FADER 53: Telepathe Feature

July 24, 2008

Whether you just watched them in FADER TV's "Avoiding Disease At The Yard" or not, you should want to know more about Brooklyn's Telepathe because they are great and are not afraid to do whatever they feel like. We respect that, and we wrote a story about them. Read it in its entirety after the jump.

Story Matthew Schnipper
Photography Dorothy Hong

The first time I saw Telepathe everyone was drinking tallboys of Bud. It was April and cooler than it should have been, so people were still wearing jackets and scarves, lightly drunk and softly padded. As electronic drums and a sampler banged away, Busy Gangnes and Melissa Livaudais were singing, bent at the knees and doing shifty little rain dances. Together they were bewitching, these tiny women casting choral spells in early spring. There, performing bare against the white wall of a Williamsburg art gallery, the digital intricacies of their music hidden, it was impossible not to be drawn to their voices—a deep double sheen, tantalizingly coy with fuck-you vibrato. But despite being so taken by their birdcalls, when you talk to Telepathe, you talk about the beat.

My fashion designer friend Molly once told me all of the properties of acrylic: less itchy than wool, moves moisture from the body, but also highly flammable. And then she said, “I’m sorry. This is boring, this is boring, this is boring.” But it wasn’t, it was fascinating. What do I know about the absorption properties of specific fabrics? Tell me everything. I try to explain this to Livaudais, seated on the couch in front of her laptop as she shows me how Telepathe makes music, when she interrupts herself every minute or two to say, “This is boring, this is boring, this is boring.” But it isn’t, because you can’t realize the big vision without barreling through the surrounding tedium. And for Telepathe (pronounced “telepathy”), that big vision, purposeful or not, is to erode the traditional idea of what constitutes a band.

In Livaudais’ Brooklyn apartment (which doubles as Telepathe’s rehearsal space) there is plenty of traditional musical equipment—drums, large speakers, old guitars—but Livaudis and Gangnes focus on the iBook on the coffee table. They have an M-Audio keyboard hooked up to it and are running the program Logic. That combination gives them, essentially, access to every synthesizer ever, and as a companion, various filters to bend and pitch each note. They have a myriad of different drum options (including, through a connection, a bank of samples from a well-known Southern crunk producer). All told, each Telepathe song has about a hundred different tracks of squawk and smack, tirelessly tested through trial and error. After the basics of a song are mapped out in Logic, they bounce those files into Ableton Live, where they double all the drums so they sound less computer-generated. Then they triple them by recording live ones atop the finished electronic files. It’s modern band practice—seated in front of a laptop with braids of tangled wires, each connecting a new possibility—because, really, does Brooklyn need another regular rock band?

Probably not, but Telepathe met through one, as recruited members of the yappy punk group Wikkid. (Livaudais and Gangnes were also part of First Nation and the short-lived Bloodlines, respectively.) Telepathe started as a side project for these groups. With its first lineup of rotating members, the band’s debut release, the Farewell Forest EP, is as dense as the current incarnation, but was made by a full band in the expected set-up. Their “Sinister Militia” 12-inch, recorded with the current lineup (including semi-permanent guitar hired gun Ryan Lucero) is the bridge to how they sound now: synthetic ambience without full-blown machine beat. But it wasn’t until recently that they realized they hate jamming, and gave it up for the hectic commotion of technology.

“Chromes On It,” a song that splashes with pitch-shifted Mannie Fresh beat syncopation, low tones and stuttered snare is their most immediately striking song, but only because it’s the least subtle. Livaudais says she was listening to an old Cash Money instrumentals CD the week before they made it, and combined with their frequent mentions of Hot 97, a habit of wearing Geto Boys sweatshirts, and a MySpace page full of Southern hip-hop influences, it’s possible to pigeonhole Telepathe as a rap experiment by the uninitiated. And, in some ways, that’s not totally incorrect. Their music has more in common with the do-it-yourselfness of self-taught beatmaker Soulja Boy than former tourmates !!!. But were they to rely solely on the hip-hop influence, they’d be a lot limper. Their “Crimes and Killings” may begin simply with sub-bass, but it keeps going with digitized electronic wind and the half-sung/half-spoken call Let’s go make out in the snow/ I’ll fuck you up you ought to know/ I’ll fuck it up you ought to know. The seven-minute song is a musical triptych with distinct movements threaded together with backwards hi-hat hitting and snare strokes. Gangnes and Livaudais’ voices are ever-present throughout, seamlessly dubbed together, and that unified call is at once plainly lush and undeniably creepy. There’s so much in so many genres happening at once that it feels like an experiment in pastiche and overload.

This woman-meets-machine mishmash is present throughout their forthcoming Dave Sitek-produced album Dance Mother. And though Livaudais says she has no attachment to “this idea of a sacred album,” they’ve still recorded a full-length and have to figure out what to do with it, a decision and process that has taken an unexpectedly long time. “I kind of just want it to be downloaded like crazy,” Livaudais says. “That’s how I listen to people’s music.” That uncomplex peer-to-peer model is how lots of people listen to music, but how very few people go about the business of making it.

But it’s more complex than that. “We’re making a specific lifestyle choice which I feel is political,” says Gangnes towards the end of one of our conversations. And though she follows that up by saying, “I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say as I said that,” it’s vital that they even think about the tangled implications of being two women in a band backed by drum machines. “People will be like, ‘Will you please sing on my beat,’ and it’s like, ‘Dude, we make our own beats,’” says Livaudais. It’s feminist in the same way that not voting for Hillary Clinton is feminist. “There’s no smoke and mirrors!” she says. “Anybody can do this.” And Telepathe certainly did. So while maybe it was just a matter of taste and convenience that Livaudais and Gangnes put down their instruments in favor of the LCD glare of a computer screen, it also made a big boom and it made a better band.

FADER 53: Telepathe Feature