Turntable Interview: Telekinesis

When you think of a one-man band, you tend to picture a man with a harmonica, wearing a drum like a baby, and walking around with cymbals attached to his knees. As far as I know, Michael Lerner does none of those things while making his dreamy experimental pop. Working under the nom de plume Telekinesis, Lerner has made a series of excellent records filled with his spirited and fluid power-pop that manages to reference classic pop and rock without sounding derivative. His third album, Dormarion, is due out on Merge Records on 4/2. He hopped on to talk about his new record, which album we all need to go out and buy this second, and why we should all listen to more Howard Jones.

TELEKINESIS: I am SO psyched about this!!! This is like my favorite thing ever.
STEREOGUM: Awesome. Let’s start.

Melissa Locker started playing “No Cars Go” by The Arcade Fire

TELEKINESIS: Merge Records love!!! I love this record.
STEREOGUM: It’s hard not to love this record
TELEKINESIS: I also listened to the Suburbs again a few days ago.
STEREOGUM: Is it ever intimidating to be on Merge with such illustrious counterparts?
TELEKINESIS: Yes, and no! I mean, when you listen to all the records on the label, I always have this feeling in the back of my head like I’m in some elaborate game show prank, and someone is going to say ‘ha, you’re music is no where near this good, how did you ever think that?” I think I am just proud to be a part of the family. It truly feels like that.
STEREOGUM: How did you hook up with them? Because I bet there are a lot of people who will read this interview and wonder how they can get to be on Merge.
TELEKINESIS: I think when I recorded my first record, my producer (Chris Walla) sent the record to them, as well as my lawyer who work(s)(ed) with the Arcade Fire. I said I wanted to be on Merge in a perfect world. And we had set some deadline of Friday at noon, and Mac and Laura called my cell phone at like 11:45. No joke. It was definitely a phone call that changed the course of my life for the bestest. Also, WEIRD to get a phone call from Mac and Laura.
STEREOGUM: I bet! How old were you when you got signed?
TELEKINESIS: I was 22, I believe! I think Jenn from Wye Oak and I were the youngest people at the label there for a while
STEREOGUM: Who is now?
TELEKINESIS: I kinda think maybe Mikal Cronin? I may be totally wrong. But I think he is really young? (Sorry if I’m wrong Mikal)
STEREOGUM: I saw that you are touring with Rebecca Cole from The Minders this time out
Am I not the luckiest ever?! Come on!
STEREOGUM: Did Merge suggest it or did you ask her?
TELEKINESIS: (epic ending!) I asked her!

TELEKINESIS started playing “The Ledge” by Fleetwood Mac

TELEKINESIS: We met on the Portlandia tour! She played keys, I played drums!
STEREOGUM: That must have been a lot of fun.
TELEKINESIS: It was so so so fun. It’s hard to relate how much fun it truly was.
STEREOGUM: So is Merge really a big family? I imagine you all together at like an incredibly talented potluck picnic
TELEKINESIS: Kinda sorta yeah!! Visiting their office in North Carolina is my favorite thing ever. I just really love hanging out with all of them. Ultimately, we are all just big big fans of music.

Melissa Locker started playing “Within Your Reach” by the Replacements

TELEKINESIS: Ooh! I don’t know much Replacements! Which record is this from?
STEREOGUM: Hootenanny. I will send you a mix tape and I’m not even kidding. They are my favorite.
TELEKINESIS: PLEASE PLEASE. I only have pleased to meet me
STEREOGUM: DONE. Pleased To Meet Me is absolutely one of their best. But THIS song is amazing
TELEKINESIS: I love it! Drum Machine?! Right?! And PHASER Or FLANGER. Like, a fucking shit ton of it!!! It sounds wonky!!! I love it.
STEREOGUM: It is wonky!
TELEKINESIS: It’s like it’s going to fall apart at any moment. And now there are beautiful pretty strings!! I love it.
STEREOGUM: Who did you grow up listening to?
TELEKINESIS: I was in a Beatles household. My dad is the biggest Beatles fan ever. But, thru that, he got me into the Kinks, Donovan, Kraftwerk, Stevie Wonder. The classics!
STEREOGUM: Cool dad!
TELEKINESIS: It was amazing!
STEREOGUM: Does he listen to KEXP now?
TELEKINESIS: He was on the radio himself, as DJ in Seattle for thirty years! He does! He knows everyone over there, practically! He’s kind of a radio legend, at least in my eyes.
STEREOGUM: What kind of music did he play? Was it a music station or talk radio?
TELEKINESIS: He was on a rock radio station in the 70’s, and then triple AAA for the last 12 years. All music!

TELEKINESIS started playing “Souvenir” by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark

STEREOGUM: What was the first concert he ever took you to?
TELEKINESIS: You are going to laugh! It was the New Radicals! Remember that band?!
TELEKINESIS: It was awesome. I remember getting queasy from the bass. I had to move back.
STEREOGUM: Did you know OMD is coming back?
STEREOGUM: New album, tour, everything. I’m very excited.
TELEKINESIS: Whoa, crazy! I never listened to their last one, but everyone loved it. I love love love this song. And the VIDEO! Have you seen the video?!
STEREOGUM: Yeah, it’s almost painful.
TELEKINESIS: OH MAN. It so is. When he’s leaning on the marble thing. And then the other guy is driving a car thru the country. HA!
STEREOGUM: I like how OMD can combine almost cheesy electronica with poignant lyrics
TELEKINESIS: That’s some fucking dark shit.
STEREOGUM: If you leave?
TELEKINESIS: YES. Dazzle Ships is my favorite record.
STEREOGUM: Yes, so good. Do you listen to much 80s music?
TELEKINESIS: Big time!!!

Melissa Locker started playing “Sad Dream” by Sky Ferreira

TELEKINESIS: Jim Eno and I listened to a bunch of 80’s while making this record. It was super fun. Jim likes having dance parties in the control room. Howard Jones!!! A LOT
STEREOGUM: Oh man! I always forget about him.
TELEKINESIS: HO JO is next on my queue
STEREOGUM: He and Aimee Mann kind of had the same hair in the 80s
TELEKINESIS: YES! His record Pig Lib, it’s unreal good, and also unreal cheesy. Pretty much sums up the 80’s. Tried real real real hard. But, everything just sounded kinda cheesy. It wasn’t their fault even.
STEREOGUM: Aw that’s kind of sad.
STEREOGUM: Like Richard Marx in the 90s.
TELEKINESIS: It was just the time! Yeah! Not a ‘cool’ time period. I actually love 90’s rock!
STEREOGUM: Don’t get me wrong, there is AMAZING rock from the 90s
TELEKINESIS: 12 Desperate Straight Lines, my second record, has a lot of 90’s rock vibes. Unfortunately, possibly!
STEREOGUM: Ha! I think Japandroids is really 90s influenced
TELEKINESIS: OH yeah, big big big time. Joy Formidable?! BIG TIME.
STEREOGUM: Totally. And I love it. But don’t forget Limp Bizkit
TELEKINESIS: I lovedddddd Limp Bizkit.
TELEKINESIS: I just bought that record with Nookie on iTunes the other day
TELEKINESIS: The production is unreal.

TELEKINESIS started playing “What Is Love?” by Howard Jones

TELEKINESIS: DUDE. 80’ssssss Listen to that synth! And the crazy pan pipe synth! I LOVE IT. Jim and I FREAKED about this song. The production is crazy crazy crazy good. AND THAT HAND CLAP! HOLY SHIT
STEREOGUM: So when we hear the new album we should listen for the HO JO influence?
TELEKINESIS: Big time! Ghosts and Creatures. That probably has some HO JO. But yeah, HO JO. This whole record, Humans Lib. It’s awesome. Can you just picture Jim and I dancing our asses off in a studio in the middle of summer in Austin Texas?!
TELEKINESIS: I KNOW. Haha. We so did.
STEREOGUM: I mean it’s such an illustrious studio. So many amazing albums were made there.
TELEKINESIS: It’s the best. That studio is ridiculous.

Melissa Locker started playing “More Than This” by Roxy Music

TELEKINESIS: OHHHHHH SHIT. I can never not think of Bill Murray singing this!!!! NEVER EVER NOT. I love that!
STEREOGUM: Hahaha. What was the recording process like?
TELEKINESIS: It was just unbelievably fun.
STEREOGUM: Was it analog? Or have you moved past that?
TELEKINESIS: Jim and I had never worked together, so we were both a little freaked out in the beginning…But we made such a great team. He is such a wonderful engineer / producer. Analog! Well, except on one song. We did in Pro Tools.
STEREOGUM: Why not that one song?
TELEKINESIS: But all mixes get printed to tape as well. We did some drum programming in Pro Tools. So, we just ended up staying there. For that song. It was an ergonomic choice. More than anything.
STEREOGUM: OSHA would be proud
STEREOGUM: Where did you write the album?
TELEKINESIS: I wrote half of it at home in Seattle, and the other half at our family cabin in the San Juan Islands. Me in a tiny house on an island with a wood stove.It was awesome. So amazing. Nowhere like that.
STEREOGUM: Do you think the surroundings affected your songwriting?

TELEKINESIS started playing “Don’t Change” by INXS

TELEKINESIS: Most certainly! I would take lots of trips to the water, and it was really stormy and cozy. It’s impossible for that not to seep into the music in some way.
STEREOGUM: You’re going to laugh when you hear what’s next on my queue
TELEKINESIS: I’m psyched!!!! Do you know this INXS record?
STEREOGUM: Not very well
TELEKINESIS: It’s really really great. Shabooh Shoobah! That’s the record. You’ll love it.
STEREOGUM: I’m sure! Was there a story behind your record?
TELEKINESIS: Hmm, not so much a story, but it reflects my life big time I think. I’m a real heart on my sleeve guy
STEREOGUM: So what’s on your sleeve these days?
TELEKINESIS: During the making of this, I got engaged, and I think that there is more happiness on this one then the previous one. Due to that.
STEREOGUM: Congratulations!

