Colourful, Dense, & Unpredictable: Tempesst’s Wondrous Debut Album ‘Must Be a Dream’

Must Be a Dream - Tempesst
Must Be a Dream - Tempesst

Mitch's Take

A world of wonder, Tempesst’s debut album ‘Must Be a Dream’ is a dazzling, cinematic psych-pop indulgence teeming with mystic energy and deeply human emotion.
for fans of The Beatles, MGMT, The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala
Stream: “Mushroom Cloud” – Tempesst

Tempesst’s debut album is an invitation to step out of the everyday and into the extraordinary.

A world of wonder waiting to be uncovered, Must Be a Dream is a dazzling, cinematic psych-pop indulgence teeming with mystic energy and deeply human emotion. Songs of hope and wonder, love and longing, being and identity coalesce on a record that shines bright as the sun.

Must Be a Dream - Tempesst
Must Be a Dream – Tempesst
I’m haunted by my telephone
You left me standing on the corner
Like a harlot waiting for your call
Out of spite
As though the price
Is rarely right
There’s nothing like a little contempt
To drive a man right over his edge
Doing things he’ll later regret
Sometimes I get carried away in the moment…
– “Mushroom Cloud,” Tempesst

Released September 30, 2020 via Pony Recordings, Must Be a Dream is just the kind of musical journey we need to break up the uninterrupted doldrums of life during a global pandemic. Buoyant and effervescent, with high highs lush with bold harmonies and caressing instrumentals, Tempesst’s first full-length offering arrives in the form of a knowing, much-needed hug we can embrace for as long as we want.

Tempestt © Gyorgy Laszlo
Tempestt © Gyorgy Laszlo

Formed in Noosa, Australia by twin brothers Toma and Andy Banjanin, Tempesst have had a long road since they first came together in the late 2000s. Now based in London, the band consists of the Banjanin brothers alongside Kane Reynolds, Blake Mispieka, and Eric Weber. Since their dynamic introduction in 2015, Tempesst have released two EPs (2017’s Adult Wonderland and 2018’s Doomsday) and amassed an international fan base through their eclectic, left-of-center take on the marriage of psychedelia, rock, and pop. At times, they may sound like the second coming of 1967-era The Beatles or MGMT’s alter ego from another dimension, but make no mistake: This DIY outfit are an entity unto themselves, a band driven by their own inner fires and a passion for sonic exploration.

I watched your hips in sacred in the lamplight
You were dancing wearing nothing
Above my cowboy hat
You’re like a Margaret’s twin
Possessed by a tribal queen
And this moment slips
Just short of make believe
This must be a dream
Baby you must be a dream
I’d awake in the morning
We’re forever entwined
– “Must Be a Dream,” Tempesst

“It has been a while in the making, though it doesn’t feel like it – weird how time passes…” the band says of their long-awaited album. “After the Doomsday EP release at the end of 2018, we set up our own studio in Hackney, London and spent most of last year working on the record. In the past we’d write and demo at home, book a session and squeeze as much as we could into four days at the studio. This was the first time we didn’t have to rush the recording process, so instead we indulged ourselves and took almost an entire year. It’s a nice way to work. The biggest difference was how the writing and recording processes blurred into one, as we’d finish a track, a lot of the sounds and ideas bled into the next.”

The result of this new approach is a 37-minute soundtrack that breathes with its own vibrant light. “This record is the sum of our individual tastes and influences. Finding the balance without compromising the initial vision isn’t easy, but we’ve worked [at] it.”

Must Be a Dream takes its title from the second track that shares its name; a sort of mission statement for the project as a whole, the sentiment of this beautiful song is so direct and simple, that it can at times feel difficult to comprehend. “It’s the sentence ‘must be a dream’ that relates to the record more than the lyrics of the song,” Tempesst explain. “In the context of the record, the word ‘dream’ isn’t referring to its ‘blissful fantasy’ definition, but to the ‘bizarre-timewarped-unpredictable‘ definition. Life can feel like just a dream, temporary without much lasting meaning. Every song shares the sentiment.”

