Looking for something new to listen to? Why not try Austin band, Tele Novella—“a fresh strain of sugar-crash dream-psych popsicle punch”! I’ve been a big fan of vocalist-guitarist, Natalie Gordon’s music since I first found her previous band, minimalist-garage-pop act, Agent Ribbons via the magic of the internet. We chatted a couple of years back (read our Q&A here) and now I thought it’s high time we did again as she’s making exciting new music, which has been on high rotation at my house of late warding off the winter blues here in Oz. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and inspires dreams of a secret Shangri-La where the cares of the world just melt away as you get lost in the beautiful harmonies and magical arrangements. They’re getting set to release their debut EP, Cosmic Dial Tone. Just perfect.
I’m a little familiar with your story Natalie having interviewed you previously. Could you please tell me a little about your bandmates, Jason, Matt and Sarah? They were in the bands Voxtrot and Belaire?
NATALIE: Well, Jason–the bass player–is my boyfriend, so that’s how we met! He and the drummer Matt have been playing together for years. They were both in Voxtrot, and then they went on to play in Belaire together for several years as well. Sarah plays keyboards and sings as well, and we met her when she was playing in a local band called, Gender Infinity. We sort of stole her!
Tele Novella’s music has features 60s-style harmonies complementing layers of fuzzy noisy goodness that I’m totally in love with. Where do those harmonies come from? What do you attribute them to? Did you grow up listening to stuff in that style?
N: Well, harmonies are such a fun part of being in a band when you can pull it off. There’s something deeply satisfying about blending human voices…it can be exhilarating! And it can be the worst thing ever if you fuck it up, haha. I recently watched that documentary “Twenty Feet From Stardom” and it made me want to include even more harmonies in our songs. I highly recommend that film! Anyway, I suppose we all do listen to music laden in harmony-action. Jason and I have the same favorite band: The Zombies. But we also love early soul music and Jason collects soul 45s (and many other types of music) from the 50s and 60s so I’m exposed to a lot of that type of thing. It inspires me even though I’m no soul singer! And those groups harmonized all over the place.
You guys also have a psych feel about you. How did you first discover psych music and what are some of your favourites? You guys are from Austin were y’all have your very own psych fest annually.
N: Yes, the Psych Fest is probably one of the better festivals here in Austin, without a doubt. Although, I have to say…we certainly didn’t set out to be a psych band at all. We didn’t even know WHAT we were, and kind of still don’t…but we can see why people call us psych pop and sort of just went with it since we didn’t have any better idea of our genre. The lyrical content of our songs has a lot of natural and surrealistic references in it, much like classic psych. It can be abstract at times, though only a little. As I already mentioned, Jason is a record collector. Having access to so much music I had never heard of has been a real game-changer. He recently introduced me some obscure band called Ant Trip Ceremony that’s really cool. We also really love Kevin Ayers and Judy Sill and Congrecacion. Prior to the recent past, I didn’t listen to whole bunch of psych music, moreso music with psychedelic influences. I used to obsessively listen to The Hollies ‘Butterfly’ album, which was their psych record, but that’s all that comes to mind right this instant.
TN have a 7 inch out “Trouble in Paradise” on American Laundromat Records. What can you tell us about the making of it?
N: The title track is the first song that Jason and I co-wrote together! Prior to that, I’ve really only written songs alone, so that was a real breakthrough. It’s even better that it’s one of my favorite songs to perform! We wrote it after listening to a lot of swampy soul music sprinkled with Astrud Gilberto influence from the jukebox at my work. The bridge was very inspired by the sort of harmonies you’d here on a Getz/Gilberto record or something like that. We recorded the song at Dub Narcotic Studio in Olympia, WA after winning a contest that K Records had, heh.
TN made a film clip directed by Jack Dee for the song “Coat-Tail Rider” recorded on Halloween last year at The Owl. It’s pretty quirky! How did you arrive at the ideas – the playing card suit outfits, all the eyes about the place – for it?
N: I don’t know where the eyes came from, but I think I was subconsciously inspired by something that is very ‘now’ because lately I feel like I have been seeing eye motifs everywhere! But we wanted the stage to be super surrealistic in a 1920s way. I based the costumes on an image I saw of a 1920s Halloween costume of a girl dressed as a spade.
I’ve always been huge on lyrics. I love lyrics that paint a picture and evoke emotion as your song, Trouble In Paradise does. Who inspires you as a lyricist? Do you have any favourite lyrics? I super love “Slip Inside This House” by the 13th Floor Elevators. Do you know it? Those lyrics are pretty all-time epic!
N: That is such a great song, absolutely!!! I am TOTALLY a lyrics person. I don’t even know where to begin in answering this question, but I emphasize language and the expression of a greater theme or idea in music whenever possible. Growing up as a teenager, I only played the piano then and I would pour over Fiona Apple lyrics and play those songs in the living room. Back to the Zombies, are there better lyrics than ‘Not a Rose for Emily?’ Good grief! A year or so ago I saw Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent play that song and many more just as the two of them with no cheesy backing band. It broke my heart!!! Also, that Belle and Sebastian song ‘Take Me Away From here, I’m Dying’ randomly comes to mind. Those lyrics were very clever and evocative for me when that album came out. I guess I’m thinking pretty far back for this question!
