What’s so refreshing about Telepathic Teddy Bear‘s artistry is that he always does the unexpected, both in terms of his own sound aesthetic and in terms of trends. In his new release, an EP entitled Vessels, TTB tends to go “back to basics,” still texturally complex but very refined and thoughtful about the electronic placement. Part of this album reminds me of some of David Byrne’s best solo work: original in it’s genre and style blending (in some respects, soothing intellectual indie-pop a la Passion Pit; in others, evoking a vibe of electronic-bossa-nova in its downtempo stimulation), well balanced in production quality, and delicately thought-provoking in a musical climate that is so oversaturated with frills and novelty. If The Course of Empire was his most esoteric release, and Forgiveness his most accessible, I would say Vessels is his most timeless, existentially intimate release to date.
In this exclusive, in-depth interview, we talked with Telepathic Teddy Bear about the creative and cultural process behind the magnificent EP. Read on to catch up with your next favorite artist, and find out how to stream Vessels:
It’s become one of my favorite yearly traditions to have the pleasure of talking with you Juan, so before we get to the music, let’s talk context. What has been going in your life in the last year since we’ve talked? In other words, what has been your headspace in creating this EP? What have been your fondest musical memories writing the songs on Vessels?
Thank you! Always love talking to you, man. Everything’s great despite the crippling pre-midlife crisis I’ve been experiencing. Just a flesh wound. It’s been a bit weird, honestly. Listless is a good word for it. Not to start off too down but yeah. Existential issues in general. The process is always challenging for me but this time there was a lot of questioning myself, personally speaking, about what I wanted to do. So I just tried releasing one song at a time this time and see where that took me. Either way, it’s good promotion and more presence that way.
Also on the musical side, since I did the mixes outside my home studio, it’s always a challenge to communicate what you want to someone who isn’t in the same headspace as you but it turned out pretty good since my friend from the studio put a lot of effort into sculpting the sound how I wanted it and basically put up with a lot of my meticulous crap. But, as always, if you’re not inspired you just have to plow through and see what you find.
My fondest memories might include all the experimentation that went on. I tried very different approaches for each song. I tried creating Islands and Outdone on the piano instead of in Logic. I tried jamming with a friend for Questions. Just flowing on the vocoder for Man on the Moon. Mashing together two piano ideas for I’ll follow you always and then riffing lyrically after the structure was done. Damage, for example, was done old school in Logic and it’s too obvious to me that the beat was done first on that one.
We’ve previously talked about how 90s music and indie/alt rock influences have inspired you to create your music. I’m wondering what music has most inspired you in the creation of this EP? Have you discovered any new sonic influences, or delved into new genres in your listening?
It’s been my most adventurous time musically. I normally don’t take the time to listen to music throughout my day but after I got a Spotify subscription the stuff I’ve found has been really interesting. I’ve been listening to a lot of Baths, Spazzkid, Dntel, Julien Baker, Chairlift, Jack Garrat, Mura Masa. Glitchy and emotive stuff.
Can you tell us about the theme of this EP, between the album title and the tone of these songs? What does this collection say about the current status of TTB, and about the culture you subscribe to?
The EP is called Vessels. It’s based on an idea I wrote down some time ago: vasa vasorum or vessels of the vessels. I don’t even remember where I got it from but I’ve always liked the imagery and after I stumbled on it in my notes it made sense in a lot of ways. These songs are about relationships and how we are tied together, from family relationships to romantic relationships to my own personal one with myself.
There’s a book by Jiddu Krishnamurti called On Relationships which is a collection of excerpts from his speeches. The idea is that we can only know ourselves in relation to another. Kind of a ‘no man is an island’ thing. By exploring that, I was trying to extract some sort of therapy from it. The idea that everyone and everything is a reflection of yourself and we can only judge from our own perceptual filters.
Islands, for example, has the lyric “I suppose an echo grows if selfish me might dare expose myself.” The moment you open yourself to other parts of you is when you realize it’s everywhere out there in the world because that’s your way of seeing and judging things. I think that awareness has helped me learn a lot but especially to listen more. These songs are the closest I could get to an honest emotion about specific topics like stress, adulthood, family, as being a part of me.
Also, vessels works well for the idea of humans being carriers of something else like consciousness or what some would call spirit, which I think gives it another layer.
Coldplay has stated that after 7 albums, they feel that they have accomplished a chapter of their musical career, and whatever’s next is up in the air. This has got me thinking about artistic arcs and how that applies to longtime indie artists. After 3 albums and this being your third EP, how would you define your work under Telepathic Teddy Bear? What would you say your vision in this chapter is? Is there more musical story to be written?
It’s difficult to remain constantly inspired but it’s a great game to play. I love the creative process so all I really want from this project is to be able to create more and more and see how challenges help expand or contract my output. This EP is about emotional honesty and some of my existential stuff. Like a character coming to terms with his new reality in a first act’s turning point or something.
And of course there’s more story to be written. The best part is going to be all the surprises that are coming because I don’t know where the hell I’m going anyway. Just desperately trying to live in the moment, which might be counterproductive but still.
You’re one of the most innovative and driven independent artists I have spoken with. Going off the last question, I’m interested in what’s next for you, generally as an artist? This is a very utopian type of question. What is your next goal in your artistry? Where do you want to take Telepathic Teddy Bear and your listeners next?
My main focus for something new is just to experiment with the creative process and change it up even if it feels risky. I really want to do a new concept album but I would never force something like that. That’s why I like TCOE so much, because I already loved the basis of it.
I’ve been wanting to use the stuff I learn about from books or educational videos in my songs. Like maybe take inspiration from astrophysics or something. I have some notes like “quantum entanglement: two melodies always tied together as brothers.” Or “superposition: many harmonies converging into one” sort of thing. I’m not trying to sound pretentious, I’m very much a layman in these topics. It just happens to be one of my more interesting ideas from when I was reading a Michio Kaku book. I’m really excited about that stuff at the moment.
Let’s talk artwork: the single artwork has been photographic, while the album artwork is quite minimal. I think both are fitting as this EP is very revealing and intimate. Tell us about the visual concepts behind Vessels. Who did you work with? What cultural and visual media works have influenced you in creating Vessels? Did you have a visual aesthetic in mind upon releasing each single?
My friend Cordelia has done a lot of my LP and EP artworks. She’s a graphic designer with a great eye for abstract stuff. I love what she does and it’s extremely hard to find someone who understands your style. I did show her some pictures that I liked from an evernote I was compiling but it was very much a trust thing with her. My inspiration didn’t matter much. We just had some coffee, talked about the songs. Talked about blood/family relationships and blood from broken relationships. Blood vessels are a great metaphor, in my opinion, and the cover suggests that very well. I love how it came out.
We always talk about social media, so naturally I have to ask you about your Snapchat game. You’re very active on there to show the behind the scene process of your independent creativity, as well as showcasing your more eccentric and comedic personality. Do you think snapchat is an effective channel for artists and musicians, in promoting one’s stage presence digitally? Do you feel it provides you with a more natural way in connecting with your fans? In what ways? What are some of your favorite accounts to follow?
I think the app is so much fun. I get bursts of creativity over time. I stop using it for a while then come back. I love how loose it is. Snapchat for artists could be good in the focus group sense, which I don’t know if I like it like that. People will give you feedback about a song you post on there and that may be helpful.
Having said that, I think we should all just start slowly moving away from social media. It’s a socially sanctioned addiction. At the moment, I can’t resist getting a bunch of likes every now and then and cannot for the life of me ditch Vine or Instagram and I hate that. So yeah, just do it for fun, not for promoting yourself and I think you might even get better results from it.
I don’t know who I can recommend following. This is how I follow people on Snapchat: Follow someone, watch their stories for a week and then never watch their stories again. So, I’m not really excited about anyone that’s worth mentioning. NASA is getting better these days with its content, though. Watch Diplo if you want to yearn for a producer lifestyle that you will never have.
You’ve stated multiple times that The Course of Empire has been your favorite release. As a critic, I know why I find that album to be so great, but as the artist why do you feel it is your favorite? Have you thought about doing another concept album? Do you have any conceptual interests that you might want to translate into music?
I’m waiting for a spark to ignite for a concept album. I would never dedicate months of work to a shitty idea so I’m still searching but there’s nothing I would love more than become completely enamored with a concept enough to dive into it for a long time.TCOE is my favorite because I was already in love with the paintings. As soon as I learned about them in history class a long time ago I knew there was something about the attention to structure and the philosophy behind it that struck me as genius. The symmetry and the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, it encompasses everything I love about structure in a chaotic universe. Meaning, our own imposed structure on chaos and how our lives revolve around meaning.
You’ve said that you’re already working on songs towards your next release. Can you tell a bit about what is to come?
My two most basic forms of creating are to start off with a beat and slap the lyrics on top of it or to start off with the lyrics or a melody and find sounds to kind of go around that. Both get distinctly different results. This time I wanna manage both at the same time. I think it might come out more streamlined and coherent. But like I mentioned, I want to incorporate things that inspire me that are not necessarily music related.
At the moment, I’m coming up with dozens of musical ideas and recording them on evernotes so i can rate them and tag them. That way I can choose what moves me and what I want to have handy. Especially, the practice of listening again to something after at least a week of putting it away is great. You get a fresh perspective on it and a few surprises. But first, it’s a lot of crap to get through. I think 70% of the ideas on my evernotes are crap.
Finally, since you’re so well informed and so witty, tell us something that’s currently on your mind that you can’t resist giving your cultural critique on.
A lot of things obsess me but I can’t shut my damn mouth about the US election right now. It’s so divisive and ridiculous and I’m very scared about the outcome, as is everyone, which might be what is so ultimately compelling about it. Other than the fact that a fucking cartoon is running for president.
I’m obsessed with consciousness and how no one knows why it evolved. The book I’m reading at the moment is The Ego Tunnel, which is currently blowing my mind. A bit obsessed with Haruki Murakami.
And I want to try and be out closer to nature more. I find myself really happy when I go to the woods or the beach and not able to check my phone all the time.