We’ve been waiting for a debut album from Dork’s favourite boy wonder for what seems like an age, but in 2022, it’s finally happening.
Words: Jamie MacMillan. Photo: Patrick Gunning.
Chaos reigns. The famously 18-year-old Alfie Templeman’s face is stuck in a pricelessly quizzical expression as Dork’s connection drops just as our conversation with the global pop phenomenon in the making begins. “Hello, you’re back!” he says happily a few minutes later. The feeling is mutual. Alfie’s back with another top tier bop in ‘3D Feelings’, a track so good that Nile bloody Rodgers tweets him telling him to get in touch the next day. Tours are on the horizon both at home and internationally, Nile’s inviting him to slide into his DM’s; life is looking good for Alf, then. “I think it went alright,” he shrugs about the single with the air of someone who knows he’s got some other special bits in his Templebag.
It’s been quite the turnaround in vibes for him, especially after an extended period of having to isolate during the earliest days of the lockdown. Leaping straight from that into the madness of a festival season must have been quite the whiplash moment for him then. “Yeah, it was,” he agrees. “But at the same time, sometimes when I get so overwhelmingly happy, it just reminds me of just how shit the last year was when I was just doing nothing. I was also quite proud of myself to finally combat a lot of the depression and anxiety that I’d faced in that room. To be even going out there and playing a festival, I was more than a bit proud of myself and the band for helping me get through it all.” He pauses for a second before adding dramatically, “And then I got Covid!”
Oh yeah, that. Striking just a few days before his main stage slot at Latitude, it was an early sign of the chaos to follow this summer with line-ups changing on a daily basis. His former tour buddies Sports Team stepped in on this occasion, of course. “It was such a bummer. I was so excited, and then those little bastards nicked my slots!” he laughs before adding, “It’s alright; I know the Alfie T fans must have been disappointed to see a long-haired skinny sweaty weirdo and those weapons playing instead.” (He’s kidding, he still loves them. We think.)
Thankfully, performances at Boardmasters (a set with a crowd so ferocious the band worried that they would fall off the stage due to the bouncing), Neighbourhood and Reading & Leeds went much smoother, and the summer was a success after all. With everything back on track then, ‘3D Feelings’ is another clue to what is to come – Alfie dropping the news to Dork that the album is now done and in the bag. “Everything’s good to go,” he beams before teasing, “I’ve done so much new stuff over the last year or two, and we’ve been able to put together this really cool album. It’s a completely new direction that I’ve never really touched upon before.”
“Unfortunately for some people, I’m touching on prog rock finally”Alfie Templeman
So can we still expect wall-to-wall bangers and indie party bops then? “It’s quite psychedelic in parts,” he says. “And also quite R&B. And also quite a lot of folk, and unfortunately for some people, I’m touching on prog rock finally.” Wait. What? “Listens to Genesis once, and then everything just goes backwards,” he grins. “I’ll just go on tour to play Genesis songs now. That’s the next move.”
OK, but we’ve still got the lovely love songs to look forward to, though, yeah? “I’m so fed up with writing love songs; it’s actually odd how little love comes up in this whole thing,” he smiles again. “This album’s got quite a lot of existentialism on it, actually.” Oh. “Yeah, the last song is really doom and gloom. Just me asking myself questions about the world and everything. But there are some lovely sweet songs about space and time, though?”
All jokes aside, the album (title still under wraps) is the culmination of several years worth of writing for Alfie, with some of the songs dug up and re-invented in a similar way to ‘Everybody’s Gotta Love Somebody’. Just as that track was written five years ago and regenerated into something new, so has it happened to a few other songs here. “When I was 12 or 13, I was going through a massive prog phase. That was my favourite music,” he explains, “and I’ve really rediscovered my love for it recently. So I went back to it and kind of just dug up some ideas and added to them. Some of these songs have been lingering about in different aspects since the birth of mankind!”
It’s clear that he’s super proud of the record; when he describes it as the best stuff that he and his band have done, it doesn’t feel like the usual artist-in-an-interview PR nonsense. And with a winning run behind him of five-star tracks and EPs since his earliest bedroom pop days, we’re not about to start doubting him. “One of the songs, I wanted to make a movie score for Quentin Tarantino,” he says excitedly, “so I just made an opening song for one of his films in my head, what it would sound like. There’s plenty of songs here that don’t have a specific meaning lyrically, but they just fit a great movie scene or something.”
We chat for a while about his love of movies, and Tarantino in particular (Pulp Fiction is his favourite, naturally) – and it leads to talk of America and his upcoming debut tour there. “Because I’ve never played there, I don’t know what to expect,” he admits. “But I’d rather it be that way because if I look it up too much and delve into it too much, then I’ll just be more anxious. I just wanna dive in and hope for the best in a way.”
“I’m so fed up with writing love songs”Alfie Templeman
Though it is only Alfie on our call, it is obvious that sharing these new experiences with his bandmates (as well as his dad, who tour manages him) is a precious thing for him. “It takes a lot of the pressure off because you know that we’re all in a similar position,” he agrees. “You sometimes forget you’re going to America, and then you remember and realise why you’re doing all this. There are always so many stupid things that happen on tour. You lose gear, you do silly things, you get too drunk. All of that. But the minute you step on stage, it all makes it worth it, and you remember why you’re here and that it’s the best thing in the world. It’s all worth it in the end; it’s the power of gigs.”
Alfie’s excited about playing some of the most iconic venues in the world, places like the Roxy in Los Angeles, rooms with decades of rock history. He’s also looking forward to… “Oh, eating SO much shit food. Come on!” A vegetarian, he will be ducking the meat feasts on offer, of course. “I need some tips and tricks from Alex Rice,” he says (recklessly unaware of the dangers). “He said when he went to the States, he just ate random weird Southern delicacies that you shouldn’t eat before a show.”
As we are prone to do, we decide to ask him if he likes bowling for no reason other than to settle a recent social media debate (see page 9). “Fuck people that don’t like bowling!” is his wildly disproportionate response. “The whole thing is a massive experience! You go into that shitty little car park, park up, walk inside, go through all those crappy arcade games that take your money.” (You’re not selling it to us, mate.) “And then you get there, and it’s like OK, it stinks of cheap American food.” (Alfie?) “But it’s GREAT! They put a pair of those bowling shoe babies on you, you eat tonnes of those sweets that have been in jars for years, and you have a few rounds. I’m shit at it though, they have to put those ramps up. Don’t laugh; it’s not funny.” Verdict carried, bowling is great. “There’s a conkers competition every year near where I live; that’s pretty bantz. But my favourite weird sport is private plane-ing.” We haven’t heard of it, and on Google inspection, it turns out to be something called ‘aerotrekking’, a sport that basically involves skimming just above the ground in a weird sort of contraption that looks directly inspired from some 70s cartoon. “Yeah, that one’s my favourite,” he explains before finishing sadly: “But someone died in one, and the manufacturer got sued and lost all his money.” We’ll stick to conkers.
As we being to wrap up our rollercoaster chat, we look ahead to Alfie’s upcoming Camden Assembly gig – a ridiculously intimate warm-up show for his US tour. Is he worried that the days of being able to play shows like that will soon be at an end? “We’ll always stick with intimate shows, even if we do get bigger or whatever,” he promises. “We will always play Bedford Esquires, for example. That’s my local, 200 people, but it’s just so much fun every time. I really enjoy that kind of show.”
As the night of his Camden show arrives, and the queues of fans snake around the corner just to be able to get down the front, the love for this sort of setting is plainly mutual with his fans. Somehow, ‘3D Feelings’ gets the crowd singing along despite it never having been played live before and the fact that it hadn’t (yet) been released. For him and his band, it is the first ‘proper’ headline show since lockdown ended and the perfect full stop on a busy summer back doing what he does best before he heads out to continue his path to global domination. Thankfully he’s proving a lot better at this pop star lark than he is at bowling, no safety lanes required here.
Taken from the December 2021 / January 2022 edition of Dork, out now.