Personally, I think your songs have never sounded better than right now. I’m excited for what’s to come next. How do you feel you’ve developed as a songwriter since last we spoke when you were doing Agent Ribbons?
N: Wow, that’s so wonderful and exciting to hear from you! Thank you. I do feel that happening as well, and a lot of it is the people I am playing music with. Jason is a great songwriter and has an amazing solo project called JC&Co. Having him in the mix has inspired me to not worry about writing a certain way, to just let it boom into whatever it needs be. The full band set up with such talented folks has been eye-opening. Everyone in town is jealous that we have Matt Simon for our drummer!!!
How much of your personality comes through in your songs? How do you think your bandmates might describe you?
N: Ha! Well, a lot I think…I don’t know, I was recently told that I have a ‘clear and consistent aesthetic’ by Matt’s girlfriend Tess. In most mediums, I like to collage and take bits and pieces of other things to make a new thing, a new idea. You have to use the past in order to build the present. I think the songs I write are cluttered, romantic and maybe a bit idealistic, where bad guys finish last.
Ha! I love that. Bad guys should finish last! Tell us about your approach to songwriting.
N: Honestly, I have no idea how to answer this question. I have no system, and I have been forced to shed any types of superstitions over the years out of moving from house to house, being on the road a lot and not always having much privacy. Sometimes the music comes first, sometimes a jumble of lyrics. I really don’t know!
You’re releasing your first EP/cassette – Cosmic Dial Tone – on LA label, Lolipop Records. What kinds of inspiration went into CDT?
N: The inspiration of a fresh start. The feeling you get when you realize that you are always a new baby in some way, you just have to be open to starting over when the time comes. I was so liberated when Agent Ribbons was over. Sad, but liberated. We all jumped right into Tele Novella without much transition time, and I just felt so deeply humbled and honored to suddenly have this whole new thing with this really special and talented people. SERIOUSLY, this band is made up of some gems.
What is one of your fondest memories from recording it?
N: I hope Matt doesn’t feel embarrassed about this…but there was a night when we didn’t have anywhere to stay so we slept on the floor at Dub Narcotic. Matt had decided to smoke some weed that night before bed, and I guess he smoked too much…he doesn’t really smoke very often. Anyway, we all cozied up in our sleeping bags, and at one point Matt sat up in the silence of the dark said to me, “Natalie, can we talk for a little while before going to bed?” It was the sweetest little vulnerable gesture. I guess he was feeling a bit scared and was having visions of homeless guys breaking into the windows and stuff, poor guy. We still didn’t know each other that well at this point, so the fact that he felt he could ask me to chat to help stave off the bad feelings really moved me and I was so endeared to him that day. He can be very quiet and stoic a lot of the time.
TN were recently featured on a compilation called, I Saved Latin – A Tribute to Wes Anderson. You covered The Velvet Underground’s ‘Stephanie Says’. What made you choose that song?
N: We threw around several songs from an assortment of Wes Anderson films, but that one really seemed like it would work with our sound. Plus, Lou Reed had passed recently, and though there were so many people already covering Lou’s songs, we felt like we were a good match for it.
Did Lou Reed’s passing last year affect you in any way?
N: Oh yes, absolutely. Velvet Underground were so ground-breaking and influential! I know they were a big influence on Voxtrot, and they were absolutely a huge influence on Agent Ribbons. We have all carried on ideas gleaned from their recordings into this band as well. I used to stay up late playing ‘Transistor’ in my room as a young adult.
Which is your favourite film by director Wes Anderson? He kind of makes films that are very vivid with self-contained worlds, kind of like a Tele Novella song!
A: Yes, it’s very observant and thoughtful for you to say that. It’s part of the reason we agreed that the Wes Anderson project was a good fit. I always say that our songs are ‘vignettes’ where we kind of set a little stage for it all, and clearly Wes Anderson has a similar way of structuring things. Very simple, focused, detail-oriented thought process. I actually thing his most recent film ‘The Budapest Hotel’ might be my favorite!
What’s next for TN?
A: Lots and lots of touring, then lots and lots of recording new songs. We’re doing east coast, west coast, a festival in Montreal, and we’re all wishin’ and hopin’ for some adventures abroad real soon!
Yay! come to Australia! I’ll be your tour guide.
Upcoming Tele Novella Shows:
June 12 @ That Place Off Evergreen, San Antonio, TX.
June 14 @ Simon Sez, McAllen, TX (release party show for debut EP, Cosmic Dial Tone).
June 16 @ The Mohawk, Austin, TX.
** US East Coast tour dates + Canadian dates to be announced shortly…stay tuned!
For more TELE NOVELLA.
*TN photos by the talented: www.courtneychavanell.com.