It’s been a circus of a year for Kettering’s psychedelic sweethearts TEMPLES. After the release of their debut LP Sun Structures the quartet barely stopped to inhale, diving into a dense and perpetual whirlpool of touring which has carried them across most continents. Since their conception, TEMPLES have attracted enthusiasm from the likes of heavyweights such as NOEL GALLAGHER and JOHNNY MARR, not to mention support slots with THE ROLLING STONES, SUEDE and KASABIAN. Sun Structures is a wonderfully warm voyage down the garden path of decades past, tipping its hat to THE BYRDS and then stopping to skip stones across the lake with the likes of TAME IMPALA. It’s a thoughtful and lilting record that works gentle trails of colour into one’s chest, squeezing at the places where long afternoons, train windows and midnight swims usually reside.
NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION recently sat down with the group’s shaggy-haired songwriting pair, James Bagshaw and Thomas Warmsley, before they took the stage in Berlin. Curled up on the couch in winter layers, James chatted about their writing patterns and the issue of sonic hermeneutics while Thomas carefully filled out a page of our imaginary yearbook, working through a stick-bundle of felt-tip pens.
How would you describe 2014 to yourselves, if you could rewind twelve months?
Busy. Lots of gigs. Being tired. Missing home. No, it’s been good [laughs]. It’s been a very musical journey. I think we’ve improved a lot as a band. Musically, we’re bringing songs to life in a different way than on the record; it’s been a slow kind of movement in regards to making the songs jump out in different ways, and only by playing live have we been able to do that. So it’s been a bit of a musical progression, I guess.
What was last year like for you?
Well, that seemed really busy at the time. It was really busy, and we did a lot of touring – but nothing compared to this year. We’ve been touring nonstop. We’ve been told that’s how it is when you release a record, that that’s what you do – because suddenly this record’s released, and there’s people around there world that want to see you live. So we’ve been everywhere – Australia, Mexico, Japan… all of Europe. So yeah. It’s been busy.
I guess one of the most significant things that happened to you guys as a band this year was the release of the album, ‘Sun Structures’. How would you describe the conception of the record?
The first songs we wrote at the end of 2012, around August; tracks like Shelter Song, The Golden Throne and Keep in the Dark. From that point on up ’til November 2013. We finished the record then, and it came out in February. Mesmerise was written about three weeks before we handed in the whole album, that was the last song that we wrote. That, and A Question Isn’t Answered. So it was kind of written chronologically; not in chronological order, but there were songs written every time we were home, and it came out like that.
It’s still very cohesive – was there a particular intention behind the record? Was there something you were aiming for?
Once we had the first few songs we had a sound which we wanted to carry on with, a thread of sound. It was important for us to honour that but not repeat it too much on the record and make it all sound the same. Our intention was to create a collection of songs that work as a longplaying record, as an actual one piece. But there was no grand intention other than to impress ourselves; we wanted to write music that we enjoy, that we can listen to and not squirm and go ‘ooh, I don’t like that’. There isn’t anything on there that we look back on and wish we hadn’t done, so I think that was an intention. Down the line we didn’t ever want to look back on it and feel embarrassed of it.
And you [and Thomas] write the songs together usually? How would you describe your creative process as a pair?
Sometimes a walk in the park, sometimes a nightmare. It depends how far along an idea is, or whether we agree on how something should be. Sometimes you can finish a track in two days and sometimes it takes two months, and you tear your hair out over it – ‘what is wrong with this song?’, even though it’s a good song. It’s an impulsive process. We wait until we both agree on something, but without an exchange of word; it’s more of a look, you know.
Were there many tracks that ended up not being on the record?
No. A lot of people write twenty songs for a record and whittle them down to twelve, but these are the songs that represent what we’re doing, or what we were doing at that time, so I think it’s a very honest way to make a record – without any residue. There’s no chance to revisit old ideas for the next record, so we have a completely fresh approach which is exciting.
I find TEMPLES quite sunny music to listen to; I had ‘Sun Structures’ on repeat while I was in Greece recently. I was a little surprised when I originally learned you were from the UK. How would you describe your hometown?
The opposite of sunny! It’s not sunshine music at all. But I guess it’s the escapism, using music to take you out of the place you are. But we love Kettering, where we’re from. It’s certainly not California, but it’s more inspiring. It’s our home, you know, it’s where our roots are. It’s easier to grow a tree from your roots than try to grow it somewhere else; your ideas come more naturally, I think. They’re less influenced by anything else.
I also find that TEMPLES has a very strong visual element to it. How would you describe your connection to or involvement with that aspect of the band?
It’s so important; down to the artwork of the album and what it evokes when you listen to the music. You can quite easily have your music misinterpreted by having tacky visuals or a terrible music video – of which we have a couple [laughs]. Still, to be fair… The good thing is that the song is better than the videos, so that’s good. If we had a really amazing video it would make the song… it would still be a great song, but I think it would jar with it, it wouldn’t work as well. It’s quite hard to sum those songs up in visuals. We haven’t met a person that can do it exactly how we want yet, which is a great thing. You don’t want to get everything straight away. It’s just nice to prevail and, when we do hit that mark in a video where we’re like ‘this is epic, this is absolutely beautiful’, with the music, it’s something where you can mute the music and watch the video and still conjure up what’s going on in the song, which is hard. Very hard.
It must be fascinating having somebody else interpret your work in a different medium. Speaking of re-interpretations, ‘Sun Restructured’ came out recently – a complete reworking of the album by Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve.
It’s almost what people do with classical music, where different arrangers create different takes; our music isn’t in any way as complex as that, but I think there’s a grandness to it that works on that level. A modern day interpretation; it’s a very computerised way of thinking, there’s a lot of technological gimmicks on there that work really well. It was really interesting to hear it for the first time.
What were your initial impressions?
I hated it at first. I think we all did. It just takes the comfort blanket away, because you know all of those separate tracks in their entirety, so then when they’re put with something else, it’s foreign and it doesn’t seem to work. What I did when I listened to it the second time was forget about any of the tracks and listen to it as a piece, as a different version, as a thing in its own right, and then I really enjoyed it.
So it took a bit of stepping back – trying to forget that you wrote those songs, almost…
That’s it! It did, yeah. It’s really hard. When you’ve worked hard to make a record that sounds the way you want it to, to then give that away… A lot of it sounds like the stuff on the record, because it was recorded that way, so there’s not a lot of trickery. A lot of the root files sound like they do on the record. There’s just bits where there are clashes of notes that you probably wouldn’t have put together and then you realise that it’s someone else’s imagination and you’ve got to let them do that. And it is really great, there are some really beautiful ideas on there. It might fascinate people. In a book, there may be a metaphor or figure of speech that may be unpinned for a second to give you an insight into how it was done, or what it means, and I think that’s a good way of looking at Restructured. It’s almost pulling open the curtains; letting you in for a second without giving too much away.
I write poems and I can’t imagine somebody taking those and re-interpreting them; but I guess, in a sense, they are re-interpretations in themselves, from countless other places. I suppose all art is like that.
With poetry – you buy these books and they give you a description and put things in context and say that this probably means that, but it’s not really for anybody but the author to say, and the author probably wouldn’t even want to tell you.
There are probably so many tiny elements that they couldn’t tell you, even if they wanted to.
That’s it, yeah. Putting something on another line may mean something for you – that word is lonely, and tells you the story of the next sentence, there’s a loneliness attached to it. But that might be something that isn’t loneliness, it’s isolation, it’s open to the person. Music should be the same, and Sun Restructured is like that as well. It opens the doors but doesn’t give you a description.
What do you see in the future for TEMPLES?
Just writing. That’s all we want to do now. Write music and play some more shows. We’ve got no dreams of living in Hollywood.