The largely blue-collar London borough of Hackney resembled a warzone after a battle. It was 2011, and mounting protests against a coalition government – facing large deficits, and cutting many social services – had turned violent.
Australian pop band The Temper Trap has a rehearsal studio in Hackney, a short distance from singer Dougy Mandagi’s flat.
“One of the flashpoints was literally 20 meters from where Dougy’s house is,” drummer Toby Dundas recalled in a recent phone chat from Manchester, England, after the band finished a sound check from a show scheduled for that evening.
“That day we were at the rehearsal studio,” Dundas said. “We are walking home that night and there are shots. The streets are empty except for police cars and helicopters. Suddenly there’s a smell of smoke in the air, and fires.”
For the Temper Trap, which performs Saturday at the Warfield, those riots left a mark, leading to a song, “London’s Burning.” Amid thumping synths, chants, swirling guitars and soundbytes from news reports and British Prime Minister David Cameron, the band creates musical confusion.
“Dougy came away with something to say about that,” Dundas said of the band’s first politically charged song. “It’s an incredibly complex issue. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on both sides. With government cuts to a lot of programs that keep people occupied, people are at a loose end. There needs to be a lot more dialogue.”
The Temper Trap – including bassist Jonathon Aherne, guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto, and its newest official member, longtime live keyboardist-guitarist Joseph Greer – released its sophomore, self-titled album (on Columbia Records/Glassnote) last week in the United States. The first album, 2009’s Conditions, is best known for soaring songs “Fader” and “Sweet Disposition,” the latter of which was handpicked for the film 500 Days of Summer.
Mandagi’s frequent use of falsetto and Sillitto’s guitar delay pedal also garnered comparisons to U2 – and something of a controversy between the two bands in the U.K. press about musical merits. While it’s not clear whether the Irish band really accused the Aussies of “borrowing heavily” on Conditions, it is clear that The Temper Trap’s second album moves into some new territory.
“The amount of synths and programming; we have pushed those elements more this time to broaden our musical palate,” Dundas said. “This time around there is not as much (falsetto). We didn’t want to make the exact same album.”
The majority of the new album was written in London. Two of the songs were written during a brief sojourn to Spain meant to escape a winter freeze and routines of ordinary life.
The primary musical influences in the writing and recording process were Radiohead, Yeasayer and Zola Jesus, Dundas said. Besides the unrest in England, another major subject matter contributor was Mandagi’s break-up from a long-term relationship.
The album was recorded at the Los Angeles studio of producer Tony Hoffer. As the writing and recording neared one year, the pressure of meeting new expectations became more apparent.
“We tried to get back to that (head) space where we were writing the first album; to avoid those pressures,” Dundas said. “The longer the process goes on, and the more people who get involved, the more you become aware of their expectations. We’re excited to get it out there, so people could actually listen to it, rather than wonder where we are.”