Tag Archives: Stew Heyduk

Discovering Telstar

December 6, 2011

Telstar: Hot Knives

The two most frequently asked questions I receive are “Will you review my album?” and “Do you sleep?” The answer to both is most often the same: “No”.

The reasons I don’t review recorded music are many.  I’m aware that, no matter how I feel about a specific selection of music, the people involved in making it worked really hard on it.  They put everything into it, thought about it (possibly too much), lived it, became it, created it, and then got the balls to put it out there.  That’s not something I want to filter through my own subjective perception and re-articulate, in written language, to others who will then interpret my words through their subjective filters and in any way, shape, or form “define” or categorize the art of music.

Depending on how any person feels at any given moment, their relationship to a song or album can evolve.  We listen to a song incessantly, it reminds us of the greatest relationship we’ve ever had.  We break up, we put the song away, it’s too painful.  A couple years later, we hear the song again, less painful, we still like it. We hadn’t put that song “in the cloud” yet, but we do now because we feel what we connected to in the first place: the emotion. That didn’t go away when our relationship dissolved.  Music can endure and evolve, as we connect with it individually and collectively, over time.  I appreciate the freedom that provides – a song or album’s meaning to each person can be drastically different, dynamic throughout time.

Sometimes we select a song because we “need a pick-me up” or we want to create a mood in a room.  I may not connect with an album on first listen and years later may discover something I missed or have an experience that allows me to connect with and appreciate it differently.

This isn’t “right” or “wrong” or the way it “should” or “shouldn’t” be.  It’s just how I feel.  I can write about live music because it’s overtly contextualized in a unique moment – “This is what it feels like right now.”  At that moment, what we’re experiencing intersects with the music being created in front of us at that same exact time and it won’t ever happen exactly like that again.  Even if it is the same set list, touring on the same album, with the same visuals and sets, the show is not the same. I can go to an artist’s residency and write a vastly different review each of the 4 weeks they play.

So that’s one reason I don’t typically write about recorded music. There are many.  Yet, as I was driving to a show last night, listening to Telstar‘s album, Hot Knives I had the first bit of anxiety I’ve felt in years. . . about anything.  I had “Are You Hungry”  on repeat, listening to all the various attributes and elements that make that song “work” so well; discovering and appreciating something new on each listen.

I was smiling as I experienced the way all the sounds “get along.” I could write 10 paragraphs about one 28-second portion of  “Are You Hungry” and another 10 about what it feels like the next time that 28-second bit of music comes in. Then, it would only be fair to express how that piece of music “sits” with the other pieces of the song.  Is it the portion that elevates the rest? Or do the 57 seconds that directly precede it create the perfect moment for that piece to come in, and the foundation for it to stand on? I can’t separate it. I love the way it all works together and that my appreciation for it grows deeper each time I hear it.

The background vocals kick in at all the “right” moments and they’re additive to the feeling of the song, not just placed there because that’s “what you do”.   At the same time, with every element of the song, in perfect dynamic relationship with the others – none of it feels contrived.  It’s organic. It’s precise, but it almost feels like an accident.  3 friends got together in a room, decided to have some fun and remembered to hit “record”.  Yet another reason I don’t typically write about recorded music –   I’m not sure I want to be so “academic” about art. I’m in love with a song. I like how it sounds and how it makes me feel. That’s what it comes down to.


The “anxiety” I mentioned? Much like that relationship that’s going so well – you finally found your “soulmate,” it gets better every day, you appreciate every second of it. . . what if something gets in the way of it? There are a lot of things that can “get in the way” of music – it’s not easy to create it, get the right mix of people working on it, put it out, get it out, make sure people know it’s out.  I don’t worry about those things with Telstar though. As long as they’re doing whatever it is they’re doing to create what they’re creating – live and recorded – having as much fun as they do, while also simply being genuinely kind people. . .  I don’t foresee any of the “usual” things “getting in their way”.

So, what could get in the way of Telstar? The best possible thing: the fact that the individual musicians who make up Telstar, Chris Unck, Eva Gardner, and Stew Heyduk,  are the musicians everyone else wants in their band.  At any moment, any one of them could be offered a substantial tour as they have been previously. . .  and then what?

After their show at Three Clubs last week, I asked Eva, “Is this what you’re doing now? Are you going ‘out’ as Telstar?” No words were exchanged.  The rest of that conversation was communicated in looks.  Eva’s look:  “Well, yes. . . you’re here, aren’t you? Didn’t you just see ‘Telstar’? You have our music.  You’ve been to our website. We are doing it. We’ve been doing it. This is happening. Yes.”

My look: “Yes, I see. I know. It’s happening. . .  and I love it.” And perhaps, even my real question was communicated: “But are you going to let anything get in your way?” Which is why no words are necessary.  It doesn’t matter what happens. Like a great relationship, like music, like the best things about life: it’s all an ever-evolving adventure.  If you don’t get too attached to one thing or one idea of something, then you allow the freedom to experience a potential that continues to be created and evolve throughout time.

Ultimately – especially if you have the opportunity to connect with Telstar as I have – you’ll want for them whatever they want for themselves, as that evolves throughout time.  Telstar has a way – whether through song, performance, or an unspoken conversation – of reminding you to enjoy this very moment, right now. The next spoken conversation between Eva and I was about the high winds wreaking havoc in LA that night – power outages, downed trees, street closures, and all the things that remind us: you can have a plan. . .  and then there’s the adventure.

Part of what makes Telstar Telstar is that they are just doing what they do. They’re great musicians,  who enjoy each other and playing music.  They like to see people have a good time, they enjoy providing the space and creating the atmosphere for that to happen.  Chris’s eyes were wide with enthusiasm as he described how Telstar would be spending the next few months.  “Playing shows” sounds like something as fun and exciting  as winning The Olympics.  “Writing new songs and recording” sounds like hanging out with your best friends in the desert, opening a bottle of whiskey, laughing, reminiscing about old-times while dreaming about the future.  None of it sounds like “work”.

Conversations with many musicians sound and feel vastly different from conversations, like those described above, with the members of Telstar.  “Playing shows” sounds exhausting.  Hanging out after the show is something they “have to do”.  “Writing and recording” requires seclusion; adopting a raw, vegan regimen or some other short-term support system; and being laser-focused.  It’s work. It’s serious. It’s hard. That’s all valid, true, and real.  But that’s not the feeling I get from Telstar during their shows, casually speaking after the show, nor through their music.

In fact, part of the reason Telstar inspires me so much is because they represent something I feel very strongly about in life: do what brings you the most joy. Have as much fun as possible.  That is my definition of “success” and I’ve witnessed it translate into others’ definition of “success” because people are attracted to it.

Musically, Telstar creates something unique that is experienced on multiple levels.  I think it’s fair to say a lot of bands have tried to recreate the sound of The British Invasion.  It may even be fair to say some have reasonably accomplished that.  Telstar creates the feeling of The British Invasion through their sound.  There’s a big difference.

And now, we’re full-circle back to the reasons I don’t like to write specifically about music.  Should you choose to, I’d like you to have your own relationship with Telstar.  Maybe you know the historical significance of their name and that gets you to listen to them for the first time.  Maybe you read something about them, you go see them live, then you investigate further and get into details such as their name and the ever-present influence of Eva’s father.  As with all great things in life, and all enduring music, there are an infinite number of elements and layers to be discovered. Discovering Telstar continues to be an adventure for me and I’d like you to have your own experience, your own adventure.

Another reason I typically don’t like to write about recorded music is because I don’t like reading about it either.  There’s a tendency toward negativity surrounding music, maybe more so now than previously.  People are complaining about the music they’re exposed to.  I hear you. I understand where you’re coming from.  But then – stop listening to what everyone else says you should listen to.  Stop listening to what you think you “should” listen to. Don’t let this age of everything-at-our-fingertips-for-free get in the way of the joy of discovering music.  Rediscover what moves you.

I don’t care if you don’t like Telstar; if it’s not your “thing”.  That’s OK. I’m not going to tell you what you should be listening to.  But do yourself a favor and discover music that inspires you to do something different.  Telstar has done that for me twice already, in the first week of our “relationship.”

For A Good Time, See Telstar

November 30, 2011
Los Angeles, CA

Telstar: Eva Gardner, Stew Heyduk, Chris Unck

The truth is: I almost didn’t go. I had just experienced one of the most magical musical nights ever at Largo and wanted to race home to write about it.  Also, in fairness to all the amazing musicians I have the opportunity to see, some shows just shouldn’t be “followed”. I’ve taken mini hiatuses from live music after experiencing shows that transcend. I wrote specifically about that after Nine Inch Nails played their final shows.

