Whether having a memorable song during a high point in the sleeper hit rom-com (500) Days of Summer will trigger the Garden State effect for Australia’s Temper Trap and current hit “Sweet Disposition” as it did for The Shins in 2004 remains to be seen. But for the four tireless guys who moved across the world earlier this year to better position themselves for stardom, finally seeing their warm, anthemic and critically lauded debut record, Conditions, get released worldwide is their raison d’être.

Like many a band before them on the up-and-up, The Temper Trap has had a very busy day of photo shoots, promo and performances before I meet with them in the Chelsea office of their publicity house on a late summer afternoon. Genial as always, lead singer Dougy Mandagi and guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto are cheerfully game to talk about the journey from there to here, and the joy of a good brew.

“I think if I was going to be crazy busy anywhere else in the world, I’d want to be busy in New York. We all love it here and we all want to move here. Shit’s all over [in] London,” Mandagi says. “I really like it here. The boys can stay in London, I’ll move here! London’s closer to Europe, that’s the benefit it has.”

It was in May 2009, that Mandagi, Sillitto, bassist Jonny Aherne and drummer Toby Dundas packed it all up and moved to the trendy Shoreditch neighborhood of East London, far from their homebase in Melbourne. A move that Sillitto says was predicated upon “a desire for all of us to have the opportunity to get out of Australia and play around the world and things like that,” while the Indonesian-born Mandagi happily adds, “I was just looking for an excuse to get out of Melbourne!”

The forward momentum for Temper Trap truly began prior to the move, thanks to two high-profile appearances at important industry showcases: London’s Musexpo in October 2008, and the big shindig in Austin, Texas, known as South by Southwest in March of this year. The critical response and fan word-of-mouth to the quartet’s four packed-to-the-gills performances at SXSW was a watershed moment for a band only five years into their career, and certainly a long way from Mandagi’s and Dundas’ time in retail, and the heady days spent plugging away in the small, but supportive, music scene in Melbourne.

Of their time at SXSW, Sillitto’s favorite moments came not from schmoozing, but rather enjoying the laidback charms of the famed Texas music town, its Southern Hospitality, and a random parking lot performance.

“It’s a pretty good vibe down there. We were all saying that it would be nice to go down there when SXSW isn’t on where you can just have a look around. I think my favorite moment was when we played our last gig in the car park of a hotel, and it was just this really cool affair, had these cool market stores, and families there with kids. It was really relaxing, in comparison to the hectic nights that we had been doing, and was just a really great way to finish off the week that it was. We were able to sit back and enjoy it.”

tempertrapconditionsThe band wrapped work on Conditions with producer Jim Abbiss in early 2009, and saw the record released in their native Australia in June where it immediately jumped into the Top 10 in the ARIA charts. Mandagi and Sillitto cite frustration at the delayed distribution of the record, especially during the busy, grueling summer festival season in Europe, where they have played to large audiences at Glastonbury and T in the Park.

“I like performing [the songs], but I think I’m quite detached to the album because it’s been around for a long time, and the only way I can fall in love with the songs every night is when we’re on stage and playing and there’s that chemistry with the audience… We definitely have a dynamic and a chemistry, regardless of whether we are loose some nights and tighter than others. But there’s chemistry, obviously. We’re not a shoegaze-y band that just stares down and doesn’t move.” Mandagi says.

Chemistry is one of many strengths the Temper Trap has going for them, but chief among them is Mandagi’s striking, soaring falsetto; an instrument that the native Indonesian credits to being raised in a musical family, although the singer originally considered pursuing a career in art.

“When I was 15 or 16, I kind of just gave in to my mom like forcing me to learn guitar. My old man was a guitarist. I learned that I’m not very good because I have a very short attention span, and I never stuck it out. I would strum a few chords and then just hop on the drums. I was singing in a church choir, and I guess because I sang, I got the job as a singer in my old bands. I don’t know that I was ever really aware that I’ve got a voice.”

That voice, whether the bashful singer wants to explore its mighty power or not, frames the infectiously epic atmosphere that colors the rich patina of Conditions. From the album’s opener, “Love Lost” and its evocation of sunrise, to the punchy “Fader,” the Arcade Fire-esque centerpiece “Down River,” to the lush, delicate “Solider On,” the Temper Trap has created a vital, energetic debut of inspirational melodies that will soon place them in same breath as other successful indie crossover acts such as Modest Mouse and Snow Patrol.


Mandagi and Sillitto point to several personal favorites on the album as examples of the band’s formula. “Fader” as they point out, was their attempt to write a pop song. “It’s kind of unashamedly like that, and we all kind of look back on it and cringe a little,” Sillitto remembers, as he points to Beyonce’s hit “Single Ladies” as his idea of a perfect pop song, while Mandagi prefers The Cars’ classic 1984 hit, “Drive.” “Down River,” written by bassist Aherne, is another tune that comes up, as is “Resurrection,” which Mandagi has a particular sweet spot for.

“I really liked where it went, into unexpected places; I like the idea of that. The theme as well is kind of dark and I like that as well. We’re trying to do a bit of a TV on the Radio thing on it, who is obviously a band that we look up to.”

Lyrically, Mandagi finds himself exploring darker regions, and this is acutely on display during “Soldier On,” a gorgeous ballad that focuses on “the moments that keep us moving,” advising the listener to “keep your heart close to the ground.”

“[That’s] a song about, more than anything, the fragility of man, humans, and how we’re here one day and gone the next. It’s a dark song about death. [laughs] I dunno, that kind of stuff does really intrigue me. Obviously, the question of, ‘Why are we here?’ is something I draw a lot of inspiration from.”

It’s not all seriousness of course for the four Aussies, as they pay their dues on the way to the big time. The previous Sunday night found the band at New York nightlife landmark Webster Hall, leading the wild festivities with aplomb.

“You can tell we’re a band with a lot of built up tension, you know? When we do have that one odd night out because we’ll just go, have two drinks and we’ll just be the loosest guys on the floor. Just going, ‘Woooo!’ at every girl,” Mandagi says, as he and Sillitto admit that one of their favorite ways to wind down between tour stops is to “taste the local brew (they enjoy a nice, cold Duvel), and let our hair down a bit.”

“We went to this place on Sunday and it was a bit stuffy and all of the sudden BAM! We walk up and BAM. We didn’t even need to do anything,” Sillitto recalls of the night. “We were just watching these amazing dancers, and [then] we started this ring around them, and the whole night was just spent in this ring around these two people dancing. It was amazing.”

“Conditions” is released via Glassnote Records on October 13th in North America.


–Carrie Alison, Photos by Perou

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