Psychedelic Majesty Erupts Anew on Temples’ ‘Volcano’
It's been a long, strange trip for Temples — more specifically, a five-year journey from the streets of England to the halls of the modern psychedelic pantheon, accompanied by copious soul-searching. The Kettering-based group's inaugural effort, 2014's Sun Structures, framed its creators as acolytes rather than paradigm-shifters. It was a love letter to '60s psych with enough 12-string guitars, choral harmonies and bleary synths to make Roky Erickson blush.
As their just-released album Volcano reveals, though, there's a lot more to Temples than Nuggets worship and heady riffs. They're experts in self-sufficiency (frontman James Bagshaw produces and records all of their material) and, more importantly, the art of the hook. A synth-heavy departure from their vintage-inspired M.O., Volcano shines a spotlight on this pop savvy. The resulting record tramples — and ultimately transcends — the sophomore slump.
CLRVYNT had the chance to catch up with keyboardist Adam Smith to discuss Temples' ambitious new album, the D.I.Y. mindset that inspired it and where their art goes from here.
Volcano is available now via Fat Possum. Get it here.
As you guys have gotten bigger — ever since Sun Structures — your in-studio capabilities have expanded drastically. I recall reading that you didn’t even have a subwoofer to listen to the last one, but coming into Volcano with all these new toys and techniques at your disposal, I was wondering what that was like. Was there a learning curve at all?
Yes, that’s right. There was no subwoofer on the first record. There’s nothing really below 50 hertz on Sun Structures, but this record, we made it a point to include a lot of those bass frequencies. I think that came from playing live as well, and having that sort of low attack, so we wanted to replicate that on this record. I think that then sort of dictated the rest of the sound somewhat. I think Volcano is much more high fidelity than Sun Structures. That’s definitely something we wanted to do when we started Volcano. We really wanted to do that because it was different. We hadn’t done that on the first one, and we were very aware of not doing the same thing again.
Yeah, there were some learning curves. Most of the learning curves really were trying to ... not consciously avoid doing what we’ve done before, but just to try some new stuff. I think it took a while for us to get the sound or to understand what the sound of the album was going to be. We sort of had a lot of songs that we brought to the table, and they’d go through the Temples “mill,” if you will, and they all sounded great, but they didn’t sort of fit together as an album until we found what we wanted to do. Once we’d found that, it all became sort of clear, and it was an enjoyable experience from then on — not that it wasn’t before. [Laughs]
You had hinted before that once you found the sticking point, everything kind of fell into place, and that leads into my next question, which is that you, James and Tom [Walmsley, bassist] all wrote songs for this record. I can definitely tell that you have your own unique approaches. Yet, the album sounds very cohesive both from a production standpoint and in the songs as a whole. How did you go about reconciling your own individual songwriting approaches, and where were you able to find that common ground?
Yes, I think we do all have quite different styles of writing. We brought the songs to the studio and we all worked on them, so none of the songs that you hear — or the majority of songs that you hear on the record — really sound like they did originally. They’ve all been changed by whomever. It really depends on the song.
So, you weren’t holed up separately?
At the beginning, yeah, because we toured Sun Structures for so long. We came off tour and we all sort of went our separate ways for a few weeks, or a month or what have you. And yeah, we all wrote sort of separately then. I wrote a bit more with Tom, actually, because we both live in London. We did sort of have what we thought — not the finished product, obviously, but we had the sound for each song in mind, and some of those elements definitely stayed. It was a really good experience, actually, sort of collaborating and seeing what other people hear — other people hear songs differently than you do, so it’s quite nice to hear another version of your song. Then that version becomes the song, you know?
I think that’s how we found common ground — just trying stuff out and experimenting. There’s one song of mine [on Volcano called] “In My Pocket,” and there was a chorus that we sort of decided that it wasn’t quite the right chorus, so we all sat around together then and wrote a chorus. It proved quite difficult, but now we have to do it. So, that’s just one example. I think that’s how we find common ground.
That’s probably the hardest part, right, just coming up with the hook? In the songs you wrote, like “In My Pocket,” did you start off by trying to find the hook and trying to build around that? Or do you work more lyrically? How did you come up with the three songs you contributed?
Again, it depends on the song, but mostly it’s based around lyrics, for me. Actually, I’m not very good at writing hooks or anything, so my songs tend not to have riffs or anything like that. So, I definitely don’t find a hook. So, for example, in that song [“In My Pocket”], the chorus wasn’t really like a chorus. We decided it should have one, because in that song it sort of multiplies every verse. It changes key, so we had to write a chorus to help it change key. So, it was all quite methodical, actually; it was really great. I definitely like that — sort of piecing things together. But we all write very differently. I think you can sort of hear that as well. James’ songs have a lot more hooks in it than mine and Tom’s, I think.
You’re also adamant about doing all of the production on your own, and I was reading an interview with James where he said he’d be open to working with outside producers — he mentioned Tony Visconti and Brian Eno — further down the line. Do you have any other producers who you really admire? Is there anybody who you would like to work with?
Yeah, I think I’d really like to work with either Nick Nicely — I don’t know if he’s really produced anybody before, but I love the sound of his old records — or also [Be Bop Deluxe’s] Bill Nelson, who is a singer-songwriter from Wakefield. [Nelson] did produce some records, but I don’t think he’s done anything like that in a while. We’re not going to rule out anybody working with us in the future, but it just seemed appropriate to do it ourselves again.
Ahead of your stop in Boulder, Colorado, on tour behind Sun Structures, James told The Denver Post he'd prefer if the crowd refrain from smoking weed. A lot of people associate psychedelia with drugs, even as the genre’s entered the mainstream. Do you think that association is outdated?
I think they are intrinsically linked, the two. But I don’t think you need to have a view on drugs to enjoy psychedelic music culture. I remember when he said that, though. It was a bit silly, wasn’t it? [Laughs]
You frequently cite the Kinks as one of your biggest influences. What is your personal favorite Kinks album?
Oh, that’s a good question. It’s changed over time. My original favorite was [The Kinks Are the] Village Green Preservation Society. But that was when I was a bit younger and the whole psychedelia thing was sort of fresh in my mind. I wanted to live in 1967 and what have you, even though that record came out in 1968. But yeah, I really like Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire). I think that’s a really good record.
On a different, more sentimental note, can you think of your first experience as a member of Temples that made you beam with pride — your call-home-to-mom moment, as it were? What was the first moment with this band where you were like, “Holy shit, this is getting so amazing — I gotta call mom”?
I think playing Glastonbury [Festival], even though it’s sort of cliché. An English band playing Glastonbury is sort of like playing the World Cup or something. That was great. That was a moment. I think we’re playing again — well, I don’t know if we are, but I’d love to play it again. That was a good moment.