Telekinesis is the project of Seattle’s Michael Benjamin Lerner. (Courtesy Rachel Demy)

Telekinesis’ Michael Benjamin Lerner revels in pop

One-man band cranks out vintage sounds

In casual conversation, Seattle’s virtual one-man-band Michael Benjamin Lerner — who for 12 years has written and recorded as Telekinesis — keeps mentioning artists like reclusive Oklahoma genius Dwight Twilley, ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne (including the catalog classic album “Time”) and even unsung 1980s stalwart Moon Martin. And he feels no shame. “I just love pop music,” he says, pleased that his latest disc for Merge, “Effluxion,” can chime with the best. “I listen to that stuff all the time. It’s built into my whole being. That’s my type of music, and hopefully people can hear that when they listen to Telekinesis, as well.”

You also love old-school analog recording, right? I mostly rely on a digital setup these days because I’m doing everything myself now. But all of my earlier albums I did on tape. And tape is so expensive now, although at this point it’s become more of a work-flow thing. When you’re working on songs with a computer, you have an infinite number of tracks that you can use. But working on a tape machine, the best you can get is 24, if you’re lucky. But that forces you to think about the song quite differently. So I don’t know which way is better now, since computers are getting remarkably good at recreating that vintage sound. But I must say, not staring at a computer screen is pretty great.

Were you the kid in high school who ran home every afternoon to record yourself, skipping prom and the big game? Yep. I would say that that’s a pretty accurate description of my high school existence. But I was mostly a drummer, so I would race home and just practice drums. It wasn’t until a couple of years that I started learning all the other instruments that I now play. Then I could finally write and record complete songs.

One of your many instruments listed is “more cowbell.” Haven’t Christopher Walken’s people contacted you yet about this? Ha! I’m still waiting nervously about that! I can’t remember the name of the first song I wrote that way, but it was an amazing feeling. And I remember exactly what I was thinking at that moment — “Whoa! Maybe I can write another one!” Now I’ve written five records. It’s just crazy!

Did you play the songs for others right away? I did. Maybe a year into it, I started playing them for my family, and I created a MySpace page for the music. And one of the people that tuned into it was Chris Walla, who liked my songs so much he produced my debut (“Telekinesis!” in 2009). That was how it all started.



Where: Cafe Du Nord, 2174 Market St., S.F.

When: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 30

Tickets: $15 to $18

Contact: (415) 471-2969,

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