No Sex Please, We're Touring

10 May 2012 | 4:08 pm | Paul Ransom

“If you ever feel like having a whinge people just go, ‘Shut up’ but y’know what, it really is hard work. It’s not all sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Actually, there’s no sex, ‘cause our partners are all at home.”

More The Temper Trap More The Temper Trap

"It's weird to be back in your home town and be staying in a hotel,” says Lorenzo Sillitto from the plush, elevated surrounds of the 31st floor of the Grand Hyatt on Collins in Melbourne.

Outside, the city looks shrouded and autumnal. Inside, the drinks are free and the five-star luxury inescapable, all of which serves as an apt metaphor for just how far The Temper Trap have come since I first saw them playing a free front bar gig at the Espy sometime shortly after the release of their debut EP.

These days The Temper Trap live in London and tour the world, their success fuelled by the monster single, Sweet Disposition, and their million-selling, award-scooping album, Conditions. There is little doubt the shows they will play in support of their upcoming self-titled second record will draw considerably more heads than turned up on that distant Saturday night in St Kilda back in 2007.

Bassist Jonny Aherne smiles across the table when I mention that night. “I remember that gig because we were still trying to get signed,” he laughs. “I can't remember the name of the label. Sarah Blasko had just signed. Dew Process, that's it. Anyway, that was one of those gigs where we had to play real well, but we came off stage and we were like, 'Shit, we stuffed that one up.'”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

As it happens, they didn't, and even though they didn't get signed that night ears were soon tuning in, doubtless seduced by Indonesian-born singer Dougy Mandagi's extraordinary voice. Whatever else you care to say about Temper Trap they have one hell of a frontman, a fact not lost on his bandmates. Guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto says it bluntly, “I think that Dougy's voice is the thing that tends to draw people in.”

Aherne backs him up: “Y'know, we've had the chance to hear a lot of bands over the last few years and there's a lot of good music out there but when you compare the vocalists, Dougy's range is amazing. It makes us want to write better music.”

However, it's also pretty clear that The Temper Trap are not just Dougy and “The Rest”. With musical and personal relationships that predate airplay and aeroplanes, they are a tight unit. It is perhaps telling that having decamped to the other side of the planet, they all still live within five minutes of each other. As Aherne notes, “We all contribute. I mean, Lorenzo came up with the riff for Sweet Disposition and, sure, there's Dougy's voice, but y'know, there wouldn't be one without the other.”

Sillitto picks up the point: “We're definitely the sum of our parts. If you removed any one of us from the band, the band wouldn't be the same. Everybody in the band brings something to it and it's the combination of those things that makes the band sound the way it does. It wouldn't be Temper Trap if you took even one of those elements out.”

Of all the elements that might be said to make up a band's sound, environment is often cited. So, has Temper Trap's move to London had an impact on the sound of the new record? Sillitto certainly doesn't think so, recalling that the band's move had more to do with signing to a UK-based label and the sheer practicalities of European and US touring.

“I think London had an influence in the beginning of the writing process on the tone of the record, but I think that kinda changed as things went on and as we got into the studio it became much less prevalent.”

For Jonny Aherne the change of location was less of an influence than the expanded horizons created by being immersed in the industry. “I would say more the experience of touring over the last three years than the direct experience of living in London has changed us. Y'know, playing with all these great bands really challenged us. They really made us want to write the best songs we could.”

With The Temper Trap about to go public, those new songs will soon be put to the audience test. Sillitto readily admits to being impatient for it to be out and also to a measure of trepidation. “For me, there is a little bit of 'How are people gonna receive it?' Obviously I've seen the comments online about Need Your Love and Rabbit Hole and you can kinda get sucked into all that,” he says, referring the album's first teasers.

Having done so well with Conditions there is a palpable expectation about album number two. “It feels more like an album,” Aherne reveals. “With Conditions there were certain songs, Sweet Disposition being one of them, that eclipsed the album, became bigger than the album.”

Sillitto is quick to add that this does not mean that it's a concept album. “There's a lot more diversity. I think also with a lot of the songs we were able to capture a particular mood and they seem to have a little bit more soul to them. Before, we were a little bit more methodical but with this record there was a bit more 'movement'.”

