Frontman Fox Fagan of ethereal electro-indie trio Teleskopes sits down with us at Urban Social House in East Los Angeles to discuss the anniversary of their debut release Stereocilia, the importance of having chemistry with your band mates, and exploring your emotions.
Teleskopes is comprised of:
Fox Fagan – lead vocals and bass
Pelle Hillstrom – guitar
Jesper Kristensen – drums
So to start us off, you guys had recently celebrated the one year anniversary of your album Stereocilia. For those who have yet to discover its awesomeness, would you care to give us a little insight as to what inspired the tracks on the album?
Fox Fagan: Sure! Well, some of the songs are pretty old, like, we had actually started writing it in 2012, and they were inspired by different things. Because it took so long for us to get around to releasing the album some of the songs were a little dated, but during the recording of it, I remember some of the bands that inspired the sound were Doves and The Verve. I think different things at different times inspired the writings for the songs. “Rich Kid Blues” was written when I was working on a house for a guy who was kind of, well, a rich kid, *laughs* but after chatting with him I realized that there was a lot of sadness there. But yeah, they were all kind of written at different times, but there were definitely lots of different inspirations.
Yeah, which is always good especially for a debut so people can get a good idea of who you are.
Fox: Yeah. Well, by the time we went it to record Stereocilia we had 14 songs ready. Those 14 songs spanned from 2012 to when we started recording that album in 2014. And then one by one the songs just started to drop off, but other songs would come to light. At the end of it, I think we had like tracks out of the 14 that survived. “Rich Kid Blues” would be the oldest. The song “Lasers” was written in like 2013 when I was newly single, just one of those boy-girl songs about a relationship. And then you have “Criminal” and “Crystal Clear” that were written like right before we went into the studio. We were just like, ‘Alright, let’s get some new stuff!’ Those songs were very new, and we left the lyrics for those songs alone until two months later when we were just about done with the music. So things that started around that time started to creep in.
Such as life. *both laugh*
Fox: Oh yeah, before you even know it too it just creeps in.
Yeah. And you started to touch base on this a little bit already about how you had your list of songs and you kept taking some out and putting new ones in. What ultimately decided the final tracklist?
Fox: The ones that didn’t suck. *both laugh*
The simple answer.
Fox: Exactly. *laughs* You know, we had the ones that we enjoyed the most were the ones where we were like, ‘Yeah! We’ve got to this!’ but it’s a very difficult process for us. We’re not a band that writes songs in ten minutes, we’ll come up with solid ideas and solid musical ideas in ten minutes, but it does take a long time to kind of craft it through a draft and go back and back again. So it’s at least five or six songs in a sitting, and who knows if they’ll ever see the light of day, but they will get finished one way or another. They didn’t get to the point where they weren’t inspiring to work on, but the ones that came up were the ones that we thought would work best for us and this album. It’s just the way that it is, and it’s really frustrating because you think ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be it!’ You make all these plans and say you’re going to do something, and then it just doesn’t work out the way you wanted it. But you’ve got to just work through it, and at the end of the day, we were quite proud of how it turned out and that’s why we released it when we did.
And who knows if that those other songs will end up on another work in the future.
Fox: Oh it’s definitely possible. I was thinking that even before in 2012 when recorded the first four songs that we had ever written and worked on them with a producer in his basement. We kind of used them to get gigs, but at some point, we were ready to move forward with putting out new music. I’m even thinking about putting those songs out now.
I’m sure everyone will love them as much as they love the album.
Fox: Maybe now they’ll give it a shot. I think we’ve made a bit of a statement that this is what we want to do.
And how was the recording process for this album different than that of your past work? You had mentioned that these demos and helped with booking gigs.
Fox: So with this one, we brought in my friend Bobby, who is now a really good friend of the band. He was sitting on the couch watching a documentary called Sound City, which was famous for recording Nirvana and Dave Grohl actually acquired the mixing board from that room and put it in his studio. Quite literally we were like, ‘We should record there,’ but then we trickled down the ‘Well, I have a friend who says he knows someone who knows someone.’ I reached out to him a few months later and we booked that room for five days. We just laid down basic tracks for fourteen songs.
That is so cool! Such a historical place!
