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A couple of weeks prior to the release of The Temper Trap’s 3rd album, AM’s Greg Phillips spoke to the band’s guitarist and keyboard player Joseph Greer about the making of Thick As Thieves.

Last time I viewed The Temper Trap’s Spotify page, their 2009 single “Sweet Disposition” off their debut album “Conditions”, had racked up over 105 million plays. Similarly the YouTube clip of that song has had over 25 million views. It was a killer single off a well received album. Their second, self-titled record, was a bit of a curve-ball musically and didn’t attract the same kind of affection but was hardly a failure. The band was still in high demand, appearing on all the right American TV shows and big international music festivals. Collectively the two albums have now sold over a million copies. Sensing opportunity, the band  decided to relocate to London to further assist their quest for world domination and it’s in that town where The Temper Trap began working on album number three.

in studio 3
Dougy in the studio

Around 18 months ago the band’s frontman Dougy Mandagi was seen on a Youtube clip explaining that the band had pretty much completed songwriting duties for a new album and were about to record. As it turned out, that wasn’t completely true. On reflection the band decided that more songs needed to be written. Time marched on and now finally, on June 10, 2016 Thick As Thieves, the third Temper Trap album will be released. With Thick As Thieves, the band has set aside the electronic experimentation of the last album and have returned to a more organic space, focussing on guitars, drums and the songs in general. The other significant factor about the new album is that it’s their first since guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto left the band, leaving them to continue as a four piece outfit.

“It seemed like there were a lot of false starts with this album,” says Joseph on reflection. “I think the video you are talking about, we were just getting ready to go and record, as we had the majority of the album done. After that whole process was  finished we were in a position where we felt like we needed some more songs. At the point when Dougy said that, we probably felt then that it had already taken too long. This album has taken a really long time. But we did approach it differently with Lorenzo gone. One of the things about becoming a four piece on this album was that we had to approach things in a way that was … every sound was necessary and it was quite exciting to go back to doing things that way and it made us create music in a different way.”

There was a high degree of collaboration with this album too, particularly during the songwriting process, most notably with Malay, known for his work with Frank Ocean on his Channel Orange album. Other writers contributing to the project included Justin Parker (Lana Del Ray, Sia), Ben Allen (Bombay Bicycle Club, Animal Collective), and Pascal Gabriel (Ladyhawke, Goldfrapp). Production-wise, the band employed Damien Taylor (Bjork, The Prodigy) in the big chair and also used Rich Cooper (Banks, Mystery Jets) on a couple of tracks.

in studio 5
Joseph lays down a guitar track

“Damien came to London to our studio and worked for about two months with us on tracking,” Joseph explained. “The biggest thing he focussed on was trying as much as possible to get a real live feel. He focussed on that performance aspect and went to a lot of detail. It was quite excruciating sometimes, playing things over and over with minute adjustments, which was his style. We spent that time tracking with him in London and finished it off at a studio in Montreal for a couple of weeks. Rich Cooper just worked on two tracks and it was very quick, two days each track. That was done a long time after Damien’s stuff.”


As well as most of the guitar parts, Joseph also contributed some keyboards. There’s a great use of synth sounds blended with the background vocals on the album, especially on the tracks Summer’s Almost Gone and Tombstone. I wondered if Joseph spent much time experimenting with those tracks?

in studio 4“I definitely don’t think it was a conscious thing to do that, maybe just a happy mistake,” he laughs. “On a track like Summer’s Almost Gone, I guess it was a lot of Wurlitzer. Then in the outro there’s Malay, who worked on the track, he had a Mellotron, the updated modern Mellotron. In Damien’s studio we used a lot of his synths. We used an MS20 a lot and also he has a Eurorack modular synth which we used quite a lot as well. A lot of the sounds come from GarageBand too, just stock things out of GarageBand. It was one of those things where you have a demo using something and we think, when we get into the studio we will replace it using a proper analogue synth but there’s a charm in the original that you cant recreate, so you end up using it.”

Guitar-wise Joseph used a Gibson SG, a Jazzmaster and also a “Frankenstein” Strat that he purchased in Montreal. Dougy used his regular Mexican Tele, which Joseph says, “is one of these guitars that shouldn’t necessarily sound that good but it is and ends up getting used on everything!” On stage Joseph now uses a GigRig G2 switching system which helps him navigate the many guitar duties he has to contend with since the departure of Lorenzo.

“I started using that when we were first preparing to play some shows back in 2014. We were getting ready to play Lollapalooza, which was the first time for me being the main guitarist. I was trying to figure out how to cover all the ground I needed to. I stumbled across that earlier on and before I even knew what else was out there I got it and I was really happy that I did. From that point I became a bit of a GigRig fanboy, really learning a lot more about it. It’s such an essential thing for me now.”

Studio central
Studio central

In regard to effects used on the album, Joseph put the TC Electronics Hall of Fame pedal to great use. “Pretty much the TC Hall of Fame reverb I use exclusively … it’s like a modulation reverb and It just adds a hot sauce to everything I do. Dougy uses one of those as well and it’s over everything really. With the live show, the J. Rockett Archer, which is  meant to be a Klon overdrive clone, is always on. It’s basically a boost. It gives a little different character to the amp tone but to be honest, the TC Hall of Fame reverb is almost always on too. Pretty much every preset I have will have a little bit of that on. The album will be a little bit challenging to play … in the sense that now, I’m trying to play all the old songs and new songs. On the G2 I am using up all the banks of presets right now. It’s two banks of 14, so it’s tricky in that there is a lot to remember and it’s all set up for the current amount of songs we are playing. But there are probably a good six songs from the album that we haven’t rehearsed up to play live yet and they all have their own challenges. I’m not quite sure how I am going to do it yet. We’ll have to figure it out.”

As a four-piece, there’s much more going on for the band members on stage. Toby is busier now, using Novation pads to trigger some sounds. “He does some real time drum sounds that he is triggering,” says Joseph.  “At the beginning of the song Summer’s Almost Gone, there’s a keyboard sound that he is playing with the pads too.”

There are 11 tracks on the new album, 14 on the deluxe version. However, it’s the track Tombstone which is closest to Joseph’s heart. “For some reason and I don’t know why but that one in particular  has something,” he says. “I feel that when people hear it, it’s going to really connect with them and become a part of their life in some way. Whether or not that will happen I don’t know but it feels like a special song to me and it’s kinda magical.”

Thick As Thieves ALBUMJoseph has lived in London for 7 years now and enjoys it as a central base to tackle the European, Asian and American markets. A lot of bands dream of travelling the world and playing music with their mates. The Temper Trap have been doing that for many years now. I wondered if the dream matches the reality?

“The way that we feel right now, is that although we have been really lucky to do what we do, we don’t feel like we are even close to where we want to be yet,” he tells me. “We feel like there is a lot of work and a lot of ground to be covered. We’re still really hungry to grow this further. There have been periods where it felt like it was crazy and there was all this success. With the second album we felt like we were grounded in a way and brought back down to earth. In order to make this work we really have to push and not become complacent. I think it’s going to be a lot of work over the next couple of years chipping away to take it to the next level.”

Thick As Thieves is out today.

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