Having emerged at the tail end of 2012 with one of the finest debuts this side of the millennium in the shape of 'Shelter Song', Temples have become one of the most popular guitar bands in the country. Signed to Heavenly Recordings, the band's first LP Sun Structures came out to a wave of positive reviews in February 2014 and having toured extensively for the ensuing eighteen months, the long awaited follow-up Volcano is ready to be unleashed in March.
Later this evening, the four-piece - James Bagshaw (vocals/guitar), Tom Walmsley (bass/vocals), Adam Smith (keyboards/guitar) and Sam Toms (drums) - will headline the final evening of the sold out Heavenly Weekender at Hebden Bridge Trades Club. Beforehand, DiS caught up with Bagshaw and Walmsley to discuss the new record, the psych rock scene they've become synonymous with, and what it's like to be an integral part of the Heavenly family.
The last time I saw Temples was at Best Kept Secret eighteen months ago where you played two new songs ('Oh The Saviour' which made it onto the new album and 'Henry's Cake' which didn't). There seems to have been a marked progression compared to how those songs sounded back then to how Volcano sounds today.
Tom Walmsley: They certainly have more context. Especially now. That was before we'd even really become immersed in the creative process of the next album. Those songs almost feel quite different in themselves because of everything else we've built around them.
James Bagshaw: When you have a new song out there that people have heard it feels a bit backwards for us because we don't really tend to work that way round. We don't work on a song live then go and record it in the studio. Now that the record's done we feel that we know how to approach it without copying the songs. At the same time, we also have the back-up of a song being out there so when we play it; it feels different. It's scary playing new songs when there's not the definitive version of it out. Does it translate?
Did you have an idea of how you wanted Volcano to sound early on in the process or did it develop gradually over time?
TW: Not at all, no. It developed over time which was incredibly exciting but very daunting as well. We went in blindly. All we had and all we knew were the songs we wanted so we let them lead really. Not to try and create an informed sound across the record but more catered to each individual song. Which in turn created its own sound for this record. It wasn't until around six months into the process of making Volcano that the songs really started to come together. That was when it started to really feel like an album rather than just a collection of songs.
When did you start writing the songs for this record?
TW: There were a couple that we started writing towards the end of touring Sun Structures. Most of them generally came together over the course of twelve months between October 2015 and October 2016. But the actual recording only took a month if that.
Which were the most recently written songs on the album?
TW: A large amount of them were written in that period. The ones we played live early on like 'Oh The Saviour' were there at the beginning of the process.
JB: I think 'Strange Or Be Forgotten' might have been the last one to join, as far as the concept of that song rather than the opening bit goes. We didn't really know what was going to happen with it but it wasn't like a thing that we'd left for six months then decided to revisit. The idea just came quite late through knocking around on a few old pedals. So that would probably be the last song that was written for the record.
Songs like 'In My Pocket' and 'Mystery Of Pop' appear to be a lot more accessible for a mainstream audience than some of the more traditionally psychedelic ones on Sun Structures. Was that something you were conscious of and deliberately try to steer away from on this record?
TW: I don't know if it's any more pop than the last record? Some of it is more direct so I guess people might perceive that as being more radio friendly. There aren't as many washes with reverb.
JB: It's definitely a production thing. I think these are as much pop songs as those on Sun Structures were. It's just the way they've been delivered. Like Tom was saying, it's more about the directness.
'Mystery Of Pop' in particular stands out for me. Its melody reminds me of 'Moonlight Shadow' by Mike Oldfield. What inspired the song?
TW: It wasn't influenced by Mike Oldfield or Maggie Reilly! I think the references and links to a sound or an era are less obvious on this record than the first one. We've naturally grown towards blurring the lines a bit more. Whereas Sun Structures maybe sounded like it could have been from a golden era of recording which such a heavy emphasis on that kind of sound. This record has even more influences on it but I think that creates a nice platform for our songs to cut through on their own merits.
Was it your intention for the production to sound more futuristic and less retro on this record?
JB: We tended to go for what we knew soundwise with the first few songs on this record but then we felt it sounded too similar to the first one. It didn't matter how good the song was. In that guise it's going to inevitably sound like we're just doing the same thing. It was when we started discovering different approaches to the drum sound. Having a kick drum that would have the same kind of bottom end and character to that of a dance music kick drum. But at the same time, it's also an analogue drum sound. It's quite pure but at the same time is emphasised on the hi-fidelity spectrum. On the first record, the drums sounded very boxy and scooped. Very lo-fi. We love all those things and they're still on this record but there's also this core element of hi-fidelity bottom end and that's brought together the drums and bass more than anything. The vocals are higher in the mix and less laced with reverb so you can hear the lyrics more than anything.
