By Tommy Johnson
The Austin-based band Tele Novella are the middle of their Midwest/East Coast tour, spanning from Oklahoma to New York and ending back home in Texas. On their stop in Dayton, Ohio, guitarist Natalie Gordon and bassist Jason Chronis are sitting behind their band’s merchandise table. The fold-out table is located between two doors in the back front section of the establishment that they just got done playing their set at, Blind Bob’s Bar. The band was in town as part of their Midwest/East Coast tour in support of this past June’s release of their EP, Cosmic Dial Tone.
Growing up in the heart of Sacramento, where the artistic vibe was mainly artistic DIY’ers in the music scene. One day as Gordon was flipping through the catalogs of vinyl at a local record store, she met drummer Lauren Hess. The two started to strike up a conversation about music, and it immediately took off. Gordon discovered during the meeting that Hess had recently purchased a drum kit, but she hasn’t played them yet. With Gordon already having experience playing guitar since high school, the twosome got together to jam, forming their band Agent Ribbons in 2006.
Agent Ribbon started touring up and down California, and also added another member to the group-violinist/cellist Naomi Cherie early 2009. The band’s dreamy, yet eerie guitar play from Gordon going along with the simplistic drumming started getting them noticed quickly. Fans couldn’t help but not stay away from the duo’s haunting mix of garage rock with pop melodies that were heavily influenced with The Velvet Underground and The Shaggs. The increased exposure help launch them into bigger shows and tours. They traveled on the West Coast, and even played some shows in Europe. Gordon and Hess would pay for Cherie’s plane ticket in order for her to play in the West Coast shows.
With the costs of tickets starting to add up, and the inability to move to California, Gordon and Hess made the decision to move out to Austin where Cherie lived in 2010.
Before the move Austin was in the plans for Gordon with her bandmate, Chronis and Simon were deeply involved with the local group Voxtrot. The band, led by Ramesh Srivastava, started rolling in the early 2000s when he was between studying in Scotland. Voxtrot’s European influence streaming in their indie pop-heavy melodies and charming lyrics. With the comparisons to The Smiths, Belle and Sebastian, Voxtrot began to garner critical acclaim not only in town, but with national publications, and online sites.
After releasing their first EP in 2005, Raised By Wolves, Voxtrot toured vigorously all around the US and Europe, and released a couple of EPs and singles. In 2007, the release of the first LP Voxtrot would become the band’s first and only. Fans complained that the album didn’t live up to expectations. Others believed that the quality and sound of the album veered away from what the band was originally doing. Voxtrot overall wasn’t well received. Less than a year later, when the album failed, the band broke apart.
With Gordon and Hess packing up and moving to Austin, the move from Sacramento at the time seemed like it was the best option for the band, Gordon mentioned. However, a series of events proved to be disastrous for Agent Ribbons. Cherie decided to leave the group as soon as the duo arrived in town. The momentum that Agent Ribbons built with touring in California, which resulted in getting bigger shows and more exposure, was abruptly halted. “We had such a strong following in California, Oregon, and Washington. We could tour up and down the coast all year. We came here-people didn’t care, we couldn’t play the right shows, we started playing too much,” Gordon says.
At the end of October in 2012, Gordon and Hess, along with their tour maager, were leaving Memphis during their bands tour in support of the album Let Them Talk. Agent Ribbons were headed toward Dallas when a car ran a red light and collided with the band’s vehicle. While everyone escaped with non-life threatening injuries, the band’s van was totaled and Hess broke her wrist. The tour was already challenging due to issues with payouts of shows, and the accident was the final blow in what became a hostile relationship. Gordon and Hess no longer were seeing Agent Ribbons being what it once was. Everything that was once promising now became more a burden. After the accident, Agent Ribbons broke up. “It was slow, rough, downward spiral,” Gordon explained. “It felt that the band should have ended before we moved to Austin.”
With Agent Ribbons dissolving, Gordon needed to regroup and quickly was needing to quickly assemble a band for a booked showcase at South by Southwest Festival for the upcoming year. Gordon tried explaining to Agent Ribbons’ label of the unfortunate circumstances, with herself and Hess going separate ways. However, the label wouldn’t allow her to cancel. Gordon had to scramble to set up a band, so she enlisted Chronis, Simon, and singer Cari Palazzolo. The trio were already involved together with the local group Belaire, and volunteered to help Gordon out. Chronis has already been discussing working with Gordon on a project, titled Tele Novella.
The newly formed band Tele Novella was well-received, and the foursome continued to move forward. Tele Novella went to the studio to record their first EP Cosmic Dial Tone, which was released this past summer. The EP features Gordon’s alluring vocals that transcended when she was Agent Ribbons along with Chronis and Simon’s English rock inspiration with their work in Voxtrot. The blend of the two results in a breezy, psychedelic pop sound that is hypotonic and catchy. Since the release of Cosmic Dial Tone, another lineup has occurred. Palazzolo moved to Portland, which signaled the ending of Belaire, and the La Puerta’s inclusion into the group. Tele Novella released the single version of ‘Trouble in Paradise’ on vinyl with American Laundromat Records right on the tail of the Wes Anderson tribute compilation, to which they contributed a contagious version of ‘Stephanie Says’ by the Velvet Underground. The band is currently in the process of setting up to record the band’s first LP, which will be recorded in Austin.
Chronis locks his hands behind his jet black hair, and leans back into his chair. Gordon, wearing one of vintage dresses as she normally does, throws on a jacket and begins to rummage through some missed texts, emails on her phone. Moments later, you see Gordon engaging with two young girls who have approached the table, while Chronis looks on engaged into the conversation as well. As more attendees of the night’s festivities began to gather around the merch table to talk to Gordon and Chronis, keyboardist Sarah La Puerta strikes up her own conversation with someone, while drummer Matt Simon breaks down his drums.
For Gordon, the future with Tele Novella is bright and signifies new beginnings. “I feel so much more challenged, and I feel like it’s so much more interesting as a process for me. And I’m really on the beginning of it.”