Returning after four years away, London indie pop-rockers Tellison have always been a band loved by critics yet have never received mass commercial support. As a result of their lack of success, the quartet had turn to everday jobs to make ends meet. However in a somewhat bizarre twist, it is those everyday jobs that have inspired their forthcoming third full-length.
As vocalist and guitarist Stephen Davidson discusses, the currently untitled effort sees Tellison’ dealing with not living up to expectations and being frustrated with disappointment.
Whilst we wait to hear more about album number 3, we sat down with Stephen at the Hit The Deck Festival to talk in detail about the record, failure, working Alcopop! Records’ Jack Clothier and their forthcoming shows.
AH: So Tellison are back after a four year break. In the music world four years can be a long time and bands can easily be forgotten about. Has it been difficult trying to keep Tellison in the public conscious?
Stephen: I haven’t actively done that. I don’t know. I don’t feel like we have not really been doing anything to make sure we stayed in anyone’s conscious. I think we plowed our follow. We don’t belong to any scene. Any bands that existed when we started have broken up, except The Xcerts. I was just remembering yesterday we played a show with them 12 years ago when we were all children. Like I said we don’t really exist in a sort of scene per se particularly so we have quietly got done what we’ve wanted to do.
AH: Keep yourself very independent and DIY.
Stephen: Yeah basically. Mostly through necessity because we don’t sound whatever is the favour of the week or the year. We just have had to figure out how to make things work ourselves. So if we have done anything all we did is to figure out how to continue being a band and not break up. Just keep trying what we think is good.
AH: You have a new album is out later this year. What can we expect from the album?
Stephen: A few people who have heard it say it falls somewhere between our first and second album. It’s less produced them our second album, so it’s kinda shiny. I hope it’s better thoughout then the first one. We were just kids when we wrote that. When we sat down and start making it, I was wanting to make a record that sounded like bands like The Weakerthans. Just a great band playing in a room with no tricks or anything. We’ve not used any auto-tune or samples or anything. It’s all real. Our hope was to make a record that is good. The reason it has always taken a long time is because we are very critical of our own stuff. So it takes a long time to get enough songs or the right songs. It’s a fairly depressing (record). It’s a sad record. It’s about feeling sad and it being bleak.
AH: I read a recent interview with you and you talked about the album being about failure.
Stephen: Yeah that is the over-riding theme of the record. In a lot ways, we are a very unsuccessful band. We never got to play awesome shows or go on great tours. We are all like it never really happened (for us) in the way it is supposed to happen for bands. So if you tell someone you’re in a band they’re like “cool have I heard of you?” no. “Have you done I anything I would know” and you’re just like “no” and that is quite a weird thing. You have to meet people and go through that everytime because it just makes me feel like a failure. So the record is about that. It’s about coming to terms with feeling you weren’t successful or you didn’t achieve. I think a lot people in our generation our parents were like “you can do anything you want to do” and most of us graduated into a terrible job market. I did an Arts degree and read English Literature and came out into the world with no killer instinct and I was thinking “Fuck I’m screwed”. I went from idealistic and hopeful to pretty sad and feeling a little betrayed. It was partly me feeling sorry for myself but there’s a sense that a lot of my friends, people I know, it’s not we’re hoping for. The world is not that great for young people and it feels alienating and tough. I live in London (where) everything is expensive. When you’re commuting you feel like a little worm crawling around in the dirt going to jobs that you don’t necessarily enjoy, making a terrible wage. You’re left thinking “what is this? what is the point of all this?” and it’s horrible. So a lot of the songs came out of that of that frustration and just having a terrible time on the tube for two hours a day, going to and from a job that was paying me very little money which is one in a series of jobs that have paid me terrible money. I have no useful skills. So the record is about dealing with those sort of things and also trying to figure out reasons to keep going or find more fragments of hope breaking through the cracks.
AH: Sort of dealing with the high expectations.
Stephen: Yeah I guess so. I think it is just easy to be idealistic or have a sort of a Hollywood idea where there’s an arc; work hard and things will pay off, you will get your break and you’ll be a rich guy.
AH: You say about going to University. I think there’s an old idea that you go to University and you come out with a great job and you have a career.
Stephen: Yeah exactly which doesn’t really work out. I worked hard at school because I believed everyone when they said “if you work your ass, go to a good University and get a good degree and you’ll be ok”, and I came out thinking this hasn’t really paid off.
AH: I was in a similar situation. I finished Uni and was unemployed for 18 months.
Stephen: For sure. Pete (Phillips) and I lived in a flat together after University. I was selling mobile phones and working in a cinema with Pete, just selling popcorn to rich people and thinking “this is what I wasn’t hoping for”. So everyone has these grim stories. Perhaps it’s because we’re in our mid-late twenties. So I tend to write what I’m going through or what I’m feeling, so songs just fell out about that sort of thing.
My parents are still asking “still doing the band?” because to them it’s like why are you doing this? It’s not worked out. Stop making records. Stop wasting your time and money. Go and do something else you’re obviously not good enough or you didn’t get lucky or whatever. So it’s weird to have all those thoughts in your head and then be like “lets go and still be in a band”. So trying to reconcile
all that weird, confusing stuff.
AH: I guess at the end of the day if you enjoy being in a band that is all that matters?
Stephen: Exactly! For me it’s not about pipedreams. It’s about having fun with my friends and making music that I think is good. That is fun. I like making music with other people. I enjoy that so hopefully that pays off like getting to go on tour and meet new people and have interesting conversations.
AH: Do it just satisfy yourself and not others I guess?
Stephen: Yeah. Our band is purely selfish. The four of us. At the expense of girlfriends and wives and everything.
AH: So this album is going to be released on Alcopop! Records. How did you and Jack Clothier (Alcopop! Records boss) team up?
Stephen: I’ve known him for a long time. I remember when he started the label and a lot of our friends’ bands have been on that label like Johnney Foreigner. Jack has always been good to us, even before we signed with him. He used to book us on Alcopop! stages at festivals or whatever. So we were always friends. When we made the record we didn’t have a label or anything, we did the whole thing ourselves, then we shopped it around to a few people. Some were interested and some weren’t interested at all. Jack is just super impressive. He’s super thoughtful. A smart, creative guy and it’s amazing to me that people who make a living in the music industry have no ideas or seemingly enthusiasm, maybe it’s just Tellison they don’t have enthusiasm for, but for these people who are supposedly a big deal, they have nothing, and with Jack everytime I speak to him it’s exciting. He’s got ideas like he will send me a text at 3 in the morning and be like “what if we did this?” For me that is awesome. That is how I feel about making music so to pair up with someone with that same enthusiasm is ideal. It was a no brainer to joining them. There was no one else anywhere near him.
AH: He has that passion and like you said those crazy ideas like a compilation for a bike, a frisbee and the whole Nigel Farage thing.
Stephen: Yeah he’s does loads of crazy things but that is just systematic of him. His brain is always going and he clearly loves the project so he sees everything from angles of how it can lead back. Be it a compilation on a bicycle or in a bottle with a treasure map or on a frisbee or just doing these weird and interesting things like all the Nigel Farage stuff. So it’s exciting to work with someone who’s like that and we’re immensely grateful to him.
AH: This week you’re on tour and again in June. Why should people come and see Tellison?
Stephen: Haha why should they? I always thought we’re not a particularly diversive band. We try and write catchy poppy rock songs. If you like that sort of thing you’d be into it. Also you shouldn’t come and see us if you have no interest. We try and do something that is real and thoughtful and effective, so if that is something you’re interested in then you should come. Equally I sweat an immense amount on stage, so in a physical point of view that is quite interesting to some people, especially now I have no hair.
AH: Have you been road testing new material?
Stephen: Yeah. It’s a tough one because you don’t want to play too much new stuff and have people have no idea of what you’re playing, but we are playing quite a few new songs. Some songs we’ve been playing for the last year or so live anyway, and other songs we’ve built in the studio, so it’s fun to get those out and see if they work live.
AH: Is that something you like doing? Testing new song and see how they are in a live sessting?
Stephen: It’s a way of writing songs that is quite useful and interesting especially if you’re aiming to write songs that come across well in a live environment. You can quickly gage if something isn’t working or a bit of song needs something extra happening or something more. Like I say it is just one way of doing this. A lot of my favourite bands have these long bits and I’m just like “I can’t believe he’s going to do this again, another eight times.” I love them for that. I think it is just one approach certainly for those catchy pop-rock, exciting songs. It’s very useful to play live and see what happens.
AH: Any closing comments you want to share with the Already Heard readers?
Stephen: Mostly I’m super impressed by you. This is great. You’ve done your research. It’s nice. A lot of interviews you’re unsure if they know who you are and you’re thinking “what are we doing this?” So thank you very much for taking the time. That is appreciated otherwise listen to our new songs and come and see us on tour. It’s easy, we’re not complicated.
‘Tact Is Dead’ by Tellison is out now and is available as a free download here.
Tellison’s third album is set to be released later this year on Alcopop! Records.
View more of Already Heard’s content from Hit The Deck 2015 here.
Words by Sean Reid (@SeanReid86)