By: Zack Sampsel
For Telepath - Curt Heiny (bass, synth bass), Michael Christie (keyboards, melodica, samples) and Mike B (drums, loops), it appears there's nowhere to go but west. In a little more than two years, this trio has firmly etched their place in the live electronic music scene along the East Coast, and with a new album and plans to head towards the Pacific for the first time; it's all about uncharted territory in 2009.
But, before embarking on another tour in support of their second album, Contact (JamBase review here), Curt Heiny took time to discuss their self-proclaimed "live electronic downtempo re-world breakbeat dub" sound and detail the band's plans for this year.
JamBase: How has 2009 been for you and the band so far?
Curt Heiny: It's been amazing. We just finished two sold out shows going into New Year's, and then went back out and did about a three-week tour that finished up on February 7. It was, by far, the most successful tour we've had so far. Just the response overall was amazing, and we have a new light rig. It was our first tour with that light rig. All in all, it's been really good, and we have a tour coming up in March. A few shows with The New Deal [dates here], and then in April we've got a tour broken into two parts with ten days on and ten days off. Our keyboardist lives in Philadelphia and has a baby, so for that tour we're gonna do [it this way] so he can be back home with the baby. We're working on festivals and the summer and the fall [tours]. I'm hoping that it just keeps going.
JamBase: First things first, let's discuss Contact. It's been almost six months since its release. How has the newer material translated over to the live setting and have you received positive feedback?
Chris Heiny: Yeah. We are really intentional about when we write music for an album. We intentionally write it in a vain that allows us to be able to play it live also. It's very important for us to be able to put an album out and then follow it up with the live performance. The live performance usually is better than the album, instead of vice versa. We have a pretty good system figured out about how to do material live. The new material has gotten really good responses on the tours since the album was released. We're now even playing more material that isn't on the album. It's gotten a good response. To play music live and not have it out yet, but still have people responding to it is usually a good sign that it will be a strong album.
After listening to your show from Charlotte on January 24, 2009, I heard quite a bit of feedback from the audience in between songs. Is that typical of any given Telepath show, and would you say that the fans of Telepath play an important role in the bigger picture?
We can't do it without the fans. That's first and foremost. We've been really blessed to have an amazing fan base that has been extremely supportive and allowed us to do what we want to do musically. We just can't do it without them. We try to keep it to a give-and-take sort of thing. We give something out, then we get it back, and then we give it back out again. The fans are number one as far as support goes to do this thing, and they allow us to do what we love for a living. It's amazing to do what you want for a living and bring positivity and happiness to the people. We've only been together for two and a half years. So, as we've gotten a bigger fan base going more people are showing up to shows, and that's happening more and more now. It's been a recent thing but it's really exciting to see.
How do you maintain that band/fan relationship? Do you answer emails, and are you receptive to things said at shows?
We still have all our own personal e-mail [addresses] on the site. Then people can e-mail any one of us individually and it comes to our personal Gmail accounts. We try to keep ticket prices reasonable and interact with fans before and after the show. We're just doing everything we can to show appreciation for our fan base that allows us to do what we do. As you're promoting anything it's a situation-specific thing. It depends on the venue and city, but it's important for us to keep a band and fan relationship.
After listening to Contact and some of your live shows, it's obvious that you use a ton of different effects and instruments to create a very worldly sound, but how do you determine when enough is enough? How do you find that balance?
I feel like the music kind of leads to a minimalist approach sometimes, which we feel can tend to come across as more than what it is. We have some little Telepath secrets that we do. They can almost be subliminal. It's not something that jumps out. It's just something that fills out a certain space. There are little things we do that make the sound what it is. We're not a jam band, so we're taking the approach of live electronica so that helps to cut down on too much.
What is the process for writing your music? Is there a formula to it?
There's no set formula. Michael, the keyboard player, does a lot of the writing. And with the Internet and the way that we write, we can pass stuff back and forth. We can practice down here and he can practice in Philly. Then, we can get together before the tour and any new material we need to get together as a band we can work on that.
Outside of the instruments on the album that we can play, we also have to find other instrumentalists. That can determine a lot of how a song comes together. On Contact, there were 20 guest musicians on that album. We would maybe write a song, but in order to make it authentic we had to contact the horn player for the horns, or whatever. So there is no set formula, but we really keep everything authentic. Actual musicians are playing the actual instruments, and if it means having 20 guest musicians then we have to go out and seek those people.
What musicians and producers influenced you guys when Telepath was nothing more than a concept?
Well, the concept started with Michael. He is actually the 'founder' of Telepath. He pulls a lot from Afrobeat, like Fela Kuti, Jamaican dub, Mad Professor and stuff like that. There's a whole world beat influence. He was in a Middle Eastern or Arabic band a couple years out of college, and that kind of opened up that world for him. Then we all got together, and we all have listened to different types of music, but we bring all these [elements] together to make the sound that is Telepath. It ranges from Jamaican dub, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Fela Kuti and so many other influences. We just draw from a lot of different genres to find the sound that makes Telepath.
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