It’s an early Friday morning in London, and the members of The Temper Trap are in the midst of preparing for a European tour in support of their self-titled sophomore album. “I’m excited to start playing again,” says vocalist Dougy Mandagi about performing a new batch of highly anticipated songs, noting that at the same time “there’s a little bit of trepidation mixed in there as well.”
Mandagi obviously has a lot on his mind, whether it’s looking to the future to see how the album will be received, or looking back on what’s proven to be a wild ride from the streets of Melbourne, Australia to worldwide recognition that catapulted the members of the band (Mandagi, drummer Toby Dundas, bassist Jonathon Aherne, lead guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto, and keyboardist Joseph Greer) into rarefied musical air. According to Mandagi, Melbourne has a “pretty healthy music scene that is particularly conducive into cultivating creative kids. There’s just a lot of venues to play and a lot of kids playing.” The music business in general has seen a variety of Australian artists over the years, whether it’s the Bee Gees and AC/DC back in the day, up to Empire of the Sun and most recently Gotye. While the members of the band moved away four years ago in order to better tend to the business of being rock stars, they fondly look back at their roots and the struggles they faced trying to make a name for themselves.
“We’ve been together seven years, so our success was very gradual,” Mandagi says. “A lot of doors not only being shut, but slammed in our faces and we kind of had the audacity to keep on trying and persevering. Not a lot of people know that except those that have been there from the start.”
The Temper Trap first formed in 2005, and a year later caught the ear of well-known Australian entrepreneur Michael Gudinski, who has a knack for launching Australian talent (including pop idol Kylie Minogue) with his record label, Liberation. After their EP was released, work began on a full-length debut album (2009’s Conditions), though Mandagi notes that since then they’ve grown not only as musicians but as people as well.
“We’ve all matured just on a personal level I guess, learning to work with each other a lot better,” he says. “It’s only through trial and error do you find out what works and what doesn’t, whether it was when we’re interacting with one another or when we’re making music.”
It was during that initial process when “Sweet Disposition,” the band’s landmark track, was written and produced. It became popular, but not just in a run-of-the mill hit song kind of way; it was a smash, mostly thanks to placements in television and film, including most notably the 2009 romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer.
“We’ve had hundreds shows in support of the album, playing that song,” recalls Mandagi. “It’s cool, though; I don’t resent that song or hate it. It’s not my favorite song on that album, but I’m very grateful for what it’s done for the band.”
However, when work started on their second effort a mere month after the cycle for the first album concluded, there was no pressure to write another monster hit—at least not right away.
“You definitely don’t feel it in the beginning,” explains Mandagi. “It’s either later or towards the end [of the process] when you feel pressure, like when you start choosing singles. But in the initial stage of writing, it was very organic. We just kind of wrote instinctively instead of trying to calculate things.”
With recording taking place entirely in Hollywood (so the members could see “sunshine instead of snow”), producer Tony Hoffer, who is most known for his work with Beck (as well as M83’s and The Kooks’ most recent records), was brought in to mix things up.
“He definitely left his mark on the album as it’s all very synth based, and I’d say that that’s totally his doing,” says Mandagi. “We gelled so much that three weeks into the recording process we didn’t really see him as a producer anymore… he kind of became an extension of the band.”
Taking a cursory listen to the record, one can’t help but notice the electrified synths, an interesting choice for a band most known for a song with a bouncy guitar riff. The difference is clear, and the choice was calculated.
Says Mandagi: “Tony’s place is littered with all of these cool 1980s synthesizers. I’m not a really techie kind of guy, but I was really geeked out on it. All credit to him though, because it makes the album somewhat cohesive and it’s also the point of difference between this album and the last one.”
On top of the riffs and synths, however, are deeply personal lyrics. Mandagi was going through a breakup when writing and the whole affair turned out to be a sort of cathartic experience.
“It was a way to come up with the most honest lyrics,” says Mandagi now. “There are very personal tracks. I transport myself in my mind back to that place when I was writing. My hope is that it doesn’t come across that way when other people hear it; I want people to be able to relate to the sentiment behind it. I don’t want tracks to be so exclusive that listeners go, ‘Oh,well that’s not my story.’ But obviously for me, when I hear them I know exactly what I’m talking about.”
A plethora of songs were written and produced for the album, and Mandagi notes that it’s “no fun” parring down the final track listing: “All of our b-side songs that you get on the deluxe version have not, for me at least, ended up there because they’re just average or anything. It was more of thinking about what kind of album we wanted. Maybe there was too many slow songs and we had to take some out, even if we were really loving them.”
Now that the bulk work is over, all Mandagi and his bandmates can do is wait and see how its all received by the listening public. For now, he’s back to Friday morning rehearsal.
“There’s a lot of work put into this,” he says. “You just don’t know how people will react.”