The Telescopes
Higher and Higher
by Tom Butler

The Telescopes began in 1987 in Burton-upon-Trent in Staffordshire, England as a dark noise-rock band with traces of psyche-rock tendencies. This early version of the band sounded like a chance meeting between the Birthday Party and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Much like the JAMC, the early shows were feedback-ridden riots. The Perfect Needle and To Kill a Slow Girl Walking EPs, along with debut album Taste, captured this sound, all feedback and reverb-drenched fury.

As time went on, the Telescopes continued to evolve as a band and by the time they’d released their untitled second album on the Creation label, they had become the most psychedelic of the first wave of shoegaze bands. While contemporaries like My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive relied on volume and effects pedals, the Telescopes had found something more subtle. The bombast and noise were still there in measured doses, but there was also a druggy haze of laidback Velvet Underground cool as well. Despite the “Flying” single landing on the UK charts, though, the Creation album didn’t do well commercially and eventually the Telescopes became inactive.

Singer and guitarist Stephen Lawrie kept on making music with Telescope bassist Joanna Doran under the name of Unisex. Their 2000 album, Stratosfear, serves as an excellent stopgap between the untitled second album and the surprise return of the Telescopes in 2002. That year Lawrie and Doran resumed activity as the Telescopes with Third Wave, an album oriented on analog synth and electronics. While the band has continued to sporadically release quality records, their influence can been seen on a number of artist compiled collections. Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre released As Approved By the Committee on his Committee to Keep Music label; former Spacemen 3 guitarist Sonic Boom released Altered Perceptions on his Space Age label; and Randall Nieman of Füxa recently released an early singles comp on his Mind Expansion imprint, in addition to collaborating on a split single and a few album tracks with the band.

As the only constant member in recent years, Lawrie has continued to pursue his muse as the Telescopes, with virtually every recording sounding different from the one previous. From the dreamy atmospheric guitar compositions of The Hungry Audio Tapes to the fragile acoustic improvisations on the Auditory Illusions EP to the feedback and electronics experiments of the #4 album, any and all avenues are being explored. For Lawrie, it seems the important thing is to keep moving, growing and innovating, as we discussed via email.

What’s going on right now in the world of the Telescopes?

Stephen Lawrie: We’ve just released a vinyl album on Textile Records called Infinite Suns, and we’re gearing up to play a couple of festivals and a few shows.

There’s been a bit of activity in the Telescopes camp over the past couple of years after a number of years of relative silence. Was there anything in particular that inspired you to start up the Telescopes again?

SL: Being isolated at Far Heath Studios while the Unisex album was coming together gave me the space to write. I got a lot of enthusiasm from Randall (Füxa) and Peter Green (Double Agent Records) too.

How did the reissues on Revola and Bomp and the compilations on Mind Expansion and Space Age come about?

SL: Most reissues come about because labels express an interest in the back catalogue. So I see what’s lying around or is about to expire and try and keep everything in print.

You’ve appeared on Füxa records, done a split single with Füxa, Randall from Füxa has played on Telescopes records, and you’ve toured with them. How did that association come about?

SL: Randall had a track, ’“Rainy Day Dream Away,” that he wanted vocals for. I was inspired to write a melody, so he dropped by and recorded it in one take.

Unlike some of your contemporaries, who have been making the festival rounds playing exclusively old material, the Telescopes have concentrated on new material since returning. What do you say to fans who want to hear Telescopes classics like “Flying” or “Celeste?”

SL: I sometimes play acoustic shows on my own, and the set consists entirely of songs I’ve written for the Telescopes. Now and then the Telescopes go back to old stuff if it inspires. Check out the Winter EP and Auditory Illusions.

Every Telescopes recording has a different sound. The most recent stuff is very droney, almost Eno-esque. What is inspiring you right now?

SL: I’m inspired by the guitar at the moment, and playing with Bridget Hayden. Recording live inspires me a great deal, too.

What inspired you to start your label, Antenna Records?

SL: Antenna isn’t a serious label geared up for world domination or anything. I just like being able to release music I like, whether it’s commercially viable or not. The music we release is what inspires me to carry on.

What is the status of Unisex?

SL: I doubt we’ll ever play together again.

The Telescopes line-up has always seemed very fluid and constantly changing. Who else is currently involved?

SL: At the moment the Telescopes are a total collaboration between Bridget Hayden and myself. All of the music is improvised.

Is there any chance of more new Telescopes material or another tour in the future?

SL: I never know what’s around the corner for the Telescopes. It keeps it interesting.