SINGAPORE: A four-year gap between albums could be seen as a bad career move for a band in an era when musical tastes change fast and attention spans are getting shorter.
But commercial concerns were of secondary importance to Australian indie band The Temper Trap, whose new album Thick as Thieves will be released on Jun 10. Frontman Dougy Mandagi told Channel NewsAsia in an interview that artistic considerations were behind the long wait.
“It’s taken quite a while because we wanted to get it right. We kept on feeling like it wasn’t right,” he said.
The Indonesian-born singer, who grew up in Australia, acknowledged the challenge of maintaining a successful career in a frenzied, ever-changing musical landscape.
“I think because of social media, and output that is very high in terms of music these days, people’s attention span are becoming shorter and shorter. And so it’s really hard for a band like us. You know, that it may take a while to produce records,” he explained. “To stay in the public’s mind and eye, you always have to stay relevant, otherwise people will forget about you very quickly. And obviously when we first started, the whole social media kind of thing wasn’t that much of a thing.”
“I don’t know, sometimes I feel like we’re a bunch of old guys trying to play, trying to stay relevant,” he continued with a laugh.
So, for a bunch of "old guys", is the importance of social media a boon or a bane?
“It’s tricky! With a lot of these social media things, you look at them and you don’t really get it. Like, why are people into this? It’s hard sometimes to figure out, for people who can’t even really understand it too well to try and use it,” said guitarist and keyboardist Joseph Greer.
“It’s so important in this day and age to be active on social media. We’ve been trying to use it in a very organic way. Like on our Instagram, Dougy’s got a very good eye for taking photos. So that’s something we can do that probably isn’t too contrived and a bit real. And it’s not just like a kooky video for the sake of it.”
That comment brought a laugh.
“Oh, what am I saying? We do that sometimes as well!” said Greer.
Winding back the clock, the Melbourne-based four man-outfit burst into the public consciousness in 2008 with their indie-pop hit anthem Sweet Disposition, which featured everywhere from Sky Sports TV advertisements in the UK to the soundtrack of the indie romcom hit movie (500) Days of Summer, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.
“It is tough because when we wrote that song, it came from a very organic and genuine place,” shared Mandagi. “None of us had achieved any musical success in the past. So there was no benchmark really. We were just writing music. And that song blew up, beyond any of our expectations. With that comes the business side of it. And that is the bit that is hard to navigate - trying to be genuine, organic or even 'credible', but still trying to navigate your career at the same time.”
But the band recognises what the song has done for them and where it has taken then since.
“(Sweet Disposition) was the catalyst to everything really. Before that, we were starting to get a bit of traction but sometimes you need something beyond the music,” said Greer. “It’s just that something special that just takes you to that next level. And 500 Days of Summer was that for us, because it opened us up to such a big market. And it really enabled us do so much.
"LOOKING BACK TO LOOK FORWARD"
“You know, coming into this new album, I feel there is less pressure. It feels more like it’s a new start for us. Obviously, we still have that legacy of Sweet Disposition. But I feel like it’s been long enough now that the people that are sticking around are the people that want us for everything else that we have as well. I feel like we’re in a great position and that we’ve written an album we’re really proud of. We’re an album band and we’re here to stick around.”
The new album sees the band collaborating with some big names in the music industry including producer Justin Parker (who has worked with Lana Del Ray and Sia, among others). It is also one that Mandagi feels is, in some way, a throwback.
“We were definitely looking at our debut album as a reference point. We looked at Conditions and thought to ourselves, what are the things that are really good about that album,that made the fans fall in love with us in the first place?” shared Mandagi. “And then we took that, and applied it to this album. So it’s a bit weird, but it’s kind of looking back so we can look forward.”
So looking forward, in a market place littered with the likes of Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, where does indie rock stand right now?
“I think it’s an interesting time right now. When you look at the charts, we obviously want to be up there in the charts. But then you look at the charts and you’re like ‘Wow, this isn’t the world we inhabit!’,” said Greer with a laugh.
“There once was a time in music, even in the 90s, where there was just so much meaning and bands meant so much to people. And there was a feeling of belonging … now it feels like it’s moving away from real expression and becoming something really manufactured.”
“Things come in cycles so I hope that we are moving into a new time where the bands are nurtured and not just manufactured pop stars. Some of them can be great, but there isn’t much substance being promoted. There are not a lot of role models for people to latch on to and the lyrical content is just talking about nothing. It’s sad that kids are growing up with that message.”