Since debuting with the dissonant album “Taste” in 1989, Stephen Lawrie’s English noise-rock outfit The Telescopes has had a revolving lineup of like-minded musicians, including San Francisco guitarists Andy Liszt and Chris Fifield from the psychedelic combo LSD and the Search for God.
And since 1992, after signing to then-sizzling UK imprint Creation for a self-titled recording, Lawrie has breezed through countless labels, never settling in one sonic place long enough to be pigeonholed.
It’s the way Lawrie likes it.
“It’s just The Telescopes,” he says, vaguely, of the band’s latest 12th album “Songs of Love and Revolution,” released Feb. 5. “It just exists in a dimension all its own.”
Sinister, droning songs like “Mesmerised,” “Strange Ways” and “This is Not a Dream” feel akin to the bass-heavy Joy Division jamming with feedback-feral Jesus and Mary Chain, underscored by tom-tom thumps.
But Lawrie, 51, speaking from his home in Shropshire, already has recorded, mixed and pressed its April follow-up, which is jangly and hushed, mostly acoustic.
“Then the next one after that, which I’m starting to write, is going to be completely different to the last two,” he says, adding, “But I’m not giving anything away about that one just yet.”
He’s juggling several other projects simultaneously, too, like writing a libretto for a friend’s rock-musical film, and an upcoming collaboration with British group The Vanishing Lines.
In the early Telescopes days, Lawrie made career moves at his leisure.
A decade passed before he issued “Third Wave” on Double Agent Records, then formed his own Antenna imprint for 1985’s “#4.”
He says loss of clarity accounted for all that down time.
After signing to Oasis-renowned Creation, he says, “I just felt bombarded with opinions about how this thing could be more successful, although I never sat down thinking, ‘I’m going to write a hit record.’ But that’s what became expected of me — a certain kind of hit record, and I just don’t operate like that. So I started learning all the new technology instead. Computers were just coming in, and samplers and sequencers and music software programs.”
Lawrie even mastered graphic software programs so he could create his own Telescopes album artwork.
He refused to be tethered to just one record company again, and inked new contracts with each album’s completion. He didn’t enjoy watching his shifting songwriting styles idling for long; “strike while the sonic iron was hot” became his motto.
“I like to keep it in flux, so that there might be little ideas that you tried which then spark another line of thought, which then gives way to more ideas,” he says. “Most labels don’t want to put out a new album every year, but I’m getting to the stage where I do. And the more you do it, the more fluid it becomes, and the more you want to put out.” He coughs, in punctuation, “Uh, while you can.”
His throat-clearing isn’t forced. Lawrie’s significant other is a frontline National Health Service worker in Britain, and his cough began 21 days ago, when she first tested positive for the coronavirus, suffering standard symptoms, like loss of the sense of taste and smell.
Now, she’s COVID-free, but Lawrie is experiencing constant throbbing pain in his left arm and shoulder and an unusual recurrence of long-dormant arthritis aches from his 30s.
“It’s nothing like the regular flu, I’ll tell you that much,” he adds. “Some of the aches and pains are like being hit by a hammer, plus there’s the anxiety of not knowing what’s going to happen in the morning, not knowing what you’re going to wake up to the next day. Some mornings, you just want to go back to bed. I’ve never scrutinized every twinge so much in my entire life,” he says.
Fans expecting a suitably grim batch of new Telescopes dirges will probably be disappointed, despite the bleak, foreboding tones on “Songs of Love and Revolution,” he says, “Because sometimes, you can be in dark times like these and write something really inspirational, something very positive.”