The Temper Trap go their own way on their second album despite pressure from Sweet Disposition fans, writes Lydia Jenkin.

When Sweet Disposition became an unexpected international hit for quintet The Temper Trap, it gave the Melbourne indie pop band a hard act to follow.

The rousing song was used in multiple films, including romantic comedy 500 Days of Summer, and TV shows, reached No 6 in the British charts, and propelled them beyond their home market.

It also saw them spend more than two years touring, and performing at festivals like Glastonbury, SXSW, Lollapalooza, Big Day Out (including Auckland in 2010) and Splendour in the Grass.

So when they sat down in their adopted home of London to write a follow-up album at the start of 2011, you might've thought they'd feel pressure to produce a similar hit.


"We didn't feel that much pressure until probably towards the end of recording. At first it was just happening naturally, and things were flowing, and we were quite proficient actually," singer Dougie Mandagi explains down the line from Sydney.

"We wrote a lot, and it wasn't until we started making demos that people were going 'what's going on?', because stylistically some of my singing changed, and people were freaking out, comparing it to Sweet Disposition. But whatever, people have their opinions. To start with it was great, it was just a bunch of guys being creative in a room."

Mandagi's signature vocal sound may have changed a little (less falsetto, more chest voice, and a general deeper register because "it suited the music"), but there's still the same epic feel to the tracks, laden with the catchy hooks and propulsive riffs born out of jamming together in their Hackney flat.

There was no specific direction in mind, however Mandagi does see the new album being musically brighter, but lyrically darker than Conditions, possibly because he was dealing with the aftermath of a relationship break-up.

"I guess I opened the floodgates - I thought I was over it but I had a lot of things to get off my chest so I started writing all these mopey heartbreak songs."

They're not all about heartbreak though. He was also addressing themes of displacement (as an Indonesian-born, Melbourne-raised guy living in London, sometimes the tour bus was the place that felt most like home), and on London's Burning Mandagi was reflecting on his experience of the London riots.

"I lived literally about 10 metres from where it happened in Hackney. My flat is just a stone's throw away from where things went down. And I remember there was quite an eerie feeling coming home from the studio, and seeing all the shops boarded up; all the shops and pubs and cafes were closed by 3.30pm, people were staying at home and not really venturing out.

"We actually had the music done already, and I'd written two different sets of lyrics that the guys didn't like, so I was looking for something to write about, and when that happened it just made sense. I'm not trying to take a stance, or pick a side, it's presenting the issue more than taking a side."

Even though London had begun to feel like home for the band, they chose to head to LA to work with producer Tony Hoffer, who's been a fan of the band since their first trip to SXSW, and has since built a strong reputation working with M83, Beck and Phoenix.

"I wasn't really game for recording in London in the middle of a miserable winter, and for me it was important to be in an environment where I feel happy, and feel alive, not depressed, and it's not always cold and raining outside," Mandagi laughs. "Plus there's the nice people and good Mexican food."

Though they'd bought some new musical toys (like a Moog synthesiser) at the beginning of the writing process, The Temper Trap hadn't set out to write a synth-driven album. But with Hoffer's synth-loving influence, that became a key attribute of the new songs.

"We didn't know that it was going to take a turn deep into synthesiser land when we first decided to work with him, but much to his credit, the record has a distinct sound because his vision to use all those different types of synthesisers. Even guitar parts were substituted by synthesisers, bass parts, and even some vocal parts. It gives it a different texture and different feel."

It's a sound that's caught the attention of Coldplay, and it will surely broaden their fan base when they support the British superstars on their Australasian Mylo Xyloto tour later this year.


Who: Australian band The Temper Trap

What: New self-titled album, following on from 2009's album Conditions
Where and when: Supporting Coldplay, playing in New Zealand at Mt Smart Stadium on November 10

Check out the official video for new single Need Your Love below: