No Trips for Temples:
Taking Psychedelia Seriously Pays Off
For a psych-rock band, Temples sure seem strait-laced. The Kettering, England-based group presents an unfailingly put-together image, from their ’60s mystic style to their artfully trippy videos. The idea of Temples as a whole is sharply focused – and, for that, they exude a certain seriousness.
It could be a result of the way co-founders James Bagshaw and Tom Walmsley started the project: Together, as just a duo, and with a mission. Both are former members of The Moons, a relatively well-known English rock band going on six years.They left a few years ago.
“I never want to talk bad on that band because they were a part of our life for two years,” Bagshaw says. “I’ve gotten over qualms with anybody in the band…It was hard for [Moons frontman] Andy [Crofts] mostly because we were all friends, so why would you want to leave? There’s a point where it doesn’t become about friendship and you have to do something creatively if you want to get your output out there. I wrote three songs on the main record but they didn’t sound how I wanted the songs to sound.”
Bagshaw laments that songs he wrote for The Moons were too significantly altered by other influences.
“I thought, I didn’t know if I could deal with doing this anymore. For years I’ve been in bands where songs have been written but don’t have the production or the…sound that I want,” he says. “Playing around at home…and recording a lot more, I’ve gotten better at it or worse at it, whatever it means that makes it sound better. And so it was that reason, really – to actually see a whole song through the whole process without compromising really. It’s sort of a bit of a selfish way to start something but I think you’ve got to be like that…to at least have some kind of identity.”
Before having even played a live show, Temples were scooped up by Heavenly Recordings, the more than 20-year-old London label that gave Manic Street Preachers their start. Now, just a couple years later, they’ve rereleased their debut LP, Sun Structures, on Oxford, Miss., staple Fat Possum.
Temples’ take on psych is not wayfaring or experimental but, instead, quite constrained. That doesn’t mean it isn’t lush or embellished – there are chimes, flashes of dizzying synth and Bagshaw’s slightly shrill-but-soft vocals, which heighten an underlying glam. But Temples are deliberate, even calculated. It’s got the droning hypnotism and distorted, twisting riffs but it isn’t a free-for-all, mind-melting experience. It’s psych in its least drug-induced state; a pristine version of the genre where the mastery of radiating a mood of multicolored opulence can really be heard.
Despite adding drummer Samuel Lloyd Toms and keyboardist Adam Smith before hitting the studio, however, Sun Structures is all Bagshaw and Walmsley.
“On this record, it’s just the two of us. We weren’t even a band at first, the two of us. Because of that, it made it easier to just carry on a chord at my house because I know the studio well and I know how to use it efficiently. I think if we’d gone into the studio and started trying to [record] as a four-piece band it would have changed everything, and what the whole idea was. Not necessarily for the worst, it might have even been a better record. We’ll never know that,” Bagshaw pauses. “But it just seemed the right thing to do at the time, and we kind of had a clear vision once we had four songs at the beginning. The whole album really needed that kind of synchronization where it’s sort of a collection of songs that work together as a whole piece.”
The title track opens the album with Byrdsian twang before a soulful beat rolls in. “The Golden Throne” is somewhat spooky and bleak, a mood sustained through ominous background vocals on “Keep in the Dark.” Thematically, there is an element of fantasy in Sun Structures, like some strange world of invented royals. Imagining one of their songs at the end of a Game of Thrones episode isn’t hard to do.
Bagshaw doesn’t deny it – but he definitely doesn’t confirm it, either.
“I think our lyrics are quite obviously cryptic. Even between the four of us we like to think of them in different ways. If I wrote the lyrics to the song I kind of know what it’s meant to mean but that doesn’t mean what Adam thinks is wrong,” he says.
Bagshaw’s perfectly wild, coiled mop and the likelihood that, at all times, at least one person in the band is nonchalantly wearing something velvet or elaborately fringed furthers that sense of retro whimsy. Still, the closest Bagshaw gets to seeming even slightly lighthearted is in shooting down an inquiry about lyrical content.
“We’re very, very serious about music. But at the same time we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and we have fun…when we’re doing interviews, if people want to talk about music we’re going to be serious. If people want to know what our influences are, we’ll share that. If people want to know what our songs are about…I hate explaining lyrics. I think it should be like I said before: open to people’s interpretations of them. I do it to this day with, like, Dylan lyrics. I don’t want to meet Dylan and say, ‘What was this song about?’ I find meaning in it for myself whether or not someone else believes it. I think that’s important. And I’m sure he would probably…” he laughs. “And I am in no way comparing myself to Bob Dylan. So that’s, you know, one of those things…I won’t tell you what a song’s about.”
Temples have shown openness to the unexpected, though. They’ve released a slew of remixes – two for mid-album cut “Move with the Season,” in fact. It’s not exactly a typical move for a psych-rock outfit.
“I don’t think it was our idea at first. I don’t think a remix is really a nice concept for us because it’s people fucking around with our songs. But once we [heard them], it’s a different thing,” Bagshaw says. “I’ve realized that you can hear your own songs in a different way again, and it’s actually quite a beautiful thing when people get it right. And some people get it wrong, and you’re like, ‘Oh, God, they haven’t done this song justice. It doesn’t sound anything like what we’ve done.’ Which sometimes is good, sometimes it’s not.”
Unlike a lot of remixes that chop up a song into unrecognizable bits or wholly envelop it in electronic flourishes, Bagshaw says the Temples remixes are “another way of hearing the elements of the record.” Even when delving into what is commonly thought of as a party-driven genre, Bagshaw remains stoic and career-focused.
But the quartet is currently climbing out of the independent realm and into the mainstream, so there’s clearly some merit to their decidedly resolute collective character. In the UK, they’ve hit the top 10 charts. And their latest North American tour is bigger than their last in terms of venues, many of which they’re selling out. Appearances on TV ranging from late-night to The Ellen DeGeneres Show have become increasingly frequent.
In the midst of the hype, it’s not quite time to craft a follow-up. But when they do, Bagshaw says, it’ll be more of a joint effort this time. Toms and Smith will be involved in the entire process.
“I think we’re all going to write on our own for a period of time, then bring it all together like that…I think everybody will always want to honor their first inception of the song and how they envisioned it to be. It’s sort of interesting, instead of just sitting in a room and jamming – we’re not the kind of band to jam out songs. It doesn’t work like that,” he says.
Bagshaw and Walmsley are so zeroed in what Temples is and should remain that their need for experimentation seems to be pretty limited.
“We like songcraft too much to just kind of jam something…and be like, ‘Oh, it’s great,’ but it’s boring and repetitive and you just think it’s good because you heard it for about six sets. I think it will be a collaborative thing in that everyone will have an input, everyone will have songs on the record, and then it will be a case of compromising between us. But I don’t think we’ll have to compromise that far because, I think we’re all kind…if we’re not on the same page, we’re a couple of pages apart. Which is the best thing if we’re not going to sound like a compromised, watered-down, bored version of what we are now.”
Compared to some of their modern psych revivalist counterparts, Temples might look a little dull. But, once the drugs wear off, they’re one of few that still sounds just as good as it did at the height of the trip. There’s both career permanence and reason for acclaim in that.
Photo by James Loveday.