by Todd E. Jones aka The New Jeru Poet
Stephen Lawrie and his band, The Telescopes, are one of the most versatile and enigmatic bands that change with every single album. Based in Burton-upon-Trent, England, they began as an extremely loud white-noise ridden band similar to Jesus And Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, and My Bloody Valentine (from the ‘Isn’t Anything’ era). Their debut album “Taste” (on What Goes On Records) was a sonic punch in your face. Eventually, they signed to Alan McGee’s Creation Records (home of Ride, My Bloody Valentine, House Of Love, Felt, Primal Scream, etc.) A new sound of The Telescopes began to form. Songs like “Celeste” were extremely psychedelic guitar-driven songs with groovy bass lines and Manchester beats. While the groove did take a backseat, it did remain. Their 2nd self-titled album (released on Creation) was considered an absolute classic masterpiece by critics and fans alike. The songs were psychedelic, guitar-driven tracks with a jam-like quality and hidden groove. “Flying”, “Higher And Higher”, “You Set My Soul” and “Spaceships” all had a majestic feeling. While other shoe gazer bands just were too depressed or blissed out, The Telescopes did uplift the listener. Eventually, Creation Records closed up shop and the next Telescopes album was not released. Fans were left to collect the “Everso”, “Flying” and “Celeste” singles on Ebay. Fast forward to 1999. Stephen Lawrie and Jo Doron of The Telescopes formed a new space-rock band called Unisex. Their first EP, “Deadlock”, was released on Double Agent Records. Their debut LP “Stratosfear” (also on Double Agent) was another classic filled with theremins, spaced-out samples, and epic guitar work that would make Ziggy Stardust proud. Songs like “Autopilot” and “Midnight In The Stratosphere” proved to fans that Lawrie could still make incredible music. Things soon all fell into place. Stephen Lawrie and Jo Doran re-formed The Telescopes and released “Third Wave” (the first Telescopes album in 9 years) on Double Agent Records. Once again, The Telescopes released an album completely different from their previous LPS. “Third Wave” is like an electronic ocean where waves of sound and rhythm roll over the listener. There were very little guitars on the album. Catchy lyrics and choruses were nowhere to be found. Instead, Lawrie repeated his lines over and over again like a spacey electronic mantra. The Telescopes were pushing the envelope even further. Stephen Lawrie is now working with a full band for the next Telescopes album. He started his own label, Antenna Records and has released (and worked with) other experimental bands like Fuxa and Los Planetos Del Aqua. Bomp Records and The Committee To Keep Music Evil just released a compilation of rare and out of print songs by The Telescopes. "Approved by The Committee" is a compilation of those b-sides and singles from the What Goes On and Creation days (“Celeste”, “Pure Sweetest Ocean” and “Never Learn Not To Love You”). They are now finally available! Lawrie is a true explorer of music. His organs, keyboards, and guitars are his ships and the rhythms are his oceans. On a rainy August day in 2003, I had a conversation with Stephen Lawrie that reached across the Atlantic Ocean. Let the tones get into your body and fly the waves.
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Hello there.”
T.JONES: “The latest
album by The Telescopes is called 'Third Wave'. Tell us about it? What
is it like?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Erm…electronic. The songs are mostly piano led. That's how I wrote them…. with a piano and a groove box through an AC30 amp.”
T.JONES: “What does
the title 'Third Wave' mean?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “It means whatever you want it to. To me, the word 'wave' refers to the way in which we constructed the tracks. We'd allow each other to freely improvise the structures, recording everything to wave files and cutting away at each texture to let in different shades etc. Most things seem to flow in wave formations. There is a ‘Third Wave’ doctrine on the web.”
T.JONES: “There is
a new Telescopes compilation on Bomp / Committee To Keep Music Evil called
'As Approved By The Committee'. Tell us about it. Why did you choose those
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “I didn't choose the tracks. The selection is Anton from Brian Jonestown Massacre. They were his favorites.”
T.JONES: “How did
The Telescopes meet, come together and eventually form?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “I met Jo at a gig. I was playing on the same bill as her ex-boyfriend’s band. They were called It's Not Natural. We got to talking about music. I first met Dave when he was playing in an anarcho punk group. We all shared a mutual hatred for many things. The first rehearsal was in my room, me on drums, Jo on guitar, Dave on bass. It was a racket but a good racket.”
T.JONES: “What was
that ‘mutual hatred’?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Virtuoso guitarists & songsmiths, formula in music, manufactured pop that was manufactured by idiots. I could go on for a very long time.”
T.JONES: “I can't
stand that manufactured pop music. The US is overflowing with it.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “We're drowning in it. They have pop idol contests on TV.”
T.JONES: “How did
you eventually sign to Creation Records? What was Alan McGee like?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Alan showed up at a show in Birmingham. He heard that we were having trouble with the official receivers of What Goes On Records. He left because we were too loud. When he got home, he decided that was a good thing and asked us in for a meeting. He'd seen us before on tour with Primal Scream so he knew what we were up to.”
T.JONES: "I read
in NME once that someone stole your cymbals during a show. Is this true?
If so, what happened?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “I read in NME I was arrested for possession of liquorice.”
T.JONES: “Who are
some of your influences?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Faust.”
There is a huge difference between each album. How did this happen?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Although I am still the same person I was yesterday, I have experienced another day. Today the sky is different to how it was yesterday but it is still the sky. The Telescopes have never been the kind of group that would be happy to find a formula and stick to it. Our art is a living entity.”
T.JONES: “The self-titled
second album (and even 'Third Wave') has many references to the ocean.
What is it about the ocean?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “The ocean also moves in wave formation like tones and electricity.”
T.JONES: "There was
a huge gap of many years between the last Telescopes album and the Unisex
album…and eventually the regrouping of The Telescopes. How long was it?
What were you doing in this time?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “We tried to do another Telescopes album. I did some stuff with Füxa too.”
T.JONES: “What are
some of your favorite songs in The Telescopes catalog?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “’Deep hole ends’, ‘All a dreams’, ‘Threadbare’, ‘Wish of you’, ‘A cabin in the sky’, ‘Violence’, and ‘Winter #2’. Should a tree fall, in a forest, where no one is around. Would it still make sound? Also, the 4th Telescopes album.”
T.JONES: “What are
some of your favorite Unisex songs?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “I like ‘Let The Night Roar’, Füxa’s remix of ‘Full Force Of The Sun’ and the Bough remix of ‘Deadlock’ from the Unisex stuff.”
T.JONES: “Are the
remixes on CD?
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “It is called ‘Re:Konstructions EP [mind expansion]’.”
T.JONES: “Tell us
about Antenna Records. How, when and why did you start it?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Antenna Records formed out of crazy late night conversations with Randall Nieman of Füxa and hearing the first 7" by LPdA on Bearos Records. I needed to hear an album of their stuff and I couldn't believe no one had put one out. The first Antenna Releases are albums by these artists. Both contain some of my favorite music.”
T.JONES: “What was
it about Los Planetos Del Agua that you liked?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “The purity in the way in which they create. The sound coming out of the speakers is all the better for it.”
T.JONES: “What is
the next release for Antenna Records?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “The Telescopes’ 4th album is next up for Antenna Records.”
T.JONES: “What musician
would you like to collaborate with in the future?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “It is always fun working with Randall Nieman of Füxa. Also, I’m doing some stuff with DDN from Moon and Burning Emptiness label. Remixing Charles Atlas. Doing stuff with LPdA too.”
T.JONES: “Since every
Telescopes album sounds different, what will the next Telescopes album
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “We're a 4 piece now. The new Telescopes album will be the best yet. We've toured all this stuff. We developed it on the road. We turned up at each gig on our tour with no set planned.”
T.JONES: “Will the
new Telescopes album be released on Double Agent Records or Antenna Records?
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “We are recording the 4th Telescopes album for Antenna Records.”
T.JONES: “Will there be more Unisex albums in the future?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Who knows. They're busy on projects too.”
T.JONES: “Word association.
I am going to say a name of an artist or group and you say the first thing
that pops in your mind. So, if I said, 'Velvet Underground', you may say
'Heroin' or 'Banana'. Okay?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Ok.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Chemistry sets.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Godspell.”
T.JONES: “My Bloody Valentine.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Sunny Sunday Smile.”
T.JONES: “The Orb.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Headlight shows.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Crayons.”
T.JONES: “Close Lobsters.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “White 12" I bought when I was about 17 or 15 years old.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Humus.”
T.JONES: “Jesus And Mary Chain."
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Strawberry jam.”
T.JONES: “Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Gillette.”
T.JONES: “The Jasmine Minks.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “The Pink Panther.”
T.JONES: “Severed Heads.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Seven.”
T.JONES: “The music
of The Telescopes is very psychedelic. Were drugs a big part of The Telescopes?
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Music is a drug.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “The wicker man.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Magic cake.”
T.JONES: “What is
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Cake with magic in it.”
"pro-choice" OR "pro-life"?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “I could never agree to an abortion but everyone has their own reckoning.”
T.JONES: “Death penalty
- for or against?”>
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Death is too easy for some people.”
T.JONES: “What is
the biggest mistake that you have made in your music career?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “None.”
are you a happy man?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “In some ways, I suppose I am. It depends what's on the mind. Flows in waves?”
Hart (bassist for Jesus And Mary Chain) directed some of the telescopes
videos like "Flying" and "Celeste". What was that collaboration like? What
happened to him? Will you work with him again? What is he doing now?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “I’m not sure what Douglas is up to. He's great to work with. He has a great eye and a good edit finger too.”
T.JONES: “Do you
enjoy making music videos? If so, what was the your favorite Telescopes
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “I enjoyed some but not others. ‘Celeste’ is probably my favorite video. ‘Flying’ second. That may change next time I see them though.”
T.JONES: “Are you
planning on making more Telescopes videos?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “A guy made one for ‘Moog Destroya’. We have some footage filmed from the Spitz gig last year. We may do something with that.”
T.JONES: “Out of
all of the bands you toured with, who did you like the best? Which ones
did you think had the best live show?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “The Telescopes line-up, we have at the moment, is the best group I've ever toured with.”
T.JONES: “What does
‘You And I Are Foxboy Noises’ mean?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “What do you want it to mean? I'm interested.”
T.JONES: “I guess…
The communion of two sounds that come together. Perhaps, sounds and people
are alike. ’You and I are sounds’. You know, I first thought the lyric
was ‘flying away’ but the CD package says ‘flying the waves’. Sounds can
be like people.”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “I nearly became a tone when I was recording the second album. It scared me though, I wasn't ready for it.”
T.JONES: “So, on
‘You And I Are Foxboy Noises’, the lyric is ‘Flying the waves’, right?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Which would you prefer? It’s ‘flying the waves’. I think.”
T.JONES: “What is
your relationship with Alan McGee like now? What do you think of his Poptones
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “‘Metal Box’. What an album! Alan’s fine.”
T.JONES: “On the
new compilation, you said that the songs were chosen by the Anton from
Brian Jonestown massacre. What songs would you include that he didn't?
What song would you take out?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “That album is perfect as it is. It documents really well a side to the group that The Committee To Keep Music Evil label appreciate. I'd like to document the more studio-orientated side of the group sometime.”
T.JONES: “Your music
has become much more electronic and less guitar-driven. How did this progression
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Unfamiliar instruments are always an inspiration. You can know an instrument too much sometimes. It's good to leave room for happy accidents. I go where the inspiration takes me… whatever opens the channels for transmission.”
T.JONES: “You used
the theremin on the Unisex album. How did you get involved with that instrument?
What did you like about it? Was it homemade or handmade?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “It was made by No.1 Electronics. They make theremins and brain machines. Randall had one made by them. I got one so we could start our theremin orchestra and play Vegas. (laughs). It's my retirement plan. Lorin, who plays with us now, has had a theremin for years though.”
T.JONES: “The new
Telescopes album ‘Third Wave’ does not have the typical or formal ‘song
structure’. Will the new Telescopes continue in this direction?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “We're not about sticking to formulas. Repetition can be good, but making the same record over and over is too much.”
T.JONES: “Out of
all of the Telescopes albums, which one is your favorite? Why? Least favorite?
What would you change?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “I always like the one I've just made the least, and the one I've not listened to for the longest the best. I've been the same with every record.”
T.JONES: “What is
the biggest misconception that people have of you or The Telescopes?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “I'm not sure. Thinking of us in the way you think of other groups is probably a mistake. We did try to harness our flow, but it just stopped, so now we follow it's course, like we did when we first started.”
T.JONES: “Who thought
of the name The Telescopes? What did it mean to you then? What does it
mean to you now?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “I had the name before I had a group. I knew the next group I'd start would be the one so I needed a name. My granddad had a telescope that a German POW swapped with him in the war. It sprung to mind. The more I thought about it, the more it encompassed my ideas for the group.”
T.JONES: “What do
you think today's music is lacking? What does it need?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Pop music? There's always been sh*t pop music. Always will be. I don't like what happened to indie. It used to be a loose phrase used to represent a whole spectrum of interesting stuff. The same thing happened to punk.”
T.JONES: “The incredible
b-side to ‘Everso’ is a cover song called ‘Never Learn Not To Love You’.
Who wrote the original version?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Charles Manson wrote it. It was originally called ‘Cease To Exist’. Dennis Wilson from the Beach Boys took the song, changed it around a little, and called it 'Never Learn Not To Love'. By the way, did you know Charlie Manson tried to sue the makers of the original Charlie’s Angels series? He said they were basing their ideas on his original concept.”
T.JONES: "Why did
you choose Double Agent Records? Will the next Telescopes album be released
via both Antenna and Double Agent?"
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “We're only just getting to mixing stages with the record.
We're recording the album for Antenna Records but we haven't made any decisions about licensing to other countries yet.”
T.JONES: “After the
self-titled second Telescopes album, you attempted to make another album.
What happened? What did it sound like? Will those songs ever be released?
Why didn't you like them?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “We finished 2 tracks. '16T#2' and 'From The Inner Void I Fear'. Both are really good psychedelic studio tracks. There's plans for their release in the near future.”
T.JONES: “Any final
comments for the people who will be reading this?”
STEPHEN LAWRIE: “Feel good!”
Thank you STEPHEN LAWRIE of The Telescopes and Unisex! ! !
My interviews and reviews can also be seen
on the print and web publication PIXEL SURGEON
b a t h
TRISOMIE 21 (T21)