Interview: The Temper Trap - Joseph Greer
Back in transit
They’re a band that soundtracked a certain time in a lot of people’s lives (as well as being on plenty of soundtracks too!). 2009 was peak The Temper Trap, but like everything – the last few years meant that with members scattered around the world, the band has been kind of on hold. They’re about to make it back over the ditch for the first time in over 4 years, so we got the Kiwi connection of The Temper Trap, Joseph Greer (guitar and backing vocals) on the line, just before rehearsals begin for his latest 'homecoming'.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Melbourne is where the Temper Trap was born in the early 2000s, but Joseph is the only member who still calls it home. We can all sympathise with the difficulties our Victorian cousins went through with never-ending lockdowns, luckily before Covid hit Joseph started teaching which meant he could move it all online. “Not ideal, but very fortunate,” says Joseph. What also happened was he started writing a lot of music.
“Even before all this happened. Because we all live in different parts of the world, we couldn't really do things the way that we used to. So, we decided that we need to do this differently. We thought we'd make a Dropbox, everyone can upload ideas. Through that we can figure out what we like, what we don't like.”
“I actually had a couple of years of being quite creative, writing in a way that I hadn't before. I was always writing little musical ideas, like guitar riffs or little things on keyboards and hoping that one of those, Dougy [Mandagi - lead singer] would get inspired by and start singing. I felt that little ideas wouldn’t really catch someone's attention online, so I just started writing full songs. Taking a lot of artistic liberty and not being precious about it. But it was quite a liberating and nice feeling that I could write full songs and present them to the band in a way I hadn't done before. So, it was actually quite a good couple of years in terms of that.”
Putting yourself out there is a scary feeling for anybody, but Joseph decided to trust his own instinct. “Being in a band, I was always sort of hoping for direction from the other members because everyone has different strengths. But I had to trust my own direction, and what I liked.”
He explains how it ended up as an empowering experience. “Through the process we started to find this direction of new things that was happening. And when you start to find that, it makes it easier. ‘OK, these are the things that everyone seems to be vibing on’, so I'm not just shooting in the dark trying to write stuff with no idea.”
With Dougy talking about it previously, it’s no surprise that there’s a bunch of ideas sitting online, waiting for something to happen. But when we asked Joseph for the lowdown on new tunes, he shared some news that will make fans of The Temper Trap very happy.
“We got together a couple of weeks ago, for the first time. We've had this Dropbox, but we haven't been together, so there was only so far we could take it. We spent a week, 12-hour days, just ‘Here’s all the music. What’s the list of everything like. What’s your top 10?’ And then we started working on it a bit more intensively. And it’s funny, because what’s happened from that is completely different to the songs that were there. An electronic song has become an acoustic song, and that’s just part of the thing that you can't get when you're doing it online. It’s been really valuable because we feel like we’ve got a little spark now, that we didn’t have before.”
“Also, we’re far along enough in our career to make sure we still enjoyed it. We’ve had an amazing run, and an amazing career. But I think we’re also at the point where we didn’t want to try and make music like we have done in the past – being pressured to re-create Sweet Disposition or something.”
“We’re not bitter about it or anything, that’s just the way it goes. But I think we’re at a point now where we don’t really feel that pressure anymore. Let’s just do what we love and what feels good for us. If it works, that’s really great, and if it doesn’t, that’s OK as well. Good music will only come from a place of innocence and exploration and fun – and I feel like that’s where we’re at.”
Over a decade of shared experiences makes for some close relationships. As Joseph explains, “it’s an intense environment to be in. So, it’s weird when you haven’t been there, because you go from living your life completely reliant on everyone else’s opinions and decisions, to not, living your own life and doing what you want.”
Seeing his “brothers” again, brings back all those old feelings. “It’s like we’re just a bunch of friends hanging out and doing what we love.” But Joseph continues, “I think there’s a tiny little bit of trepidation because you still have to try and find a way to feel comfortable in that environment. I think that we’re quite lucky that after this long, there’s still enough glue that keeps us wanting to be in that environment.”
Joseph is due to head off to rehearsals after we talk. Despite playing the songs thousands of times, he says the fact that it’s the first proper show they’ve played in 3 years makes it terrifying. The fact “it’s the longest that we haven’t played since the band started” must add to the fear, as does the pressure that their first date is a ‘hometown’ show for Joseph.
“Yeah, all my family’s coming. I’ve got family flying up from Dunedin, some from Auckland as well. Which is good, but I kind of wish it wasn’t the first show. But yeah!”
“The scary thing is, I know the songs very well, but you can’t rehearse for is what happens to you when you walk out there. You’ve done everything you can before but going out into that space is a very vulnerable feeling, and your body reacts in a certain way.”
“Like sometimes my hands just freeze up, or you just go blank. I try and remember that experience, because it’s such a unique feeling. The only way to rehearse for it, is to do it. That’s the scary thing about it, you don’t know how your body is going to react, you just have to do it. Things happen every now and then, that it’s hard to recover from. Like if something goes wrong in the first song, then you’ve got to play the whole set, so we’ll rehearse it as much as we can and we’ll see what happens on Sunday.”
Despite dangling the carrot of playing some new tunes live, Joseph says they want to keep it as uncomplicated as possible. “We’ll probably just try and play the songs that we feel the most comfortable with. Obviously Sweet Disposition and stuff like that is a given. We’ll figure out the set today. There will be a mix of everything in there, but probably relying more on the songs that feel the best to play live, that go really well live.”
As much fun as the tour will be, Joseph shares that being on the road is not something he could do long term again. So, what next then?
they could continue After the Coming back to you. Are you just at home at the moment, waiting to hit the road?
“I’m actually planning on making the move back to New Zealand in the next couple of years for the first time. I left when I was 19, I'm 36 now. So, it's a long time coming but I feel like it's the next step in my life. My fiancée and I want to have children and stuff, so I feel like New Zealand’s the place to be. In Melbourne I basically just teach now in between doing band stuff, so we'll do this tour and then after that there's nothing on the schedule.”
“But hopefully - like I said before - because the spark has started, we'll start working towards something. Usually around that that means that you've got shows and other things coming along. And that would be great. After so long not doing anything, this is still the thing that I enjoy the most. Playing shows and making music. So it would be great to continue doing that if possible.”
Going back to the music, Joseph says he hopes something can be released next year, but we’ll just have to keep waiting as it’s “too early to say yet.” Unfortunately, whatever timeframe musicians give, you usually need to double it. So let’s just call it 2025 and hope for a happy surprise. And maybe, just maybe, audiences this weekend will get something new as a live treat – (with apologies) a moment to love. Sweet.
See The Temper Trap live this weekend, supporting Kings of Leon at Auckland's Spark Arena on Sun 23 and Mon 24 October. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster, and keep an eye out for future updates and some new music from The Temper Trap.