Diving deeper into the album overall, Tempesst offer a bit of background on the sentiments, ideas, and emotions leading up to and inhabiting the record:

“The dream in Must be a dream is our very own pandoras box. Dreams are unpredictable, bizarre and can be downright insane. Timelines, storylines, characters, even whole worlds are fluid and change without notice. The supernatural is just natural and anything is possible. Dreams are far out: They’re limitless and directly contradict the mundane nature of every day life. It is the context that has allowed us to explore existential themes like identity, purpose and aging; to interrogate ourselves, distill our ideas and create our lens; to have the freedom to tell stories from different perspectives and to give voice to different characters. The songs reflect these sentiments.
Over the past 4 years we’ve been carving our own path, finding our feet and forming our identity. It was pretty obvious that a traditional path in the music industry couldn’t provide us with the autonomy and potential for longevity that has always been important to us. So, we’ve built our own studio, created our own record label, filmed our own videos and set ourselves up to keep doing this for as long as we want to. The luxury of having our own space has allowed us to evolve creatively and to experiment in ways we haven’t been able to before. Musically, there is an element of surprise and It never gets too comfortable, as if in a dream.”
Tempestt © Gyorgy Laszlo
Tempestt © Gyorgy Laszlo

From the moment Must Be a Dream kicks off with “Better Than the Devil” and the title track, listeners are whisked into a dramatic plane. It’s not a “higher” existence per se, but it certainly feels enlightened to a degree: Vocalist and guitarist Toma Banjanin roars through a thick wall of hazy guitars, emotive drums, swelling strings, the occasional blaring woodwind or brass instrument, and on-again / off-again overdrive. It’s indulgent and immersive in all the right ways.

Tempesst cite post-Beatles records like Venus and Mars, Plastic Ono Band, and All Things Must Pass as major influences going into their own recording sessions – but they’re also quick to qualify that, “when the recording starts, songs take on a life of their own and you’ve got to roll with what serves them best.”

Many of the record’s standout moments happen throughout its first half: The three-track run of “High on My Own,” “Mushroom Cloud,” and “Walk on the Water” is an eleven minute rush of intensely seductive, catchy, and entrancing music. While the former two songs saw early release as singles earlier in the summer, “Walk on the Water” is a deeper cut ready to hypnotize all listeners willing to plunge into its sweet psychedelic depths.

“‘Walk on the Water’ was a late addition to the record. We bought mushrooms after a gig in Amsterdam and on the way home ended up camping in the forest for 3 nights somewhere near the French and Luxembourg border,” Toma Banjanin recalls. “We slept under the stars, cooked over a fire and got high. It was really quite wholesome, almost a spiritual experience, like psychedelic group bonding. The day after we got back to London, we were just jamming and ended up writing the song. I wrote the lyrics in about an hour (which is pretty rare for me) and then I demoed it up. Easy.”

Equal love can be given to Must Be a Dream‘s back half, where the rollicking, heady “On the Run” and the turbulent, harmony-drenched “Age of the Bored” boil over into the shining, shimmering love song “With a Woman” – a gorgeous, carefully-woven song that feels straight out of the ’70s. The album concludes on a similar high, with the electrifying propulsive beats and soaring licks of “Is This All That There Is?” winding into the sweeping tempest (there’s simply no other way to say it), “Voices In My Head.”

All told, Must Be a Dream comes alive with spirited, sparkling warmth and endless delights.

It is as of this time as it is of a past generation; a melding of old and new, familiar and fresh.

“Through the writing process I learned that I’m becoming more comfortable in ‘the grey’ and that I don’t need clear answers to some of life’s bigger questions,” Toma Banjanin shares. “Through the recording process I learned that it’s fun to experiment with synthesizers and effects, but you can lose many hours doing it.”

Tempestt © Gyorgy Laszlo
Tempestt © Gyorgy Laszlo

Ultimately, Banjanin and band hope listeners take away “whatever they’re looking for” from this album. Whether you need a special trip down memory lane or a trip of some other kind, Tempesst are here to facilitate your journey.

Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Tempesst’s Must Be a Dream with Atwood Magazine as the band go track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their debut album!

Must Be a Dream is out now via Pony Recordings.

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Stream: ‘Must Be a Dream’ – Tempesst

:: Inside Must Be a Dream ::

Must Be a Dream - Tempesst

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01 Better Than the Devil

‘Better than the Devil’ is social commentary about political spin and media narratives. It’s the first song of the album and starts with a sample of Marshall Applewhite, the cult leader of Heavens Gate, who convinced himself and 38 people to participate in a mass suicide in 1997. I know, it seems like an extreme parallel to draw, probably because it’s especially shocking when people buy into narratives that are bizarre, outlandish and feel obviously untrue. At its essence though, is everyday spin really all that different? Media is the convenient information source that’s been used by those in power to condition people for decades. The same narratives over and over, until they’re engrained, no longer questioned and recited by zombies with the conviction of original thought.

02 Must Be a Dream

These days, I find it hard not to be a cynic. Maybe it’s because it takes more effort to be the enlightened optimist all the time. Maybe it’s because the daily news just ain’t all that uplifting anymore…the pandemic, riots, climate change issues, crazy politics, WWIII and the impending apocalypse!
From time to time though, the stars align and for a moment I forget the worries and life is just good. ‘Must be a dream’ was one of those rare evenings of pure bliss. 

03 High on My Own

I grew up near Noosa, a small beach town in Australia. In my town, a 30 year old man was the typical family man, with a normal job, a mortgage etc. The kind of guy who did a little work, dinners at home, spent time with mates or in nature and had what seemed to be contentment as a byproduct. These guys had beliefs, they lived by a code that guided each decision with a brand of certainty that I envy.
In my subconscious, this archetype framed the kind of firm identity one should expect to have acquired by age 30. A couple of decades on, here I am, 30, still wandering, without the beliefs or certainty I expected to have. It’s easier to opt for escapism and apathy, and I’m calling myself out on it. 

04 Mushroom Cloud

Why is it that the people you love most, bring out the worst in you? Why do we reserve the darker sides of our personality for those who are closest to us?
Mushroom Cloud isn’t my story. I found it easier to write this song as a confession from the perspective of the antagonist. It’s equal measures apology, justification and threat, the kind of confusing grey that only exists within intimate relationships. It’s love that becomes all-consuming and suffocating. It’s that destructive primal default buried deep within each of us. The Saboteur present in every moment of regret… that will do or say anything in an attempt at self preservation.

05 Walking on the water

Halfway through recording the album, we wrote ‘Walking on the Water’ as a surprise addition to the album.
All five of us had just come home from a camping trip in France, where we’d slept under the stars and ate magic mushrooms in the forest. The whole experience was surreal.
One day the following week, Eric and Blake were messing around whilst waiting for the rest of us to come into the studio. By the time we all made it in, they’d written a whole new motif. All of our instruments were set up, so we just started jamming. We ended up spending the whole night working on this new idea. The boys left around midnight and I stayed back to work on lyrics and make a demo. I was inspired by our recent camping trip, so the writing was unusually effortless. We showed Elliot the next morning, and we were all convinced that this song had to be on the record.

06 On the Run

Blame it on the whims of a cruel creator, the mysteries of the universe or just plain old bad luck; life isn’t fair and good fortune isn’t dished out in equal measure to all. Best case, the hard times shape your character and make you more resilient. But sometimes, too many losses within a short period of time, can break you.
‘On the run’ was written about someone who was overcome by a string of family deaths and her partners suicide in the same year. It was too much for her to bear. She turned to drugs for comfort and lost control. The chain reaction of decisions that followed, left her literally and metaphorically ‘on the run’ for over a decade. Eventually she was found, although the person that we loved and knew, is lost forever. 

07 The age of the bored

Tired eyes, wake and retire to the numbing glow of a screen.
Awake equals online… Alarms welcome the morning… Audiobooks hypnotise a sleepy night… and like the overflow of sewage, pointless ‘entertainment’ seeps into every spare moment of the day. News feeds, photo streams, meme machine, brain freeze.

08 With a Woman 

‘With a woman’ is a coming of age story. It details the complicated, blissful and sometimes lasting nature of first love.
In this case it’s overwhelming and all-consuming desire. The intense experience causes the narrater to redefine his own identity. He forsakes his superficial self-regard and surrenders to love.

09 Is this all that there is?

I try to go back home to Noosa for Christmas each year. Noosa is a beach town on an idyllic peninsular on Australia’s east coast. My favourite place to swim is this tiny stretch of beach called ‘Little Cove’, it’s near the National Park and is usually quiet and secluded. This day though, it was packed with people.
I just sat there in this perfect setting, noting how strange people are when at the beach and had an existential crisis! In a matter of 5 minutes, a mental landslide from serene memories of my laid- back youth all the way to the heavy questions of existence, purpose, age and death. I went home and wrote about what I saw and how I felt and the following week Elliot and I flew to Melbourne and recorded it at Sing Sing studios.

10 Voices in my head

‘Voices in my head’ was written years ago and naturally a few different versions have been recorded, none of which were quite right.
We’re fans of Phil Spector’s wall of sound production method as it’s been used on many of the classic records that we’re inspired by; we’ve used it as a creative approach for most of the record.
In pre-production, Elliot and I worked up a demo of ‘Voices in my head’ using the wall of sound method and it finally brought the song to life. At its most dense you’ll hear drums, bass, guitars, keys, strings, brass, backing vocals, a saxophone solo and some Prince-esque wailing vocals all at once. Somehow it works. 

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Must Be a Dream - Tempesst

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📸 © György László

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