The temper trap
'Thick As Thieves'
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More than a million albums sold; more than 150 million streams on Spotify; a number one album in your homeland; arena support tours with Coldplay and the Rolling Stones; gracing the stages of Glastonbury, Lollapalooza and Coachella; being nominated and winning a number of prestigious ARIA Awards in Australia, as well as receiving a nomination for best international group at the BRIT Awards. It was a good few years for The Temper Trap.
But then, not long after they had rounded off the campaign for their second, self-titled album with a show supporting the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park in the summer of 2013, guitarist and founder member Lorenzo Sillitto told the rest of the band that he was leaving.
“I just don’t think he wanted to be on a bus for months on end,” says singer and guitarist Dougy Mandagi, sadness in his voice. “It was a shock, but once it sunk in it kind of made sense. It can be a pretty demanding lifestyle. But yes, it was hard. It’s like a break up.”
The departure of a founder member is a big crossroads moment in the life of any band. Fortunately though, this is a band who, drummer and vocalist Toby Dundas says, “are at our best when our backs are against the wall” or, to use Mandagi’s phrase, “when we have something to prove”. There was never, ever even a moment’s thought of calling it a day. Instead, Dundas, Mandagi, Jonathon Aherne (bass, vocals) and Joseph Greer (keyboards, guitar, vocals) started forging ahead with the third album, and turned a negative into a positive. “We went into it then as a four piece,” says Mandagi. “And it pushed us towards certain place that we may have not gone had we still been five. It forced us to make everything leaner.”
“We’ve just started rehearsing the new songs,” continues Dundas, “and we’ve realised that all the songs have half the amount of stuff that the last album had, in terms of layers. Which I think is really good. It has a rawer feel about it.”
This is true, and is a conscious decision. For all that The Temper Trap love their second album (“Some of those songs are up there with some of my favourites that we’ve ever written,” stresses Mandagi), they realised that now was the time to play to their strengths. “Even though we – and some of our fans – were super-excited about a lot of those songs,” says Dundas, “the wider world perhaps didn’t get that coming from us. And if a few things don’t necessarily work, it focuses you more on what your strengths are. It’s a much more kind of uptempo record than the second record, it’s got a lot more energy.”
Writing and recording took the band all over the world. Whilst the core was now a four, for the first time they looked to collaborate outside of the band on songwriting, most notably with Malay (co-writer and producer on Frank Ocean’s seminal Channel Orange record), Justin Parker (best known for his work with Lana Del Rey, as well as Sia and Bat For Lashes), Ben Allen (Bombay Bicycle Club, Animal Collective, Deerhunter) and Pascal Gabriel (Ladyhawke, Goldfrapp). From the aforementioned studio space in Dalston, to downtown Montreal, home to producer Damian Taylor, whose credits include working with Bjork, the Prodigy and Arcade Fire, and the Killers’ very own rebirth album Battle Born (“It’s like this massive warehouse complex, with all these hipsters there throwing massive parties all the time,” says Mandagi). From there back to Green Lanes in Stoke Newington to use “all this great old vintage gear” with producer Rich Cooper (BANKS, Mystery Jets), and even back to Sing Sing in Melbourne, where their debut album took shape. “It’s going by the wayside because of urban development,” says Dundas. “But it’s an amazing place: feels like you’re in someone’s house.”
The Temper Trap in 2016 is a consolidation of what made the band matter to people in the first place. The title Thick As Thieves seemed a natural choice. Anthemic, direct, up, emotive music, typified by the first three songs that came: ‘So Much Sky’, ‘Summer’s Almost Gone’ and ‘Burn’. “Those were ones that were very much built around guitars,” says Dundas. “And that was something that we wanted to do: for it to very much be a guitar record. It doesn’t mean it can’t have other stuff – the first record had lots of other stuff bubbling away underneath – but at the heart of it, if you strip everything away, that’s the vibe.”
It is a spirit that characterises the whole album: from the first thud of its heartbeat kick drum, opener ‘Thick As Thieves’ feels like it is a big chorus waiting to explode out of a box, and when that chorus does come – with its talk of “making noise and shouting” – this feels like a band who have discovered, or maybe re-discovered, who they truly are. The echoing, direct guitar lines and rumbling rhythm section of ‘Burn’, for example, already sound like they should be reverberating around stadiums – and like the work of a band who are unashamed about wanting to connect with as many people as possible.
Positivity washes through the songs, to the extent that there is one song – possibly the most anthemic of all the songs in a very anthemic set – called ‘Alive’ which goes “It feels so good… so good to be alive.” The chorus on ‘Fall Together’, meanwhile, runs, “Raise your voice because the time is now or never/And if we have to fall we’ll fall together.” Telling is the fact that ‘Riverina’ is, Mandagi says, “a song about the power of songs”. He is still most excited simply by “the idea of hearing songs when you’re going through something, and thinking ‘That is exactly what I feel, what I’m going through.’ That is one of the most powerful things.”
This sentiment is also important. Because these are songs that come from a joyful, natural place, rather than being some kind of cynical attempt to be commercial. As you, they and everyone on planet earth will know, Temper Trap broke through in 2009 with a song called ‘Sweet Disposition’ – the sort of song that, as Dundas puts it, “creates a bit of a box around you. It’s like a blessing and a curse: you immediately have this thing that everyone wants you to try and beat. So it’s very important to find where the edges are and knock the walls down. It can be tricky, taking the exciting bits of when you made that, but not just making the exact same thing over and over again.”
Put another way: The Temper Trap could easily have continued knocking out various versions of ‘Sweet Disposition’ if all they cared about was getting bigger and bigger. But they didn’t. They took risks, and followed their hearts. And Thick As Thieves is the sound of a band who have taken risks but have also re-connected with why they fell in love with music in the first place. “I look back very fondly on those times, back at the start, when we were really having to work for it,” says Mandagi. “And it feels a bit like that now. And that is really cool.”