"It starts and ends with the melody."

In five short years, British band Temples have become one of the most exciting acts in music today, producing lush psychedelic rock that would feel just as at home in the Mojave desert as the stages of Glastonbury.

The band’s two front men, singer and guitarist James Bagshaw, and bassist Tom Walmsley, originally started out as rivals in their local town of Kettering (an hour from London), but in a twist of fate ended up on the same team. Together they’ve slowly but surely built a dedicated worldwide fan base, a feat that’s especially remarkable at a time when guitar music is probably at one of its lowest ever points of popularity.
The band are bored by the 70s nostalgia tag and references to T.Rex, The Byrds or The Beatles, in all honesty Temples have parlayed a more modern psychedelic revision into their sound, taking footnotes from contemporary peers like MGMT, Foxygen, Toy and Tame Impala. Now on the cusp of the notoriously tricky second album complex, vocalist James Bagshaw sips a coffee while on the line from Portland Oregon, and gives us a glimpse into the future of Temples.

From Left to right [Adam Smith, James Bagshaw, Sam Toms, Thomas Warmsley]

You usually sound quite shy in interviews but you seem very different and confident today.  

I’m not confident. It’s probably just because I’ve got a coffee. I’m confident with what we do musically. There are times where you’re insecure about your music to a degree, but not because of other people, only your own goals. As performers we’re definitely more confident because we’ve gotten used to it, just from being thrown in at the deep end.

Personally I’m still very insecure, but maybe I’ve gotten used to doing interviews. I’m not afraid to say what I think anymore. Now if you ask me what I think about something I’ll be honest about it. Before I probably slightly watered down what I thought because I didn’t want to create any animosity between anybody, whether it’s bands, or people, or the music scene.

In terms of your position in the band itself, are you the go-to person for everything like interviews, fashion, PR, cover art?

That inevitably happens with the singer in the band. I wasn’t a singer before and I have certainly never been a front man in other bands. It’s not a bad thing but there are points where it causes animosity. I don’t choose to be the one standing at the front of the photos, and there’s that classic thing of someone else saying, “oh we’re the slightly out of focus ones.” We’re a very democratic band internally. Each of us makes decisions in terms of what we want. Tom’s very good at directing things like artwork. With the music I think sometimes someone has to say, “this is how it should be”, otherwise you get nothing done. As far as interviews go we try to share them around because everyone’s got a unique perspective on things but a lot of the time people will ask to speak to me.

"Something has got to change at some point because otherwise music is going to become so homogenised."

James Bagshaw on the decline of the music industry

Tell us about the music that informs you. What is happening in the world of Temples that creates such a wonderfully lush sound?

It’s a good question. It’s very different for each of us in the band. For me, my parents were always playing Motown records which have some amazing soulful melodies, and The Beatles records as well, all these things that are so melodic. I never got into the punk thing at school when a lot of people I knew were listening to the Pistols or whatever. I like them now, but I didn’t grow up listening to that kind of thing. There’s a real beauty in what the Sex Pistols do but it’s not melodic in the way that a classic pop song is. For me it starts and ends with the melody. You can have awful lyrics but if the melody is good then it sways you enough. Then there’s stuff that loops around for 10 minutes and I get that too, but for me, I get bored after about 3 minutes. So melody is hugely important and then the rhythm section is also very important. Lyrics are an afterthought to me. We want to inspire, and melody does that before you’ve even put words to it.

It feels like you’re a dying breed in that sense. But maybe I’m being cynical.

I think in the 70s people like ABBA and Bowie were creating songs that were clever without being pretentious. Nowadays people think that once you’ve got someone hooked you need to repeat it so many times, and don’t get me wrong there is some stuff that is melodically really good that is popular, but some of these kids are a bit uninspired as writers. They’re just trying to copy what the last popular thing was, and music doesn’t move forward like that.

I understand you used to teach music as well?

Well I worked in a college as a music tech because the department really didn’t know much about studio stuff. I ended up filling in for some lessons but I was never qualified to do so. That was probably for the period of about a year and only ten hours a week. I was just so glad to have a job with music. I was still writing and trying to make the bands work.

Do you make enough money from your music now so that you don’t have to work?

Yeah, I don’t work. I haven’t worked since we released Shelter Song.

What else were you doing in Kettering (Temples hometown) while you were trying to make bands work?

I started to do A Levels but I didn’t choose music because A Level music at that time was quite technical in terms of reading music, and the history of classical music, and at the time I had no interest in that. All I wanted to do was make songs. Then I got a menial job in a supermarket and went to college and did a music course there. That was really good because I could sit in a studio after college had finished and do whatever I wanted.

After that I just wanted to make music. I was unemployed for two years trying to find work in music and it was just impossible. I applied for jobs in theatres as an in-house audio person. I was probably the wrong person for that job because I would have started wanting to rewire everything and make the sound better. But anyway in those two years of unemployment I really learned how to record music, all whilst looking for a job, I wasn’t just skanking off the government. I’ve paid the government back now in tax.

There are endless stories of great musicians like Bowie who started out doing other things and were endlessly daydreaming, and trying to get into the industry. Do you think it’s just a matter of doing everything you can every single day until someone hears what you’re doing? 

Yeah, people say, “oh you’re really lucky.” I don’t like that word. I think fortunate is a better word. Of course we’re fortunate to be on a record label, and be able to tour the world, but it’s not by chance. So much effort went into it, even though for me it probably didn’t feel like that much effort because it’s what I’ve always known. Sitting in a studio and working on a drum sound for six hours has no comparison to working in a supermarket for six hours. I think creativity is really hard work, but it doesn’t feel like it when you’re doing it because it’s just like you’re discovering something.

"We’re big fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Jeff Garlin tweeted us one day and said he loved the record."

Have you come across anyone that you were surprised to learn was a fan?

We’re big fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Jeff Garlin tweeted us one day and said he loved the record. He came to our LA show and we’re still in touch with him. That’s the funniest one. It’s mad. That to me is weirder than Noel Gallagher saying something nice because the Hollywood acting circle is so far removed from the music industry.

Have you encountered that crazy LA lifestyle? You must have interacted in that world a bit and gone to some parties.

I mean yeah, we’ve done the Tonight Show. It’s pretty weird when Ethan Hawke comes over and says, “Oh you guys are great.” We’ve been to awards things as well. When we first went to the NME awards Sam came out of the toilet and said, “I just had a piss next to Ronnie wood.” Those kind of things don’t really appeal to me though, that champagne lifestyle. They’re a great laugh and good for free drinks, and you do meet some good people. It’s not just coke heads, although there’s a lot of that going on, there has always been.

You’re an anomaly in the fact that you’re a successful guitar band, and guitar music is probably at its lowest point of popularity ever. Noel Gallagher has said, why the hell isn’t your stuff on the radio? And he has a point.

Yeah and why is he not being played on the radio? He’s not being played on Radio 1 because as far as they’re concerned he’s not relevant, which is not fair because it shouldn’t be judged on that. It should be judged on – is the song good? So he’s bang on there. But a part of me thinks it would be weird hearing one of our tracks amidst all the other stuff.

I don’t like the way that radio stations are playing stuff because of stats of fans on Facebook. You need to have like 50,000 followers between the ages of 16-21 to get played on the playlists on Radio 1. It’s like, well hang on a minute, if you don’t get played on Radio 1 then how do you get those fans? It’s very strange. Something has got to change at some point because otherwise music is going to become so homogenised. Maybe the underground will overtake, and it will switch around, and the homogenised crap will become yesterday’s news.

It seems like there’s a mystical quality to your music. Do you guys have any outside interests in spiritualism?

I think the music itself is the spiritual thing. I can’t speak for everyone but for me, the songs, if you listen to them with your eyes closed it should do something else. Some people might find it confusing, and too dense, and too many melodies, but it’s written really first for us to get our creative juices out there, and if someone else likes it that’s great. But song writing generally is like trying to take the spark of an idea and create a fully-fledged landscape out of this little spot of paint. That’s how I see it anyway.

You did a book with fashion photographer and personalty Hedi Slimane. How did that come about?

That came about because I met Hedi in Austin. I had no idea who he was to be honest, I don’t know much about designer brands. But we got on really well and he loved the record. He said that for a year on every shoot he was listening to the record. He asked if I wanted to do some photos so I went out to New York, and we did some photos. I don’t actually have a copy of the book, I haven’t seen it. I’m interested in clothing of course, but I never would have looked at Saint Laurent because I couldn’t afford to buy it.
Now I’ve got quite a lot of their stuff which is great because they’re amazing clothes. It’s very nice to get given stuff like that. On a personal level Hedi is a real genuinely good guy. He’s very passionate about art, music, photography and fashion. He’s not in it to make a fast buck. He’s got a real love.

Moving on from your last album are there any expectations you’d like to leave behind as you go forward? Do you want people to see you as a new or different kind of band?

I don’t think about that. We don’t have any preconceptions of what we want people to think. We’re just doing what we do.

"I met Hedi in Austin. I had no idea who he was to be honest."

Temples James Bagshaw on working with Fashion giant Hedi Slimane

Will you still be doing this is 10 years?

Hopefully yeah. Hopefully we’ll be making soundtracks too, like Scott Walker.

Banging meat against a microphone?

[Laughing] Well not that era of Scott Walker. That’s where it got weird. But I think it would be great to work on a cinematic level with music where we’ve got a lot of musicians at our disposal. I’ve looked into making an orchestral arrangement before but we just couldn’t afford to do it.

Volcano is out on Heavenly on March 3rd.


Gretsch Guitars

I love them. To me that’s a piece of art as much as an instrument.

A beautiful Pre-Raphaelite era painting of which I have the original at home (Of course I don’t).

I love it, I’ve watched it over and over.