The sophomore album is always an uphill battle, and God bless Telekinesis’ Michael Benjamin Lerner for getting through it with all the other obstacles that popped up along the way.
The stress of following up his critically acclaimed debut, “Telekinesis!,” was compounded by a litany of other problems: a serious car wreck, a breakup, depression and a mystery illness that literally threw him physically off-balance and threatened his impeccable ear for pop hooks as he was left partially deaf. It was almost too much on the bubbly, infectious demeanor that had endeared the Seattle-based band to so many.
“The whole sophomore-record syndrome ... I said I wasn’t going to let it get to me, all that stressful shit,” he said. “It totally got to me. I’m a happy dude; I was not a happy dude then.”
When Lerner decided to begin writing what would become “12 Desperate Straight Lines,” he struck out for a bleak, bleary and solitary winter in Berlin where he holed up and wrote songs from 9 to 5 every day.
“I need structure in my life,” he said. “If I don’t, I’ll sit on the couch and watch ‘X-Files’ seasons one through nine on Netflix the entire day. Music is my job now, and if you tell yourself that, you can find a little focus.”
Still, basically being a solo musician — he writes and records every part — left him without a partner to bounce off ideas. He was departing to the studio in Portland with a batch of songs he liked when he crashed his van, caused by that bout with vertigo. Weirdly enough, however, it proved to be a blessing in disguise.
“If that hadn’t happened, a lot of my favorite songs wouldn’t have been on this album,” Lerner said. “It sucks to look at that all as a positive thing, but it was a really positive thing.”
In recovery, he bought a bass guitar and wrote a good chunk of the album, even immortalizing the collision in the leadoff single, “Car Crash.” The illness subsided, he got over the girl, snapped out of his depression, and what could have become a rather gloomy effort became a positively sunny one.
“I was trying to write another song that everyone loved ... and it was just the most awful fucking shit you could ever write. So I just started having fun and wrote what I liked,” Lerner said. “Nineties rock was apparently how I was feeling, and I wrote some awesome ’90s rock jams.”
Everything is looking up now; “Desperate” dropped Feb. 15, and Telekinesis is on the road to support it — including Monday’s date at Opolis — through March. He eagerly awaits what crowds have to say about the disc and counts his lucky stars he made it out alive.
“In the least cocky way, I’m really proud of writing this, especially with all that happened. I can confidently say it’s the best I could have done, and it’s scary putting it out to the world,” Lerner said. “Like a lot of musicians, I tell my friends it’s like my baby, but then you have to pass him around and let people handle him. Hopefully, no one drops the baby.”