Telethon's "The Grand Spontanean": The "Indie Meatloaf" of Rock Operas
>> “Indie Meatloaf” is likely the quickest way to describe Milwaukee, WI’s five-piece emo sci-fi apocalyptic rock opera chemists that go by the name Telethon. (Shoutout to our buddy Derek for that one) The band’s most recent release entitled “The Grand Spontanean: A Tale Told In Five Acts’” is a juicy mix of throwback 2000s emo, mighty 80s guitar leads and the choose your own adventure book series. Needless to say, we wanted to figure out what the hell was going on.
Check out our chat with Kevin Tully about epic rock operas, attempted dog rescue missions, and an alternate ending to “The Last Jedi."
Do you have any pre-show mantras, chants, or activities you all do as a group?
Well, if we're all in the van driving to a show, we've been playing this game where we pick a random number, which is assigned to one of us, and whoever gets their number picked gets to choose ONE album that we have to listen to from start-to-finish. And then we keep going until everyone's had a turn or the drive is over. No skipping; no complaining. Although one time I [Kevin] chose a Phish studio album because I knew it would make the others flip out. We didn't end up listening to it. Our lead guitarist Jack once chose the 'Hamilton' soundtrack which was also slightly controversial because it's three hours long.
Did you strike out to write a rock opera, or did you just realize one day that your album was totally a rock opera?
At first, we were just writing songs with no narrative in mind. But one day we got inspired and decided it would be cool, and fun, and hard to make a grandiose concept album and from there we were off to the races.
Did you study other rock operas?
Most definitely. I think The Who's "Tommy," Titus Andronicus's "The Monitor," and "Jesus Christ Superstar" were our biggest true rock opera influences. Other big albums for us were Bruce Springsteen's 'The River', Jeff Rosenstock's "WORRY.", and Meat Loaf's "Bat Out Of Hell", all of which are super monolithic & theatrical.
Did you pull inspiration for this album from life events, either of those around you or yourself?
Yes, especially at first. Our protagonist is basically an amplified version of me and all my worst traits. I wanted to explore the themes of death & existence & religion & the afterlife, yadda-yadda... but from a first-person perspective. That, coupled with the grim landscape we've all been traversing through for the past several years, turned into this larger scale apocalypse storyline that you hear in the album now.
Did you sit down with the producer and say, “I want these people on my album.” and he just made it happen?
Nope! Our producer [Jack Shirley] did help us get in contact with one of the guests, but mostly we just made a laundry list of people we wanted to sing/speak various parts on the record and reached out to them via email -- and an astounding percentage of them agreed to do it! I think the only people who said 'no' were the author Jon Ronson and Mike Patton (from Faith No More, Dead Cross, Mr. Bungle, etc.) and even they did us the kindness of emailing us back to decline (or their agents did, anyway). It's a testament to A) how fucking kind people are, and B) how much you can accomplish simply by taking the initiative to ask.
What’s it like getting to work with established artists you’ve looked up to?
Completely, utterly surreal. Getting .wav files in our email of people like Laura Stevenson, Chris Farren, and Roger Lima singing these songs/lyrics we wrote was indescribably cool.
Check out Telethon Live from the RockRoom!
What do you want listers to take out of The Grand Spontanean?
Whatever they want. I will say that every single line in every single track was chosen with care. My dream is that people just listen and think about it, the way they would about a novel or a poem or a film. We were surprised to see that a nice person posted the whole album to Genius.com recently, and so it would be so cool if one day, a year or two from now, some of those songs are annotated by people who heard the album and thought some stuff about it.
Did you have to bring yourself out of your comfort zone for this album, because it has so many different sounds and changes to it? What was the craziest experiment you did while making this record?
That variety of sounds is really just the way our music comes out of us. We are products of a generation that had virtually every album ever available at their fingertips, and I think it shows.
The most experimental track on here was track #8 'The Page At The End of the Internet'. It starts off with a Beatles-y section containing some true blue backwards guitar, which was accomplished by flipping the analog tape we were recording on upside down and [lead guitarist] Jack just playing licks and solos over the melody. There's also a mellotron tone on there which was created using a random iPad app played by [keyboardist] Nate. And then ultimately it breaks into a very disturbing section which features a MIDI file that Nate and I composed at his apartment one day, with a spoken word piece that Nate penned during a phase we can only describe as his 'getting super into chaos magic' phase. One day, not too long before we recorded, I was like 'Nate! We need a terrifying, grisly, violent apocalyptic prophecy for this track. Think you can write it?' and he was like 'Give me a second' and I had that frightening piece of literature in my inbox literally ten minutes later. We have no idea where it came from within him... but we blame the chaos magic.
Who else is making dope rock-opera-type records? Are they dead, are you bringing them back, or was this just the necessary form to get your tunes out?
Don't know of too many. It's not the most practical thing to do in this day & age. Jeff Rosenstock & Titus Andronicus both have made some amazing modern day rock operas, both of which we used as essential boilerplates for our own album. Not sure I'd advise anybody to write their own, although it feels completely great to say you did it once it's all finished.
I would say to anybody thinking about it: If you're going to make one, commit to it (we told interviewers we were going to make one, so we practically had to do it after that) and accept/embrace the fact that it's going to drive you temporarily insane at certain points during its creation.
What’s the craziest event to happen to you while being a musician? Weirdest fan interaction? Worst tour story?
Plenty of strange things happen to each of us on a daily basis. It's the spice of life. We love it.
The most memorable strange thing in recent memory was that we were just arriving in this little town in Kentucky called Corbin, where we were playing a show at a very awesome independent record store. As we were driving through town, we saw this big boofy dog cross the busy main drag of road and almost get hit by oncoming traffic. I went into full adrenaline-fueled, dad-like rescue mode and screeched to a halt into a nearby gas station parking lot to try to get the dog to stop wandering around. I completely love every dog i've ever met and seeing one on this busy highway made me turn into a frantic, insane anxiety ball. I was like "Hi buddy! Come over here!" and was whistling and stuff. And it just looked at me like I was crazy. I didn't know what to do so I ran into the gas station and just awkwardly yelled to the cashiers/customers "Hey! There's a loose dog out here! It almost got hit!" and the entire clientele of this place just looked at me, kinda like the dog did, and the cashier kid said "Is it a great big dog?" and I said "Yes" to which he replied "Oh. Just tell him to go home. He will." So I went back outside to do it, and the dog had disappeared. It felt like the worst kind of horror movie omen in this small town we'd never been to (it really freaked Nate out especially). The show was amazingly cool & fun though, and in my head the dog still safely roams the earth to this day.
Explain the perfect apocalypse in your opinion.
It would be practically instantaneous and we would have no idea it was coming.
What was the story behind the choose your ending last 4 songs?
We did that because we had no idea how the actual story would play out, and we weren't in a place to say 'it'll be fine' or 'it won't be fine' so we let the listeners decide. We also just thought it was a cool idea we'd never seen done in an album before, despite being done in a few books & shows & movies we've seen, namely the brilliant 1985 film 'Clue' which was probably the most direct inspiration for us.
How would you have chosen the ending of the new Star Wars?
[Our bassist] Alex hasn't seen it yet. [Drummer] Erik, [Guitarist] Jack, and I have all seen it and loved everything and wouldn't change anything. Without a doubt, the biggest Star Wars fan in the band is [keyboardist] Nate. I just texted him how he would have ended The Last Jedi and here's exactly what he said: "Luke would have *actually* flown to Crait in his swampy X-Wing, shot the battering ram, jumped out of the moving X-Wing, battled Kylo Ren with lightsabers and died like Obi Wan. Snoke would still be alive and Kylo Ren would reveal his sick posse of the Knights of Ren as seen in the flashbacks. Credits roll." <<
Sit back and take a listen to the whole record linked below!