Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2009
It’s the Monday after a weekend of performances at Summer Sonic, and the members of Melbourne’s The Temper Trap are understandably enthused.
“We felt like we made a connection with the audience, and that’s the biggest crowd we’ve played to by a long way,” starts guitarist Lorenzo over coffee at a Shibuya cafe (the band go by their first names). “I walked off stage and Jonny was collapsed on the side, so yeah, we felt like it was a good show.”
“We’ve played other festivals like Glastonbury this year, but they don’t have the same vibe,” chips in drummer Toby. “The media experience was also crazy—kind of like being on a Japanese game show. In every corner there was a camera setup, and we did this crazy interview with ‘The Japanese Paris Hilton,’ and she wanted us to play darts. It was a surreal experience. But that’s good, because we like to do crazy things.”
By any standards, The Temper Trap’s set went down well with the several thousand assembled at Makuhari. But playing before an amped-up festival crowd is one thing, selling albums another. Which is why the boys will be back next month for a showcase tour aimed at convincing audiences of the merits of their debut, Conditions.
Fired by Indonesian-born singer Dougy’s emotionally saturated vocals—which often reach into the falsetto stratosphere—the album employs a fairly conventional guitar-bass-drums rock vocabulary, topped up with the merest dash of electro. The effect is often, on songs like “Sweet Disposition” and “Science of Fear,” one that puts listeners on the edge of their seat.
But wait, says Lorenzo, we’re not really as serious as all that. “If you were to hang out with us for a day, you would be like, ‘These guys are disgusting,’ because we’re pretty fun-loving and we like to have a good time. Love a beer; love a fart joke.”
Still, Dougy’s experiences living first in Indonesia, then Hawaii and finally Melbourne, where he started out as a street portrait painter, and bassist Jonny’s upbringing as the child of missionaries, have clearly shaped the band. “You’re right, we certainly don’t hide the heart behind the songs,” Toby says in reply to a suggestion that their music has the pressure-cooker quality of, for instance, Jeff Buckley. “It’s reflected in the titles and the lyrics and in the music. Even where there are no lyrics, we try to convey an energy and a feeling.”p
The Temper Trap has a BIG, stadium-friendly sound that belies the fact that just a few months ago the band was playing in small Australian clubs. “It took us a year before we could even get a gig outside Melbourne,” explains Lorenzo. “But once that happened, we were in the car every second weekend to Sydney. It’s an eight-hour drive, and sometimes we would drive to the gig, play, and get right back in the car.
“When we look back at it, we realize that that’s when the desire began to set in—that we were willing to go to such lengths. A couple of members fell by the wayside along the way. There were many heated conversations in the car, many awkward positions. We definitely cut our teeth on those first trips.”
While part of a fertile Melbourne band scene, The Temper Trap was not necessarily of it. “It’s a great city because there are a lot of opportunities to play,” says Toby. “But over the time we’ve been playing, the popular thing has been electro. I guess we’ve always felt a bit isolated, kind of doing our own thing, and sometimes found it hard to get gigs. We just plugged away and promoted our own gigs and slowly developed our own style. The Melbourne scene certainly nurtured us, but musically I don’t think you could say we are a Melbourne band.”
Now based in London, where they’ve moved to be closer to the action of a schedule packed with European dates, The Temper Trap’s members are inhabiting a house—Big Brother style—together with their partners. They have yet to return to Australia, but when they do, will they be greeted as returning conquerors?
“There’s this thing in Australia called Tall Poppy Syndrome: it’s an Australian trait in which there’s a backlash against anyone who is successful,” says Lorenzo. “So we’ll see. The messages we’ve been getting on MySpace have been asking us to come and play, so hopefully there will still be people who want to see us.”
Adds Toby: “I’m not holding my breath that there will be anyone waiting at the airport though.”
Who knew progressive, multiculti Australia had its own version of Japan’s “If the nail sticks out, hammer it down” syndrome?