You could be forgiven for thinking The Temper Trap are a British band. Their melancholic, Radiohead-like lyrics, their atmospheric debut album, Conditions; there’s even a touch of Bono in lead singer Dougy Madagi’s swooping croon. And, of course, the band has been calling London home for the past three years, after uprooting their lives in Melbourne, shooting through and not looking back. They found a home and made a name for themselves in Hackney, the ultimate spot for east London hipsters.
“London is like a second home to us now,” drummer Toby Dundas explains. “Living in Hackney, there’s always stuff going on, we lived right near the park and the vibe is great in summer. Even if it was only 19 degrees, people would be out in the park and they’d be happy.”
Joining Dundas is keyboardist Joseph Greer, who is more pragmatic in his praise: “For me, it’s more that there’s always bands touring through the city. It’s nice being able to see bands most nights of the week.”
Greer is the newest addition to the band, making The Temper Trap officially a five-piece. He joins Mandagi (vocals, guitar), Lorenzo Sillitto (guitar), Jonny Aherne (bass) and Dundas on the skins. Greer’s no stranger, though, having toured with the band for years. Today, he sips on a beer – it’s midday and he’s suffering from some epic jetlag.
“And I was thirsty,” he insists. “I’ve always kind of been a band member, but it was official for this album. I got my Temper Trap T-shirt!”
The five-piece has carved out quite a career in London, earning a Brit nomination for International Breakthrough Artist and selling out two UK tours, including a trio of shows at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Their breakthrough single, Sweet Disposition, brought global status, appearing in the film (500) Days of Summer and countless TV spots, including Grey’s Anatomy and the AFL finals series promos.
In fact, the song did better in the UK than in Australia, reaching No 6, compared to No 14 at home. Perhaps they appeal to the Aussie abroad.
“We get a lot of ex-pats at shows,” Dundas says. “They always sing the loudest and make the most noise. There’s something about Aussies living in London – they stand out. There’s always one who wears a onesie with the Aussie flag.”
The first single from the new, self-titled second album, Need Your Love, has an ambiguous message, the band members apparently undecided about whether it’s a proper love song or not.
“I think it can be, but it’s subjective, we want people to be able to create their own meanings,” Dundas says, confident of a follow-up hit that will ensure they’re not known wholly and solely for Sweet Disposition. “We don’t think we’ll be remembered only for that song – the new album will change that. If it doesn’t, then we’ll be worried.”
Although written in London, the album was recorded in LA and, judging by its more experimental scope, the warm air out west may have gone to their heads a little bit.
“There’s a lot more synth and programming. Conditions [the first album] had a broad range of songs, but this is even broader,” Dundas says. “Joseph and I are really into our theme parks. Disneyland was pretty tame, but Six Flags Park had all the scary rollercoasters. We loved it.”
Greer picks up the thread: “In LA, they have this medieval theme restaurant, called Medieval Times. We saw it in the movie, The Cable Guy. It’s awesome. It’s in a castle and the waiters call you ‘My Lord’ and you drink from goblets.
“Being over there in LA was the right choice for this album – the weather was amazing and I’m sure that elevated our moods.”
Clearly, the guys don’t take themselves too seriously, wearing their laidback, Aussie charm on their sleeves. But perhaps the most interesting – certainly the most topical – song on the album is London’s Burning. Written after the band was trapped at home during last year’s London riots, it samples news broadcasts and siren-like synths.
“We finished rehearsing and realised it was all going on,” Dundas recalls. “We kind of were blasé about it at first until that day. We were told, ‘It’s kicking off now, you need to go home’. It was weird, seeing helicopters going over our flat and police everywhere.
“The one positive thing I found was the community spirit. Everyone banded together to clean up. We met our neighbours for the first time. If you can take a positive from the riots, then that would be it.”
For Greer, witnessing the tensions build, explode and then subside was a bizarre experience. “There was a gang who hung around outside our flat for the whole summer. It very surreal to see it on TV and actually realise you were right in the middle of it,” he says. “The whole aftermath was just eerie. We felt we had to make it significant.”
New Zealand-born Greer is the only member of the band not from Melbourne. And unknown to most, he was a child actor on Shortland Street, New Zealand’s answer to Neighbours. So, another actor turned musician, huh?
“You’ve done your research,” Greer grins. “It’s true – from age 12-15, I played a character called Maddy. But I decided music was my thing, and it’s much cooler. Luckily, I moved to Melbourne, started working at General Pants and met the band.”
The boys have made the most of their move to London but they still miss the comforts of home, including the culinary delights of Australia.
“We miss the food and the cafe culture,” Dundas says. “Being from Melbourne, we miss it a lot.”
Greer, though, insists London was not without redemption: “We found some decent coffee eventually. If the barista has an Aussie or Kiwi accent then it’ll be OK.”
Happily for all concerned, the band are back in home to perform at the Opera House – and get some decent coffee – during next month’s Vivid Festival.
“The Opera House is such an icon, to be able to play there is amazing. It’s something to tell the grandkids,” Greer says.
It will be another ‘blow-me-away’ moment for the band, another experience that hammers home the joys of having made it as musicians. Dundas, for his part, can recount a couple such stand-outs; one in particular occurred in Mexico a few years back.
“We were playing to 30,000 people who were all singing our songs when we thought they wouldn’t even know who we were,” he says.
There was also the time they ran into Beyoncé at the Summer Sonic Festival in Japan and Dundas unashamedly admits he made a beeline for the diva.
“Yeah, I said g’day to Beyoncé, she was hanging out at her table and I saw her get up to go and kind of purposely ran into her,” he says.
For Greer, a more recent highlight came when the band was asked to guest-host an installment of Rage, the world’s longest-running music video show.
“We grew up watching Rage so to be on there was awesome. They’re celebrating 25 years and they’re still cool.” Greer says. “We didn’t have anything like that in New Zealand, unfortunately”.
Dundas, a true Melburnian, agrees the guest spot was a highlight, but for less lofty reasons: “We had a break while filming and made some coffee in their cafeteria. Even the cafeteria coffee was damn good. God, I’ve definitely been away too long.”
The Temper Trap plays Darwin (May 26), Melbourne (May 29-30) and Sydney (May 31-June 1) Their self-titled album is out May 18 through Liberation Music. thetempertrap.net