We caught The Temper Trap’s road manager last week a bit off-guard for our phone interview with the lads; the world was ending behind him, with screeches and crashes and feedback over the poor bloke’s cell. We could barely hear him, so we tried back.
Bassist Jonny Aherne sounded a little out of breath when we got him on the next try — winded, and suitably awed by tradition walking through San Francisco’s storied Fillmore Auditorium, the ghosts of Jerry and Jimi and Janis milling around backstage, probably brushing a little ceiling-plaster dust off their spectral shoulders.
“I’m just sort of appreciating how significant it is, seeing all the pictures. I think the other boys all knew, but I’m usually the naive one … but yeah man, there’s a lot of history here,” Aherne says.
The Fillmore marks just one of a series of landmark gigs the upstart band will have to nail, now that their first proper U.S. headliner tour kicks into gear. The west-to-east run, which delivers them to the Fox Theatre on March 20, will represent cashing the check that 2009 wrote for these guys — big industry buzz at SXSW in Austin last year, followed by the placement of their trademark single “Sweet Disposition” on the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack that hit screens last summer, cheered on by pancontinent plaudits for their debut album Conditions and “band-to-watch” prognostications by bigtime rags.
Produced by Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Massive Attack), who was impressed by the band’s 2006 EP, the CD belies the band’s relative youth with crafted elegance in sleek, coolly propulsive anthem-flames like “Sweet Disposition,” “Resurrection” and “The Science Of Fear,” alongside tribal-beat jangle-guitar workouts like “Love Lost” and “Down River,” all fronted by Dougie Mandagi’s falsetto lead vocals, kind of splitting the difference between Jeff Buckley and Roland Gift (two artists we’re pretty sure Mandagi didn’t spend a lot of time listening to … he’s credited Prince as a primary influence). And maybe a little Holly Johnson thrown in.
And yeah, for some, the songwriting may flirt precariously with post-emo over-earnestness, but this isn’t a band that plays coy with its reach or ambitions. You don’t pack up and move to the other side of the globe, as Temper Trap recently did to the U.K., to record your first proper CD, if you’re not chasing a little conquest and glory.
“We moved to England a month ago, sort of a geographical move that made sense,” Aherne says.
“We’d just been signed to a label called Infectious, we were actually the first band signed to them, and it had a bit of backing, so they put us all up in a big house together. London, man. Yeah … it’s different. Very gray.”
We wondered if, once in the hands of a skilled and experienced producer, the band felt like they lost a little control of their gig.
Aherne didn’t think so. “Jim really didn’t touch any of our arrangements,” he says. “Musically, y’know, people have sort of let us do our thing so far.
“But, I mean, we were nowhere near where we are now. Even when we put that song on 500 Days of Summer, we didn’t even have a record deal in England or the U.S. I’m not sure what it’s going to be like for album two; I’m sure there’s going to be all sorts of tremendous pressures, and people are going to try to have some sort of control. And I guess that rebellious nature in us all may come out, but for now, I think we all have enough arguments amongst ourselves as to what the music should sound like, so I don’t know if anyone else will get a chance to have any input.”
As for the single, most artists will tell you having a hit is better than not having one, but it usually comes with the price of having to play it, every single night, for new crowds who don’t know anything else from your set list. Almost two years down the road, is it starting to tatter? “I think maybe some of the other guys are a little tired of it, but I’m not. I still love to play it,” Aherne says.
“But I don’t want to give the wrong impression.
We’re all incredibly blessed to be where are right now. I mean, for me, the last job I had was getting fired from a donut shop back home in Australia, so I feel incredibly fortunate.”
On the Bill
The Temper Trap plays the Fox Theatre on Saturday, March 20. Doors at 8:30. A Mouthful of Thunder opens. Tickets are $15 to $20. 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.