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In Good Conditions

Pic by Kane Hibberd
May 15th 2012 | Monique Cowper

"I think what The Edge said in the first place was a bit rich..." The Temper Trap won't let anyone get away with trash talking them, it seems.

No one could label The Temper Trap one-hit wonders after the success of their debut album Conditions, but the phenomenon of Sweet Disposition has clearly left the band concerned that their second album be judged in its entirety, rather than by one song which takes on a life of its own. Many people would assume that writing a song that becomes so embedded in people's consciousness would be a rare privilege, but it can also be a heavy burden. It can leave the remaining body of work, and even future music, forever compared to it or worse still – completely ignored.

There are no complaints from The Temper Trap's guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto and bass player Jonny Aherne when talking about their breakthrough, song but there is a hint of frustration. “I thought Love Lost was the best song,” Aherne says. “I had no idea that Sweet Disposition would get the reception that it did. It kind of eclipsed everything else and took on a life of its own.”

There is no doubt Conditions was a strong album. The band had plenty of variety to choose from when selecting their first single. After three years of writing the album, the band moved to the UK before its release to “see what happens”. Sillitto says they tossed up between Science Of Fear and Sweet Disposition. “Everything on the radio was electronic pop then so we decided to do something different and tackle it that way.” They released Sweet Disposition, leading to the album selling almost a million units worldwide, being nominated for BRIT Awards and winning ARIAs. That year it was impossible to turn on a television or radio without hearing the infectiously uplifting song.

Sweet Disposition stayed in the charts for three months, peaking in the UK at six, prompting the band to make a tough moral decision when Swedish House Mafia released a very Ibiza-sounding remix, which went on to win a Grammy. It was recommended to the band that they bundle the remix in with the single in what would have surely moved them to number one. “I'm glad we didn't,” Sillitto reflects. “We ultimately decided we didn't want to align ourselves with it so we held back. Reaching number six is a massive success. I'm glad we did it on our own and not off the bat of someone else.”

For Australian audiences it may seem as though The Temper Trap has been missing in action since Conditions, but their UK base has kept them consistently busy for the last three years. “Everything just snowballed out of the UK,” Aherne tells. “Originally we just had this idea to get out of Australia. You see all these international bands travelling and of course it was something we wanted.” Sillitto agrees there was no grand plan for world domination, just an aim to “give it a red hot go”. “From the moment we arrived, it was surprising how many shows we could play and people would turn up at gigs.”

Eventually they had to put a stop to the touring, which left six months in 2011 to write their follow-up album with a new member, a more electronic sound and the determination to produce an album of work rather than a collection of singles. They headed to LA's Sound Factory studios to work with the man behind much of Beck's output, Tony Hoffer.

Instead of recreating Conditions, or moving in a completely different direction, the new album picks up where their debut left off with a consistent feel while exploring new sounds. “We really wanted to push ourselves and move forward,” Sillitto implores. “We wanted to try different things and the things that Tony said really resonated with us. He wanted to focus on our strengths and enhance them. It was important to us that it was a very Temper Trap album; that it still sounded like us. I think we've cemented our sound and found the things we're good at. I think that's come out a lot more.”

Both musicians insist they didn't feel the pressure of second-album syndrome and went into the studio with a “whatever, happens, happens” attitude. Sillitto believes that the new album has defined their sound, while Aherne thinks it has picked up on their live strengths. “Something like the Drum Song is something we really enjoy doing live,'' he says. “We enjoy that kind of thing so we've just gone with it.” There are also a lot of synthesisers thanks to new member Joseph Greer on keyboards. “I guess that's the main difference,” Sillitto ponders. “Having Joseph contribute to the writing means he has brought his style into our sound.”

Of course there is also that now infamous U2 versus The Temper Trap feud, which Sillitto is loathe to discuss. The Edge was quoted as saying that The Temper Trap had ripped off their sound and later Bono said that he was personally inspired by the Australian band. Sillitto then joked on radio that he had caused a rift within U2. “Bono said we inspired him and that's really cool,” Sillitto says. “So I just joked that we must have caused some infighting. I think what The Edge said in the first place was a bit rich to suggest I stole his guitar sound. They're definitely an inspiration for me, but so many acts can seep into your subconscious. I think this album is much more about how we've changed ourselves and how that's shaped our sound.”

One of the most appealing elements of The Temper Trap is frontman Dougy Mandagi's incredible vocals. Sillitto was keen for audiences to hear the full range of Mandagi's talent. “I think this album showcases Dougy's voice more,” he iterates. “Obviously I'm in a band with him so I know what he's capable of and his range, but he's very versatile. Everybody wants him to sing falsetto and he's conscious of that, but it's important that it complements the music rather than just making it about Dougy singing the way people are used to hearing him. He has a really strong voice which comes across on this album.”

Aherne says the band had to resist the urge to ask their frontman to write more of the kind of uplifting lyrics that worked well for them on Conditions and the result is an album with a different tone. “I know what people are attracted to about our music is that uplifting quality musically and Dougy's lyrics. But you can't force it. I tried, to be honest, to say, 'Dougy make it more positive', but he's very honest with his feelings and hopefully he'll have that compelling effect regardless. I think people will find it refreshing and inspiring.”

If Aherne and Sillitto did have to name one song on the album that could recreate Sweet Disposition for them, there is a favourite in mind: Trembling Hands. “I feel there is one song that is a real bridge of the old with the new stuff, I think it is one of the best tracks on the album with lots of harmonies and I think it will connect with people on a similar level.”

It is however, plainly obvious that The Temper Trap are very keen for audiences to embrace their whole album this time; success from one or two hit singles just won't be enough. “This really feels like an album when you listen to it,” Aherne offers. “There is a lot of detail. The singles on Conditions kind of eclipsed everything else. We can't recreate that and we hope people will get hold of the whole album and not just one song.”

The Bigger Picture

If it feels like The Temper Trap spend very little time on our shores these days, it is because they have bigger fish to fry and they are refreshingly honest about their motivations.

Guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto and bass player Jonny Aherne admit things have changed a lot since their days of driving between Sydney and Melbourne in their van because they were the only two cities where they could get gigs.

When questioned about why they why they are only doing three major Australian cities this time around, Sillitto gets straight to the point. “We don't want to neglect Australia, it's our home, but unfortunately we are in a position where people elsewhere want us,'' he explains. “It's a very exciting time for us. Our American label is very determined to break us there and we need to spend more time there.''

One look at their tour schedule is revealing. At the beginning of this month their schedule had them playing 15 shows in the UK, 12 across Europe, 11 in the US and Canada plus three days at Lollapalooza and just six in Australia. They have, however, promised to come back home before the year is out.

The Temper Trap may have achieved incredible success in the UK, but when it comes to the all-important American breakthrough, they find the road to a number one US record just as difficult as any Australian band before them. “You have to spend so much time on the ground there,'' Sillitto tells. “It's not like here. Every state is like its own separate country and you have to do multiple interviews and shows in every state.''

Sillitto said they were even prepared to forgo some of their UK success to build on the US. “Even in the UK we can afford to do a few shows and leave because America has become the main focus. We have ambitions to grow as a band and grow our fanbase and make this into a lifelong profession. Hopefully we can even play in some new places we've never been to. We're not afraid of hard work and nothing has ever come to us on a platter.''

Aherne has a more unique take on why it is important for the band to get out to fans in America. “It's like talking to someone over the phone when you are playing a record. When you are face-to-face with someone, playing live, it makes such an impact.''


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