On the heels of attention brought to the New York City rock scene by local bands that shot to stardom in the early aughts—The Strokes, Interpol, Fischerspooner—the burgeoning scene in Williamsburg, Brooklyn birthed countless bands making challenging music that was the antithesis of radio-friendly. One of those bands was Telepathe.
Formed in 2004 by Melissa Livaudis and Busy Gangnes, the group makes ambient, electro-tinged pop that is informed as much by hip-hop and radio fare as by any of the 1970s rock records that inspired their peers.
Nurtured in the DIY scene that Williamsburg has become known for, Telepathe became a beloved local act, packing lofts and warehouses all over the city.
As the group progressed, Livaudis and Gangnes became more interested in creating music electronically, eschewing playing live for producing sounds in the studio. Though Gangnes left New York and moved back to her native Los Angeles, Livaudis remains in Brooklyn and the group continues to make music. They work both together and separately, a process that allows in a way guitar-rock cannot.
Adam Rathe: How did Telepathe form?
Melissa Livaudis: Busy and I used to play in another band called Wicked. That band broke up in 2004 and we decided that we wanted to keep playing together, so we started a new project.
AR: Can you just start a band like that? What do you have to do to start a new group?
Busy Gangnes: We both were really into music and wanted to play together. Melissa was living in a loft and we would just jam in there, without any big plans.
ML: Our first show was at the loft in Brooklyn I used to live in.
AR: New York’s music scene has seemingly always been made up of tribes—bands that fit into one clique or another. Where did you see yourselves fitting in?
BG: We were starting to play shows right when [promoter] Todd P was beginning to put together events. So early on we played a lot of his shows, like in the basement of North Six, which doesn’t exist anymore. We literally played every small venue like that. We played in every DIY loft space; we played at Glasslands before it was Glasslands; we played at Asterisk, which isn’t around anymore but was on Montrose Avenue in Bushwick. That was the first public show that wasn’t in someone’s apartment.
ML: A lot of the bands that were playing at the same time were pretty heavy, noisy, psychedelic bands with massive amps and stuff. We wanted to do something completely different. We didn’t want to be an experimental No Wave band. We were listening to a lot of dance and hip-hop, and we wanted to start making electronic music by making beats and getting into home production. It wasn’t the kind of music made in a live setting. We were kind of out on our own because we came at it from a different angle than a lot of other bands.
AR: So what were you looking to for inspiration?
ML: We were listening to a lot of [radio station] 97.1. That was our main inspiration—that and a lot of dancehall. They used to do this thing called Fire Sundays, which was all dancehall. That blew my mind. We moved away from the indie rock side of things and started listening to things with production and kick-drum sounds. The radio was our main inspiration. I love weird, obscure records, and I’m a massive collector, but the radio offered something new and I really got into it.
AR: How does the songwriting process change between writing rock songs and doing hip-hop-inspired stuff in a home studio?
ML: We would sit down with a MIDI keyboard and build out a piece and then write a melody over it. It’s that simple. It’s really cerebral because you’re not playing until it sounds right, you’re thinking about the music and its composition.
AR: How did the indie scene react to that sort of music?
ML: It was pretty extreme. With our band, there’s no in-between: People love us or hate us. Fader magazine has always shown us a lot of love, but something like the Deli magazine absolutely hates us. We were polarizing, even though I don’t think anything we’ve done has been that extreme, though it was weird that we started doing it.
AR: You’re obviously loved by some people. There’s that website, Fuck Yeah, Telepathe, that’s all photos of you.
ML: Fans started it. It’s crazy.
BG: It’s not anything we can control. It’s just the nature of the Internet and I don’t have a say in any of it. It doesn’t really matter or influence how we do things. Or it shouldn’t.
AR: How has Telepathe changed over the years?
ML: We started out being a live band and then went in the polar opposite direction, playing only in our own studio and figuring out how to make it a live band. We’re about to play the first show we’ve played in a year, so we’ve managed to turn it back into a live band. It was all trial and error, and we definitely made a lot of mistakes because we didn’t know what the fuck to do. We were using software and writing in the studio, and we wondering how we could play it live. But now we’ve arrived at a point where we learned from our mistakes, so we’re able to get back to doing live shows.
AR: Does living apart make it difficult to be in a group together?
ML: Not really. I went to LA to work on our second album, then I came home and Busy stayed there. Later we went to England to mix it. We set aside a couple of months for rehearsals, so Busy is back in New York now. It’s a matter of carving out the time to see each other and talking through it. We don’t need to be in the same physical space every single day.
BG: In the future we will be releasing our next album and touring with it. We’ll see what comes of that.