A few years ago, Natalie Gordon, one half of acclaimed Sacramento drum-and-guitar duo Agent Ribbons, packed up her vintage dresses and dreamy ’60 sound and headed east to try her luck in the live-music capital of the world.
In Austin, Texas, Agent Ribbons continued to make music, but the guitar-playing Gordon later joined forces with members of well-respected indie act Voxtrot to form Tele Novella. In its year of existence, the quartet has received strong notices from outlets as varied as USA Today, Paste Magazine and Spin for its sly, slinky, psych-pop songs.
Tele Novella released its debut EP “Cosmic Dial Tone” in June and plays Sacramento’s Witch Room on Monday in support of it. Recorded at Dub Narcotic Studios (started by K Records founder Calvin Johnson and heralded for its vintage tube gear) in Olympia, Wash., “Cosmic” was released (on cassette, no less) by Los Angeles’ Lolipop Records.
The Bee’s Marcus Crowder recently caught up with Gordon – known for her Marlene Dietrich vocals and thrift-store-chic fashion – to chat about her new(ish) band and her move to Austin.
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You moved to Austin from Sacramento about five years ago. Why?
At the time, we had added a violin player to (Agent Ribbons) who lived in Austin. She was flying out to Sacramento on a regular basis, and we’d leave for tours from there all together. That was becoming really expensive, and she couldn’t move to California. We were really hesitant to leave Sacramento, but it finally just made more sense to come to Austin, so that’s really what originally pulled us over to Texas.
Has it worked out in the way you hoped it would?
We’re really, really happy here. But I really loved Sacramento a lot, and I would always feel very defensive when people would say anything derogatory about it. I always used to be really insistent that I would never leave, but over the course of the five or so years that we had been a band at that point, so many of our friends started leaving, and the music scene really really transformed there. A lot of bands either broke up or moved away so we started feeling “OK, what we doing here?” and a little aimless. The move to Austin helped put things in perspective. For a lot of people who live in Austin, there’s kind of a joke about it being kind of a slacker town, but I feel like I started working a lot harder once I got here.
Talk a little bit about your songwriting. Some people write songs about themselves and others seem to write about characters they make up. Do you do either, or both?
Probably both. The Agent Ribbons songs were more like storytelling, little stories in a song and not quite as much autobiographical. I wouldn’t say these (Tele Novella) songs are autobiographical, I think everybody pulls from examples from their experience to write about. They’re a little bit more general than just applying to me. And they still have some storytelling, but not as much in a linear way, and there’s literary references once in a while and macabre fairy tale reference points.
Are you playing out a lot now with Tele Novella?
We’ve only been a band for about a year. For a band that’s existed that amount of time, we’ve been on the road a decent amount. This is our fourth tour as a band.
Is it fun and enjoyable? Or does it feel like a slog?
I think we all like it a lot. We’ve all been in several other bands prior to this one, and I know we all have “slogged” as you put it. All of us are ultra-familiar with the miseries of touring, but we’ve gotten older and wiser in the process, and we try to keep it as comfortable and consistent as we can. We get along super well, which is a really important thing, and makes the whole thing work.
Dub Narcotic Studios has hosted artists such as Beck and Modest Mouse. Did you particularly want to record there?
Yeah, we definitely cared about the history of K Records. The reason we went up there was we won a contest for five days of free studio recording time, and there was limited amount of time to use it in. I probably would have never submitted in a contest if I didn’t think it was really cool the idea of recording there. A lot of really great recordings that are creative, low-fi but interesting sounds have been done there. I thought that was such a special way for us to start our whole project, to be a part of something like that and have it intersect with our own little history.