TELEN Rodwell is an Australian musician about to release his first album Shadowman here in London. Hailing from the small town of Wynyard, Tasmania, his music is reminiscent of the early works of Jeff Buckley or Leonard Cohen. It is an intimate look into the mind of a man struggling — and witnessing others struggle — with identity.
Shadowman is the culmination of 15 years “obsessively and compulsively writing”, yet up until now has rarely been shared.
“It’s an avenue for self expression. When I’m writing, I never stop at the first words. I try to find a deeper meaning. It’s like self analysis,” Telen tells Australian Times.
Telen, who taught himself to play guitar at the age of 21, has spent years writing music and poetry, but before now had never thought of turning professional.
One only has to listen to his music to see that Telen is a man very in-tune with the world around him. Indeed, the majority of his life has been consumed by another passion: helping disadvantaged communities in Australia and beyond.
It seems that Telen at one point or other has worked with almost everyone: from infants to the elderly; from those with physical to mental disabilities; in juvenile detention centers and prisons. This passion to help others lead him down a road that saw him volunteering in Haiti, being discovered, and eventually recording his first album at the legendary Abbey Road studios.
Perhaps the defining aspect of Telen’s musical career is his friendship with Larry Sullivan, a fellow committed humanitarian, the father of his sister-in-law, and chairman and co-founder of the COINS Foundation.
“Larry’s motto is that if you have wealth and success, your obligation is to share it,” says Telen.
The two met at a wedding and quickly bonded over their shared passions in poverty, disability and equality. Mutual interests developed into a deep friendship – the track ‘Mr Million Miles Away’ was even written for Larry.
In 2011, Larry was set to travel to disaster-stricken Haiti with Habitat for Humanity, a charity dedicated to building earthquake and hurricane resistant homes. He asked Telen to accompany him, both for the eye-opening experience and to document the work being done by the foundation (Telen is also an accomplished film director).
Haiti proved to be a pivotal moment in Telen’s career. One night, fellow volunteers and US musicians Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood put on an impromptu performance for the group.
“Somebody fished out some old guitar from somewhere,” says Telen.
“[I] grabbed the guitar and sung a couple songs.”
Playing to the group of volunteers was one of the first times Telen had played his music in public. Larry decided then and there to invest in Telen as a musican.
“Larry thought my music was as good as anyone’s, so why not?”
He moved to London, was signed to Borough Records, and set about creating his first album.
How did it feel to perform his music to others, after so many years of hiding it away? Exhilarating? Terrifying?
“Both. I think fear and excitement are the same emotion — they both feel exactly the same. It just depends on what you associate it with.”
“Whenever I’d watch mates play, or you heard music in a pub or something … I know what goes in to writing a song. I know the emotions behind it. You’d see someone playing and it means so much to them. You can put everything you’ve got into something and send it out there, and it can come across [to someone else] completely differently.”
What can we expect to see from Telen in the future?
“I’d like to continue to draw things together,” he says, referring to combining his creative and humanitarian work. This new album is only the start — proceeds from the sales will be directed towards the COINS Foundation, and in turn will feed back into projects like Habitat for Humanity.
Performing live in the near future is definitely on the cards — in the coming months, Telen will be performing and workshopping at the Stepping Stones School, a school for children with mild disabilities. Talking to him, it’s clear that working with disadvantaged kids is where his heart truly lies.
“Kids drop out [of school] and they get blamed, but nobody’s trying to understand them. You need to teach kids how to learn, not what to learn; you can easily hurt their thirst for knowledge.”
Musical education, then, seems to be the way forward for Telen; all people find connection to the emotion of music, no matter what their background is. And as for education? Telen’s views are clear: “Learning is the most exciting thing you can do.”
Telen Rodwell’s single ‘Heart of Gold’ will be available from iTunes on 25 February and his album Shadowman will be available in the summer.
Watch a compilation of Telen’s music here: