Australian stadium rockers-in-waiting The Temper Trap talk about swapping Melbourne for rainy London, their love of Radiohead and confirm that, unlike some transplanted Australians of yore, they have no immediate plans to become crack-heads.
Musicians have different ways of dealing with life on tour. Most come from settled suburban backgrounds (no matter how much they try and convince journalists otherwise) and therefore tend to slowly unravel with each passing venue. In contrast, Dougie Mandagi, singer with The Temper Trap, has always been on the road and seems remarkably inured to it.
“I’ve been moving all my life,” he says. “I’m a nomad really. Since I was a kid I’ve been moving around. We lived in America for a while. Then we were in Bali and I moved from Bali to Melbourne. So I’m pretty adaptable. I never get culture shock. I can eat rice for a month and the go somewhere else and eat steak and potatoes. I’ve no dietary problems, no problem with moving from one culture to another. I think I get restless if I’m in one place.”
Dougie arrived in Melbourne about 10 years ago to pursue a college course in fashion, only to have his fashion-industry dreams steamrolled by a love of music. He met his bandmate, drummer Toby Dundas, whilst working in a clothes shop, and the duo roped two other friends (guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto and bass-player Jonathon Aherne) into the developing Temper Trap.
“At the time I was working in the clothing store,” says Dougie. “And I had a short gig doing styling work for a while, but that turned out to be two months' work for very little money. A lot of work for very little money, really.”
“Sort of like being in a band?” says Toby.
“Very like being in a band,” says Dougie.
And what was the Melbourne music scene like when they were starting out?
“Well, there’s a classic array of venues to get started in,” says Toby. “And it’s a good scene in which you can take your first steps and get through that teething period of working out how to play. The dominant style when we started was a kind of electro rock sound, and we were always separate from all that. We found it harder to get support gigs with the bigger bands because we didn’t really sound like them. I suppose being different kind of worked to our advantage in the end.”
Was it all part of a grand musical master-plan, then?
“Oh, you wouldn’t believe the kind of music we played when we started out,” sighs Dougie. “Our sound came very gradually. I suppose we’ve been in this band five years now so there was a lot of time for our musical taste to grow. We played this show and afterwards this girl came up and said ‘I really like you guys. That song you played at the start... Is that you or is that a Jet cover?’ Jet!”
“That was a bit of a wake-up call,” says Toby with a wince. “At that point we said, ‘Hold on a minute, we need to think about this some more’. We were really just learning our instruments and how to write songs at that point. We were rank amateurs. Then we slowly got a handle on what to play and we started using more programming and other instruments and different guitar pedals.”
Who does the programming? “That’s me,” says Toby. “Bands we really like, like Radiohead and TV on the Radio really use that stuff as part of their sound. You can put so many layers under the guitar, drums and bass.”
“In Rainbows by Radiohead was a big influence on us when making this album,” says Dougie.
“Radiohead in general, really,” says Toby.
So you must like recording then? “I really do,” says Toby. “If I had to choose between gigging or being in a studio for the rest of my life I’d chose the studio. Starting with nothing and ending up with a song – that’s a great feeling.”
“I don’t like it,” says Dougie. “I’d much prefer to be on the road. I really didn’t enjoy recording the album [Conditions]. It was really difficult for me. I found the artist-producer dynamic very hard to deal with [the producer was Jim Abbiss]. And I also found the whole thing really boring. There was a lot of waiting around. And a lot of things went wrong during the process.”
“Two desks blew up,” explains Toby. “And we were only five days into recording when the first one happened. Our stress levels were up anyway and then that happened.”
So Dougie doesn’t like the studio? “Well, maybe it was just those sessions,” says Dougie. “We recently did a bit of recording in Melbourne and I actually enjoyed that. The producer was less...” he searches for a word, “totalitarian. He’d actually let you suggest things and it was a much better vibe as a result. It was a totally different regime. And I felt a lot more proud at the end because it was something that we did, it wasn’t something this other dude did, it was our own art.”
The four members of The Temper Trap recently took their art from Melbourne to London, a journey taken by many Australian bands over the past few decades.
“It does seem to be the thing to do if your music is getting too big for Australia,” says Toby. “London is a good base for Europe and going to the US, so we moved here last April. Now, we’ve been on tour for a lot of it to be honest, but I did notice that after a recent trip back to Australia that I thought, ‘It’s good to be back in London'. That was strange. So I think I must like it. I like the food, believe it or not. There are lots of foreign restaurants that are really, really good. There’s a great Chinese down the street and a great little Jamaican take away. That and cheap beer and it’s all I need.”
“I don’t like it,” interjects Dougie. “I like vibrant colourful places and I find London aesthetically really dull. We live in a row of houses that are all the same colour. If you’re walking down the street there, there’s just nothing to look at.”
“Every day I do pass by the house without realising I’ve passed it,” admits Toby.
“See!” says Dougie.
Do they argue a lot? Both men nod their heads and sigh.
“But only over music,” says Dougie. “We have arguments about the music and what goes on the record.”
How do these get solved? They laugh. “Usually one person gets sick of arguing,” says Dougie.
“Yeah, it’s a process of attrition,” says Toby. “You wear down your opponent. The winner is usually the last man standing.”
And which of them is usually the last man standing? “Everyone gets a turn,” says Toby. “If someone feels strongly enough about something to take on all-comers they usually have their way.”
Since April the four of them have been living together in one house (“He hasn’t even unpacked,” says Toby gesturing at a laughing Dougie) although now they’re branching out to look for new accommodation (“I haven’t even started looking!” admits Dougie). So how has living together affected the band-dynamic?
“That’s actually worked out a lot better than any of us expected,” says Toby. “It’s been fine.” I tell them about how when another Australian band, the Birthday Party, were living together in London, Mick Harvey had to move out to stop his records being stolen by his thieving heroin-addicted band mates.
Toby and Dougie laugh. “That’s kind of funny,” says Toby. “But we’re just from Australia.”
“Yeah, we’re not heroin addicts,” says Dougie.
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