Interview with vocalist/guitarist Kevin Tully | By John B. Moore
It certainly would have been easier for the Milwaukee-based Telethon to simply put out a traditional LP for their third release. However, the band opted to put out an ambitious 30-track concept album. The Grand Spontanean: A Tale Told in Five Acts, comes out Sept. 29 through their own label, Halloween Records.
“When we started writing songs for it, they were thematically just like a continuation of where we left off on our last LP, [2016’s] Citrosis,” vocalist and guitarist Kevin Tully says, “stream-of-consciousness songs about life, anxiety, etc. I ultimately found myself stuck wondering how I was going to write an album worth of material from that same point of view without the formula sounding and feeling stale. So, I started thinking, ‘OK, what kinds of things could really truly fuck up this narrator’s day? What could throw him off balance and all out of whack?’”
Concepts like death, God, and the afterlife eventually became fodder for the songs. But it was after a night of watching the movie, “Poltergeist,” that it became clear The Grand Spontanean… should have a “sci-fi, ‘Twilight Zone’-y, Stephen King sort of bend to it,” Tully says.
The next day, the band’s drummer, Erik Atwell, posted an article to the group’s chat about atrocities that would occur if the Earth’s core suddenly stopped spinning. “From that point on, we were off the races, as they say,” Tully adds.
With a concept in mind, the band got to work on the record. “There were definitely moments when I was staring at our album-planning spreadsheets, shaking my head and sweating, and wondering if the album would ever actually be finished,” Tully says. “I think we had a few panicked moments as our recording dates drew nearer and nearer, because it was such a large amount of stuff to learn and practice. Also, you wanna maintain a consistent level of quality, but I don’t think any of us ever hesitated or second-guessed the concept or the scope once we’d committed to it.”
They were also able to bring in an impressive guest list to help flesh out the songs, such as Bomb The Music Industry! alum Laura Stevenson, Fake Problems’ and Anarctigo Vespucci’s Chris Farren, The Hold Steady’s Franz Nicolay, and Less Than Jake’s Roger Lima. Surprisingly, they didn’t know any of these musicians before working with them.
“We started off by emailing Franz Nicolay, who we wanted to [have] come in and punch up a few of the songs with a Hold Steady shimmer, [but] he ended up doing way more than that, because he plays a zillion different instruments,” Tully recalls. “Then came all the singing character roles we had to fill. We emailed some of our favorite artists, and a remarkable number of them replied and said they’d be down to help us out. The only person who recorded with us in person at Jack Shirley’s studio was Franz; the rest of the guest work was done remotely. It’s all quite surreal, and we couldn’t be more stoked with how all of the spots turned out. Infinitely better—and more conceptually sound—than if we had just sung the parts ourselves.”
Telethon already have a concept for their next record, but are planning a tour before writing and recording gets underway, including a stop at FEST in October. “I don’t think any of us are in a huge rush to make anything new right now,” Tully says.
Photo by Danielle Huey