Since they first appeared on the scene in 2012 with the psychedelic pop pleasure that was ‘Shelter Song’, Temples have been an intriguing bunch. Their debut album, 2014’s ‘Sun Structures’ was well received but the follow-up, 2017’s ‘Volcano’ not so much.
Yet, Temples are back a man down and a brand new record up with the scuzzy sound of ‘Hot Motion’ and as frontman James Bagshaw explains, he believes it’s their “finest work to date”.
“[It’s] a guitar record essentially,” he explains. “We like to treat the guitar with a unique perspective, and maybe it doesn’t sound like traditionally guitar on some songs, but definitely not sounding like synthesisers this time anyway.”
“A lot of the fuzz sound on this record on the bass and the guitars came from this old Roland PA system from the seventies,” James continues. “I just use that as a preamp really and stumbled across it sat in storage. I always knew that it wasn’t the cleanest sounding thing, so I had no use for it at the time. Then I was like, well, maybe you can use this for what it’s not meant to be used for as a preamp for guitar, but then go into an amp or straight into the mixing console?
“That was the thing that really inspired sort of scuzzy sleazier sounds on the record. I think any of the clean more melodic guitar stuff was basically the love of the sound of tape really, so some of it will be low fidelity tape, some of it will be effects to sound like it’s played off an old gramophone or something. And, you know, certainly on a track like ‘Hot Motion’, the intro is so very degraded. So low-quality sound, intentionally.”
When the topic of former drummer Sam Toms comes up, James initially refuses to be drawn on his mysterious and sudden departure, saying “he didn’t leave the band”, but he soon opens up. “It’s quite hard to talk about cos you don’t want to offend anybody, but when you’re a touring band, you need to be a gang, and you need to be reliable, essentially. And he just kept letting us down. You can’t have that when you’re touring, because you don’t want to embarrass yourselves.
“So, in December last year, we had a gig, and he didn’t turn up until halfway through our set time. We went on stage and played three songs, and it was embarrassing. I think that was the thing that really made us make that decision. But I mean, there’s no hard feelings, I don’t think. Well, I haven’t bumped into him, but the rest of the band have bumped into him. And, you know, he’s off doing other music projects. So best of luck to him, really.”
James goes on to reveal that even though they’ve lost a man, the dynamic of the band hasn’t really shifted all that much, even with new drummer Rens Ottink.
“[Rens] only got on board after the record was made, so as far as in the studio was concerned, it didn’t really change much. Sam wasn’t at a lot of the sessions anyway, certainly on the first record [2014’s ‘Sun Structures’], and only a couple on the second record [2017’s ‘Volcano’], so it didn’t really change that.
“There are things that you miss because it’s essentially one of your mates, but Rens came into the band and fits in so well. He’s someone you can really rely on, musically and personally as well. With friends or bandmates, you just want to be able to rely on each other.”
Looking back briefly at 2017’s ‘Volcano’, he gets a bit pensive. “‘Volcano’ wasn’t received as well as I would have liked, but I think the second record is so cliche. It’s hard because you’re sort of defined by your first album – you’re laying everything out on the table, and that’s your thing. But we needed to make something drastically different from the first, to then take the pressure off anything that we do going forward.
“I also don’t think at this point, maybe on the second record, we were thinking too much about the people listening to it while we were making it. As soon as you start trying to make music where you’re like ‘what do people would want it to sound like?’, there’s this fear attached to losing what you’ve got. There’s a bit of second-guessing, on the second record, which probably made songs that weren’t as pure as they should have been.
“I mean, I still really like that record. There are some songs I’m very, very proud of but then there are the songs where I’m like, ‘what the hell were we thinking there?’ There’s just too much stuff on it, way too many ideas. It sounds almost a bit confusing, and I think that paved the way for this record. For us to then just go, you can’t think about anybody listening to this, we need to just make this for ourselves. That’s what we did. And it’s very, very selfish but the first record is very selfish, and it just happened that people liked it, and then it becomes a shared experience.”
Whereas ‘Sun Structures’ was psychedelia-indulged, and ‘Volcano’ was dripping in dreamy poppy soundscapes, ‘Hot Motion’ sees the band trying to get away from the keyboards (while still enlisting their help) and back to their guitars, as James explains.
“After the last record was a lot more keyboard-driven, I sat around and played on the guitar more, and it got to the point where there were a couple of ideas sitting around. The title-track is a really good example actually because that melodic riff at the beginning was originally on a synth. It was a case of coming at it from a guitar angle, and I’m thinking ‘how can we make this sound interesting with a guitar?’
“That took a while because it’s amazing when you translate certain melodies from instrument to instrument, they don’t always work. I think on that song, and I ended up having to tune the strings to the chord of the song, there’s no way to physically play those four notes on a guitar like you could on a keyboard. There’s a lot of experimenting with tunings and things to be able to create.”
Continuing along the lines of what they tried to do differently, he reveals that are fewer layers on the record, and “the drum sound is really important; I think the most layering is probably done on the drums.”
James admits that one of his favourite tracks on the record is ‘You’re Either On Something’. “[It’s] so simple in places. It’s a very honest song, not too ambiguous, like other songs that we tend to write. For me, that’s probably the one I’m really looking forward to playing live.
“I’m looking forward to playing all of them, but that one in particular. We’ve been rehearsing, and we’re gonna be playing most of the record. We’ve been playing ‘Hot Motion’ and ‘Holy Horses’ live already, and the latter is really fun.”
Three albums in, however, it’s not always easy for the group to decide what gets played that night. “Generally, we all go towards the same songs, but we do have disagreements which can get a little bit heated because there’ll be songs that we’ve played for two years, and then suddenly, one person in the band’s like, ‘we shouldn’t play that anymore, it’s shit’. Then everyone else in the band is like, ‘this is really great to play live!’ There is a democratic thing going on, but we get there in the end.”
“We definitely don’t wanna disown music,” he continues. “I think there’s nothing worse than going to see a band that’s promoting their new album, and they just play the new stuff. You gotta remember what got you there in the first place, you know? We want a mixed bag of our records, and maybe some b-sides like ‘Ankh’; it’s a great b-side to get out because it really works live.”
Talking about the ideas behind the album, James reveals that “it’s a choreographed collection of stories tackling different things. I mean, there’s some ambiguous, mysterious wordplay, I would say, more than sort of narrative. And then other songs are more story-based. ‘Hot Motion’ is like a countdown to like a euphoric feeling or some kind of climax. Then I think [bassist] Tom with his lyrics on that was about an animal spirit that sort of in all of us.”
When it came to making sure the flow of the record was perfect, James reveals that the band “weren’t a million miles apart from each other” when coming up with drafts. “We’re always aware of the LP format, so you’ve got two openers and two closers on the record which is a really great thing. You’ve got two ways to introduce the record and two ways to end the record. Knowing that I was going to listen to the A-side first, it should be a dynamic record, and it should feel like a bit of a journey.”
In terms of his hopes for the record, James would “love it if people just give it the time to listen to it. I don’t mean that they need to listen to it 20 times to understand it. I mean, just not be bombarded by other distractions and actually just go ‘well I’m just gonna listen to this album, and I’m not gonna flick on my phone, and I’m not gonna clean my shelf while I’m doing it’. Just sit down and listen to the record.
“If everyone does that, then they’ll enjoy it way more. And then, you know, next thing we’ll be playing bigger stages because people will be totally engaged with the music.”
Taken from the October issue of Dork. Temples’ album ‘Hot Motion’ is out 27th September.
Words: Josh Williams