For a rising indie-rock band, achieving a hit single is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it sends you soaring from obscurity to having a huge following, but on the other it attracts fickle fans only interested in hearing that one song. With their Top 10 single “Sweet Disposition”, a song that was all over radio and television in 2009, Australian indie-rock band The Temper Trap are all too aware of the “one-hit wonder” tag. Saving the hit for last is a trick they employ at every gig.
Off the back of “Sweet Disposition” and Conditions, their striking million-copy-shifting debut album, they sold out a UK tour in May, including two nights at Koko, north London, while their July Somerset House show sold out in 36 hours, before their new album had even been released. Earlier this month they played the 5,000-capacity Hammersmith Apollo.
We meet at the band's hotel, Sydney's plush five-star, 36-storey, Shangri-La, before their show at the city's prestigious Opera House – a far cry from their early days slumming it on the floors of their friends' places after gigs at tiny venues.
“We used to play dive bars, and you never think that you'll get to play the Opera House,” says keyboardist Joseph Greer, their newest recruit, having graduated from touring member to fully-fledged member of the band. “I feel like I should wear a bow tie or something.” Their self-titled sophomore album is on the shelves, and the band now know that the stakes are high.
“I think we managed to insulate ourselves pretty well from the pressure,” says drummer Toby Dundas. “You're aware of the expectation from the fans as well. But it's early days and we think there are some songs on this record that could definitely connect in the same way.” He suggests their single “Trembling Hands” as the next song to take the mantle of hit single. “I think we're all really proud of that.”
“Are you touching wood?” witty bassist Jonny Aherne asks.
“I'm touching it with my foot,” Dundas replies.
“Let's say we tried to write a 'Sweet Disposition'-type song again,” adds guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto. “It would be rubbish. We're better off not thinking about it and letting it come more naturally.”
It would be impossible to recreate a song like “Sweet Disposition” – with its shimmering guitar riff, singalong melody and the falsetto of their singer Dougy Mandagi – where undoubtedly a little magic came together. How did they go about following their debut album?
“We didn't want to make Conditions 2,” states Greer. “If there was one thing that we thought about before making the album, it was to not repeat ourselves.” This all five members enthusiastically agree on. One thing that shaped the sound of the album was the practical matter of having more money to buy new equipment, which bolstered the overall sound of the guitar-pop of their debut with more keyboards and effects.
The band met in Melbourne and formed in 2005. A gig in Sydney feels like a home away from home: they remember how, in the early days, when they first started touring, they would cram all their gear into a van, drive the 12 hours from Melbourne to Sydney, play a show and drive straight back. Having achieved status as Australia's biggest contemporary band, they moved to London three years ago for a bigger challenge – to do the same on a vaster platform. Their label, Infectious Records, suggested, “come and see how it goes”, and three years later they're still there.
“We were lucky,” says Aherne. “The fact that Australia is quite isolated from the industry in the UK meant we had four years before we came over as a band so we had a little bit of time to develop our sound so it really worked on our behalf.”
They were nominated for a Brit Award as Best International Breakthrough Act last year and have sold out tours ever since. They have also won support from pop stars as notable as Bono, who included The Temper Trap in his recommendations of new bands in a magazine. Mumford and Sons, and Florence and the Machine are also fans and after 2009, when all three bands were included in the BBC's “Sound of” poll, they all toured together.
Their new-found home in London was the inspiration for their song “London's Burning”. Living in Hackney, in east London, they were at the centre of the riots of 2011.
Moving between the two continents and playing gigs everywhere in between (a highlight was playing to 35,000 fans at a festival in Mexico) is a challenge ,especially considering that Aherne, the youngest of the five bandmates, aged 25 to 32, is married with a baby. But for Mandagi, who was born in Indonesia, has lived in America, Australia and now the UK, being on tour is his comfort zone. His lyrics explore loneliness and displacement. “You can probably hear it in the writing, there's definitely a sense of displacement, that's why I get really anxious and uncomfortable if I'm in one place for too long. ”
Another coup for the band is being invited to support Coldplay on tour next month. They will undoubtedly be the biggest shows they've ever played – but they have always had high expectations.
“Getting to that point where we can take it to arenas is the next dream that we all have,” says Greer.
The Temper Trap's single “Miracle” is out on 29 October