Tele Novella makes music that's sunny-side up
With her latest band, former Agent Ribbons singer Natalie Gordon finds sweet musical relief
Agent Ribbons just wasn’t panning out the way its singer-songwriter Natalie Gordon had hoped.
After four years of plugging away in Sacramento, the cabaret duo thought a move to Austin, Texas, might propel its music career forward. It didn’t really work. A rough car accident in Tennessee proved to be the final straw—Agent Ribbons disbanded.
But Gordon still needed to fill her band’s slot at the 2013 South by Southwest music festival.
In the midst of what could have been a disaster, things actually fell into place. Smoothly. Gordon and her boyfriend, Jason Chronis, had already discussed forming a side project at some point, and coincidentally, his own band, Belaire, was winding down. Other Belaire members hopped onboard, and together they prepped for what would become Tele Novella’s debut performance. The press loved its SXSW set— a mix of Agent Ribbons songs and brand-new material—and Tele Novella quickly became one of the most talked about bands from the festival.
“Everything has been so much easier with this band,” Gordon said. “It’s like a sharper knife that I don’t have to push so hard.”
Along with Gordon on vocals and guitar, the lineup includes Chronis on bass and Matt Simon on drums—both former members of Belaire and Voxtrot—as well as Sarah La Puerta on keyboard. They’re currently on tour supporting Tele Novella’s June EP, Cosmic Dial Tone.
Much like the band’s formation, the EP itself was a serendipitous hustle. With Agent Ribbons, Gordon won a contest for free recording time at Dub Narcotic Studio, known for hosting K Records artists such as Beck, Modest Mouse and Kimya Dawson. Luckily, the prize was transferable to Tele Novella, and the band organized a quick tour up the coast to the Olympia, Wash., studio right before the offer expired.
Cosmic Dial Tone, recorded to tape and released on cassette through Lolipop Records, fits Tele Novella’s charming, sunny, ’60s vibe. The band’s psych-pop sound is fuller and sleeker than Agent Ribbons’ garage cabaret, though fans will find similarities between the two projects. Gordon still takes the lead on songwriting, and her deep, striking voice remains at the forefront.
Lyrically, Gordon’s been experimenting a bit. With Agent Ribbons, she constructed each song as a narrative. Now, she’s taking more creative license and moving into surreal, abstract territories.
“At first I thought it was lazy songwriting, but I don’t think so anymore,” she said. “It still takes a lot of work and thought— I’m just not bound to a sensical reality.”
With Agent Ribbons, Gordon wrote everything. Now, she’s relinquishing some control and is excited for a more collaborative process. “Trouble in Paradise” was the first song she and Chronis wrote together, and it’s a strong, catchy and polished track. It also has a pleasingly creepy, quirky music video.
“It’s amazing to rely on someone else,” she said. “Especially when you already admire their songwriting.”
But four years after relocating to Austin, Gordon still finds Sacramento seeping into her songwriting. The city shaped her whole worldview, and she had always romanticized its gold-rush history.
“I feel like I fit into that aesthetic much more than into Austin,” she said. “Sometimes I imagine myself in my old Victorian house when I’m writing.”
She suspects returning to town will be bittersweet as usual.
After the West Coast tour winds down this month, the band plans to hit the East Coast and then retreat into hibernation—Gordon hopes to have the debut full-length album recorded by next spring. In the meantime, Tele Novella will continue to hammer out its vision for itself, including costumes and props at live shows.
“It’s so new—there’s this freedom to do whatever we want,” she said.