Saturday 25 November 2017

Temper temper

Compared to U2 (and, shh, Coldplay) thanks to their anthemic rock, Australia's The Temper Trap are on the brink of global success, starting tonight at the Meteors. Photo: Getty Images
Compared to U2 (and, shh, Coldplay) thanks to their anthemic rock, Australia's The Temper Trap are on the brink of global success, starting tonight at the Meteors. Photo: Getty Images
Ed Power

Ed Power

The Temper Trap's Dougie Mandagi looked like he'd been in a scrap with a Rottweiler and come off second best. It was early December and the hype- propelled Australian band had rolled into Dingle for a spot on Other Voices.

There was only one problem: with his just-beaten-to-a-pulp complexion, Mandagi was better suited to a cameo in a Tarantino movie than a hushed performance in a converted church.

"We were playing with Florence and the Machine in Dublin, and Dougie copped one of our bass-player's tuning pegs square in the face," says The Temper Trap songwriter and guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto, unsure whether to be horrified or amused two months after the event. "He came off stage covered in blood, so we put him in a cab to hospital. He had to have his nose glued back together. Dougie likes to jump around a lot. There have been a few close calls down the years. It finally happened in Ireland."

Still, it's going to take more than a few broken face bones to derail The Temper Trap, who return to the scene of Mandagi's unfortunate stage dive when they play tonight's Meteor Awards. Traffickers in windswept rock that aren't afraid to wax anthemic, the Melbourne natives have been hailed as heirs to U2's stadium overlord crown.

Then again, they've also been acclaimed as Australia's answer to Coldplay, which must be a bit like being anointed the new Matthew McConaughey when you've grown up worshipping Robert De Niro.

"We're all fans of U2," says Sillitto. "We listened to Joshua Tree, Acthung Baby and a few other things when we were in Australia. I do admire the way their songs have been put together." Surely the constant U2 comparisons get on their nerves? Who wants to go down in history as hapless wannabes? "The Edge is such an amazing guitarist," says Sillitto. "I don't think I'm anywhere near as good as he is. You could say the comparisons are laziness, but it's a compliment, too."

Even as a U2 admirer, does he cringe when he sees Bono hobnobbing with the great and good of global politics? "I don't really care," says Sillitto, minding how he goes. "I have my own opinions. Luckily, I'm not spraying them around the world. Otherwise, people would probably think I'm an idiot as well. You know, I listen to the music. I don't tend to get involved in whatever Bono is saying."

He is rather less thrilled at being likened to Chris Martin's moochy mob. "You know, Coldplay are a cross between U2 and Radiohead. I'm not a huge Coldplay fan. The reason people compare us to U2 and Coldplay is that our songs have an anthemic feel about them, they keep building and building. Those two bands do those things really well."

Though not quite a household name yet, The Temper Trap do have a global hit on their hands. Featuring a distinctive Edge-tinged intro, Sweet Disposition has picked up airplay across the US and Europe, having soundtracked the trailer to chick-flick-for-people-who-hate-chick-flicks (500) Days of Summer (soccer fans will recognise it from a windswept ad for Sky Sports HD).

"It's a good chick-flick," says the ever diplomatic Sillitto of (500) Days of Summer, starring the adorable Zooey Deschanel as one of those wispy girls with big eyes and an endless supply of Urban Outfitters frocks who go around crushing the hearts of sensitive, Smiths-loving young men. "It's something you'd take your girlfriend to on Valentine's Day. It's probably not a film I'd watch again."

While he didn't get to meet Deschanel -- of whom he is a tremendous fan -- The Temper Trap did bump into the movie's male lead Joseph Gordon-Levitt (still striving to shake off the child stardom he attained as Tommy in 3rd Rock from the Sun) in the most unlikely of circumstances.

"I love Zooey, she's great," says Sillitto. "We met Joseph at the South by Southwest festival in Texas. He happened to walk into a gig of ours as we were playing Sweet Disposition. He was like, 'Hang on, I know that song'. He's cool. A really nice guy."

Musically, Australia and Ireland have a lot in common. Both are culturally overshadowed by the US and UK and both suffer from what Sillitto calls "tall poppy syndrome" -- plain, old-fashioned begrudgery to you and I.

"There's a huge presence of tall poppy syndrome in Australia," he says. "Once someone gets too big -- definitely in Melbourne -- you are always cutting them down. That's something Australian and Irish people have in common. We all come from the same stock."

Since relocating to London to further their career, The Temper Trap have been on the receiving end of a lot of home-town snark. "When our album came out in Australia, there were people bitching and saying things online. That kind of happens all over the world. In the end, it doesn't really hurt us."

The band came together when Sillitto, drummer Toby Dundas and singer Mandagi were working in a Melbourne clothing store. Both Sillitto and Dundas are natives of the southern Australia city, best known to music-lovers as the home town of Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue, while Mandagi hails from Bali (his American accent a product of a stint at private school in Hawaii). Is it difficult for a migrant to get ahead in the Australian music scene?

"It's pains me to say it, but unfortunately there is racism in Australia," says Sillitto. "I have never talked to Dougie about whether he has experienced racism towards himself. From what I've seen, when I was at school and university, it's unquestionably there.

"There are definitely weird things happening. In Melbourne alone, three Indians were recently killed.

"The one time I could tell Dougie felt uncomfortable was after the [2005] Cronulla riots in Sydney, between all of these Lebanese and Middle Eastern people. That year at the Big Day Out festival, lots of people were wearing T-shirts with pictures of the Australian flag and the slogan 'f*** off, we're full'. It was really racist. We all felt quite uncomfortable in that environment."

At the Meteors, they will reunite with old chum Florence Welch, of Florence and the Machine. Last winter, The Temper Trap received an up-close glimpse of the madness of overnight celebrity when they toured with Florence at the precise moment her career was going stratospheric. So overwhelming was the attention directed at the flame-haired belter, she eventually had to hire a bodyguard. Were The Temper Trap jealous of her success -- or privately relieved they could at least go out in public without being pursued by squealing teenagers?

"Maybe [the bodyguard] is a bit of overkill," says Sillitto. "Then again, if it makes her feel safe, you have to respect her. It's great to see her do well. To watch Florence play in front of thousands of people at Brixton Academy was fantastic. She really worked her ass off to get where she is."

Of course, they'll also be sharing the bill with unabashed pop candy such as Westlife and The Script. Do they fear their credibility may be tarnished by association? "We're there to perform our song," says Sillitto, eager not to cause offence. "Westlife and The Script, they're big Irish bands. It's kind of cool we get to witness Irish music in all its glory.

"It's just a pity The Corrs and The Cranberries won't be there."

The album Conditions is out now. The Temper Trap play the Meteors tonight

Irish Independent

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