Telegraph Canyon | The Anchor Leg


“I always felt like there were missing songs that I wished we could play live for folks. Now we have them!”






For the sake of their fans, some bands are active curators of audience interest. The people in the band may direct your attention to their other projects in art, film, and, of course, music, or that of their peers. When a band has a good read on what their fans like, it’s a wonderful thing. When a band doesn’t, there’s usually a lot a bewilderment in the fan base…either that, or apathy.

As a beneficiary of said curating, I had the good fortune of being introduced to Telegraph Canyon while saying goodbye to Centro-Matic at Off Broadway last December. It was the epitome of bittersweet, as I digested relegating the anthem-makers and tone setters who put Denton, Texas, on my radar to the past. In the briefest period—the length of an opening set, to be exact—it was clear that the baton was graciously being passed, firmly clutched in able hands. Telegraph Canyon was more than ready to provide anthems for those of us who identify with the grounded, yet sophisticated drive of working-class, land-locked American folk-rock music. Making that kind of rock music probably seems traditional and straightforward, which may be true. Making it sound original and inspired is anything but the straightforward and traditional, however, and inspiration and originality are what Telegraph Canyon strives for. It takes imagination and passion to keep your horizons wide in a part of the country where the life of a professional musician is more assured if the music is preceded with the word “traditional” and a hyphen. That’s not what Telegraph Canyon does. They aptly live up to their very well-chosen, and appropriately cinematic, name. They will finally be returning to St. Louis after nearly a year, and it’s high time we got an interview with Chris Johnson, Telegraph Canyon’s singer and songwriter.

prof telegraph-canyon

You from Before is a great album. It feels like a natural step forward. How did the writing and production of this album differ from your previous two LPs, All the Good News and The Tide and the Current?

Thank you, and thanks for listening to it and covering the record. I think it’s an important record and really want people to hear it. The method of production was much like the other two records. We basically build these song ideas up, strip them back down, and try them from different angles until we find something to be excited about. We call it chasing the dragon. As for the writing process, I mostly wrote the songs on electric guitar, bass, and banjo. Most of the previous two albums were written on acoustic guitar, piano, and organ. I’m sure I’ll find some new instrument to be inspired by for future Telegraph songs, but for now, I’m really enjoying electric guitar and bass.

How long was new album in development? When was the bulk of the material written?

You from Before was written over about five years, most of it in 2014. Conceptually speaking, I had an urge to let fans and newcomers to the band know we were going to do whatever we wanted from here on out. I’ve always wanted lots of different kinds of songs that have a common thread that ties them together. On this one, I wanted to rock! Ironically, there’s some of my favorite chill Telegraph moments on this album, like “Haunted Woods” and “Magnetic.”

You played a few of the songs from the album on the Centro-Matic farewell tour, and they really feel as if they translated that energy well in the studio. The entire album feels strongly suited for making the maximum impact live. Was that a particular focus?

Thanks for noticing that. Like I said before, we wanted to rock. After making The Tide and the Current, we started playing a lot more shows and that definitely affected the songs we chose to use on the new album. I always felt like there were missing songs that I wished we could play live for folks. Now we have them! Ya’ll come see the show!

The styles and arrangements of the songs are very diverse, but feel of a common piece, thanks to consistently vibrant and warm production, and consistent strength and timbre of your voice. The continuity seems effortless as a result. Was it hard to bring all those elements together and sequence the album?

Everything is a challenge, but sequencing is so fun and instinctual. I feel like most people involved already agree on the order of things before we even start the conversation or propose the idea. It’s by far my favorite part of making a record.

Was the touring lineup also on hand for the majority of the recording process? The synergy you all possess is a fantastic asset to have at your disposal when recording.

It’s a mix of a skeleton crew in the studio on most days and the touring band crew on others. Matt Pence, our good friend and engineer, Bobby Zanzucchi (keys, vocals, guitar), and Austin Green (drums) are there for the majority of all recording. We normally put some BBQ on the grill and chase the dragon when all the buddies show up. It’s such a fun experience.

You’re opening for the Polyphonic Spree; how did that tour come about and how have those shows been? If I were coming up with a continuum of bands to explain the extremes of your sound, they and Centro-Matic would be a pretty accurate pairing to my ear.

It’s the most fun tour to be on; it’s like touring with five bands at once. We’re currently over the moon and all smiles while getting our busted transmission fixed. If that doesn’t explain how happy we are, I don’t know what would. They’re a great band and a great bunch. There’s so much to learn from them. Chris Penn, the Spree’s manager, initiated the conversation about Telegraph playing a show or two with them. He sent over a long list of dates to choose from, to which we replied, “Uhhhhh, can we do all of them?” The rest is history. Well, almost: We still have a pile of shows in front of us.

Do you get any added anticipation when you get the opportunity to headline shows after being on the road as an opening act, having that extra time to stretch out and dig a little deeper in the well of material?

Honestly, I like it all. Short sets can pack a mean punch, and knowing there will be a bunch of people who have never seen you before is just as fun as playing a two-hour set and wondering if everyone there has already heard my stories.

Your albums seem tailor-made for cross-country transit. What are you listening to on the road, and what sights have inspired you?

I like that!! I’m listening to lots of War on Drugs, Kurt Vile’s new album, and Phosphorescent currently. My whole life is traveling, so it’s no surprise that’s bled into the music.

What would you want your audience and fans viewing and listening to in order to prime themselves for your show? What song would you love to have the audience singing along to if you had to choose just one?

The single “Why Let It Go” is an easy listen and a fun song to party with us on, but I’d love for people to dig into “Hung Up.” Thanks so much for the interview! Excited to be back in STL, home of the best team in baseball. | Willie Edward Smith

Telegraph Canyon (w/ Oil Boom) will be performing at the Demo in St. Louis on Saturday, November 21.

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