact moment is turning a vacant room into his own professional home studio, a place as Lerner calls it, “somewhere to write music that I’m not annoying the neighbors with.”

While Lerner is taking on a bit of the construction himself with some help from his family, finishing the job sooner rather than later isn’t all that likely, as the 26-year-old musician will soon be far more preoccupied touring behind the arrival of his third full-length album, Dormarion, a propulsive power-pop record that demonstrates just how quickly the turnaround between love lost and love found can truly be. Recorded over the course of just two weeks, the new LP takes its name from the street address of Jim Eno’s Public Hi-Fi Studio in Austin, Texas, where the Spoon drummer also served as the album’s producer.

“I first met Jim about four years ago,” says Lerner. “I did a tour with Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s and played the Mohawk. Spoon is one of my favorite bands ever. Kill the Moonlight specifically was a monumental thing for me. I listened to that record a lot when it came out. But Jim came to our show, which was mind-blowing, and afterwards he introduced himself and I was thinking ‘Holy shit this crazy.’ At one point he said, ‘Hey do you want to come check out my recording studio? It’s at my house and we can just hang out.’ Of course all of us were like, ‘Yes, totally.’ I specifically remember driving over there—it was like two in the morning—and we were like, ‘Oh it’s at his house. It’s going to be some home studio like every other home studio you see’—exactly what I’m trying to build—’just this super modest but cozy home studio.’ We get there and he opens the door, and it’s the nicest studio you’ve ever seen in your life. He’s got this super amazing vintage Neve console from Paris or something like that. It was one of those mind-blowing experiences and we just had like a dance party in his studio for a couple of hours, had some beers. It was really fun. After that I was always figuring out some way in my head that we could make a record together.”

As Lerner kept in touch with Eno, even performing percussion for Spoon for a select number of shows, the two eventually convened last summer with material that Lerner had written sporadically in between tours supporting his 2011 sophomore effort, 12 Desperate Straight Lines. As both Lerner and Eno assume the drums as their principal instrument, the recording process resulted in more than a few laughable technical challenges. “It was hilarious,” says Lerner. “Both of us would look at each other and be like, ‘Is the guitar in tune?’ All the time we would just be like ‘Uh, I think we need to tune.’ We both just had no idea, cause I’m totally not a guitar player. I play all the guitar parts on the record, but I don’t know anything about the instrument. I know a lot about the drums, but I don’t know a lot about the guitar, the piano or whatever … there’s most certainly some out-of-tune guitar on the record, but it doesn’t matter because that’s just how we wanted it.”

Throughout its 12 tracks, Dormarion adheres to many of the elements that made Telekinesis’ first two records such fantastic examples of pop’s pleasurable simplicity: distorted power chord guitar hooks, smash-and-crash drum work, and sing-along choruses. Throwing in a bit of synthesizer experimentation and digital effects into the mix, Dormarion features Lerner’s strongest batch of songs to date. What of course really sets the new album apart from its predecessors is the overall tone of the record, channeling a place of genuine, reciprocated love. Since the beginning of his career Lerner has been the kind of songwriter who has spoken from a more personal, even autobiographical point-of-view. As such, it has never been all that difficult to discern the subject matter of his songs. “I like music from the ’50s and ’60s,” says Lerner. “Like ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’ If you don’t know what [The Beatles are] talking about that’s a little bit scary. You gotta know what they’re talking about. Or ‘Love Me Do.’ All that stuff. It’s not shrouded in a bunch of mystery. There’s something really endearing about that. I don’t know how to do it any other way. I don’t know how to turn it off.”

On his 2009 debut Telekinesis!, which Lerner looks back on as being very “naïve and carefree,” the songs are filled with references to far-off places and the difficulty he felt holding onto a long-distance relationship. The arrival of 12 Desperate Straight Lines ultimately reflected the pain when that particular relationship met its end. “[That] record is pretty angry,” says Lerner. “I was kind of in a bummer place when I did that … definitely 180 degrees from the first record as far as the vibe.” In the wake of finishing 12 Desperate Straight Lines however, Lerner experienced a different kind of about-face, falling in love with a dark-haired beauty by the name of Amiee McCrea. “I met her about two years ago at the Ace Hotel in Seattle,” says Lerner. “Walked up the stairs to check my friend into a room there and it was totally over for me after that.” Currently living together in the recently purchased home in Arbor Heights, the two are set to get married in a matter of months.

While the future Mrs. Lerner’s impact can certainly be felt on more directly inspired tracks such as the ’60s pop serenade “Lean on Me” or the acoustic bedroom ballad “Symphony,” it’s hard not to appreciate her more indirect influence on Dormarion. “It’s a great feeling to know that you’re not searching anymore,” says Lerner. “You’ve found the one person out of many people that you want to spend the rest of your life with. Not to sound super cheesy, but it’s big deal. I think it has a lot to do with how relaxed I was during the making of the record.”

Experiencing all kinds of new and exciting firsts that come with navigating your late twenties into real-world adulthood, Lerner says that things so far have “have fallen into a cozy, perfect spot.”

There is of course still the matter of finishing and soundproofing his studio. While he learned and played the drums growing up, Lerner says, “My mom would take Christmas cookies around to the neighbors each year and apologize for my loudness. [Amiee] makes jam, so we’re probably going to be bringing some jam and being really sorry about it.”

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