Because he’s a drumming singer (or a singing drummer, depending on your point of view), Michael Benjamin Lerner is used to hearing comparisons to Don Henley and Phil Collins, both of whom he admires. Because he’s also something of a musical jack-of-all-trades—Lerner played almost all of the instruments on the latest Telekinesis album himself—a more accurate analogue might be Dave Grohl. Little surprise, then, that Lerner is a fan of the head Foo Fighter.
“He seems like he’s a nice dude, but he’s really kind of a freak,” says Lerner, reached outside a music store in his home base of Seattle. “He’s super, super talented, and I really don’t know how he plays guitar like that and plays drums that well. I can definitely not do that at this point. I hope to. I really hope to, but not yet.”
Based on the evidence of the sophomore Telekinesis effort, 12 Desperate Straight Lines, Lerner’s not doing too badly at all. Produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla, the disc takes romantic heartbreak as its overarching theme. It’s no downer, however. Centred around Lerner’s tuneful vocals and no-frills instrumental work, the record is at its best when the overdrive is cranked and things tick along at a head-bopping pace, as on the stomping rocker “Palm of Your Hand” and the killer bass-grooved “I Got You”.
If 12 Desperate Lines is essentially a solo album, it’s by necessity rather than by design. Lerner had a band together to tour on the strength of Telekinesis’s well-received eponymous debut of 2009, but that lineup fell apart due to various personal and health concerns, including the frontman’s own bout of vertigo. “They couldn’t play in a band anymore, and I was kind of stuck,” he says. “We were getting tour offers, and I had to find other people to play, which was really difficult and stressful for a while. And now, having a super-killer band that is available to play all the time is pretty amazing, and it’s a great feeling.”
These days, Lerner is joined on the road by ex–Blood Brother Cody Votolato on guitar and former Verbow member Jason Narducy on bass. You won’t catch Lerner touching anything with strings on it outside the studio. Singing the songs live is enough of a challenge, and not just because he’s also playing the drums. “They’re pretty straightforward and not prog-rock-sounding, so it’s usually not too bad to take it to the drums and try and sing,” he notes, adding: “I made the really dumb mistake of singing a huge amount of songs out of my key—like, out of my vocal range—on this record. Which is so stupid, because when you sing live you cannot do multiple takes. You have to reach and reach and reach to try and get that one note that you can’t actually get very well. And it’s hard, but I’m learning. I’m getting better at it, I think.”