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Destined: Telepathe

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Dusted’s Brad LaBonte profiles Brooklyn electronic duo and Destined selection Telepathe.

Destined: Telepathe

Download “Chrome’s On It” by Telepathe.

Anyone who has been in a band or undertaken any artistic endeavor is intimately familiar with the effect that a lack of top-notch equipment can have on the creative process. Unable to easily bring imagined sounds or pictures into the real world, the artist must make do with a limited palette. While this situation isn’t necessarily dire for the standard singer-songwriter, any musician concerned with the interaction between music and technology, with produced sound, is more or less screwed if they have empty pockets. Of course, empty pockets aren’t all-limiting – careers have been built on simple feedback – but you’d have to admit that Sunn 0))) isn’t Sunn 0))) without those fancy amps.

Telepathe – the Brooklyn duo of Melissa Livaudis and Busy Gangnes – tackled this challenge a few years ago by basically forming a band and a sound that eschewed a considerable share of their musical influences. "The stuff that I was listening to at the time is pretty much the same as the stuff that I listen to now," says Livaudis, one-half of the duo, but you wouldn’t guess this by comparing 2006’s Farewell Forest and Sinister Milita EPs to Telepathe’s debut LP Dance Mother, due out in February. Whereas those earlier releases captured a group more in tune with the psychedelic scene, Dance Mother almost completely changes the game by burying those psych leanings under layers of synth-pop hooks and hip-hop-influenced beats.

While I wouldn’t say that the old Telepathe sound was a compromise, it’s fairly clear that the lack of equipment was a major roadblock, and viewing the new album through this lens provides an explanation for an ostensibly dramatic shift. When asked about her favorite music, Livaudis mentioned garage-psych group the Pretty Things, but was obviously more excited about the hip hop and bounce music that pervades her native New Orleans. So, while Telepathe were recording and performing live rock music, they were gradually exploring electronic sounds in their home studio. Livaudis explains, "We saved up money…The first thing we did [in the electronic vein], I got a PowerBook about four years ago with Reason, then Ableton Live…With Reason, we couldn’t record our voices into it, and Ableton doesn’t have the kind of plug-ins [that we’d want], so then we got Logic. This was about two years ago, and it took about six months of using it every day for us to really get to a point where we felt comfortable with it. After that, there’s really no going back to just jamming out songs on guitar and drums. That’s fun, and maybe someday we might get into doing that again, but we wanted to do so much more. We couldn’t afford vintage synthesizers and any equipment like that, so this gave us access to all those things."

The group eventually reached a somewhat schizophrenic point. "It just got weird. We had these songs that we had made on guitar and drums, and Ryan [Lucero] was playing bass, but, all of a sudden, we felt really disconnected. It’s been a total pain in the ass to figure out [the new sound], but I feel like we’ve got it now." Livaudis and Gangnes started to record some of these home studio tracks, and after a friend passed their recordings along, producer and TV on the Radio member David Sitek invited them to record in his studio.

With Sitek, Telepathe were able to completely erase the equipment disadvantage and fully realize Telepathe v2.0 and Dance Mother. "We had seven songs that we brought in and reworked in Dave’s studio…He has every vintage, awesome synthesizer you could ever want, a couple of really good drum machines, and a great live room for micing instruments. He made us replace our MIDI recordings with real synths or double up a lot of things. He basically had a lot of really good ideas for making [the album] sound like it wasn’t recorded in our bedroom."

Quirky hip hop and dance electronics pervade Dance Mother, but the album avoids the blaring hedonism of crunk, the freaked futurism of Timbaland, and the sterility of electronic popsters like those in the Monika and Morr Music camps. If you’re looking for a ride on the autobahn or something to blast in the club, you won’t really find it here. Simply put, Dance Mother doesn’t provide either kind of rush. This is partly by design; if anything, the album is hard to pigeonhole. "We don’t really sound like anybody else, and that’s what we want. I know there’s a common thread there, and I’d like to keep it in our music, but I don’t think that we’ll go into a straight-up dance vibe. We like invention, re-invention, changing up the process…I don’t really want to be ‘that psychedelic rock band that’s kind of dance-y.’ We kind of want to do it all."

Telepathe is keeping busy (no pun intended) with some remixes in the works, including one for Franz Ferdinand, and the bulk of the group’s time in 2009 will be spent touring and working on their live show. However, Livaudis sees the band’s shift towards electronics as fairly permanent and is committed to further exploring the studio. “We take ourselves seriously as producers…We’ve talked about it, things bigger than being in a rock band, and so we started to do that. But now [with the live show], we have to learn to be in a band again! I consider us to be producers first, now learning to be in a band.”

By Brad LaBonte

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