It’s hard to say which is more impressive: drawing accolades from the none-too-flattering Noel Gallagher or landing the opening slot at the Rolling Stones’ historic return to Hyde Park this past summer. Kettering, England quartet Temples managed to do both of those things not even a year after forming—and without a full-length album to speak of. At press time, Temples have released six songs (three singles) via Heavenly Recordings, the current home of Doves, Mark Lanegan, Beth Orton and Saint Etienne. If the singles are any indication, the still-untitled full-length promises to deliver more of the same lushly rendered psychedelia that won the favor of the band’s aforementioned musical elders.
Right from the get-go, with the late 2012 release of “Shelter Song,” Temples arrived with a fully developed sound that unapologetically references the iconic late ‘60s British production values favored by the likes of the Byrds and the Animals. Stereo-panned guitars jangle brightly as background vocals drift away in the distance like morning mist. Tambourines discreetly haunt the margins of the soundscape as sonorous, loosely-tuned drums ring in the foreground under a memorable vocal hook. Taken as a whole, the sound is instantly recognizable as a part of our embedded cultural DNA. Clearly, the members of Temples have this aesthetic down to a science.
In fact, the reproduction sparkles with an accuracy that would be eerie were it not for its dreamy romanticism. “Shelter Song” falls right at the line between a pick-up song and the kind of poem a high schooler with his head in the clouds might write to the object of his affections, even as he’s unable to avert his gaze from the shapes of dreams only he can see. (The song even contains a verse about reading a poem out loud to someone and writing a song “for thee.”) The kaleidoscopic use of color in the video shows that the band members have studied up on their Syd Barret-era Pink Floyd footage, but their boyish, distant stares lend a charming touch of youthful innocence. Stripped as it is of the darker tonality of its influences, Temples come up with an eminently comfortable sound that’s both familiar and easy to swallow.
Still, Temples’ sonic precision betrays a sense of determination and studio mastery that typically takes bands years to hone—all the more impressive given that Temples record (and partially mix) all their music themselves in an “8-by-10 foot” room in the same house that frontman James Bagshaw grew up in. (Bagshaw originally occupied the room they use as a control room as an infant.) Sure, copious amounts of reverb are added after the fact, but listening to any of the band’s songs, it’s difficult to imagine that such ambient clarity can be captured at home in a room barely large enough to accommodate the whole band. More impressive still is that Temples mostly record their basic tracks live as a group. They also tend to shy away from the demo process, preferring instead to build songs as soon as ideas start to emerge.
“The recording process sprawls out across James’ house,” explains bassist Tom Warmsley. “Essentially, all the tracks are recorded in this small box room. It’s quite a small area to work in, but we daren’t change anything. Probably the best parallel of how it works—and an example we admire of what you can do in the space you’re given—is a producer like Joe Meek [The Tornados, Tom Jones]. He recorded all these fantastic singles drenched in these grand reverbs and delays, but he recorded it all essentially in a flat above a shop on Holloway Road in London. He’d use the bathroom to record vocal tracks and make it sound like a cathedral. There’s various studio tricks you can use, without giving it too much away, that allow you to achieve these fairly ambitious and otherwise impossible sounds in a small space.”
Warmsley muses further: “If we had the capability, I’m sure we’d go to a cathedral and put microphones in the correct places and record some actual ambience. But you kind of make due.”
One can imagine Temples, resourceful as they are, recording in a cathedral and ending up getting sounds in the bathroom anyway.
“Exactly,” Warmsley chuckles. “I guess it wouldn’t really work the other way around.”
In the end, though, Warmsley cautions against focusing too much on technical elements.
“I think it’s important to have a good mystery about your sounds and how you achieve them,” he offers. “But in many ways it doesn’t matter. If it sounds like what you think it is, that’s good enough.”
Temples came together in 2012, initially as just a collaboration between Warmsley and Bagshaw, who writes the majority of the material while Warmsley contributes a handful of songs.
“One of the reasons Temples started,” Warmsley explains, “is because I started writing music myself. I knew James was already songwriter before I’d started writing. I took a song to him, and then I think he realized he’d found someone he could work with.”
The pair had no intention of ever playing live, but after some early work generated a buzz, Temples grew into a full-fledged band that also includes keyboardist/guitarist Adam Smith and aptly named drummer Sam Toms—both of whom also contribute to production decisions.
“The more people you have involved the better,” says Warmsley. “Unbelievably, a lot of the way we work is unsaid. There’s a mutual understanding of what we’re all into and what should go in the song and what shouldn’t. Everyone sort of covers their own area of interest and taste.”
“So,” he adds with a laugh, “no blood has been spilt over how much reverb should be on the drums and things like that.”
Temples spent all of 2013, “this whole year, in between all the touring, any free day we’ve had,” recording and sending their own mixes “finished as we perceive them” to engineer Claudius Mittendorfer (Neon Indian, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, Johnny Marr) to take the mixes further in New York. The band was sufficiently impressed with what Mittendorfer brought out of their second single, “Colours to Life,” to keep him on for the entire album.
“We just said, ‘See what you can do with this,’” Warmsley explains. “He sent it back and it had sonically stepped up another level. He seemed like the right guy because we’re quite set with what sounds we’ve been creating in the studio. We wanted someone who’d be able to embellish those and take them a little further, add as much color as possible onto what we’d already done. I guess that takes a patient person—someone who isn’t going to change things too much, but who can change them just enough.”
“It’s been quite easygoing,” he adds, before inadvertently summing up the band’s career to date: “We haven’t really encountered too many obstacles.”