Reporter Andrew Trendell talks to Tellison frontman Stephen Davidson about the ravages of time, looking up to his idols and their long-awaited return.
How’s the tour going so far?
The tour’s going really well – the response has been very positive. You’re always anxious when you take a bunch of new songs on the road because you’re worried that people won’t be into it and there’s a lot of fear running through your head. But so far, we’ve had a lot of people singing along to us.
How are you finding the reaction of the world at large to the new album?
I think this record has been a bit more divisive than our first one. When our first album came out, people said it showed promise and that’s where it stopped. Now people are expecting us to deliver on any potential that we may have previously shown. The response in general from Joe Public has been pretty great. Our style has changed a bit because I think we’ve slowed down and focussed a bit more on songwriting with a classical structure to craft really good pop-rock songs.
Whereas critically, some people seem a bit unsure of what’s going on. I was reading a book by Henry David Thoreau who said that books should be read in the same way that they’re written, in that you should dedicate time, patience, effort and thought into enjoying it and I think the same applies to some records and definitely to ours.
So this album is a grower then?
I’d say so. On this album we were listening to older artists like Bruce Springsteen – not bands who are blowing up the world with excitement. Just bands who make great music regardless of what’s cool. You can often suffer if you don’t play the game of what’s cool, but we just do what we want really.
Indeed, the mainstream UK music press seems to be stuck in a bit of a rut in terms of who it gives column inches to. Do you feel as if you and some of your contemporaries aren’t getting the recognition that you deserve?
I don’t know, man. It’s a tough one to talk about. I do agree with you that there’s something odd going on. If you look at festival line ups for the past couple of years, then the headliners could have been on an iPod in about 2004. I think it’s weird that there’s not been anyone burst through and have the same kind of impression that The Strokes and the Arctic Monkeys did.
Maybe it corresponds with the music industry not wanting to take risks so they can’t throw money at everything they’d want to. A lot of people are wandering what’s going to happen next and we’ve seen a lot of our peers just pack it in because it got too difficult and they got sick of playing the seedier shows. I’ve seen loads of people in bands that have totally blown me away and I just think ‘how can the world not love this?’
There are bands like yourselves, Frightened Rabbit, Death Cab and The Antlers, who make consistently great music, but you’ll never see them on the cover of any magazines. Does that ever frustrate you?
Yes, I freaking love all of those bands you’ve mentioned. Frightened Rabbit are one of those bands who absolutely stunned me when I first heard them. They’re from Selkirk in Scotland which is about five minutes down the road from where I spent most of my life, so it was very special to me to see this band come from a place where you can very quickly feel like nothing goes on.
There’s also so much buzz around The Antlers from people whose opinions I respect, because they’re just making such consistently great music. They’re s incredible and it is frustrating to see them not getting the attention they deserve, but there is certainly hope when those bands get a strong underground following in the States. They find ways to carve out their own route, and I think Biffy Clyro and Death Cab For Cutie have shown what you can do if you just stick at it.
There are ways of making an impression. All you can do your end is do you best. You play your shows and one day there are just people there – and that’s the most affecting thing. It’s sad to think that 20 years ago you’d have just had a guy with a cigar throwing a cheque at them, whereas now they have to find their own way. It’s thanks to record labels like Fat Cat and Transgressive who have the difficult task of supporting these great bands. I know the girlfriend of Toby who runs Transgressive records and I was round his house the other day. If you think about the impact he’s had on British and international music and then see where he lives it’s a little scary! But at the same time, you know, thank God he’s doing it.
Indeed, I was talking to someone the other day about if The National were around 20 years ago, then they’d be as big as REM, but I just sadly can’t see that happening now.
Totally, yes. They’re another great example. They’re friends with Barack Obama now and they’ve gradually made it in their own way.
In terms of sleeper bands, there seems to be quite a sense of urgency in the music industry at the moment, but it was four years between your two records. Did that feel like a long time for you in making it?
It did, yes. I know it’s a cliché about the second album being difficult, but it’s a cliché because it’s usually true. It felt like a hell of a long time, but at the same time, we had pressure coming at us from different people because we got quite a lot of good press for our first album so people were pushing us to make another record immediately. ut we’ve learned a lot of lessons and I think the record has a definite sense of time and the four years we spent making it. Life and the worries we experienced gave us a lot more to write about although we may have suffered from our lackadaisical approach, but I think we got there in the end. Hopefully it won’t take that long for the next one though.
During that time did you guys worry about losing momentum at all?
Yes, completely. During the time around our first record there was a little spell where we experienced a modicum of what it’s like to be a ‘buzz band.’ We started selling out London shows and it was quite exciting, but then to go back to working and cleaning cinema screens was quite a weird contrast. All the time we were worried if people would still care when we came back, but thus far, people have been great. It was pretty scary, but I don’t want to do that again. Overall it’s been worthwhile and useful, but it’s been a fairly tortuous experience.
So what does the future hold?
I look to those bands we’ve already mentioned and see that even they still have a way to go, so we’re just going to give this band our all so we don’t have to go back to our day jobs. We all love making music and to be able to do it full time is a goal in itself. One of my life-long ambitions is to play the London Astoria, but they’ve gone and demolished it, so I might have to go one further now and rebuild it.
Tellison’s new album The Wages Of Fear is out now.
The band are currently touring the UK, playing Rock City, Nottingham on Tuesday 21st June and The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Wednesday 22nd June.
Visit www.tellison.co.uk for more info.
Interview By Andrew Trendell