Telepath Interview

On Sunday February 2, 2009 I met up with Philadelphia, PA /Ashville, NC based Telepath to catch up on their latest, tour, album and up and coming news. I sat down with Michael Christie (Keys), Kurt Heiny (Bass) and Mike B (Drums) outside of the legendary Stubb’s BBQ right before their set to shoot the breeze.

By Peter Murner

HGMN: Thanks for taking some time before your show tonight to catch up with the live music fans over at Home Grown Music Network. To start out can you tell the folks out there how Telepath started?

MICHAEL: Telepath started actually as kind of a solo project for me in I think 2004 and got an album finished and then put out the word looking for a couple of other guys to play the music, not even sure how it was going to happen live or what the it was exactly going to go as far as pulling off the music from the album in a live setting, and hooked up with these two guys who really helped to make it happen in a really good way. And the first rehearsal of Telepath as a band was in summer of 2006. 

HGMN: How would you describe the type of music that you guys perform?

MICHAEL: Okay. It falls under the broad category of electronic music but it's actually pretty, it's pretty organic as far as the nature of the sounds that they're coming from the stage. There's a pretty significant world music element to it, different samples of musicians and singers from India and from the Middle East. There's also a pretty significant dub reggae element to it.

HGMN: Your first album 'Fire One' came out in 2006 and in 2008 you guys released 'Contact' that you are now touring in support of.  What are some of the differences in the sound between the two albums?

KURT: The main difference with the albums I think was the first album, Fire One, Michael said, was created before the live project was put together so there was wasn't quite sure how we were going to do it and then as the project has progressed, and we figured out how to do things live and how to make things come from the studio tracks into the live setting. Then the writing I think has progressed but also Contact is more focused as far as more centered in the Arabic and Middle Eastern and Jamaican vibe. The dub-wise style versus the Fire One which was Michael really trying to feel out what he wanted to do musically and it's a little more jumps around throughout the album, Contact is more, definitely more focused in the sound I think. 

MICHAEL: I think there was a real conscious effort with Contact to be even more hook based. I mean that...I think that there are a lot of hooks on the first album too but just as far as every single song having a hook that someone can walk away from the show hearing the song only one time and really have something that they can remember from each new song. 

HGMN: In your live shows you utilize a vast library of samples that are featured on your new album. How do you guys develop these samples? 

MICHAEL: The samples that we're using live are, I would say, 95% recorded at home with either one of us performing it or somebody we know or somebody that we found who's agreed to record that particular melody that was given to them. And since the samples are coming directly off the album, you're going to hear what you hear on the record in a live show, sounding exactly the way that it sounds on the album versus we're not coming out and using fake string sounds on the keyboards, reproduce the string parts; it's the actual performance from the album of the violinist, for example, that you're hearing live. 

KURT: Contact had over 20 guest musicians, I think. So being able to go outside of what the three of us can do, outside instrumentally. We had to pull in people that we know that play instruments that we can't. To be able to record that group...such a broad group of people, and then be able to put that back into a song and then, even though it's us three playing it live, it's kind of like it's encompassing more than just us three playing it. Which is kind of a cool concept as far as the overall sound that we do and bring the different styles and instrumentation into it. 

HGMN: How do you activate these samples during the live shows?

MIKE B: Usually, like as well as playing the drum set, I have a sampler that we're going to use, percussion, loops, drums, hand drums, sometimes guitar, different things. And usually what will happen he'll (MICHAEL) create the loops and he'll send them to me, since he lives in Philly and Kurt and I live in Ashville, he'll send them as a file over the Internet and I basically load them into my sampler that way. And the technology that's available nowadays, it makes it really easy for us to be based in two different places. 

You brought up my next question. Since Telepath is based in 2 different locations when you aren't touring what are some of the challenges you face as a group?

MICHAEL: The biggest challenge we faced is definitely rehearsing. We end up meeting up just a couple of days before a tour starts and everyone has worked individually on the song and comes in ready to play it but we still have to work out a few kinks. And sometimes we sit down and first time a song gets played in a performance setting with the three of us, we'll find that arrangement doesn't work. You know, something...the sound's fine on the album and maybe it needs to go a lot longer and just to feel like a complete piece of music. The arrangement of music changes a little bit and then that's always kind of last-minute scribbling of notes and crossing things out and repositioning things, working it out that way. But I mean, it's been working so far and we're happy that we were all very focused on it and willing to make that commitment to come in ready to play the song from minute one. 

It's fun too because it's sort of a learning process and it's always a gradual thing, even in the live element. So when we have a new song, we make it together for two or three days and rehearse, then take it out on the road and it morphs itself into what then it becomes on the road and in the live setting. And we're playing a lot of songs now that aren't on our albums yet and we play them live and kind of do the things to make changes and make them work and see how we can do it live and then, use the scaled-down version of the live version will go on an album. But it's kind of cool to see the response from, you know, songs that people haven't heard unless they've seen us live, which is important when you keep doing that. So it's not just us playing an album at a show. 

HGMN: Do you guys write a lot of new material on the road, or come up with any improvised tunes?  

MICHAEL: As of right now, there isn't a whole lot of writing that happens on the road, just because of the way that Telepath music is created. It's...I mean I might have ideas for melodies that I'll get on the road and either kind of sing them in a little portable tape player or write them down or make myself some kind of note. But it's pretty much impossible for us to write something on the road and then play it at a show on that same tour because we need to get the guest musicians to play their parts and work all that out at home before it can happen live. 

