Story / Monica Wolfe
Photos / Kristy Benajmin
LADYGUNN had the pleasure of speaking to Tom Warmsley of British psychedelic rock band Temples about all that lies behind their latest self-produced album, Volcano. This album is their second release, following their premiere studio album, Sun Structures. In recording Volcano, Warmsley says, the band wanted to create something notably different than their first album, which was “purposefully romantic.” For the most part, it worked. The new album initially feels timeless, carefree, and sweet, as does most of their previous recordings. The happy-go-lucky Brit pop sound is certainly present. Upon delving beyond the sound itself and into the lyrics, however, we find a much more cynical tone. Of this, Warmsley says, “It’s hard to know how to get those ideas across to people, so it made most sense, I guess in an entirely British way, to mask them in joyous, ecstatic music.” So, masked by reeling and rolling psychedelic riffs, Temples touches on questions of identity, class, consumerism, social anxiety, and popular culture with a tone critical of, well, probably most of the people who’d listen to the album, actually. It’s subtly confrontational. It’s subversive. And, while Volcano is indeed different than Sun Structures, whether or not they’d like to admit it, the new album does retain much of the romanticism and nostalgia brought to us by their first. As for what they’d like their fans to take away from the album, Warmsley says, “if it keeps people guessing as to what we’ll do next, then it’s a success.”
As I understand, you recorded Volcano on your own. The music industry is evolving so quickly–you don’t need a producer; you don’t even need a label or manager, necessarily. Tell me more about your choice to record this album on your own, and what this age of self-promotion and DIY mentality means for your band.
I suppose more than anything for us it’s something out of habit and familiarity. Temples was an idea conceived in the studio and so it’s something we’re all very close to as musicians; being self-sufficient. Before we’d even played a live show or considered ourselves a legitimate band by today’s standards, we’d recorded, produced and uploaded our music to YouTube. Without that curiosity to create something self-contained we wouldn’t exist, so it’s something more of necessity than choice. When recording Volcano, we wanted to re-establish a number of things as a band, and it make total sense that we were in charge of that.
I was listening to some of your songs on YouTube, and there’s this sort of hilarious discussion in the comment section of almost every video in which some commenters say you sound just like Tame Impala, and then your fans quickly rush in to correct them, and are quite defensive in saying not all psychedelic rock sounds the same. It’s a heated YouTube comment war! What do you think of this? Where do you see Temples fitting into the psychedelic rock genre, and how would you define your sound?
I think there’s a real degree of sensitivity in modern psychedelic music, there’s a tendency for certain boxes to be ticked, and if you don’t comply with a particular formula you’re in danger of somehow being disingenuous. More than anything to us Psychedelia is about creativity without boundaries and restrictions. Volcano is a record that’s more concerned with being subversive than romantic or purist. I suppose if anything the record questions identity, and asks what’s the value in it all. We’re huge fans of psychedelic music, but we’ve never wanted to define ourselves as that alone.
There’s so much nostalgia in this album–so many mentions of memories and looking back at the past. Was this a conscious theme, or did it just happen to come about that way?
There’s nostalgia in the record, but we’re not living and breathing it. We’re questioning it. I think it was a natural decision to want to distance ourselves from Sun Structures, and how people perceive our music, which is what a lot of the songs on Volcano ended up confronting.
In your song, “Oh the Saviour,” who is “Mr. Sound”?
He’s a fictitious character that everyone may be familiar with. Someone who lives by hedonism and self-indulgence in pursuit of happiness and often taking it too far. I’m sure we all know a ‘Mr. Sound’, don’t we?
I want to hear a little more about this line in “(I Want to Be Your) Mirror:” “And we can live like the rich but pretend to be poor.” It really stuck out to me because I’m reading The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe right now, throughout much of which he’s pointing out the flaws and pretentiousness of the art world, notably the desire to have the appearance of being a bohemian “starving artist” while actually maintaining a fairly high socioeconomic class, or living like the rich but pretending to be poor. I see so much of this in the music world, too–holding onto that bohemian image because it sells, or even just because it’s cool. What’s your view on this? Are you being a little tongue-in-cheek with this lyric, or were you going for something totally different?
“I Wanna Be Your Mirror” is a song which looks both back and forward in a transitional way, we reference ourselves in the music and go about detaching ourselves from it all. So yes, it’s mildly tongue-in-cheek. It talks about bridges, oceans, horizons, skies, futures, the passing of time, and not being concerned with those things. I guess it deals with empty aspirations of the future, one of which being used to a certain way of living.
The sound and feeling of your music is fun and whimsical, but there are a lot of pretty cynical lyrics hiding under there. Lyrics like, “Shops are in the street selling nothing by the ton to people,” and “Most want to know that they listen to the best of Bowie / And that’s the way that pop must go,” aren’t so whimsical; they might even criticize those listening to the song. Tell me about this contrast and mix of moods. Do you expect your listeners to pick up on these cynical undertones? Or do you think it passes for purely happy psych pop to most listeners?
Sun Structures was purposefully romantic. Every song is very much stuck with being poetic and imaginary. With Volcano we wanted to start writing something with more of a direct point to it. There’s some much darker subjects at play, ‘How Would You Like To Go?’ being one of the more obvious. ‘All Join In’ is about social anxiety, It’s hard to know how to get those ideas across to people, so it made most sense, I guess in an entirely British way, to mask them in joyous, ecstatic music. Perhaps the irony in the music is lost on some people, but the lyrics are fairly direct as to what we’re dealing with.
Do you find that touring in the US is any different from touring at home in England or around Europe? Are the crowds and atmosphere at shows any different?
I think it’s very different to touring anywhere else. Every state is like a different country really, and the sheer size of it is very humbling. It might just be a transatlantic thing, but you feel like a different band when touring abroad. England can become very claustrophobic and stuck doing a similar sort of thing to a certain point, it’s revitalizing to go to somewhere uncharted and present who you are to people.
What do you hope listeners take away from this album?
We hope that Volcano re-establishes who we are as a band, and raise questions as to what value identity really holds in music. If it keeps people guessing as to what we’ll do next, then it’s a success.
CONNECT WITH TEMPLES: