Thomas Walmsley on Temples’ Volcanic Eruption

Written by Colin Kirkland Yesterday, British psychedelic-rock band, Temples, released their second full-length LP entitled, Volcano. In attempt to veer away from close-ties to sixties-psychedelia, the boys from Kettering...
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Written by Colin Kirkland

Yesterday, British psychedelic-rock band, Temples, released their second full-length LP entitled, Volcano. In attempt to veer away from close-ties to sixties-psychedelia, the boys from Kettering recorded at higher frequencies and created a piercing sound with big-question content. Since developing their 2014 debut, Sun Structures, through a dual studio experiment, co-founders James Bagshaw and Thomas Walmsley have formed a full band around their craft, ultimately inviting keyboardist/rhythm-guitarist, Adam Smith, and drummer, Samuel Toms, to join the writing and recording process. When I first plugged into this recent release, I envisioned some British scalawag stuffing Sun Structures inside a flaming Molotov cocktail and throwing it through a giant wall of glass. The translucent crystals broke away into a shimmering array of melodic masterpieces that rocketed up a winding staircase of wild synthesizers. This is an album with maximum impact. Temples have opened their minds to something more immediate, more cutting, where the psychedelic undercurrents turn theatrical.

About a month ago, I caught up with Thomas Walmsley while he was at rehearsal. We covered the Temples timeline, from back in 2012 when he and Bagshaw released their debut single “Shelter Song” from their bedrooms, when a live, touring band was out of the question. Now, artwork, self-inflection and communal creativity seem to fuel the band’s departure from a world where a listener might react with, “Oh, yes, I’ve heard something like this before.” Instead, Temples have dived into a brighter kingdom of sound where a truly individual color palette is being further revealed.

How did you and James land on the name, Temples?

“It was around four years ago now. I had an idea for a studio project. We recorded some songs which were sort of demos, really, more than anything, just exercises in creating music we thought sounded quite good. We put them on Youtube and yeah, the response we got was incredible and we hadn’t really thought of ourselves as anything other than a fictional band, a studio record. Then people asked us to play some shows and we sort-of haven’t stopped playing shows since, ya know, we just embraced it. If it had that much of an effect on people, then we thought it was worth doing it live. Things developed from there, really – we just haven’t stopped. Now we’re a fully-fledged live band, which was never an intention from the beginning. But it’s a real blessing to play your music in that context and yeah it feels like we’ve been through a cycle twice now. Getting to do it all over again is what we’re really looking forward to. We’re all from Kettering in the Midlands.”

What was it like growing up in Kettering? What’s the music scene like there and how did it inspire you as a music fan and as a musician?

“I mean we were fortunate enough to grow up in a time there where it was quite vibing and a creative place. Even though it wasn’t a larger town, it had an identity all of its own, really as these kind of small towns in England do. Some people never leave there besides going to London for the weekend. But I think in recent years the venues have dried out and it’s become a bit quieter, really, which is a shame. But looking back, we were there at the right time – a very creative time for bands and guitar music.”

What is the symbol on the front cover of Volcano? Who did the album artwork?

“It’s by an Australian artist called Jonathan Zawada and I think he had a few of our tracks early on while we were recording. We’re big fans of his work and with no preconception at all he listened to the music and came back with his interpretation of certain songs and that’s one of the first things he brought us. And it has such a strong, striking effect on us and it forged a different kind of meaning to the songs, which was completely unrelated, and then creates a meaning unto itself and it seemed to kind of sum up where the album was exploring. Very symbolic, I suppose, for asking the self lots of questions and perhaps having the answer within you, you know, like a self-locking key. It’s very open to interpretation what it stands for and means but it seemed like self-realization, self-determination. There’s lots of inward themes on this album, it’s very introspective, lyrically, just something we’ve never really explored before. The album art seems to perfectly relate to that and commodify it in a way we all really like.”

Temples Volcano Album Art
Volcano by Jonathan Zawada

What concepts and/or observations are you questioning and portraying on this album? Change, strangeness, narcissism?

“I mean we kind of brushed past a few of the pillars of human identity on the record. I guess, in a theatrical way. It’s hard to approach subjects that have a bit of weight to them and it seemed the best way to…the subjects may be a little darker but the music is wry and joyous, you know, a contrast. It’s a very inward looking record. A song like ‘How Would You Like to Go,’ for example, there’s no imagery there to what that’s song’s about, it’s about thinking about death (laughs), you know? It’s a more direct album, lyrically, and kind of the music followed suit as well. I think Sun Structures, our first record, there’s so much imagery and so many metaphors all in a poetic way. I think this time we really wanted to address some things directly and really try to face something on this record. You can pick that up almost on first listen. You can tell what a song’s about. We wanted it to be that way.”

I feel like with so much crazy shit happening right now, people should start looking inward a little more than they are.

“Yeah, absolutely.”

What sparked this self-questioning approach? Did it have anything to do with you all writing songs on the album? Were you all in a similar state?

“I think so. I suppose we’ve always been mindful of these things but it felt like time to put them into songs and have a little more depth, more of a point to it than just some type of atmosphere to the music. We wanted it to actually have some weight to it lyrically. But I guess it’s the state of everything, really. I guess as you get a bit older you start to realize the kind of fragility and finality of everything a little more. You realize you’re not invincible as you maybe thought you were when you were twenty or eighteen. It seemed like a quite natural thing to do, really. Or maybe a quite British thing to do, really.”

I’m twenty-two and I feel like shit hit the fan the last couple years a little bit, there’s definitely some self-exploration going on.

“It gets worse (laughs).”

Is there a certain ritual you practice when you do most of your writing for the album?

“I mean there’s a lot of individual writing this time ‘round, and then we bring it together in the studio. I write at home or wherever an idea comes to me. But I think all of us like to lock ourselves away a little bit especially to be creative with composing and writing and it’s very hard to do that anywhere, especially on tour you’re just focused on performing and playing the shows. You almost need to have closure on that and then you can fully focus on being creative and writing more music. Which is more or less how the album was written, we toured for the last eighteen months solidly. Only when that kind of winded down, were we able to focus on the new record. That’s the same for everyone in the band.”

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How is the album divided between you guys? Do you have an evenly divided track-list?

“I think we all wrote quite a lot each but then it’s all collaborative. An idea may start, naturally, with a particular person but you know, when it goes into the studio you just try and make yourself as useful as possible to the idea. The song is kind of in charge, really. You just try and build it and create it into something that works really well and is right for this record.”

How did you land on “Volcano” becoming the album title?

“There’s a type of disposability to the word ‘Volcano’ and why the cover’s kind of a pop-art influenced image. It felt like a word with maximum impact. It doesn’t reference a volcano in a literal sense. Maybe, if there is any metaphor in the album, it’s possibly the album name. At the same time it’s completely unrelated to the cover and the songs, really. It’s an abstraction, I guess, more than anything.”

What was the first song written for the album?

“Probably, ‘Oh The Savior’ was the first. But this time ‘round we weren’t really informed by that; we just kept writing and grouping the songs together and maybe only half-way through recording the album did it really take shape as a record. So we tried to keep every song kind of isolated in that sense so it didn’t influence the sound for the record or a theme.”

Was it daunting starting to write and record this album after the success of your first album, Sun Structures?

“Not really, I mean when that much time has passed since 2014, it took the edge off any pressure that you need to come back with another record twice as quick like some bands do. We knew there was more to what we do and we wanted to progress and show our progression as a band. I think, more than anything, we were eager to prove that Sun Structures is our record but doesn’t define what we do as a band. I think only we could have figured that out really and I guess the most time was spent on realizing how to get that across.”

How do you think you guys have evolved otherwise as a band since your first album?

“I mean the first record is very much referencing a particular sound and I think maybe this time, Volcano as an album doesn’t reference a sound as much. The line’s blurred a little more as to what maybe influenced us on the record. And there isn’t really a song which informs the sound of the record, all the songs are individual pieces, really, which make up a whole. The lyrical content and what we’re looking at addressing is the most exciting change for us. And being influenced by playing live for the last couple of years we wanted more of a direct record with more impact that kind of translated a little quicker almost, maybe not so many washes of a big sound across the record, but maybe something that hits you a little harder. I think you naturally develop and evolve songs when you play them live. You always sort of embellish stuff a little more and you dig in harder. Having something hit you that’s kind of full-range and not such scratchy or referential sounds of the golden era, the sixties, seventies, eighties — something a big larger and direct.”

Can you tell me about the recording process?

“We recorded at a higher quality from the last album, so already there was a greater definition to everything. Choosing how to like dress the sounds and maybe if a song has a particularly synthetic meaning to it, maybe we use more synthetic instruments. And maybe if a song’s meaning is more stripped back, we do away with reverb and echo. It’s trying almost the most obvious thing, which is generally the opposite of which you last did.”

Has this been a therapeutic experiment for you at all? You are questioning a lot of personal things.

“Yes, it’s definitely, as I said, a first for us to try and touch on subjects that the songs are about. All the writing has a cleansing process to it. But yeah, I think rather than being cinematic with words, it’s a little more theatrical, a bit more relatable I think than using lyrics just to add imagery. Hopefully, it speaks to people a little more.”

Besides the set-list, is your live performance going to change at all, in terms of anything drastic?

“Not much, I wouldn’t think. A few more keyboards that sound like guitars and a few more guitars that sound like keyboards (laughs), but more or less the same. You kind of take the tracks into a live environment and like I said, I’m sure even these ones will evolve into something else. But because of the directness of playing live, they fit quite well, we think based on what we’ve played already. It feels quite natural, these songs live.”

Was it a jarring experience becoming popular quite fast and going from small crowds to massive ones?

“Uh, not really. Well, they’re different experiences and you have less time to become familiar with who you’re playing in front of at a festival or something like that, so it’s a bit more instant. But no, you kind embrace situations, you just do what you do. Hopefully it translates. It’s something you keep building on. I wouldn’t say (laughs) we’re beyond playing a small venue. I think they’re very much the most enjoyable shows.”

Were you reading anything specific or listening to anything specific while you were creating this album?

“Well, obviously we’re listening to different stuff all of the time. We’re intent on moving our sound on to a certain degree, and having a wider approach to what we’re listening to. I think there’s less rules on this record. I think having more people involved in the writing, I think there’s a wider birth of influences on the record and styles of songwriting as well. Listening to lots of music with no words or singing and kind of ambient records like Klaus Schulze and Brian Eno, not much of which is (laughs) represented on the record. Still always influenced by great songwriting and timeless sounding records. We were less focused on a sixties sound and maybe something more universal. New King Gizzard stuff is incredible, and The Lemon Twigs record uses such a classic songwriting style and redresses it.”

Thank you, Tom.

Check out the full album here!

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