Sammy Bananas and Maggie Horn aka Telephoned, aren’t your normal cover band. They do that thing where you kinda think ‘Huh, I think I know this song…maybe…I KNOW I know it’. Taking their favourite tracks and making them their own with their slick electro stylin’, their disco beats can be heard on dance floors all over the world. We chat to the duo about their music, being a part of the Fool’s Gold family and their dream of playing in a band with the Muppets’ Animal on drums.
How long have you known each other? Where did you meet?
MH: I think we’ve known each other for about three years. I hate to say down town in the scene, but I can’t really think of a specific club, place or time when we met – we have a lot of mutual friends and constituents.
SB: There definitely was a creation moment for Telephoned for sure. I guess it’s one of those things that slowly evolved into what it is now. One night, I was DJing at a bar in New York and Maggie was there – we somehow got into this conversation that resulted in making the first cover we did: T-pain’s Can’t Believe It. That initially started as a collaboration between the two of us, but we had such a good time making it and received a really positive response from people we played it to, so it seemed like the right call to make it kind of official. Yeah, the right call…no pun intended.
Did your style of mixing songs and having Maggie sing over them happen organically, or was it something that one or both of you had been thinking about for a while?
MH: the mixtape idea sort of came about organically as a necessity in a sense; it was for us to figure out how we were going to put a live show together. We got booked to do a live show and we wanted to keep everything sort of dynamic and fluid, so ended up putting our sets together in the same way we set up our mixtapes.
SB: It started out with me making these new beats and Maggie singing recognisable songs over them, at the point that we started doing shows we didn’t really have enough of those and they were energetic but we kind of started making them as DJ tracks – they weren’t something that could hold down an audiences attention, something that we felt was dynamic enough.
That’s how we started cover-ups: trying to make more reference points, make more stuff that was more recognisable to people. That’s how the concept of the mixtapes came about. It’s fun to hear people get excited about them, it’s kind of like the best of both worlds – like people who might be a fan of the independent dance scene that’s happening and people who might be really into pop music too, they can both exist on the same mixtape.
Do you guys agree that “cover-ups” are something that hasn’t been done before?
MH: It’s really hard to feel comfortable saying that we do something that no one has ever done before because there is so much music out there. Who knows if some 15-year-old kid has been doing this in his room for three years and we haven’t heard it? So far, what I’ve come across I haven’t heard of anybody doing that… bringing a sort of mash-up concept mixed up.
SB: The only other thing that I’ve heard about is a guy that we’re having play at our monthly party next week. He does something that’s more along the lines of karaoke mash-ups, because he takes a karaoke track and will sing a different person’s song other than the song your suppose to sing over it. It’s not exactly the same thing…
Have you based your sound on any other artists you’ve heard around the traps?
SB: I think that we can be influenced by people who we end up incorporating aspects of their work into our music. I think that’s mostly where our inspiration comes from, the beats that we might be using or the song that inspires us to remake it in some way.
Is it a joint collaboration in terms of mixing the tracks or is it specifically one of you that match the different songs together?
MH: I think that it’s absolutely a collaboration, playing things for each other and bouncing ideas off of each other, even in a car and we hear something on the radio and we were thinking about covering something else and all of a sudden we would be like, this would work perfectly with this. It’s like a never-ending musical discussion between Sam and I.
Is it safe to say that you are mixing your personal favorites together or is it just whatever song goes with the other song you’ve chosen?
SB: I think it’s hard, some things feel sacred I guess, there are some things that we just wouldn’t do and other things that just feel right.
MH: We definitely only use songs that we like, it’s never because we could make it work on a musical level and we try to flip it and make it into something we like but it’s always a grain of ‘I like this song lets bring our own twist to it’.
Maggie, is it overwhelming adapting to different styles when singing such a diverse range of raps or song lyrics?
MH: It’s just fun! I don’t really ever feel pressure to be like that. I feel like I definitely want to do the best that I can and give each song the credit it’s due.
You supported Chromeo on their USA / Canada Business Casual tour, do you find that you now have a larger following from it?
MH: They sold out at least 80-90% of that tour so we were playing to enormous crowds who would have definitely no idea who we are and we met so many people after our shows and handing out mixtapes. I would like to think that people have followed through and continued to check us out and see where we’re going.
SB: It was an amazing opportunity and experience to do that, to see a group like Chromeo who are really at the top of the game right now, I mean I’m even excited to see what they do next and to see them developing what they do over such a long period of time – they just have it down. I think that even though we’re really different to Chromeo we have a similar level of fun and energy happening that I think is really appealing to the Chromeo fans.
The first completely original track, Hold Me, takes you away from your usual style. Will you guys be putting out more original tracks?
MH: I do not foresee us abandoning the mixtapes or the cover-ups in the near future, however, moving forward, our releases will probably be original material and maybe the next mixtape will be half and half but we’re definitely moving towards original material.
SB: I think that once we start, we can play the same game with our material. It just throws in another song into the mix with other kind of melody and lyrics of stuff that can be mashed with other people’s beats and vice versa. I think that we can be in both worlds still and that we’ll definitely still being doing mixtapes. But it’s just like Maggie was saying you may have a mixtape where its more centered around stuff that we’re coming up with – stuff that we’re writing but maybe still within a context with other music that you already know. I think it’s just evolving the idea.
