Modern lover

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Michael Benjamin Lerner’s modern dream pop roots its lyrics in love-soaked ardour, but listen to it from start to end – which is how albums like his debut Telekinesis! are intended to be digested – and you’ll notice a distinct change of heart.

In the beginning, Lerner is yearning for his girlfriend. Separated by states, he pens love songs full of loneliness, desperation and longing. Early song ‘Rust’ spells trouble – “I’ve got a heart but it’s afraid to love/ sometimes I think the damn thing’s full of rust” – but by the end, closer ‘I Saw Lightning’ sees Lerner change his tune quite literally, and it’s filled with hope in love.

“Let’s just go ahead and say it: I’m a hopeless romantic,” he admits. “That’s okay though, right? But yes, I think it’s true! It all ends up optimistic in the end, like it’s all going to work out. It always does! I think because my girlfriend lives so far away, and because I travel so much, it’s easy for those thoughts to consume my brain when it comes time to write lyrics. Those thoughts are definitely taking up a lot of real estate these days.”

It’s never explicitly spelled out when his desire is directed towards his girl, however. The album is marked with foreign appreciation too –‘Tokyo’ is his ode to the fantasyland he has loved for a long time. “Japan is one of those places that looks so completely alien to me. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I’d love to see it someday,” he says.

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A lot of the songs are quite personal, but some are more whimsical, such as the bouncy ‘Awkward Kisser’. “No girl has ever actually said that to me, thankfully! But, I’m so incredibly self-conscious sometimes that those thoughts run through my mind. There are some songs that are totally personal, like ‘Coast of Carolina’. My girlfriend lives in North Carolina, which is on the East Coast. And it’s a bit of a love letter to her, I would say.”

Frequent themes of mortality and growing up occur in the 22-year-old’s lyrics, suggesting his infatuations stretch to childhood. His dream reconstructions vividly recreate favourite moments of growing up.

“It’s always really fun to think back on my childhood, because it was so lovely. I grew up in this fantastic circular neighbourhood, where lots of kids my age were, and we would ride bikes in the summer, and wait around for the popsicle truck, and set up tents outside in the backyard to spend the night outside. Those are all vividly wonderful memories, and it’s fun to revisit them in a song. I think lots of people can probably relate to that sentiment, hopefully, at least.”

Lerner met recording engineer and producer Chris Walla (also drummer for Death Cab For Cutie) through his boss, Death Cab guitarist Jason McGerr, who owns Two Sticks Audio where Lerner works as a house engineer. Walla asked Lerner to record with him.

With only two weeks to spare, the band unofficially adopted a process of recording and mixing a song a day, contributing to the immediacy of the songs.

Because of the time constraints and the analogue tapes they used, “there was really no time to mess around to make things perfect. We would commit, and not look back.

“Chris only had two weeks to devote to making the record, and we basically just started on the first song in the way that we dove into all the instruments, getting the song tracked, and then Chris ended up mixing it after they were tracked. It wasn’t something we had talked about ahead of time, but it just ended up being the natural way for things to go. In hindsight, I’m very happy that is how it worked out.

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“When you are recording to a tape machine, you can’t do a take, and then a couple hours later think it sucked and want to try it again, as opposed to a computer, where you can layer multiple takes upon multiple takes and call up whichever one you think is best. I think there are probably a ton of mistakes on this record, but I’m happy about those mistakes. I think it’s normal for there to be flaws in a record, I think that’s healthy and good.”

His background as a drummer drives the fast rhythms. “It all really started when I was at university in Liverpool, England in 2006,” he says. “I was studying audio engineering, and the studios that we could book out were only usually available at 2am through 8am. I could never convince a band to come in at that hour, so I would have to essentially be the band. I would play guitar and bass and drums, and write a song in the studio, just so I could test out all the equipment. When I got home in 2007, I started doing this a lot more, and that’s how the songs for the Telekinesis record ended up coming about.”

Joined on stage by Chris Staples (guitar), David Broecker (bass) and Jonie Broecker (Bass/Keyboards), Lerner begins a European tour later this month and will be joined by The Thermals in mid October.

Telekinesis- Myspace

Posted by Sarah Gooding under Seattle, U.S.A
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