Michael Benjamin Learner is the singer, songwriter and recording artist extraordinaire for the band Telekinesis – he writes all the parts, plays all the instruments and treats the project with a fatherly-like care. Learner, as Telekinesis, also has the pleasure of playing this year’s inaugural Timbrrr Winter Music Festival, slated for Jan. 10th and 11th in snowy Leavenworth, WA. KEXP caught up with Learner to ask him about his love of raccoons, his collaborations and what projects he’s working on next in his personal studio.
You recorded your first album with the help of Death Cab’s Chris Walla, working on one track per day. Was it hard to keep to this pace?
It actually wasn’t as difficult as it would seem on paper. I have a very short attention span when it comes to music making. I am not a real tinkerer, per se. I really like coming into a record super prepared, at least as far as parts are concerned, but also leaving some room for experimentation. If you can have your parts prepared, you can take more time to make things sound weirder, or different. I think the one track a day thing worked really well for me, but I’m not sure it would be right for everyone.
You’ve cited raccoons as a personal interest – what’s that about?
I think they are the cutest, but they can also rip your head off. There’s something really intriguing to me about that!
Do you expect to see any raccoons at Timbrrr this year? How are you feeling about playing the cold winter festival?
I would LOVE to see some bandits over at Timbrrr! It seems like they have to inhabit Leavenworth too, right? I am super psyched about playing in Leavenworth! I haven’t been since I was a wee kid.
You write all the parts of your songs yourself. Why do you think this works best? Do you engage in writing collaboratively via other avenues?
I actually really love collaboration, but I am super picky about it I guess! I think I’ve come to realize that Telekinesis is a one man project, and that’s just how it should exist. It’s my outlet in that way. However, I really do love collaborating, in whatever way that may be! I just think it has to be a different project, I’m too precious about Telekinesis. It’s my baby.
What are the important lessons you’ve learned in the time between recording your first album, Telekinesis!, and your 2013 release, Dormarion?
I think trying to roll with the punches. The music industry is pretty crazy, and trying to navigate it can be tough, but there’s just not much you can really do to dictate how the world will react to your piece of art. For me, I’ve learned to just create whatever comes to my head, and I truly do hope that people like it, because that’s the idea, but I’m just happy to be making records.
Do you have a favorite story from the studio?
There was a song on this last record that Jim Eno (Spoon) played drums on, and I played guitar. That was a major thrill for me. I am a huge fan of Jim’s drumming, so it was really incredible to hear him play on one of my songs. For those keeping score, the song he played on is called ‘Dark To Light’.
What, recently, have you found inspiring, musically or otherwise?
I’m really super inspired by that new Paul McCartney record. I think it’s brilliant. He’s over 70 years old now, and this record just sounds incredibly fresh. I am really psyched about it.
What’s coming up for you after Timbrrr?
Hopefully some more writing, working on new Telekinesis material, as well as finishing up a record that Matthew Caws (Nada Surf) and I are writing and recording in my home studio. Very excited about both of those things!
Watch the Telekinesis video for the song “Dirty Thing” here: