When Michael Benjamin Lerner — aka Telekinesis –started seeding ideas for what would become the songs of his third record, he didn’t know that Jim Eno of Spoon would play an integral part in the shaping of these songs by sharing exactly how he felt about Lerner’s shuffles and bass beats. He didn’t plan on working with Eno at Public Hi-Fi, the renowned producer’s Austin studio, and he certainly didn’t foresee naming the record Dormarion for the very street the studio sits on. He thought he’d be going it alone with this record, as usual, as a solitary way of songwriting has been the modus operandi for the drummer-gone-full-fledged-rocker since long before he self-released his first EP in 2008.
“I was talking to Merge while I was on tour before the record and asked if it was okay to do it on my own, to just do the record at my house,” says Lerner, who’s currently playing out behind Dormarion and will swing through the Bowery Ballroom tonight. “They said, ‘Absolutely! But aren’t you going to get bored? And lonely?’ Just them saying that, I needed to hear it — it was totally true. I had been talking with Jim about getting together and trying to make a record, and the timing seemed to work out perfectly, so we went for it.”
As Lerner and Eno are both known for their surgical precision at the drum kit, it’s no shock that Dormarion, from start to finish, is a record that thumps with a heartbeat you can set a metronome to, one with celebratory cymbal splashes (“Emphatic People”) and a pugilistic anchor of a strong backbeat (“Laissez-faire”) alike. “He’s not afraid to tell you how he feels, which I think is really helpful,” says Lerner of Eno. “Ghosts and Creatures” is the song from the that Lerner uses to demonstrate the perks of their collaboration, as the drum part Lerner had written hit Eno’s ear the wrong way — so he suggested the addition of a drum machine, the two messed around with it and the result is something Lerner never would’ve arrived at otherwise. “When you’re doing everything yourself you start to lose perspective on that stuff,” says Lerner. “He basically came up with that drum machine part — it made the song how it is today, and I’m really proud of how it is and I couldn’t have done that without him. It’s nice to know it’s a true collaboration.”
This booth-born chemistry came as a relief to Lerner, whose one-man band ways continue to inform — though not necessarily impede — his artistic breakthroughs. “Working alone is the only way I can write songs,” he says. “I find that when I try to do it with other people, the songs get off the tracks, or I get really heady about it. I’m a control freak about stuff even though I don’t like to admit that when it comes to my own projects … I was honestly really scared about [working with Eno] because I had never worked with him in that way. It’s a big leap of faith for both of the people involved with making a record. It’s one of the most vulnerable environments you could put yourself into, the studio: you’re baring your soul to a tape machine and everything is scrutinized and microscopic. If you don’t have a good relationship with the person trying to get you to play the best you could possibly play, it can be a real nightmare, and it comes across on the record, too. When I listen to Dormarion, I can hear all the fun we have — and making records should be fun.”
The “more the merrier” approach lives on as the songs of Dormarion are taken on the road: the band touring with Lerner boasts Erik Walters of The Globes (guitar), Eric Elbogen of Say Hi (bass) and Rebecca Cole of Wild Flag/The Minders (keys). “Getting to take it on tour is exciting because I’ve basically had a different band for every tour and record cycle,” he says. “It’s been amazing because the songs have been presented in different ways because different people are playing the parts. I feel like the luckiest person on earth in that way, because when you’re in a band for 20 years, you don’t have that luxury. You’re playing with the same people, which is great, but I’m really happy and excited that I get to have other people interpret the songs that I wrote in their own way. It always sounds really exciting and new to me and I feel really lucky about that.”
Telekinesis play the Bowery Ballroom with Deep Sea Diver tonight.