Teleman Finds the Missing Link

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Hometown: London, U.K.
Current release: Breakfast
For fans of: Django Django, Supergrass, Belle & Sebastian

Thomas Sanders was waiting for something to happen. It was 2012, and the guitarist and vocalist for English indie-rock quintet Pete and the Pirates suddenly found himself without a band and without direction. His band had called it quits after more than a decade together, and Sanders was searching for his next move. What followed was a period of “drifting,” where Sanders soon found himself in good company, as his ex-bandmates Pete Cattermoul and Jonny Sanders (Thomas’s brother) began experimenting and playing a handful of shows. As aimless as it might’ve felt at the onset, it was something. “[Jonny, Pete and I] started meeting up to play again, with no particular goal or ambition; it was just to start making music together again,” he says.

Rather than pick up where their old band left off, however, the trio decided to try new things and step out of their comfort zone. Jonny, for instance, switched to keyboards (instead of playing drums), and they began crafting songs with a drum machine as the backdrop. “[We] wanted to keep making music together, as we didn’t know what else to do in life, so we played for a while as a three-piece,” Sanders says. “We wanted to start making music with a bit more diversity and freedom to do whatever.”

It wasn’t long until the trio began looking to bring their sound to the next level—something they couldn’t do with their current setup, at least not to the extent they preferred. Then, one night at a gig, the trio found the missing piece of the puzzle. “We didn’t really enjoy playing to a [drum machine], and fortunately we soon met Hiro,” says Sanders. Hiro Amamiya, a drummer from a supporting act at one of the gigs, soon rounded out the band. With his addition, the new project would find its missing link.

Teleman was born.

But even with the proper members in place, the question remained: how would this band differentiate itself from its previous incarnation of Pete and the Pirates? Could that much have changed with three-fourths of the band hailing from the same origins? What would the direction be with Hiro, now that they had a more conventional setup?

For Sanders, the answer was simple—and anything but conventional. “I think Teleman [has] a much wider spectrum of sounds in [its] recordings and live shows,” he says. “There is still guitar, but it’s much less guitar-centric. We try in places to open up the sounds and give it more space. I would say that it’s just more eclectic in the style.”

Indeed, there is nothing simple about Teleman’s approach. While the band offers a wide spectrum of sound on their debut, Breakfast, and showcases an eclectic musical style throughout its duration, Teleman somehow counterbalances the sonic diversity with a less-is-more methodology.

It’s not an easy balance to achieve, but giving Breakfast a first listen, you might miss some of the intricacies and restrictions that go into each song. In true indie fashion, Teleman is the culmination of sounds and influences, mashed together until lines blur and boundaries break. “We all like different stuff,” Tom says, citing such influences as Roxy Music, Talking Heads, New Order, Kraftwerk and Franco Battiato. Listening to the album, other bands’ influences are clearly present as well. “Skeleton Dance” sounds like it’s straight out of a latter-day Belle and Sebastian songbook, and “Mainline” feels like something penned by a peaking Supergrass. The album is chocked full of varying electric guitars, outer-space and left-field synths, calculated and sporadic drumming, and an assortment of mindful vocal harmonies. But the way in which all of the elements are used—in a minimalist fashion—is something to be awed at.

As Sanders explains, it takes a concerted effort to make something significant out of something so stripped-down. “I think there is a great discipline in taking things out of a song,” he says. “It’s much too easy to keep adding elements to a song … but to dig down to the bones of the song can sometimes be strangely difficult. There’s a fine balance between finding and keeping the essential sounds and parts and then adding a little more here and there. To me, it’s exactly like Italian cooking: not many ingredients, but very, very good ingredients, chosen very carefully.”

It’s a good analogy. Mixing those ingredients together to create something worthwhile takes time, patience, experience. There’s nothing simple about it. And the way Teleman is able to make its sonic assortment feel simultaneously diverse and disciplined is impressive. Acoustics pair seamlessly with sprawling synths on “Lady Low;” mounting vocals mesh fluidly with a backdrop of swirling distorted guitars and organ on “23 Floors Up;” tightly wound bass and drums sync easily with dueling keyboard atmospherics on “Monday Morning.” Throughout the album, the instruments are used only as much as they need to be—never in excess or in vain. And that, perhaps, is the most impressive aspect of Teleman: the band manages to do so much with so little.

“For me, it’s an aesthetic which is more impactful, more accessible and generally more pleasing,” Sanders says. “If you listen to some little piano pieces that Mozart wrote when he was very young, they are ridiculously simple, but very beautiful, and there are no superfluous notes—only what needs to be there.”

One of the main highlights of the album is the lead-off track, “Cristina.” It’s a carefully concocted pop gem that offers the refrain “Lie down and let the music play/Nothing in the way now.” For a song bent on straightforward songcraft and minimized distraction from the melody and hook, there are no lyrics more appropriate. It’s a mission statement, setting the tone for the band’s no-nonsense technique.

The world is starting to notice, too, as the band is embarking on a European tour with a few U.S. dates sprinkled in as well. “Our music is less ‘in your face’ and more of a soft, subtle approach, which seems to go down well,” Sanders says. “People seem to respond to the songs.”

But worldwide domination is not something that defines success for the band. For now, the four members of Teleman are content to ride out the next year and see where it takes them. “We just want to keep building on what we’ve started and to keep relating to the people who have responded to it,” says Sanders. “It’s a really special thing that we don’t want to forget—that even on a small level, we have created something that has made its way into people’s homes and radios.”

It’s far from where Sanders found himself two years ago. Fortunately it was well worth the wait.