Fox: Yeah! So that was in 2014, and then we took the tracks and just started to kind of go through them and molding them all together. At that point I was pretty sure that the album would be out in six months or sometime in 2015, but we just kept continuing to develop the songs and adding more layers and that’s where we really discovered ourselves. There was just no rules, so we decided to add more background layers and reverb and to keep layering things. And then we pulled some money together and went and got it mixed and were very happy with the results. It’s a very long process, long and hard with many many tears. *laughs*
I bet! Happy tears and probably sad tears too. *laughs*
Fox: Band breaks up a few times and then gets back together. *both laugh* But in the end, it was a big learning curve for us where we did a lot of it ourselves and had a little bit of help here and there. We didn’t really have a strict deadline though, which I think is why it took so long. I’m not sure we would do it that way again. *laughs* I mean, nobody nowadays really cares about real drums and stuff like that.
Fox: Yeah, it’s a damn shame. But I say this is because now we’re using drum machines and stuff like that now, but I know eventually we’re going to scrap all of that and go in and add a lot of things to it. I actually went back to listen to some of the really old demos, and they all started off with electronic drums, but then we then we started to play them live and learned that we really wanted to capture the three of us actually playing when it comes to our future recordings, which takes a lot of time.
Yeah, but it’s also appreciated from the listener’s side. Which song was your favorite to write and record? I know it was such a long process so there might be two different songs that fit the bill.
Fox: *laughs* Oy, it’s so hard to pick them!
They’re all your favorites. *laughs*
Fox: Yeah. *laughs* Actually, sometimes I hate them all, but then I will fall in love with one of them all over again. And then I’ll fall out of love with that one again and fall in love with another one again. *laughs* Right now I’m back in love with “Rich Kid Blues,” but my favorite to record and write has to be “Criminal” because we never demo-ed it. We kind of wrote it right before we went in, tracked it, and it never had any reincarnations, which was kind of cool. We knew going into the studio that we needed a couple of new songs, and we wrote it, played it a couple times, then recorded it. It was kind of nice. *laughs* It was the first time we actually recorded it and was recorded well.
The very rare instances. *laughs*
Fox: Yeah, they’re very rare. Some songs are lucky like that. Like, you’ll be writing for an album, and the last song you come up with will be the one that’s really exciting. Some more of those would be nice. *laughs*
I’m sure it’ll happen again.
Fox: That’s why I like to force us into those things, because I know if we’re forced into the studio and playing we will come up with something.
It’s a product of the environment.
Fox: It really is! Like, the last thing that we did creatively was when we went to the desert and spent five days in a house. We’ll see where that goes, but that was very very fun and we want to do it again, but the next time I want to record for five days in the desert. We were up until 6am just playing music and then would wake up at 12pm to start playing music again.
Maybe wait for that temperature to go down before recording there for a week. *both laugh* And if you had an infinite amount of money right now this very moment in time, which track from the album would you want to do a music video for? Apart from the ones that you’ve already released of course.
Fox: If I had an infinite amount of money I would make one big video for all of them, like piece them into a movie or a 30-minute film. We made the video for “Crystal Clear” in our own living room out of pure frustration but was really lucky that a couple of my housemates edited it so well. I really like that one. I would love to make a video for “Rich Kid Blues,” we actually already have a concept for it. It’ll be about this crazy cult leader either, but I don’t want to go into it too much because we might actually do it in the future. *laughs*
I mean, there are lots of those weird cults around, like Scientology. *both laugh* Just grab one of them off the street to be in the video and no one will realize they’re gone. *both laugh*
Fox: Before they grab you!
Yes, it’s like ‘eat or be eaten.’ *laughs*
Fox: Oh yes. *laughs* But yeah, “Rich Kid Blues” would be the one that I want to do the most out of all of them.
Now you guys had played together for a while before recording Stereocilia. How did you come to the agreement that it was the ‘right time’ to release the record?
Fox: I think just because we were just done. *laughs* A lot of the stuff comes out of me is from getting a bit frustrated and then forcing something to happen, but at the time we were just ready and we had that time with studio 606 booked. We were just like, ‘Alright, let’s go in and record.’
Whether you were ready or not. *laughs*
Fox: *laughs* Yeah, it was like that and then it took a couple years, but when we decided we were done with the songs it was really tough because we were never really ‘done.’ But a part of us was like, ‘It’s time. We’ve taken it as far as we could and it’s time to set it free.
It needed to leave the nest.
Fox: Yes, let it fly off and be little soldiers and see what they can do. But when you do that, they kind of float off and everybody is able to get attached to them.