TW: We made a decision that if a song worked better with the vocals being more direct and more pronounced then we'd go with it. If there was a section that needed echo or different effects then we'd go for that in a very contrasting way. Everything is governed by the song and what we wanted to achieve with that song.
As with Sun Structures, you produced Volcano yourselves. Would you be open to working with a producer or allowing someone else's input on your music in the future?
JB: Maybe. I don't think we'll ever say that we'd never work with anybody else because you don't know. We might be terribly uncreative on the next record and need somebody to really pull us together. You just don't know. There are moments on this record where we thought maybe it was worth having someone else's opinion. I don't know if it's our background being from a small town. You kind of fight to get to where you want to be. Not violently, but you fight a good fight and try and make something out of what you've got. We ended up going through that trough of creativity and as far as production went, the songs were there. It was more a case of how can we frame this? We didn't need to work with anybody else. We did it ourselves because that's why we're here.
Were there any other songs apart from 'Henry's Cake' that were written during the process which didn't make the record? Will they be revisited in the future?
JB: There are a couple of ideas that got left behind. Similar to the first record where we had a few extra songs. And it's not that they aren't good enough. It's whether they work contextually with the album. Songwriting can be quite complex in that the next song could be so different from the last. Different enough for it to be exciting but not different enough so it becomes this black sheep so to speak. There are a few songs... I don't like to say left over because that diminishes their value. We're not a band that writes thirty songs then whittles it down to twelve. That doesn't feel definitive of the time we're working in. We're not the type of band who'd go back to a song that was left off the first record and stick it on the third one instead. If we did it would become confused and not really represent where we're at. We've always been more about the quality of the songs rather than the quantity.
How do the songs come together? Do you two come up with a demo and Adam (Smith) and Sam (Toms) add their bits later? How does the process generally tend to work?
JB: It's different every time. Adam's had an input in writing on this record. With the first album it was me that had it all in the bag before we had a band but on Volcano every song starts in a different way. Sometimes it's individually, other times we could be working on something together lyrically or working on different sounds to create some kind of atmosphere. Generally, it tends to start from a catalyst. A little spark of an idea that someone runs with, whether that be any of the three of us. Then we bring it together and that's when it really becomes something.
After the success of Sun Structures do you feel there's a weight of expectation for Volcano to do the same or even better?
TW: No, not at all. It will be three years in February since the first record came out and while we had a wave of creativity with Sun Structures, the end of that tour schedule in 2015 brought about a bit of closure on that record really. We drew a line in the sand at that point and started to be creative on Volcano. We've been focused on that process ever since. It's not like we were doing two albums on one trot or anything like that which alleviates any kind of pressure or momentum people might feel we should live up to. We've always done things at our own pace in our own way and we've done exactly the same with this record. It feels like the right time for us to have a new album.
About half of the songs on Volcano have featured in your live sets already. Is it your intention to eventually introduce all twelve to the live show?
TW: There's some which we've gravitated more towards so far but I'd like to think at one point or another we'll play most if not all of them. They were all written with more of a directness towards being played live so it will be interesting to try out those we haven't yet brought to the live set to see which ones translate best.
Are there any songs off the first record which you're no longer comfortable playing live or don't fit into the current live set?
JB: I don't think we've got to that moment where you have that embarrassing thing like a lot of bands on their fourth album and they refuse to play anything off the first record. The good thing about the first album is lyrically it's very ambiguous. It's not like kitchen sink drama stuff so we're not going to be embarrassed about kissing some girl on the forehead or whatever. It's quite good and it's handy. I don't think we're embarrassed of anything yet. Maybe in ten years!
You've toured the world and played to lots of different audiences over the past four years. Where have you found the response to be most overwhelming in a surprising kind of way?
TW: Everywhere outside of the UK has been a shock to be honest! Guadalajara was particularly surprising as there was a bit of a disconnect about how they'd actually heard of us. It's very overwhelming whenever we play somewhere new.
JB: Mexico was very strange because it was the first time we'd seen bootleg t-shirts. Which were really good. Better than ours!
TW: The ink was still dripping wet on them. Somewhere like that which is completely a world away is just... mindblowing.
It's interesting because some reviews describe you as having a very quintessentially English sound yet the roots of that sound can be traced back to a wealth of different cultures and eras.
TW: I think that when you create imagery in music and there's a certain feeling which comes with it, that can transcend any language or meaning. It works because the music evokes something that doesn't really have to be in any particular language or originate from a particular country. I'd like to think Volcano still sounds like a very British record. The themes and the way we've approached them are still quite British.
Are you playing many festivals this year?
TW: We are but I'm not sure what we can announce at present.
JB: We're playing a touring festival called Desert Daze for thirty days in February and March.
TW: It's a great bill. We're playing with Night Beats, Deap Vally, Froth and JJuuJJuu. It should be a fun tour.
The past year or so saw the rise of right-wing politics on both sides of the Atlantic culminating in Donald Trump's presidential election and Brexit. Do you see events of that nature influencing the way you write in the future?
JB: Volcano's certainly a more inward-looking record than Sun Structures. There's no social commentary on anything. I wouldn't say it's about escapism or anything but it's very introspective. Which I suppose is where both records are related in a metaphorical way. We've yet to write a political song. I am trying!
So is album number three on the agenda or haven't you started thinking that far ahead just yet?
TW: No. We generally only like to think about one thing at a time. When we were recording Volcano that was the only thing on our agenda and now we're only thinking about how we can perform those songs live. We look forward to thinking about playing it to as many people as possible throughout the remainder of this year.
When Temples first started you were immediately aligned to the psych rock scene, which continues to grow. Is it something you don't mind being associated with or are you looking to branch away from the scene with this record?
JB: It's not for us to say is it? We don't consciously branch away. We do what we do. It's other people that label us and give it a title. It's great to be compared with and placed within this family of psych rock bands but at the same time we've never thought about what genre we are. We certainly never think about the limitations of a genre. There's probably some psych bands that wouldn't dare be as adventurous as us. Even from a conventional perspective. There's this false belief that your song needs to be eight minutes long with a wig out at the end for it to be interesting. Yet you can do more in three minutes than you can in eight if you do it right. We always approach music by way of melody and harmony. Something that makes you feel something. This isn't a psych record. You may as well say it's more of a hip hop record. It's not any genre. We're not trying to be a genre. There are loads of influences in there but they all come from different genres.
With Adam co-writing on this record do you see yourselves moving towards more electronic based sounds in the future?
TW: It's more apparent on this record. If they've needed that treatment we've used it and if they didn't there aren't any electronic, synthetic sounds on them. We've used a wider array of tools really.
JB: We used electronic sounds on the first record too but they were a lot more varied in there as an atmosphere. I can't see us doing a wholly electronic record. There's something quite hollow about electronic sounds if they're not put in the right environment. It can sound a bit forced at times. Not evocative but then that's just the nature of the beast. I'm talking about people that use electronics in a very computer based way. Not someone like Kraftwerk who are purely electronic yet evocative and beautiful as much as a Marvin Gaye record. For us to go down that route we'd always be teamed up with that analogue air moving in a room. Something being loud, sounding that way and having that timbre. With Volcano we've tried to blend two worlds that didn't really co-exist.
You've been working with and signed to Heavenly Recordings from pretty much day one of the band's existence. Do you see yourselves as an integral part of the Heavenly family?
JB: I think we'd stay with them until they got rid of us!
TW: We've grown up with them and they are very much like a family.
You're playing the Heavenly Weekender for the second time this evening having played before in 2014. Does it feel quite special playing such a prestigious event in the label's calendar?
TW: It's more like being on holiday at a family holiday home. The Heavenly family holiday home. Hebden Bridge is a magical little place.
Are there any new bands you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers should check out?
JB: I just keep saying the same answer to this question, which is The Lemon Twigs, purely because I was actually intimated by just how good some of their singles were to the point of being almost annoyed they'd done it so well.
TB: Our friends' band Swimsuit are really good. They've only just started so look out for them.
Whereabouts are Swimsuit from?
TW: Mainly from Kettering, which is hilarious really.
Have more bands emerged from Kettering in the wake of Temples success? Do you see yourselves as having inspired a scene back there?
JB: If we have it's not something we're aware of. I actually only live about six or seven miles from Kettering, but other than popping back to see my parents I've no reason to go there because everyone else is in London.
What advice would you give to new bands that are just starting out?
JB: Just take care over your art. If you're not happy with something don't just send it or put it online because you want to have some music out there. It's so easy to dismiss things and there's so much of that. So many people upload acoustic demos that aren't necessarily representative of their band and ultimately get dismissed as a result. First impressions count more than ever now and so many things get disposed instantly if they don't hit people in the face. That doesn't mean you have to make a huge sounding song but take care and know exactly what you want to do with the music that you're making. If it means working with a friend or someone you can bounce ideas off then do. It can sometimes help. That is your definitive thing. For our first record. we knew what we wanted to sound like. It wasn't a do. It was what we sounded like. We never thought we were actually going to be signed and doing gigs but we knew we'd made something that sounded good as far as production and the songs went. Even if six months down the line you've re-recorded your songs with better production or whatever more often than not you'll only be remembered for that first demo.
TW: You have your whole life to create a definitive version of your songs so take your time. Everything is consumed so fast in this day and age.
Volcano is out on 3 March. For more information about the band, please visit their official website.