The melodrama and romance of the melancholy have always appealed to me. Whether depicted by the gloom of the Brontës or in songs by the Shangri-Las, narratives that explore broken hearts and dashed hopes have captivated me in a way that happy endings never will. Gloomy endings — grim, macabre, or maudlin — have taught me so much about the resilience of the human heart and the many ways in which vulnerability can often lead to strength. They've also served as an endless source of inspiration for Tele Novella's Natalie Gordon, whose lyrics explore loss, the plight of unrequited lovers, and the lore of sunken ships in psych-pop ballads like "Dead Canary," "Waiting on an Answer," and "Carpathia."
Set to release their debut LP, House of Souls, later this month, Tele Novella have a bittersweet sound, satisfyingly reminiscent of 1960s girl groups and crestfallen twee. Awash in tambourine and harmonies, their songs reveal the drama of figuring out what it means to be alive. I spoke with Natalie, the band's lead vocalist and primary wordsmith, one evening over the phone about the imaginative lure of the macabre, why she feels her best when being creative, and how Carl Sagan and sci-fi led to their latest music video, "Heavy Balloon," which we are premiering today.
Dianca Potts: What role did music play in your life when you were younger?
Natalie Gordon: When I was about five, my parents forced me into piano lessons because there's a lot of professional musicians in my family and they wanted me to be a classical concert pianist, so I took piano lessons for about eleven years. I never really liked it, and the only music that I was really exposed to until I was a preteen was jazz and classical music. It was probably a good foundation to start with — even though I didn't particularly care for it when I was a kid — but I think that a lot of it seeped into my consciousness, and now I listen to it all of the time. When I was a teenager I got more into pop music and started learning Fiona Apple and Tori Amos songs on piano, and then I started going through my parents' CD collection and singing along in the mirror to '40s jazz vocalists. It informed my musical taste, and later in life I grew to love it very much, even though at the time I didn't really have much of an appreciation for it.
DP: Tele Novella revives the lyricism and sound of '60s girl groups in such a refreshing way. What attracted you most to the genre and those types of songs?
NG: Honestly, I didn't get into that stuff until I was a lot older. Between 19 and 21 my entire world exploded when I got into girl groups, not only '60s girl groups but also the groups featured in the Girls in the Garage series. They really influenced me a lot and informed my old band Agent Ribbons greatly. When we started Tele Novella a few years ago, it was in a way a continuation of that inspiration. I wouldn't necessarily say that we were thinking about that when we were putting together the band's aesthetic, but it's definitely a natural reference point when you're writing harmonies for songs.
DP: Your songs have often been described as "dark" and "macabre" by reviewers. How has exploring the gloomy side of things shaped your writing process?
NG: It's strange, because I started out with music at such a young age, but I had more of a natural talent with writing that revealed itself before I understood how to creatively combine those elements and have them fit together well. I think that when you write a story it can be sort of boring for the writer to not have it get dark at some point. It just seems more interesting and engaging to twist the story in some way. At the same time, I wouldn't say that we always do that. I'm a genuinely optimistic person, and we have some happy songs, but just making it 100 percent sunshine is just really dull.