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Telescreens: Redefining a New Era of Rock

A New York City-based band, Telescreens, is bringing authentic and euphoric rock n roll to a new era of the NYC music scene. Telescreens comprises Jackson Hamm (Lead and Guitar), Austin Brenner (Bass), Josiah Valerius (Keyboard and Synths), and Oliver Graf (Drums). The band, originally consisting of Hamm, Brenner, and Valerius, released The Return in 2020, and right when the trio needed a drummer, Graf presented himself, and it clicked for them as a band. Their sound can be described as future alternative rock with folk writing; their first album, The Return, had more electronic elements, but with their newest EP, releasing in late August, they have followed through with more rock. Through their music and astonishingly kinetic live performances, where the audience is taken on a journey and transcends. Telescreens is bringing a nostalgic feeling that came with listening to classic rock n’ roll and modernizing it. A band dedicated to music and bringing people together through the ideals and objectives of rock n roll and its culture.

Where did the name Telescreens come from? Does it mean something?

The name comes from 1984 the George Orwell novel. It was a device that the thought police or “big brother” used to watch over citizens. It’s like a two way radio/mirror that can never be turned off. This name always stuck with me after reading the book, I really couldn’t get it out of my head. Eventually I thought “The Telescreens” would be an interesting name for a musical project. This was circa 2014. A Telescreen was a vehicle of oppressive authoritarian control. I wanted to flip the meaning and instead make it a positive reflection of humanity. Telescreens, the band, is built to be a pure representation of the thoughts, desires, and emotions that make us human. We desire freedom, we fight oppression, we express ourselves, we are unafraid of judgement, we want to spread love, euphoria, and we want to bring human beings closer together. This is our mission and as far as I’m concerned the mission of rock n’ roll in general.

How did you come together as a band? Was there a moment when it clicked for you as a band?

Me (Jackson) Austin, and Josiah met in college. Josiah was in my dorm room one night randomly and we ended up smoking a joint and walking around New York. Our ethos on music and expression and energy was in total alignment. We started making music together and the first thing we made ended up being the climaxing synth build at the end of “Wait” off our first record. After that session I remember asking our good buddy Jack Kleinick if he thought Josiah would want to join the band. He told me no and Josiah was way too busy. Luckily I am very stubborn and asked Josiah anyway. Josiah said what we were making was too powerful to ignore and we had to keep going to see where it could go. That was 7 years ago.

Austin’s girlfriend at the time was living across the hall from where me and Josiah were making songs. He would occasionally poke his head in and jump on an instrument to jam. Austin had a great reputation at the time as a multi-instrumentalist and producer. Eventually we got Austin in a rehearsal and a light bulb went off in all our heads. Goosebumps, adrenaline, and the music was beyond any of us at the time. We had no idea what we were doing, but looking at each other during those rehearsals we all knew we just had to keep doing it.

Oliver was my brother’s best friend in middle school. I would always steal him away to jam when he would come over to see my brother. He was a young drummer and I was a few years older just starting to seriously write songs. We would have a hell of a time back then. I didn’t see him for about 5 years and then right when me, Austin and Josiah were looking for drummers (without success) we bumped into each other. He was also going to school in New York and was secretly still addicted to playing drums. I invited him to a rehearsal and it was a moment I’ll never forget. We were fumbling through “I remember dying” and finally Josiah (who grew up playing drums in the church) jumped on the kit to show him more of what we were looking for. Josiah played hard and with intent. Oli sat there and listened to the three of us run through IRD and went bright red in the face. When we finished he said “please can I try again.” He got back on the kit and when he came back in it was like thunder. I’ll never forget that moment. Oli was a jazz drummer in high school, always being told to play quieter. Now I was screaming play louder and his playing felt like a beautiful release of tension. We were sweating, bleeding, and crying by the end of that rehearsal. It was locked in that was the moment.

The Return and your newer material have a different sound, especially as you transition more into rock n roll. What sparked this switch in your music?

The Return was made entirely by Austin, Josiah, and myself in bedrooms on laptops. We had minimal equipment and a vision to make a magnum opus esc concept record. This was in 2016 and we all were in love with Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Kanye West. We wanted to combine the likes of Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the Moon and The Beatles with the modern sonics that we were so inspired by. 4 years of writing, recording, producing, and mixing we ended up with an hour and a half piece of music that flowed linearly. We discovered energies in the process of making The Return that we continue to source and chase to this day. No stone was left unturned making this album and the three of us remain very proud of it. It nearly killed us, really it did.

Oli joined the band in 2019 and finally we had a drummer. We suddenly were out of the box. We were playing shows and watching people respond to fast tempo energetic music. I was very inspired by Nirvana, The Pixies, and The Beatles among many others at the time and went back to writing more songs on my guitar. I would bring these songs to the band and everyone would immediately find their way in. It was a vicious, cathartic, euphoric sound that was quintessentially rock n roll. Austin, Oliver, and myself were rhythmically locking and determined to get better and better at it. Josiah was the texture on top that takes from the obsessive synthesizer focused first album and added to a traditional rock 3 piece. It was immediate and obvious and the only thought we had was to record this shit asap.

What can we expect from your EP coming out at the end of the month?

The EP will be half of our upcoming album. It is a maximalist modern rock n roll recording. The songs are simple and built to be as energizing and uplifting as possible. We have been practicing relentlessly as an outfit since 2019, our goal always to push each other to be the best band in the world. Cuz why the f*ck not? The tightest hardest hitting group of mother fuckers on the face of the planet. That has been the mantra for the last 4 years. I’m not entirely sure that is a destination, but it definitely holds us accountable with each other at the highest level we can compute. Constantly working on fixing the littlest details that compound to make a big difference.

The record is a pure immortalized version of what we do as a live band. Our influence for the process was Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. Practice until the brink of insanity, find the best record producer in town (Alex Poeppel), and record live with all of us in the room. No click (except lost, vertigo, and lost ants). The result is a very energetic, loud, abrasive recording that is an honest expression of us as a band. It is mixed by Alex Tumay and it is the best sounding music I have ever been a part of making. I have never met better producers and engineers in my life and it was a true honor making the album with them.

What is your writing process like? Do you all have the same process? Has it evolved in any way since The Return?

The songs for this coming album fell out of the air. Many of them just came out late at night while sitting with my guitar. I’d bring them to the lads and we would jam and arrange on the fly in rehearsal. Songs also came from rehearsal where someone would just play a random line and that would build into a jam that would morph into a song. It was all very natural and we just followed our instinct and feeling.

The Return was very different. Austin, Josiah and I would sit at a laptop for days on end and record these crazy over the top productions that ended up taking years to organize, write to and mix. A very different process, but a valid one. Making “The Return” definitely made us far better at producing and recording music. We threw every piece of paint we could find at the canvas and reacted to what stuck.

“The Return” was very complicated, so we tried to make the upcoming record as simple as we could. Realizing that the more simple and dynamic a recording is, the harder it can hit.

What have been your most memorable performances or shows?

In the summer of 2022, we convinced some college girls on a random Saturday to let us take over their backyard in the East Village to play a little DIY rock show. It ended up being 500 odd people packed into this back yard. It was the beginning of the summer. Neighbors crowded on their fire escapes with six packs, people brought their own booze, the vibes were spiritual. It felt like a real New York moment - something that could only happen in NYC. In 8 hours we went from having no plans to packing 500 people into some random girl’s yard. The cops came and decided to let us keep playing. We played a show that to this day remains my favorite Telescreens show ever, it was magic.

Do you have a before- or after-show ritual? If so, what are they?

Before a show Josiah and I meditate. I specifically try and slow my heart rate as much as possible. Oliver and Austin socialize. Then about 10 minutes before we go on, we huddle up, say a prayer, and take 4 deep, slow breaths in sync. I think syncing our breathing really helps us tap into each other and is a good reminder that the goal is synergy between all of our different energies.

What are some artists that have influenced your sound?

The Beatles, Radiohead, Frank Ocean, Nirvana, Joy Division, Pixies, Bob Dylan, Kanye West, Marvin Gaye, The Strokes, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, LCD Soundsystem, David Bowie, Lauren Hill, Gorillaz, Blur, Bob Marley, Tame Impala, Sublime, The Yeah yeah yeahs, Stevie Wonder, Arctic Monkeys, The XX, Daft Punk, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, Oasis, Outkast…. IDK I could go all day.

What does “Where do we go but up? Look around you, darkness. Beneath you, darkness. Above you a light. Where do we go but up?” mean? Who wrote this and does this piece define what Telescreens is about?

This is a poem that came to me during the writing of The Return. I don’t really know what these words mean or why they came to me. I do remember visualizing being buried by an avalanche. Completely submerged in snow. I spit and the spit fell upwards, I was upside down. I just remember a vision of digging up to find my way back to the light. This is to me a representation of what all life is about, getting knocked down and finding your way back to the light. Life is the fight back to the light, and Telescreens is a representation of that message.

In your music video “Lost”, 90’s it girl Juliette Lewis made a cameo. How did that come to be?

My friend Michael put the backyard show I discussed earlier on his instagram story. E.B a producer out in LA saw the video of the backyard show and got curious. He started digging and ended up listening to The Return front to back many times over. In his words he became obsessed with it and showed it to everyone he knew. One of his friends is Juliet and he showed her the record. Her response was also similar and eventually she reached out to us about how much she liked the album. We started a dialogue and it went from there. She’s awesome and her connection to the music allows us to feel a little less crazy.

A band that has been on the rise is finally getting the recognition they deserve. Through their music and dynamic live performances, Telescreens is carrying the torch of rock n roll and bringing it back into NYC, which you shouldn’t miss. You can catch them this Saturday, August 26th, at Bowery Ballroom performing their long-awaited EP that comes out the day before.

Written and Interviewed by Veronica Anya

Photography by Jeff Thomas and Tammi Ferrara, courtesy of Telescreens.

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