Interview // The Temper Trap
I interviewed the Temper Trap a couple of weeks back following their performance at the Phoenix Park in support of Snow Patrol and Florence + The Machine. Originally printed in the Irish Sun on July 13.
“If you look over your shoulder, Joseph’s writing the new album on his laptop there,” says Temper Trap drummer Toby Dundas, demonstrating just how much life has changed for the Aussie rockers since they topped charts worldwide with Sweet Disposition just two years ago.
“Last time we didn’t write on the road at all, so it was pretty much a fresh slate when we wrapped it up and said, ‘alright, we’ll write the new album.’
“This time we’ll have a lot more material so we might be able to kick it around even closer, but live is our natural state. That’s what we really like doing, so you gotta get the recording done so you can keep that up.”
The Melbourne group – now a five-piece since the induction of live keyboardist Joseph Greer – took the risk of moving to London in 2008 prior to the release of their debut album, Conditions, setting up home in Hackney. They were in the middle of writing the follow-up when last summer’s riots erupted in the borough.
Dundas continues: “Where we live in Hackney was one of the trouble spots and we were right in the thick of it, so it’s definitely an event that has left an impression on London as a whole, and having lived there for two or three years at that stage, it definitely left its mark on us.”
The punk-styled gang vocals and reverb-soaked chord strokes are clearly reminiscent of the Clash’s own ode to urban decay, London Calling, though Dundas is quick to point out that the music was written before the riots took place.
“It definitely has that kind of urgency of bands like the Clash, but it kind of started off as quite an electronic song – you know that mood, that pulse was the basis of the song. It wasn’t a deliberate attempt to ape the Clash, and the music probably existed for three months before the riots. We had tried some different lyrics, but when that went down, it left a big impression on us.
“Dougy brought those lyrics in pretty quickly after that and they just fit with the vibe of the music. We thought it was a good marriage. It was a natural thing.”
The backlash was swift and instant, with one London newspaper remarking that the Temper Trap commenting the London riots was the equivalent of Air Supply joining the Specials in ruminating on the effects of Thatcherism in 1980s England.
“We’re not trying to write difficult music, but I still think there’s a place for observing events around you, and in the case of London’s Burning that was just something that happened to us – we were there.
“The combination of people viewing us as a pop band and not being London natives, they seem to have just decided, perhaps without even listening to the song, like: ‘Who is this Aussie pop band trying to comment on our situation? How can they possibly understand it?’”
Guitarist Johnny Aherne adds: “Looking back, it seems like there was sort of an invisible rule that if you’re in an indie rock sort of pop band, you don’t talk about these sorts of things. I don’t think we knew how far we were sticking our necks out, but we’re finding out about it!
“One guy reviewing the Temper Trap album for a London newspaper tweeted something like: ‘Reviewing the Temper Trap album tomorrow. Song called London’s Burning. Here we go…’ It seemed like the daggers were out already, like their opinion was formed in advance.
“I think if you understand the song, there’s no tension, there’s nothing malicious, it’s just something that we were there for. There is no remorse or no regret about the song. We still like it and it’s still the whole truth about it, because all you have as a songwriter is to stick to what’s happening naturally.”
In a way, there is little to be surprised about a politically-charged song like London’s Burning coming from a ruthlessly ambitious band whose sweeping, cinematic style of music is steeped in the iconoclastic but commercially-savvy stadium rock of bands like U2, and the group have absolutely no regrets about allowing their music to be commercialised.
Aherne continues: “We’ve been so fortunate. In the beginning, we had the mindset that we didn’t want to be picky – beggars can’t be choosers. We were a new band that had these opportunities to get our songs in adverts and that was just another form of getting our music out there, and people were coming to the shows because of it.
“It’s always been something that’s happened quite naturally for us – we’ve never had to keep it in mind when writing. Conditions still gets asked for syncs, and it’s only two months into this album cycle so you don’t really know what will happen. We’ve been pretty fortunate when it comes to that because we talked about the grandioso or cinematic effect that our music might have.”
Dundas adds: “The bands that have inspired us and the songs we’ve liked listening to have always had an ‘epicness,’ an epic quality – a cinematic, widescreen quality – so I think that’s something we were chasing on this record.”
The Temper Trap’s debut album, Conditions, has sold well in excess of a million copies worldwide, but Aherne is adamant that the only way is up for the group, and reveals that the group plan to have relocated to New York this time next year to crack the huge American market with their third offering.
“We hope to move to New York. I guess we’ll be wrapping up touring – by the end of this year we’ll already have done three tours of the States . When we hit the road we hit the road, so I’m not sure if we’ll want to go back with the same material. We’ll want to record by then.”
The Temper Trap’s self-titled album is out now.