Melissa Locker started playing “Lay Your Hands On Me” by Thompson Twins

STEREOGUM: Right? So 80s.
STEREOGUM: I wouldn’t even know how to make piano noises like that
TELEKINESIS: It’s all Linn Drum. Do you know what that is?
TELEKINESIS: It’s basically the Prince drum machine. Created by this mad scientist type character named Roger Linn.You hear the Linn Drum on Madonna records, etc etc. It was kind of the ‘craze’ of the eighties. That and cocaine… Lots and lots of both. You had to be high to make this!!! It’s so bonkers.
STEREOGUM: Hahaha! You’re the one who played Fleetwood Mac
TELEKINESIS: That’s the ultimate cocaine song.
STEREOGUM: Seriously
STEREOGUM: So do they still make Linn Drums? Or are they like the Quintrons that you have to special order?
TELEKINESIS: Not any more, but you can buy them on eBay for lots of money. What’s a Quintron?
STEREOGUM: A Quintron buddy is a weird musical instrument that works off of light. I’ll try to find you a link. Oh here.

TELEKINESIS started playing “A Walk Across The Rooftops” by the Blue Nile

TELEKINESIS: Oh yeah! Those are fun! So, this is the quintessential Linn drum record. Mac from Merge got me into this. They were on Roger Linns record label.
TELEKINESIS: If you don’t have this record, buy it immediately. It’s a staggering piece of art. I can’t listen to this enough times during the day. So much space
STEREOGUM: Noted! It’s interesting how musical styles change so much over the years
TELEKINESIS: It really is. Seriously, get this record! And thank Mac next time you see him.

Melissa Locker started playing “Need You Tonight” by INXS

TELEKINESIS: SEE. INXS went from don’t change to this. In a short amount of time.
STEREOGUM: I know! It’s kind of amazing. I love when bands are like fuck it, we’re going to make whatever music we want
TELEKINESIS: Usually when bands are like ‘fuck it’ it’s the best. This song is unreal.
TELEKINESIS: It’s weird to listen to big hits like this intently. There was so much going on. (I’m on my studio monitors) (And it sounds huge)
STEREOGUM: Yeah there are like 7 guys in the band
TELEKINESIS: Yeah! I was really turned off by INXS when they did that recent reality show to find their next singer. I kinda put them in a corner for a while. Now, I’ll let it slide I think.
STEREOGUM: Yeah. It is weird to listen to this album and think that Michael Hutchence would go home and auto-erotic strangulate himself
TELEKINESIS: Yeah, but also not SO weird?

TELEKINESIS started playing “Corduroy” by Pearl Jam

STEREOGUM: Ah yes, the Seattle sound
TELEKINESIS: Man, I’ve been listening to Vitalogy a bunch lately.
STEREOGUM: I grew up in Portland and somehow completely missed Pearl Jam
TELEKINESIS: There will never ever ever ever be another Pearl Jam. Whoa, really?! This record is so good.
STEREOGUM: Yeah. I mean, I heard of them, but never listened
TELEKINESIS: There will never ever ever ever be another Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder is a true front man. And his voice is solid, always. I don’t get that. I don’t know how he does it.
STEREOGUM: I watched Cameron Crowe’s doc about them and was shocked at his onstage antics. I had no idea he was so insane!
TELEKINESIS: How great was that doc. RIGHT?! So good.
STEREOGUM: So good. Do you think this album could get made now? Do you think a label would be willing to put it out?
TELEKINESIS: It couldn’t be what it is. No way at all. This was the time when you had a HUGE budget to make a record. And a huge push. They still put out great records, but to a very loyal, but albeit smaller audience. It’s just such an impossible thing to answer.
STEREOGUM: Right. The industry is changing so much it’s weird to think what we’re missing
TELEKINESIS: It really truly is! And it’s perplexing what becomes HUGE
STEREOGUM: Seriously!
TELEKINESIS: Bon Iver, I love it, but whoa! And Fun. Whoa. And The Head And The Heart. Lumineers.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, Bon Iver seems an incredibly unlikely candidate to be huge.

Melissa Locker started playing “Romance” by Wild Flag

TELEKINESIS: Yeah, it’s perplexing as to why, or how. Oh man, I love this song.
STEREOGUM: Are you excited to go on tour and play your new songs?
TELEKINESIS: Yeah! It’s not lost on me that we travel all over the country, and even world, and people show up. That’s weird.

TELEKINESIS started playing “Notorious Lightning” by Destroyer

TELEKINESIS: I had to pick this song. Because it says ‘DESTROYER FEATURING DESTROYER’ and that is VERY DESTROYER
STEREOGUM: Hahaha. Does your new album signal a new direction for you musically?
TELEKINESIS: I don’t know!
STEREOGUM: I guess we’ll have to wait and see
TELEKINESIS: Yes wait and see.
STEREOGUM: Wait and see and listen to Howard Jones

Dormarion is due out 4/2 via Merge. Pre-order here.

Tags: Telekinesis