Michael Benjamin Lerner of Telekinesis
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Telekinesis’ self-titled, 2009 debut album chronicled the giddy rush of a new relationship and the exhilarating wanderlust of being young, in love, and on tour in a set of polished, hooky pop. Then, of course, it all fell apart—and thank god it did. Telekinesis’ new follow-up, 12 Desperate Straight Lines, is a breakup album; but it’s a deliriously catchy, buoyant, and joy-inducing thrill ride of a breakup album that incorporates influences as wide-ranging as the fuzzed-out bass of Flin Flon and the hypnotically liquid guitar tones of Disintegration-era Cure—not to mention Tom Petty, ELO, and OMD—without ever ceding its unique identity.
In advance of his show tonight at Johnny Brenda’s, The A.V. Club caught up with Michael Benjamin Lerner, the man behind Telekinesis, to ask him—via instant messaging, to save his flu-ravaged voice—about his favorite breakup albums, being a singing drummer, and the genius of Phil Collins.
The A.V. Club: What’s your favorite breakup album?
Michael Benjamin Lerner: I guess [Fleetwood Mac’s] Rumours. That’s an insane one. They were all writing breakup songs about each other. Pretty spiteful, but super intriguing!
AVC: Is there a favorite moment or song that helps push it into your top breakup album category?
MBL: I don’t know if you could pinpoint a moment on that record. But when you listen to it, and you think that it’s songs about all the people in the band, and interpersonal relationships. It’s just kind of amazing. “The Chain” is a good one.
AVC: Are you a Fleetwood Mac fan?
MBL: Yes. Absolutely. Have you got into Tusk? It’s my favorite record of theirs. It’s incredible. Tusk will rule your whole world for a while. It’s so much more coked up and paranoid sounding.
AVC: Do you consider Fleetwood Mac to be a direct influence on your band or songwriting?
MBL: I think by a purely genius level. Telekinesis will never sound like Fleetwood Mac, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that hasn’t been affected by that band. They are an incredible songwriting team. So, for sure, it’s seeped into my songwriting!
AVC: Is there a breakup record that’s more directly influenced your songwriting?
MBL: I don’t think so. I mean, I never really got into any records purely thinking of them as a breakup record. I mean, honestly, for me, listening to a breakup record whilst dealing with one seems counterproductive! I think I get really into comfort music: ’60s stuff, ’50s stuff like Frankie Avalon. I love it—such simple songs, but so well written. That, and old French pop. I love that, because I don’t speak French. It’s all just pop music! But I love it because it just makes me focus on the melodies.
AVC: Given that this was a “breakup record,” was writing and releasing it cathartic?
MBL: Yes, and no. I’m now in an amazing relationship, with an amazing woman, and I have a killer band [bassist Jason Narducy and guitarist Cody Votolato] I get to tour with. And [I’m] very much happier than when I wrote it. So, it would suck if every time I sang a song, it made me sad again. It doesn’t. I hope it reverberates with someone. It’s something we all go through. Hopefully it can be sunny and dark at the same time.
AVC: The first Telekinesis record was about the same relationship, wasn’t it? Making the pair sort of bookends to a part of your life?
MBL: Yes, that’s very true!
AVC: Does that make performing the first disc’s songs difficult or awkward?
MBL: No, not at all! I am not afraid of the past. And it means something different now. Songs are snapshots of things—it’s likened to looking at pictures. It will never feel like it felt in real life. When you look at it, it always feels different. It’s sort of the same with songs. When we play it, it’s a song. It’s a snapshot in time. I've moved so far past that time now.
AVC: You’re primarily a drummer, right?
MBL: Yes. I started playing drums 11 or so years ago. And I picked up all the other instruments a few years back, for fun.
AVC: The drummer/singer thing is a rarity. How do people react to that?
MBL: It is! Some people are scared of it, I think. But I really love doing it. It’s a super good workout, that’s for sure! It’s just so loud, up front—lots of cymbals— especially when it’s a smaller room.
AVC: You must really have to belt it out. Does that affect your singing style?
MBL: Yes. I have to really focus on singing more. That’s a good thing though, for me, because singing is new for me. I don’t really consider myself a “singer.” I am getting more comfortable singing every day, which is great. It was a really hard thing to do for a while—just the act of singing in front of people.
AVC: As a singing drummer who writes exquisite pop songs, how do you feel about Phil Collins, the original singing pop drummer?
MBL: So much love for him! He’s untouchable—in a completely different class, a true legend. He is a pretty incredible songwriter, but he’s a fucking incredible drummer, like, crazy good.
AVC: It seems like a lot of people don’t appreciate that.
MBL: No shit! It’s a bummer. He’s an amazing talent in my book—something to aspire to.