In the US there is a game called Telephoned, I think they call it Chinese Whispers… the whole idea of the group is based on that game, so if you tell somebody one thing they tell another person and that person tells it to another person and it has gone through three or four steps and maybe it might sound like the original message but it’s gone through people’s different perception of what that other person was saying. That’s the founding concept for our group so it kind of makes sense that the group has been changing.
Telephoned is signed to Fool’s Gold, is it fun being a part of the family? Has it opened a lot of doors in providing opportunities for collaborations?
MH: Absolutely, Sammy was previously putting out on Fool’s Gold prior to Telephoned and that was something to me that was just outstanding – to be able to be accepted and be a part of that family. It is a tremendous organisation and they give their artists the freedom to really shine instead of dictating on what they think should be done.
Would you say that it’s a label for artists run by artists?
SB: I think that what’s dangerous about those kind of labels sometimes is that the artists don’t have the best idea of how to get the music to the people or have the business in such a way that will be successful. I think that’s what’s most special about Fool’s Gold, they really have done a great job knowing how to best support their artists. They have that overriding mission statement that even though it’s a musician-run label, they make stuff actually happen. Both of them [Nick Catchdubs and A-trak] have a completely equal role in shaping the label and running it. Nick is just amazing in that capacity of coming up with ways of promoting something and kind of making everything happen, in addition to being a talented DJ and remixer himself.
I personally think that we kind of bridge a gap and form a connection between the two sides of what Fool’s Gold do: they have the side that do the Duck Sauce and the Congorock type DJ records and they have the side that does Kid Cudi and Kid Sister and are more hip-hop oriented. So when we put out our EP with them last year, we were basically taking more popular hip-hop songs and turning into dance music.
Is there a genre of music that most inspires you?
MH: Part of the beauty in being able to do what we do is that we can be influenced by any genre. I can’t narrow it down personally to one genre.
SB: If I tried to, I would say something dumb like pop music and that’s not a genre. I think that what we’ve done up to this point is to define a group on a concept and not on a genre. It’s pretty easy to explain – they take songs that you know and turn them into other songs.
Do you guys have a preference between sitting around and creating mash-ups or performing on stage?
MH: They’re very different; we have so much fun doing both. Being on stage is a very different feeling to being in a studio, but it’s fun the whole way around. Even touring and travelling in the car for eight hours we just sit, cut up and laugh – so we’re kind of lucky in that aspect.
Where’s the best place that you guys have played to date?
SB: The best place we’ve played hasn’t happened yet, which is Australia…
The best place we’ve played would had to be on the Chromeo tour, when we were in the North West, those shows were my favorite.
MH: The last show on the tour, Atlanta, Georgia – that was unreal.
SB: There’s something special about the Pacific North West. With shows, it’s pretty easy to tell which are the best ones, you can kind of feel that everybody is with you and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge crowd – in those cases it was. In some of the shows there’s a bit of crowd participation, and you know people are into it when you say do something and the entire room does it.
MH: When you stop clapping and they continue clapping through the next songs. We’re just like “Wow, we’ve really got something special with this audience” and it’s a really wonderful relationship.
In terms of musical equipment, collaborations, clothing, vibes… what would your fantasy entail?
MH: Well, there’s a jewellery designer named Jules Kim – she does Bejeweled here in New York. If you’ve ever seen any press photos with me wearing tons of rings; she does those. We’ve actually collaborated with her once before, but on a grander scale if we could have tons and tons of money, I would commission her to make a Telephoned piece. I definitely think that is one for clothing.
SB: For clothing I’ve been wearing suits recently for about a year and a half for when we’ve been performing. I would like someone to make me a custom tailored suit.
MH: I would like a bejewelled microphone from Karen Rose.
SB: I want to have a studio on a spaceship… I don’t really want that. But, I would love to have an amazing studio. I love the studio that I have right now, but I would love to have one that was really big and had multiple rooms and we could fully realise all of our Telephoned dreams.
MH: Also, fantasy tour I would say maybe opening for Bjork or maybe going back in time and opening for Deee-Lite in 1994.
SB: I would definitely open up for Deee-Lite 1994, I don’t know if I could even open for Bjork because I would be too nervous before every show. I wouldn’t even want to go on stage because she’s so awe-inspiring.
If you could form your ideal group in your own fantasy world who or what would it comprise of?
MH: Animal from The Muppets on drums
SB: He seems a little erratic; I would want a drummer that would be able to hold down a groove. Maybe we could have two drummers and Animal could be one of them… this is tough. I like this question though; it’s just not something that I’ve ever thought of.
What would it be called?
SB: The name would be… Televisioned.
Individually, what is your #1 fantasy/dream?
MH: I guess if I was to be really honest with myself, my daydream right now is mainly being able to quit my bar job and make music full time and afford to make music. Make money, making music…so I could afford to make more music.
SB: That’s a pretty down to earth fantasy. My fantasy is to go and perform on a tropical island and get paid a million dollars by Mohammed Al-Fayed.
What’s next for Telephoned, goals and aspirations?
MH: I personally want us to make an album, we have an EP going to drop late spring early summer and I would really like for us to make an album.
SB: Definitely. I think that you can expect more original music but hopefully with the same approach and kind of sentiment that has made you like us. I think even as we continue to Telephone ourselves even into different things, it is still going to be the same type of thing. Even though it sounds like making original music is a lot different to making cover-ups, I think that there are more similarities than you would expect. I guess, we could make a cover-up of two songs fused together, but we could also make an original song that sounds like that cover-up. All that is really lost is the reference point of the fact that those other songs exist.
Find out more at 1800telephoned.com.