When experiences like the one that inspired me to write A Love Letter to Largo, or to post three videos of the sound of  audience applause demanding a fourth encore at a Thom Yorke show occur, there is more at work than the talent of the musicians.  There’s an element of magic. . . divine collaboration. . . universal support. . . which causes transcendence.

I revere experiences like these. I can remain high (metaphorically speaking) for months following a show like the one at Largo Wednesday night. My inclination after shows like that is to go home, open a bottle of wine, write, and watch the sunrise.  I sometimes take a break from seeing other, exceptionally talented musicians because it’s not fair to them – nor others in the crowd – if I’m not fully present and “at” their show.  Yes, we all do affect each other that much, even when we, or they, are not consciously aware of it.

I had committed to many, including the band, to attend Telstar‘s show following the magical Largo show Wednesday night. Yet, for all of the reasons mentioned above, I almost didn’t go.

But I did go see Telstar that night and I’m writing this, specifically, so that you see them as well, every opportunity you get.

You may be wondering, “Who the fuck is Telstar??”

Chris Unck, Eva Gardner, and Stew Heyduk (“Telstar”) have “official  bios” and credits that include P!nk, Feist, Mars Volta, Butch Walker, and Veruca Salt. Not to take away from how impressive that is, but blah, blah, blah. . .

To really appreciate Telstar, you need to experience the people they are. These are the kids you were hanging out with when your parents thought you were studying for finals. They’re fun, they’re funny, they’re passionate, imaginative, playful, creative, exceptionally talented, and they love what they do.  They have a lot of friends because they treat people well and they’re fun to be with.  They’re the friends you call when you just need to laugh.  They’re the accomplices you call when you just need to party.  They’re the band you see when you want to have a good time. A Telstar show is like a public service announcement to have more fun, enjoy what you do, surround yourself with good people, relax, and reconnect with what’s truly important.

When managers, labels, agents, publicists, and musicians invite me to a show, there’s always a corresponding “pitch”.  “They sound like. . . “, “They’re the next. . . “, “They play with. . . “, “As heard on. . . ”  That’s how it works.  There are numerous things that compete for our attention and it can be a hard “sell” to get people out to a show.

My invite to see Telstar was in the form of a text message that began with “The band’s name is Telstar. . . ” and went straight to “It’s Chris Unck, Eva Gar. . .” I stopped reading and replied, “I fucking LOVE them!”

Watch this video from a Butch Walker and The Black Widows “secret” show in LA a few months ago:

Butch Walker has an exceptionally commanding stage presence. He’ll hang from the rafters, get the audience dancing on tables, squatting down to the ground, and jumping up to touch the ceiling.  That guy could be on stage with the Dalai Lama and a running chainsaw and you wouldn’t notice the Dalai Lama nor the chainsaw.  But as you can see from the video above, you do notice the band, which includes Eva Gardner and Chris Unck of Telstar. Their contribution musically, as well as to the spirit of the show, is undeniable. Those secret shows at The Basement Tavern would not have been the same without that band.  I showed up, week after week, as much to see the band as to see Butch Walker. Eva Gardner and Chris Unck grabbed Stew Heyduk and formed a band called Telstar???  Hell yeah, I’ll go to that show.

So I went to that show.  And, I completely forgot that I almost didn’t go. I forgot about everything.  Telstar teleported us back to a time when music was music, not a marketing ploy.  Music unifies people. Telstar made everybody in the room feel like old friends.  Although the music is timeless, The British Invasion was before my time, so I didn’t get to experience it live. Telstar’s music and show made me feel like we were back in that era.

The separation between the band and the audience would be nearly imperceptible if not for the instruments in the hands of the band (and the fact that they can play).  Everyone is part of the show.  Everyone is having a good time. There was one instance, between songs, when people were having such a good time that the band waited a moment before they kicked into the next song. It wasn’t about “Hey, look at us!” At Telstar’s show it’s, “Oh good, you’re enjoying yourselves! We love that. That’s why we’re here.”

When they do transition into the next song, it’s time to dance and sing along. It feels like a party, but not like one of those shows with sloppy drunk fans who spill their Miller beer on you. People at a Telstar show will not spill their drinks at any cost.  These are the pros – the musicians and the fans. They know what they’re doing and they know it only matters if you’re having fun.

I had a lot of fun with Telstar, but they also made me think.  They’ve made me reconsider my long-standing tradition of taking a break after a single transcendent experience.  There’s magic everywhere and you can continue to transcend, if you’re open to it.