KURT: Well, and we're not a jam band. So we can't just sit backstage and somebody come up with a riff and a chord progression and then say, hey, let's go out and play this and then we play it that night. Like he said, we have to have musicians if we can't do it ourselves, record, then factor all that back into putting the song together and how we're going to do it live and then doing that. So, it's is way different than just going out and coming up with a chord progression and playing that as a new song. So, but that's why it's fun. 

In 2008 and 2009 you guys have been playing with a lot of other great musicians. Is there anything big in the works or any other special partnerships in the works?

As of 2009, we've been really, really fortunate to have been befriended by bands as Sound Tribe and the Disco Biscuits and to be put on things like Regeneration and shows with Sound Tribe and Caribbean holidays and all these things that we've done. It's just been amazing experience; it's not only for all of us personally but also put us in front of a lot of people that may not have known about us without doing that. And so, we're definitely thankful for that and I'm sure there will be more shows in 2009 with the Disco Biscuits and Sound Tribe and...

MICHAEL: We're doing a few dates with the New Deal in March. 

KURT: Yup. And the new album Contact is...we're still... finalizing the deal, working on how we want to best go about doing it with 1320 Records, which is Sound Tribe's record label. So that's going to be released here sometime in 2009, early 2009--which is going to be great to be able to have that and have them backing us in the album. It should be really, really good. 

MICHAEL: Yeah, we also just released Contact in Japan on Buffalo Records in the middle of January and it's actually been selling really well over there. We're working on getting over there for a few shows possibly in May. But I suppose you can imagine working out a tour, with a place that far away takes some time so it's in the works. But yeah, we're working on Japan and some Europe stuff too; we'll see what comes out of that. 

HGMN: That is pretty amazing that fans across the globe can tap into the Telepath sound. What is your guys take on how the internet is changing the way the music business works?

MICHAEL: Yeah, I think the Internet has been really huge for us. I mean, we're selling a lot of albums around the world right now that never would have happened 10 years ago without the availability of the digital music medium. Yeah, it's just, it's really great to be able to track those sales too and to say, oh, this month, 40 people in Japan bought the album. That's pretty cool. And yeah, things like MySpace and Facebook, and they have really helped us. I mean, they're opening up doors for so many artists on this level that don't have the financial backing of a major label to spread the word around the world. It's been really, really great for us and I think it's been great for a lot of other people as well. 

KURT: Yeah, it's been fun too because there is no like tried and true formula. There is no one way that works and one way that doesn't. And it's situation specific and you can do one thing in one market that might work and the same thing doesn't work in another one. So it's kind of a struggle but at the same time, it's interesting and fun to try and figure out how, what works where and what works and what doesn't. But, yeah, with all the new Facebook and all that kind of stuff, it's...I mean, the Internet is blowing away even print media to...I mean and some people aren't reading magazines and the papers as much, they just go to the Internet. So I definitely I think more of the marketing has to be streamlined and focused more towards the Internet. 

It looks like 2009 is shaping up to be a big year of 'change' on many fronts. If you had to put a tagline to 2009 even this yearly in the year what would that be?

KURT: I'd have to say probably for 2009, I guess if I had to do a tagline, it would probably be for everybody involved - success or nothing less. Going forward always, that's kind of my philosophy and that applies for everybody involved, not just the band but everybody

MICHAEL: Yeah, I'd like to say that or I'd like to hope anyway that 2009 is the year that some positively comes back from a lot of people. 

MIKE B: I second that. 

HGMN: You three have been together now for 3 years and have experienced great growth and success. Some bands that have toured for decades never have reached as many ears as Telepath.  What do you have to say to the fans that have driven this national success?

KURT: We really appreciate that, you know.  Also, I mean we're just that as a band, I think I can say that I speak for everybody when I say that we're extremely blessed to be able to be doing what we love and our passion and our heart for a living. We're not getting rich but we're able to feed families and able to focus on making a change to music and doing what we love to do. And I mean that's an amazing thing to have and there wouldn't be that if it weren't for the fan base that has given us undying support and really supported us when we were trying to do new things. And it means a lot to us as a band that people have been able to do that for us and supported us and allowed us to do what we love to do for a living and have put us where we are now. And we're going to continue to give back. It's like a give and take, we can't do it without them and hopefully, they can't do it without us. So thank you. 

MICHAEL: I'm extremely grateful for the way that this music has been accepted by so many people because it is. I do feel like we're doing something very different. I really haven't seen another artist that has a similar sound to us and that creates a live show the way that we do that and the general public isn't always accepting of brand new things the way that the communities that are supporting us have been. So it's pretty great to see. Also I would like to say thank you!

How has the Home Grown Music Network been part of this growth?

MICHAEL: Well, Home Grown was one of the first national sort of large organization to really support Telepath. I mean they came along, even before Fire One came out, I was kind of talking with different people in that broad family about what Telepath was going to be and just kind of establishing connections that would be there after the album came out. Yeah, it's been great. They've been nothing but supportive and helpful for us and I think it's really done a lot to expose a lot of new people to where it is with...that Telepath does.

KURT: And it has been really good to us. They've set up their website in a way that does market to people and they do a really good job pushing bands at our level and bands that are not as big as we are and bands that are bigger than we are. And it's important to have that "Home Grown" like approach because I mean it means a lot to bands like us who started and they were the first supporters and still continue to support us. And I know that it means a lot to bands that are bigger than us that still know that there are people out there doing that and I think that that's important, especially in an industry that how it is now. They'd get...something that needs to keep happening and not get lost in the whole shuffle of the business. 

MIKE B: Thank you, Home Grown. 

With that the band strolled off to the indoor stage of Stubb's and played their unique brand of music for a dance floor filled of eager fans.  Look for my video recap of this Interview that showcases the bands time in Austin.