Teleman: Reinventing English Art-Rock

Victoria Segal

By Victoria Segal

on 06.02.14 in Features

“Due to high winds you may experience some turbulence. This is perfectly normal and no cause for concern.”

The robotic voice might be trying to reassure, but there’s still a significant amount of concern in the Thames cable-car carriage where the four members of London’s Teleman are gingerly perched on moquette seats. Keyboardist Jonny Sanders looks around at his bandmates and grimaces. “I just want to apologize to everyone for thinking of this,” he says, as the doors slide shut and the carriage shudders over the edge of the dock. It seemed like a good idea at the time, admits Sanders. He thought a trip on the Emirates Air Line — a string of small red boxes dangling 90 meters above the gleaming river — might be “more fun than sitting on a bus. Even if you’re really hating it and scared. Feeling something is more fun than feeling nothing.”

Drummer Hiro Amamiya, the only member of the band not to have completed eight years of service in London-based indie mavericks Pete and the Pirates, grips the bench and looks as if he might disagree. “If we fell from here,” he asks quietly, “do you think we’d die?”

Blot out the possibility of a terrible plummeting death, however, and it makes a kind of sense to meet Teleman in the sky above this curious part of East London, wavering over repurposed industrial docklands and the protective teeth of the Thames flood barrier. Since Pete and the Pirates dissolved in 2012, Teleman have been in a transitional phase — forging a new, clean-edged identity; writing a clutch of subtly textured songs; recording an album with Bernard Butler in a year of fits and starts. Now, finally, they feel like a band ready to take off.

Their addictive debut album Breakfast is full of clever pop detailing, smart enough to be radio-friendly but not so eager to please it gives away all its secrets at once. Alt-J and Everything Everything might seem like clean-cut relatives, but Teleman — they took their name from a charity-shop sighting of an album by baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann — also echo the rich tradition of the English art-school band, with one eye on the future, another on a romantic past. Their songs often hover between states: a synth-pop modernity that has triggered comparisons with Kraftwerk and a lyrical, almost pastoral freshness that suggests Caravan or Robert Wyatt. Between sleeping and waking. Between keeping it together and falling apart. Appropriately, between cities and stations.

The words are full of travel and movement, of people left behind or moving away, crossing town to meet a lover (“Christina”) or chasing an escape (“Stream Train Girl”). “That’s to do with how people come and go into your life,” explains singer and guitarist Thomas Sanders, Jonny’s brother. “It’s like getting off a train at a particular station, then continuing the journey. I like to be alone. I like travelling alone — feeling free and not knowing what is around the corner. If you’re alone then anything could happen. I like that people come and go. Not much is permanent but it doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful or important.”

The cable car is still swinging over the river, buffeted by the wind, when the robot voice abruptly announces. “Goodbye and thank you for flying the Emirates Airline.” Bassist Peter Cattermoul grins wickedly. “Yes, they just chuck us out now. ‘Goodbye. Turning off the wires now.’ Smash!”

Safely back down on earth, the band is sitting drinking tea and lager in the echoing space of the O2 Arena, talking about London, their adopted city. They might have chosen Butler to produce their album, but they share none of the urban romanticism that characterised his former band Suede.

“When I see tourists walking around, they seem kind of lost in another world, staring transfixed at things, and I’m always trying to work out what they’re seeing that I’m not seeing,” says Thomas. “I think there is this kind of romantic myth of the city that’s been built up. They’re looking for that. We’ve never really had that about London because we grew up in Reading, which is only 25 minutes away.” Another in-between state. “We lived in suburbia where you had to walk for quite a long time before you got to a shop or cafe or pub. So I spent practically all my time at home writing and recording, learning how play and how to make simple recordings, experimenting and being really lost in the music. In that respect it was good, but if I wouldn’t have had this love of making music, I would have been thoroughly bored and depressed.”


Now they love Amsterdam, Barcelona, Porto. “We’ve all talked about leaving London haven’t we? As a band,” says his brother. “As if we’re like some kind of couple, in a relationship together and we’re going to move out of the city. We need to make enough money to have houses in London and the countryside, basically. Or in multiple cities worldwide. We’ll be like the Elton John of indie.”

‘Sometimes you lose a sense of place especially if you’re not really sure where your home is. — Jonny Sanders’

While they have a way to go before catching up with Elton, Teleman’s spring-fresh appearance belies their dues-paying time: Pete and the Pirates released two albums — 2008′s Little Death and 2011′s One Thousand Pictures — before differences in commitment and intent among the five members led Cattermoul and the Sanders brothers to splinter off in search of a better future.

If their previous band was fond of guerrilla gigs and scattershot indie, the new one has a cleaner, sharper, more pop-oriented vision. They released their first, Butler-recorded single “Christina” at the start of 2013. Since then, they have drawn Amamiya into their ranks and toured with Franz Ferdinand, Connan Mockasin and Maximo Park. This on-the-road motion, partly, is where the music’s feeling of movement stems from: “Sometimes you lose a sense of place especially if you’re not really sure where your home is,” says Jonny.

And with the album ready and their own headline dates on the horizon, they can feel the accelerator under them. “We’ve been on a bus for a while and we’re about to get on the Eurostar,” deadpans Cattermoul. “Or into a cable car.”

“This is like getting to another stop,” says Jonny. “It’s also a test, in a way. Do we have a fan base? We don’t really know because we’ve been stealing other bands’ fans. They’ve been willing to lend us their fans and we’ve been trying to impress them so hopefully some of them will come to our shows. This is the beginning of the next stage.”

“We have only just started out,” says Thomas, “and I guess we haven’t completely defined our sound or style, and I don’t really care if we never do — that could end up being too restrictive. I think as it’s only our first album, we can look forward to the journey. You are always wondering what’s round the corner. The unknown is exciting.” Onward and upward.