Temper Trap frontman Dougy Mandagi moved by friend in prison into writing song

Dougy Mandagi (right, with bandmate Joseph Greer) says success for The Temper Trap has brought pressure and expectations.
Dougy Mandagi (right, with bandmate Joseph Greer) says success for The Temper Trap has brought pressure and expectations.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

The Temper Trap frontman Dougy Mandagi wrote a song about prisoner Andrew Chan after seeing his change while behind bars

A friendship with a prisoner moved Australian indie band The Temper Trap's frontman Dougy Mandagi so much that he wrote a song about it.

The tune, Closer, is a bonus track off the band's third album, Thick As Thieves, which will be released next month. The frontman and his bandmate Joseph Greer were in Singapore last Friday to promote the release.

Mandagi got to know Andrew Chan who was part of the infamous Bali Nine, a group of Australians who made the news after being convicted of smuggling drugs out of the Indonesian island in 2005, during a visit to a prison in Bali in 2014. He was accompanying his mother, who is a member of a church that makes regular prison visits.

The 30-year-old Indonesian- born singer, who grew up in Australia, tells The Straits Times that his first meeting with Chan was "really intense", but he was impacted by the transformation in Chan's life and they struck up an immediate friendship.

He says: "Andrew completely turned his life around while he was in prison. He actually started rehab for the junkies in prison and computer programming, cooking and English classes for the inmates.

"I knew from our very first meeting that I had to write a song about it."

He visited Chan only one other time, but they kept in touch frequently via the messaging service WhatsApp.

Chan was executed last year, but the duo's friendship lingers on in the song Closer, which is a fitting addition to an album that sings of loyalty and brotherhood.

The Temper Trap, formed in 2005, broke into the music scene with the indie-pop hit Sweet Disposition.

The song, with a soaring tune and featuring Mandagi's trademark falsetto, was taken off their 2008 debut album Conditions.

Used in the soundtrack for the 2009 romantic comedy (500) Days Of Summer, it won Most Popular Australian Single at the Aria Music Awards in 2010, Australia's equivalent of the Grammys. The band also won Best Group at the awards.

A remix of the tune by the electronic act Axwell & Dirty South Remix earned a Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording, Non- Classical in 2011.

The success of the song changed the band, Mandagi says.

"When we first wrote Sweet Disposition, it came from a very pure place, none of us had achieved success then and we just wrote what sounded good, what felt good. It was an organic process," he says.

"But then it became a hit and music became business. And with business comes pressure and expectations.

"Our journey has been just as much about being creative as it is trying to navigate the treacherous waters of success. There's definitely a flipside to it."

Their sophomore, self-titled album, released in 2012, continued their winning streak. It became their first No. 1 album on the Australian charts and earned them Best Group and Best Rock Album at the 2012 Aria awards.

The band have performed in Singapore several times, most notably at the inaugural Singapore edition of the St Jerome's Laneway Festival in 2011. Their last gig here was at the MTV Sessions showcase at Resorts World Sentosa's Waterfront Studio in 2013.

Since then, the band have changed from a quintet to a quartet. Guitarist Lorenzo Sillitto left the group amicably in late 2013 to "try new things", he said in a statement then.

Besides Mandagi and Greer, who plays keyboard and guitars, the band also include Jonathon Aherne on bass guitar and Toby Dundas on drums. The remaining bandmates are close .

How close? The answer is the title of their new album, which is also the name of one of the songs off the release.

Mandagi says: "Thick As Thieves represents loyalty, brotherhood. It represents us, our relationship as band members, our relationship with one another."

• Thick As Thieves will be released on June 10.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Moved by friend in prison'. Print Edition | Subscribe