The problem with one-hit-wonders, on Sweet Disposition’s 15th Birthday
by Thomas Giblin (he/him) @thegreengiblin
culture & lifestyle writer
The genesis of this profile started in the most mundane of places: the shower, as Mac Miller's 'Love Lost' blasted from my precariously-balanced phone. The song faded out as I scrubbed my face with an overpriced cleanser. Up next: 'Sweet Disposition' by The Temper Trap. The iconic Australian indie pop-rock song reached the top 10 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart and has over 500 million streams on Spotify. You also can't forget to mention its needle drop in the 2009 cult classic (500) Days of Summer, which cemented its place as an indie anthem. Now, the track and the band are experiencing a renaissance due to a myriad of throwback memes and questionable house remixes. Thanks to the digital rekindling of The Temper Trap, a few weeks and one frantic email chain later, I'm on the phone with the band's drummer, Toby Dundas, chatting about Glastonbury and parenthood.
Life after 'Sweet Disposition' has treated Dundas well; he's settled in Melbourne, with a kid and a little studio. A lunch break has meant we have the opportunity to chat (I forgot to ask him what he's having, sorry). We quickly began discussing his passion for producing: Before The Temper Trap, Dundas was pursuing a career in mixing and mastering. The success of the band has been a distraction, albeit a good one, from this interest.
"Even though you've played it thousands of times, the experience with a crowd playing it live is different every time, and that energy that you get from them makes it new in a way. It's like you almost have to see it through their eyes."
"You play a festival in some other country the day before. You fly in, drive out to Glastonbury, and you're on-site for three or four hours. You play your set, and then you've got to leave because you've got to play in another country the next day."
Dundas met Dougy Mandagi, the lead singer, where all great things are born: General Pants Co., where they worked "selling jeans and not having a great time". Mandagi invited Dundas to his house in the outer suburbs of Melbourne to have a jam. If you've listened to any of The Temper Trap's music, you'll know that Mandagi has an angelic falsetto, which has seen him compared to Bono and Chris Martin – Dundas was instantly excited by the prospect of what they could do as a band. Their bassist, a friend of Mandagi's, joined the following week. He worked next door at a Surf Dive 'n' Ski. (I joke that this shopping centre they all worked at should have a plaque honouring their achievements. Dundas wonders if his staff code still works – he fancies a discount on a new pair of Levi's.)
It wasn't long before they all made their way to London, like many artists from down under. Arriving in April 2009, they travelled around in a minivan, "playing in these little shitty venues all over the place." Dundas calls this 'Toilet Touring', an apt name for this musical right of passage. In September, during a hazy British summer, 'Sweet Disposition' came out, the hit song they're synonymous with. It got added to the BBC Radio 1 A-list, and things took off. They'd gone from schlepping it in a little van to a proper tour bus, going on huge nationwide tours and playing iconic UK venues such as the Shepherd's Bush Empire. At this moment, Dundas thought, "This is really happening," Although, he says these moments happen all the way through.
Despite the song's success relative to their other works, The Temper Trap – like a-ha, Weezer and PSY – shouldn't be considered one-hit wonders. It's a binary way of thinking, using the charts as a way to value artists. It disregards them as a squawking novelty. Songs like 'Love Lost', 'Fader', 'Trembling Hands' and 'Fall Together' are additions to a discography that has allowed The Temper Trap to remain in the public consciousness for a decade and a half. Dundas is surprised when I remind him that it's nearly fifteen years to the day since ‘Sweet Disposition’ was released. He's still yet to get sick of the song - "Even though you've played it thousands of times, the experience with a crowd playing it live is different every time, and that energy that you get from them makes it new in a way. It's like you almost have to see it through their eyes."
Fifteen years after its release, the song has found a new audience in the digital age. Prominent TikTok music content creator The Crunchy Beat called 'Sweet Disposition', one of the greatest songs ever written, claiming its "rush of existential euphoria" never decreases. Moreover, a viral TikTok with the caption "Songs that are the same" splices 'Sweet Disposition' with 'Oblivion' by Grimes. The comments beg the creators to upload a full version to Spotify immediately. Digital remix culture has even led the song to be sampled on an EDM track that’s way too long, and the soundtrack for dozens of AI edits of a woman dancing. I've also heard 'Sweet Disposition' be sampled on a track featuring comedian Theo Von, admitting his struggle with mental health issues – the song pervades all corners of the app.
Hits like 'Fader', 'Love Lost' and of course 'Sweet Disposition' have allowed Dundas and The Temper Trap to perform at iconic venues and festivals across the globe. He fondly remembers performing at the Melbourne Cricket Ground during the halftime of the 2012 Australian Football League grand final. The attendance for that game was nearly 100,000 people. I also asked Dundas about Glastonbury, the legendary festival responsible for some of the most iconic moments in pop-culture history (namely Jay-Z's fuck you to Noel Gallagher). Snippets of their set can be found on YouTube, but not at a quality higher than 360p. "What's going on, Glastonbury? We're The Temper Trap. Thanks for coming out," Mandagi announced to a fair crowd in 2009 on the John Peel stage, which always champions new music from up-and-coming artists on the cusp of stardom.
The following year Mandagi and The Temper Trap didn't need to announce themselves. They performed on the Other Stage, reserved for major acts and alternative headliners. I quiz Dundas on his memories of this performance, having just watched it in preparation for this interview. Ironically, he doesn't remember much. "You play a festival in some other country the day before. You fly in, drive out to Glastonbury, and you're on-site for three or four hours. You play your set, and then you've got to leave because you've got to play in another country the next day."
Life isn't such a whirlwind these days, "Lots has changed since the earlier days of the band," says Dundas. Instead of 'Toilet Touring', he now has a four-year-old to look after. Most of the band have children too, so sound checks and shows now involve cartoonishly large earmuffs on small, discerning melophiles. Dundas's son likes singing the most and is no longer a fan of The Wiggles and Blippi. Rather, 'Song 2' by Blur, 'Get Free' by The Vines and 'Hate to Say I Told You So' by The Hives accompany play time in the Dundas household. They'll rock out, Dundas will drum on some boxes while his son uses a pretend microphone stand and dances as if he were Michael Jackson's reincarnation. “It’s great being able to share that part of your life with them."
Dundas's son likes singing the most and is no longer a fan of The Wiggles and Blippi. Rather, 'Song 2' by Blur, 'Get Free' by The Vines and 'Hate to Say I Told You So' by The Hives accompany play time in the Dundas household.
With music and parenthood crossing over, I'm curious if there are any life lessons he's learned in his nearly twenty years with The Temper Trap that inform Dundas as a parent. "You've got to try and see things from other people's eyes and be patient," he says. A band is a unique organism in many ways. It's a family, but business and creative relationships are mixed into the fold. Patience has allowed The Temper Trap to find a pathway through "disagreements" so they can all remain inspired after all these years together.
The band members now live all over the globe, but they're still keen to work on new tracks. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Dropbox was their studio. They could share what they were working on and collaborate on new ideas. They have shows lined up all over Australia for the end of the year, and they’re excited to use this time together to work on a new batch of songs in the studio. "Maybe even a record if it all goes well," Dundas says slyly.