James Acaster scales new heights (sorry) with his joyful new TEMPS album, ‘Party Gator Purgatory’.
Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Willow Shields.
You know James Acaster. He had a breakdown on Bake Off, called out Ricky Gervais for all his anti-Trans jokes, and asks famous people about their dream meal. He’s very much our sorta comedian.
His new musical project Temps is also right up our street. Debut album ‘Party Gator Purgatory’ sees James lead a 40-strong musical collection through 15 tracks that touch on everything from jazz and folk to punk, rock and hip-hop. “I wanted to make something innovative, interesting and accessible that really let the talent of all these musicians shine,” explains James. “I didn’t want it to disappear up its own arse, though.”
‘Party Gator Purgatory’ started life as a mockumentary that saw James return to his childhood home to pick up a drum kit he hadn’t played since he was a teenager and a stuffed toy alligator he’d won at a fair. The plan was for James to pretend he’d quit comedy to become a serious musician, with the party gator as his muse. Production got as far as recording hours of James playing drums, with those tracks then re-recorded by legendary drummer Seb Rochford. Then COVID hit, and production shut down.
James would listen to those drum recording every day “because I was just really amped that my favourite drummer was playing along to my drums”. Like most people, though, he got pretty bored during lockdown and emailed a bunch of musicians he knew from his Perfect Sounds podcast to see if they fancied “messing around” on top of the recordings. “It wasn’t going to be a serious thing, but they all took it a lot more seriously than I was expecting,” says James. “I’m now releasing it, so I guess it’s a serious endeavour but everything up until this moment has felt like pure play.”
“Making that album was just pure creativity and joy”
For a very brief while, the album was just going to feature percussion and vocals. Then James wanted to feature a bit of bass, but Joana Gomila felt like adding synths and vocals instead. “Straight away, the album I had in my mind wasn’t happening anymore, but that’s a good thing,” says James. “Because you’re sending it to a jazz musician, an indie musician, then a folk musician, it quite quickly became clear that Temps wasn’t going to be one set genre,” James continues, who hit up a range of artists that, in his words, sit “on the melodic, accessible side of experimental.”
“All of my first choices wanted to do it, which is mad. Then, they all did what they said they were going to do, and they did it brilliantly. I was stunned at how easy it was, and I know that I must never do it again because it will never be that easy again.”
‘Party Gator Purgatory’ became about “this ultimate feeling of collaboration, community and everyone just coexisting within it instead,” says James. “It was more a case of discovery than chasing a vision.”
Still, it was easy telling someone he wanted a saxophone solo or a blistering guitar riff. It was harder telling vocalists what to sing about. See, James wanted to keep the “silly” storyline from the scrapped mockumentary, with the album split into three categories. Party Gator RIP, Party Gator Purgatory, Party Gator Resurrection, which reflects the stuffed animal being won, stored at a friend’s house for years and then its subsequent reunion with James. “I always work my life into whatever it is I’m making,” he explains.
Because of this, James found himself having conversations with vocalists about the party gator storyline, but they were given space to put their own spin on things. “It became ‘this part of the album is about loss or death’ or ‘this part is about feeling stuck’,” he says.
“During the pandemic, those themes became more relevant. Very few of the songs are actually about the party gator.”
James says releasing ‘Party Gator Purgatory’ feels scary, exciting and new. “I know people who know me from my stand-up might check it out, but ultimately, this is new territory for me.” He still doesn’t know how much he’s going to engage with the release but knows “it’s one of the projects I’ve made where I’m 100% satisfied with the results.”
“I know what this project is and what it means to me, so I’m not too worried about the comedian-making-an-album syndrome. I knew that if I overthought it, then it would just ruin the project,” he continues. For a large part of the album’s creation, he was considering putting it out anonymously, hence the videos where he’s dressed up like a giant alligator with a career in starting parties. By the time the record was done, though, he knew it was all an important part of the story. “I know assumptions will happen, so I just have to hope the music speaks for itself.”
This isn’t James Acaster’s first time in a band, though. When he was 13, he was in a nu-metal band (“because those were the times”) before joining a hardcore group, then a post-hardcore band. He then formed The Wow Scenario with his friend Graeme Wicks which took influence from Biffy Clyro’s ‘The Vertigo Of Bliss’, The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’ and modern jazz bands like Polar Bear. “We wanted to be the most important band in the world, doing something no one’s ever done before,” says James. “Then I ultimately failed at that, so I became a comedian.”
“This might be all I ever do musically. And if it is, I will be so proud”
Back then, James just wanted to make an amazing album. “I would have happily stayed working in kitchens as long as we’d released a brilliant album that resonated with people.”
He goes on to say that making ‘Party Gator Purgatory’ is the result of “decades of want. I resigned myself to the fact that that dream was never going to come true, but I’ve actually done the thing I always wanted to do. It still feels a bit surreal,” he admits.
Still, he hasn’t entirely given up on The Wow Scenario. In 2018, the pair added all the strings and horns to their debut album, and they recently spent ten days in Liverpool recording two new vocalists. “I’ve just got to mix it at some point,” says James, which might take a while. “This year is now very busy.”
However, James has a deal with Bella Union that includes more than just ‘Party Gator Purgatory’ and the companion EP. “Actually, having a potential label for that album feels insane.
“The experience of making ‘Party Gator Purgatory’ has been really informative on how I’m now approaching this one,” continues James, who’s “being a lot more ruthless with it”. It’s apparently much better for it.
Shortly before the pandemic, James took a break from stand-up. “I know it looks like there was a real ‘take-off’ point for my career, but since I’ve started, it’s just been growing every year. By 2019 though, I was exhausted, and I needed a break,” he explains. “I just wasn’t enjoying it as much, and that was affecting the audience’s enjoyment, which is never good.”
He’s back this year, though, with a new stand-up show Heckler’s Welcome, alongside a new comedy podcast Springleaf, and you can thank the party gator for that.
“Making that album was just pure creativity and joy. It reminded me to just embrace that side of things,” says James. “I’m still that little kid drawing cartoons in the living room; I’ve just managed to turn that into a career. My job is to play.”
So, what’s next?
“I’m always just looking at the next project but not really beyond that,” says James. “I know I want to finish The Wow Scenario album and put that out, but right now, I just really want to focus on releasing this album the best that we can and get it to the people who will connect with it. Beyond that, I have no idea.”
“Even with stand-up, I’ve got nothing beyond this show. With all of it, it’s doing one thing well, and you’ve got nothing after that, then I guess you have to quit. It’s about the projects rather than the career.”
“I don’t want to ever make this stuff to be self-indulgent. I don’t want people to have to listen to a vanity project,” James continues. “I want people to be excited and inspired by this album.”
“This might be all I ever do musically. And if it is, I will be so proud. I’ve achieved what I wanted to since I was seven, and that feels incredible.” ■
Taken from the June 2023 edition of Dork. Temps’ debut album ‘Party Gator Purgatory’ is out 19th May.
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