Telenova: Melbourne trio build cinematic worlds with enigmatic electronic pop

Members of Miami Horror and Slum Sociable join forces with a filmmaker – thanks to a former guitarist of Death Cab For Cutie

In a scene as small as Melbourne’s – or Australia’s, for that matter – it’s not at all shocking to see the name of one band member on the lineup of another. The real trial for the musician, as Gareth Liddiard, Erica Dunn and Lachlan Denton have no doubt all faced, is to prove that each act’s identity can hold its own.

This is the challenge that Telenova, a new Melbourne three-piece comprising members of Miami Horror and Slum Sociable, have successfully met. With the release of their debut EP just days away, the new(ish) kids on the block have forged a sound that distances Telenova not only from each band member’s respective CV, but other indie up-and-comers nationwide.

NME caught up with the Telenova trio toward the end of a snap 14-day lockdown in Melbourne to talk ‘Tranquilize’, a five-track collection that effortlessly jumps between dive bar croonings and Thelma and Louise-style outlaw tales. While similarities have already been drawn between ‘Tranquilize’ and the iconic stylings of Portishead or Massive Attack, the band say it’s mainly marketing spin.

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“All the references to trip hop, Portishead, Massive Attack – all of that came afterwards because we needed bands to help position ourselves in [marketing] bios and stuff like that,” frontwoman Angeline Armstrong tells NME.

“Honestly, I didn’t listen to any of those bands before we started making music. And now I’m like, ‘Sick! Cool music.’ It just happened naturally.”

Armstrong, Ed Quinn (Slum Sociable) and Joshua Moriarty (Miami Horror) met in early 2020 at a songwriting workshop hosted by APRA AMCOS and facilitated by former Death Cab For Cutie member Chris Walla. Having been thrown in a room together and told to write, the trio came up with the EP’s title track, an upbeat tune that layers Armstrong’s gossamer vocals over a groovy, hypnotic bassline. They continued to write music together once the workshop was over, and realised they had whipped up a decent catalogue in next to no time.

What is evident from Telenova’s initial presentation is they seek to make an aesthetic impression as much as a sonic one. Armstrong, also a filmmaker, lists French New Wave, as well as the auteurs Wong Kar-wai, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry as influences. In her own film career, she’s been mentored by Baz Luhrmann and had productions screened at film festivals at home and abroad.

The music video for ‘Tranquilize’ depicts Armstrong fleeing into the water from law enforcement after serenading a beguiled audience into a deep slumber. It was filmed, in part, at a Titanic-themed restaurant and theatre in the outer Melbourne suburb of Williamstown. The EP’s cover art continues this theme of magical realism, showing Armstrong wading through dark waters, bathed in a cinematic neon glow. But that’s to be expected from a band whose name borrows from a type of televised serial drama.

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“I’m drawn to urban settings that have a real heightened reality or a kind of surreal element. That fascinates me, that middle line between something that’s very familiar and recognisable,” Armstrong says. She points to hazy music venues and opulent cinemas – spaces that emanate a kind of Lynchian energy you can’t quite put your finger on.

Armstrong’s constructed worlds don’t just stop at music videos. Each song of hers is a personal experience, wrapped in a metaphor and left to grow into its own universe. In other words, listeners aren’t expected to relate. Doing away with the pressure to create relatable music that resonates with a wide audience means Telenova has plenty more freedom to experiment with storycraft.

“My whole theory on storytelling and creativity and making art is that it’s impossible to create something that’s not from your own experience, somewhere deep down,” Armstrong says.

“I think people are like, ‘I’ll just write from my own experience’. And that’s why everyone’s lyrics sound the same, like…”

Moriarty interrupts, “Going on the bus, smoking cigarettes, rah rah rah!

“Exactly! Like, ‘remember that time we went for a drive and it was so romantic and now you’ve broken my heart’. But what if instead it was a lost highway and you’re a murderer? Why not play with it?”

“Otherwise, it’s just ‘baby baby oh yeah, I love you’, and it’s so fucking boring,” Quinn adds. “What’s the point in writing that we’ve heard it a million times before?”

So, none of you have murdered anyone? “No”, “I don’t think so”, “I came close once”.

The band’s other single, ‘Bones’, explores the “disillusionment of an idealised romance or relationship”. ‘Lost Highway’ and ‘Blue Valentine’ continue this theme, throughout the EP, of a tormented soul dealing with demons of the past. ‘Comedian’ is a more wholesome change of pace, with Armstrong just wishing to cheer up a friend who’s feeling blue.

Musical stylings aside, another difference between Telenova and the band’s past projects is that the trio aim to contribute creatively in equal share. Working together for the past year and a half meant Quinn was splitting his time between Telenova and Slum Sociable, who called it quits back in March with their final EP, ‘The Street Of Dire Needs’. Moriarty continues to play bass in Miami Horror, but in that band is mainly a “facilitator of [the] vision” of frontman Ben Plant. With Telenova, he has greater input over the band’s musical direction, working with Armstrong on lyrics and melody.

The Telenova trio have all heard horror stories about musicians becoming a band’s dead weight, and pledged not to be that guy. “There are so many bands where someone talks too much and doesn’t deliver, or they’re late to turn up or they’re just fucking useless or a control freak in a whole different way,” Moriarty says.

“There are so many different aspects of being in this world that are difficult to deal with other artists that you work with. But we don’t have any of those problems with each other; it’s just a really comfortable, nice, motivating group and it’s working.”

“I think people are like, ‘I’ll just write from my own experience’. And that’s why everyone’s lyrics sound the same”

Telenova will support ‘Tranquilize’ with a small handful of tour dates. The band have spent so much time on a visual aesthetic, and the pressure is on to translate it into an equally rich live experience. They aren’t too worried, though; enlisting the help of artist Rhys Newling, Telenova expect to use cinematic projections and visual art to channel the vibe they’ve worked hard on perfecting into a new dimension.

“I think that we bring a real raw and organic warmth to our performances, that’s kind of an amplification of what it’s like for us when we’re creating in the studio,” Armstrong says.

“I’m definitely not raw,” Moriarty retorts, “I’m fucking shiny. Polished.”

Telenova are in a funny paradox of sorts. If all goes well and the venues they play get bigger, they will have to find new ways of making the space more intimate to keep their magical realism intact. The Lynchian jazz bar will be more a state of mind than anything else.

Telenova’s debut EP ‘Tranquilize’ is out July 2 through Pointer

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