The wonderful that music is that it keeps coming back.
Fox: Yeah, it lives forever.
It really does! It’s immortalized emotions.
Fox: Forever immortalized, until Spotify decides to take it down. *both laugh* Gosh I mean, there are always times where I wish I could go back and change the lyrics here and there, but I think it’s better that it’s an old idea now.
That’s the perfectionism talking. *laughs*
Fox: Yeah. *laughs* Sometimes you just have to force yourself to let go.
I’ve got that problem. *laughs*
Fox: Yeah yeah. *laughs* It’s like, ‘Wait, can I do it one more time?’
Do you feel like nailing down the right combination of band members is difficult in a city where everybody’s a musician?
Fox: I do, it’s really hard, and that’s why we’ve been stuck together since 2012. Since we’ve started playing with each other we’ve just kept at it. Even if one of the guys can’t do a show, we just won’t do the show because having a lot of revolving members in your band, to me, doesn’t quite work. It’s like, if you’ve got something special you should try to keep that. It doesn’t happen as often as we would like it to. We were lucky to settle with each other, *laughs* we accept each other for all our faults, we could easily go on tour together.
Yeah. And being in a band practically being in a marriage, you’ve got all this work you have to do and you just have to do it.
Fox: And when someone being at a dork or being a dick then you just call them out on it. *laughs* If they’re having a bit of a moment, let them have their moment.
And then make fun of them for it after.
Fox: Oh absolutely! *both laugh*
Never let them live it down!
Fox: Oh yeah, we’re the worst. *laughs* We’ve become great friends. We speak every day over text. *laughs* But to other bands coming up trying to get the right combination of people, it’s tough because that’s essentially what makes your sound. You need to be comfortable with putting people in their place and allowing people to gel.
Yeah I mean, for me as a live music goer I like to see the camaraderie between the band members. Sometimes it’s obvious when there’s not that same feeling between one other member.
Fox: Yeah, and even when I’ve been a part of a band that’s not ‘my band’ you just don’t have that kind of synergy where you know what the other person is going to do. It can be like 95 percent, but when your band knows what they’re doing or they know each other, even if there’s a mistake you can just roll with it and see where it goes. And that’s what could be really fun at a live show, to see something surprising rather than something that’s kind of played out.
Do you feel like there is some sort of unpublicized competition between all of the musicians and band in the L.A. music scene?
Fox: Probably. I think with the younger guys yeah for sure. Those tend to be the ones that have a little chip on their shoulders, but not between the bands that we know, we’re actually all very supportive of each other. You don’t really see any big feuds in the L.A. music scene, I think people get here and realize, ‘Oh shit! Everybody is really good!’
‘I actually have to work at this!’
Fox: Yeah. *laughs* Everybody’s got something, everybody brings something different. That’s why I love this town because it’s just very very creative. We’re a bit behind where we wake up like later and take things a bit slower, but in the end, I think the creative process is better for us this way.
You can’t rush greatness.
Fox: No you can’t. *laughs* That’s what we tell ourselves anyway.
So you guys do a great job at promoting not only the venues that you’ll be playing at but also giving some love to the other musicians that are on the bill, which I think is awesome that you show that support. How important do you think it is to support these local artists, venues, and events are for a local band?
Fox: Very. It’s the reason why there’s a such a huge music community. You just have to. Everybody has to come together and make these things happen. There’s so many great promoters and stuff like out there right now that are really supporting the artists and really getting behind them and going to their shows. Wild Riot, for example, they put on shows at their own expense most of the time. We worked with Digitalspindle and they helped spread the word about the show throughout their social media, the other bands do it as well. That’s what makes and helps carries a scene, so definitely support your local bands and artists. If you’re playing with other artists, post about them, share their music. We try our best to do that as much as we can.
Fox: Yeah. And honestly, everybody is just so good and we’re really proud to be a part of that scene. I just wish we could go out on a world together or something.
A 100,000 person tour. *both laugh*
Fox: Yes! Just traveling by planes and buses and boats. *laughs* That’s what we need, just one band to make it really big so they can just pull everybody up with them. So someone, hurry up and get big!
That’s their job now. *laughs* What are a few of your favorite local venues that you’ve performed at? I know you guys had a residency at Harvard & Stone literally across the street from us.
Fox: Yeah! We love that place. It’s such a classic rock n roll bar. The Moroccan Lounge is a cool place, it had such a great sound system and great lighting so it’s easy to put on a good show over there. And there’s this place called The Study. Have you heard of The Study?
Yes. It used to be called Hemmingway’s. And they used to sell absinthe. *laughs*
Fox: Oh yeah, you remember that? *laughs*
Does that show my age? *laughs*
Fox: No no! Just impressed that you’ve had absinthe. *laughs*
Yup! The Death In The Afternoons were my shit! Champagne and absinthe with some fresh berries. So delicious!
Fox: That sounds like a good night! *laughs* But yeah, our friend Calvin books the nights at The Study, and the reason why I like it there is, again, because it’s got a great aesthetic. The sound isn’t particularly up to par with anything like The Moroccan Lounge, but it’s very rock and roll, very punk rock. Add a couple of lights and some smoke and you’ve got their bookcases and stuff like that and it’s a cool place to play. It’s all very fun. We started playing shows at The Viper Room years ago and we just fell in love with it. There’s a lot of great venues out here!
Yeah! So with the rise of music streaming and social media, you kind of touched base on how Spotify could potentially just take over…
Fox: You know, I think Spotify has been good in a way. I mean, I use it I used it right away because I never really bought a lot of music. Yeah, I bought vinyl and I did buy CDs, but I do really like the Spotify model. It would be nice if they paid the artists more, they’ve got to work that out.
They really do.
Fox: Yeah, the major labels are making money but the artists are not unless they’re getting millions of streams. So I really hope that they can work that out. They seem to be opening up a way that lets artists submit to their playlists through their artist platform, which is good, but they should still pay more.
Everyone deserves to be paid!
Fox: Absolutely! I think about how much money we spent making that Stereocilia album and it just makes you not want to spend money going to a studio when you can just do it on your laptop. What are you getting back from it?
Yeah. And do you think that streaming services along with social media have made it easier or harder for artists to break out into the market?
Fox: Oh definitely! I think ‘breaking out’ is always tough. I don’t know what that is, but I think it makes it easier for you to present what you want to the world, like, you can go through someone’s social media and get what they’re trying to put across. You can upload music fairly easily where you don’t need any labels to do it anymore and you can market yourself easily enough. But everybody has access to those promotion tools so it’s so much easier but harder to break out at the same time. You still need a little bit of a budget to push it, or just pure luck, even just the right timing, you know? It’s struck a nerve with people, but overall I think it’s good.
Definitely a little bit better in the long run, but people still need to be paid appropriately.
Fox: There’s a lot more to choose from too. And there’s so much good stuff out there. I like going on Hype Machine, that’s my favorite streaming app.
Gotta find something new somehow right?
Fox: Yeah! I’m always finding something new. Actually, I recently found this track by Larry Fisherman, who is Mac Miller. I feel a little bit silly because I was like, ‘Wow! This is great!’ but then he unfortunately passed away.
It’s very sad. And it’s crazy how just this year there’s been so many musicians that we’ve lost, or almost lost, due to overdoses.
Fox: Yeah it’s very sad. And there’s a lot of other people that have struggled with is as well. It’s just another example that artists and musicians are people too.
Yeah. No one is immune to it, but yet we struggle to actually do something about it.
Fox: Yeah. It’s quite unfortunate. It’s a huge problem, and if as you think about it it’s almost praised that musicians have a bit of a party lifestyle. I could understand why people drive themselves insane and want a way out.
Yeah. I can only imagine how it would be to handle all of that fame. Now getting back to some light-hearted questions since we just went in a dark direction.
Fox: I’m so sorry. *laughs*
No worries! It’s a conversation that needs to be had.
Fox: I was just like, ‘Why did I just discover Mac Miller?’ It’s crazy how that works.
I mean, it makes sense. I think we appreciate artists more when they pass. Gosh, when Chester Bennington from Linkin Park passed all of their albums when back on the number ones. I’m still dealing with that one.
Alright, enough tears!
Fox: We’ve gone down the rabbit hole. *laughs*
Right! *laughs* If you could choose three artists to go on your own personal world tour with who would they be and what would you name your tour?
Fox: We would absolutely have a festival, but I think the top three narrowed down would be Spiritualized, I love them with all my soul and they were one of the best shows that I had ever seen, they’re just amazing. They only said four words and I think it was ‘Thank you’ twice. *laughs* I’d like to get to a point where that’s what our show is where there’s so much going on that you’re entertained by some charismatic frontman.
Sometimes there’s a bit too much talking. *laughs*
Fox: Yeah. Every time I do talk at a show I always regret it afterward and ask myself ‘Why did I even say anything?’ *laughs* I think I can see Teleskopes going in an instrumental direction for at least one album. Let’s see, who else? Explosions In The Sky, another instrumental band. My Bloody Valentine is another one. I love Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Ride. It’s shaping up to be a good festival!
It can be a touring festival!
Fox: Yeah I know, it’s great! It can be called the ‘Telepalooza.’
Yes!. Someone’s got to replace Warped Tour! *both laugh*
Fox: Awww too soon!
And now we’re sad again! *both laugh*
Fox: Let’s just be sad, you know? There’s nothing wrong with being sad. There’s nothing wrong with being dark. You’ve got to expel that dark space.
We really do! Gosh, they started that Emo Nite thing and I thought I was out but they sucked me back in. I can never leave! *both laugh*
Fox: It’s ok, it’s a fragment of who you are and it’s ok to explore that! Explore the sadness!
Oh, I definitely explore the sadness, I cry at everything! I cry during holiday Hallmark commercials. *both laugh*
Fox: I think the last time I had a good cry was for Coco.
I think everyone cried for that. If you didn’t cry during Coco then you have no heart. *both laugh*
Fox: It was within the first 15 minutes for me though. It wasn’t even at the end! *laughs* It was like, ‘This little boy is like me!’
Yeah. I’m always the one that’s a blubbering pool of tears in my seat. *laughs*
Fox: Ah, I love it! I cry at little comedy shows too, just having a good cry-laugh. It just comes out. *laughs*
No judgment. *laughs* And what do you hope your audience will take away from your music?
Fox: I hope that they come away with us. I want it to be a special kind of moment while you’re listening, even if you’re cleaning the house and you our song on, just whatever you’re doing. I want them to just kind of lose themselves a little bit in the music. That’s what we try to do with our shows, to try to make it unreal where people can drift off and close their eyes and getting out of their own heads for 30 minutes. You know, there’s so deeper meanings and a bit of activism, but we try not to be very literal with anything that we say. We want whoever is listening to find their own meanings in the song.
Making people think!
Fox: Yeah, but we’re not too hard though. *laughs* It’s more like if something means something to you, then let it be that. And if it doesn’t mean anything then that’s good too. Just float away with it.
And to end us off, what big plans should we be expecting from guys you in the near future? Apart from those unreleased songs that you hinted at earlier? *laughs*
Fox: Oh those will probably never ever get released. *laughs* all of those songs are just old now and they’re there but we’re kind of done thinking about them. You’re focusing on absolutely brand new stuff. So like I said, we spent five days in the desert, took two microphones, and I recorded the guitar part for something new. Now we’re going through all that stuff. There’s only like two or three songs that really popped out, but they’re getting there and they seem to be writing themselves. I think we want to go to the desert again this year. I think probably a single next year. Single and a video next year. If we’re lucky early next year, but we’ll see. Whenever it’s right, it’s right. But I really hope that we keep the ball rolling because I don’t want it to take two or three years before we release anything else. And now it seems ok to just put out a single.
Well, either way, we will be looking forward to it. No matter how long it takes.
About Urban Social House:
Hidden in the ever evolving Little Armenia pocket of East Los Angeles lies Urban Social House, AKA: everything you could ever want in a go-to coffeeshop. Aesthetically, its main entrance area shows off the shop’s quirky personality with bright contrasting colors, brick accents, heavy vintage curtains, local artwork lining the walls, and a string lights/chandelier pairing give visitors a visually pleasing display that is equal parts enchanting and modern. An abundance of seating options are available to suit your needs without feeling packed like sardines, which includes a secluded upstairs area that gives off dark romantic vibes.
Now, what better way to find your go-to coffeeshop than by taking a look at their menu. Lattes (complete with latte art of course), chai-s, smoothies and more make up the drink selection, but it’s their food options that will make you want to spend your whole day there. Croissandwiches, avocado toast, and baked goods that are vegan and gluten-free make it easy to set up shop and relax until a performance gets set up onto the mini stage they have at the front of the shop. Plus, Harvard & Stone is literally right across the street so you can continue your day, or this case night, at a local bar listening to some local musicians play.