Photos and Writing by Dustie Bayer
On Christmas Eve last year, I received a call with an invitation to check out a show at Snug Harbor. I had just returned from Nashville two weeks prior where I photographed live music for the first time, so the thought of capturing a show in my hometown made my decision a no-brainer. Once we arrived, Telepathetics were prepping to go on and I found myself a spot near the stage. While adjusting my camera settings, I wasn’t paying much attention to what was going on around me until I heard the drummer click in. That was when I looked up and saw what looked to be Halloweentown’s preferred lawyer on stage. He was dressed in a black suit, bore witch-like facial prosthetics, and had a greasy sheen to his hair. I didn’t know it at the time, but that fever dream of a man was vocalist Mike Gentry, and he was about to give one hell of a performance. Between his bizarre and theatrical stage presence and the band’s paradoxical helter-skelter sound; I became an instant fan. Now four months and a few shows later, I got the opportunity to sit down with the Rock Hill based group to get the low-down on how they came to be, what to expect in the future, and everything in between.
Before they were Telepathetics they were Tough Ghosts, a pop-synth project started in 2018 by keyboardist, Micah Troublefield, and guitarist, Sean Robinson. Their pop sound quickly evolved into punk with the addition of Gentry and former drummer Josiah. After about a year the band went through a soft breakup as Josiah went on to pursue other musical opportunities, and Stan Gibson (Warm Noise Records) joined soon after to fill the role. “This was Mike’s first time singing in a band, my first time just playing guitar, Micah was still pretty new to synth, so with the exception of Stan we were all stepping outside of our comfort zones a little bit.” Robinson explains when reminiscing on what it was like starting out. With the threat of an impending lockdown in March 2020, the band was once again on a hiatus and unable to practice or write new music until 2021. This is when the name Telepathetics was adopted, and they really started to develop their unique sound.
With no designated songwriter, each bandmate works together to create something cohesive. Although these songs are all written in a specific structure, the way you hear them being played could differ each time you attend a show. Stan uses Robinson’s guitar riffs as an example; “Sean makes these sounds that are so much fun, and they’re always in the same construct but they’re never the same sonically.” Mike follows this by comparing Robinson’s spontaneity on stage to an interview with Frank Zappa where he is quoted saying, “When the time comes up in the song to play a solo, it’s me against the laws of nature. I don’t know what I’m going to play, I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I do know roughly how long I have to do it. You have that piece of time, and you get to decorate it.” Stan again plays off this by praising Sean and Micah’s abilities to adjust their sound to create a layer of discordant chaos that still feels accessible. “That’s the stuff that I love because I don’t want to play 4/4 all the time, so being in this band and being given the freedom to explore the drums more creatively has been a lot of fun.”
When asked about the ingenuity behind his sound, Troublefield credits Swedish ambient noise duo Black Bug as one of his earliest inspirations. “Our first song ‘No Good News’ was me just trying to figure out how to make a Black Bug song, and it sounds nothing like them, but since the synth is limited in what it can produce I try to use a lot of pedals to transform it into an even cooler and more obnoxious sound.”
While the instrumentals are being held down by the rest of the band, Mike often puts his focus on trying to match the energy that his bandmates are giving to provide the audience with a performance as compelling visually as it is audibly. Whether that looks like performing in a full suit and facial prosthetics, an eccentric patterned button-up, or a gold wrestling singlet; Mike proves that being an entertainer is vital to providing the audience with a memorable set. “There’s value in the aesthetic that we’re putting out there,” explains Gentry, “working in the art world I think a lot about how art is being made and in what way it is being perceived. With our music I want people to feel like they’re witnessing a happening versus a symphony experience.”
In response to what is coming next, the band stays true to its unpredictable nature; “I’m really not sure. We’re currently writing a song that structurally is very different from the eight songs we have now,” Mike explains. “I don’t know what’s coming next and that’s what keeps it exciting.” The band plans to soft-release their untitled eight-track EP in the near future, and is currently working on a few other projects that may or may not include a music video.
In the meantime, you can catch Telepathetics performing with MS Paint, The Mall, and Clearbody at Snug Harbor on April 19th. You can also keep an eye out for events happening at The Courtroom, a venue in the heart of downtown Rock Hill run by Gentry, and check out the ‘Dead Meat Pete’ soundtrack recently released by Troublefield’s solo synth project “Soft Neon”.