While conceding that a lot of this comes from the simple fact of being better players and more experienced songwriters, Sillitto believes that much of it stems from the way the album was recorded. Whereas Conditions was 'comped' using multiple takes, The Temper Trap producer Tony Hoffer recorded no more than five takes, using “usually only two” to get the right feel. “It's less metronomic,” Sillitto declares.As an example, he cites Trembling Hands. “With the way it's constructed and everything, we really nailed it. It's possibly one of the best songs we've ever written, just in terms of the way it flows and the way everything happens within it. Also Dougy's singing is better.”

Indeed, listening to the record it's obvious that Mandagi's soaring voice is in fine fettle. More than that though, it binds the album, suffusing it with urgency and an unapologetic moodiness. Jonny Aherne is clearly a fan. “Whenever I see Dougy sing it's like it's not just him calculating it, it's like he can only really sing with his whole body, his whole mind, spirit, whatever. It's all sorta connected. It's a beautiful thing to watch.”

Fans and critics may agree or disagree but inside the band there is also a strong tendency to self-criticise. This is never sharper than on the eve of an album release. However, Lorenzo Sillitto insists that a level of detachment is necessary for sanity. “You can agonise over that stuff forever but you do just have to let it go. Also, having five people in the band you're gonna have five opinions and there's obviously going to be compromises that maybe you might not totally like but, y'know, we're a band, so… “

But not just any band, for The Temper Trap have risen above the fray. They might not be 'stadium' yet but there's no need for them to play free Espy gigs. Looking out across a home town panorama, Sillitto suggests, “Coming back to Australia puts it into a bit more perspective. Y'know, I remember when we were playing here and it was like, 'Maybe we could play the Hi Fi Bar, maybe we can do our own Corner show or play somewhere like the Forum one day.' Then, y'know, you go overseas and you start playing venues like the Fillmore Theatre and Brixton Academy and it kinda blows your mind.”

However, even up on the 31st floor, The Temper Trap have Melbourne in their DNA. Aherne waves a hand at one of the hotel's weirdly spotless windows and says, “There's a little venue just down there that used to be run by a friend of ours and there's an old poster still there from when we were called Temper Temper [the band's original name] and we played a show with Midnight Juggernauts and Children Collide.”

As international tourists in their own city, Temper Trap are living in the surreal bubble that success generates; but of course they really are just five guys with a grinding schedule and new product to hawk. “It's funny 'cause you can never complain,” Aherne jokes. “If you ever feel like having a whinge people just go, 'Shut up' but y'know what, it really is hard work. It's not all sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Actually, there's no sex, 'cause our partners are all at home.”

Writing Riot Rock

Of all the new tunes contained on The Temper Trap it is perhaps London's Burning that really leaps out, not because it's an obvious single but because it sprang from the band having actually been caught up in last year's London riots.

Guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto smiles to himself as he recalls the day he and the band stepped out into the cauldron. “It was kinda bizarre because when we left the studio that day we were told to be careful because everything was being boarded up and people were fearing the worst, and then you get home and you turn on the television to see what's happening and it's, like, literally happening five minutes away and you're watching it on TV and there's helicopters up above you and it's kinda this weird, voyeuristic thing. I mean, I went out and had a look and, y'know, just near me there was a car set on fire and people getting mugged in the park we lived on. It was really weird because it just seemed to happen over nothing.”

The five members of The Temper Trap still live in the riot-affected suburb of Hackney and, as Sillitto notes, it's a far cry from the relative safety of home. “Living in Australia you don't ever think about being in the midst of something like a riot or some type of social unrest. I mean, obviously Cronulla happened but even so, we were never really affected.”

Having a balcony seat for such a politically rich event was evidently inspiring for singer and lyricist Dougy Mandagi who promptly penned one of the band's few 'social' songs. As bassist Jonny Aherne remembers it, the band's close contact with the events unfolding in their adopted neighbourhood created the right context. “Dougy just said that he felt like because it was something he was around it was very tangible to him and he wanted the challenge of writing about it.”

Picking up the thread, Sillitto argues, “Obviously, with London's Burning, we're not English so it could be taken like 'Who are these guys to write and comment on it our situation?' But y'know, we were there and it is relevant for us to be able to talk about it.” 

As to whether the riots have caused the band to reassess the move to London, the answer is certainly not. “We were doing well here, but y'know, everybody wants to get out of Australia at some point.”