A Conversation With Temple Scene

Among the musical gems that T61 listeners have bumped to glory are a dozen brilliant tunes from London's Temple Scene. Four of these near-flawless jewels were recently set into the Another Town EP. Temple Scene was kind enough to answer some questions from MaxBumps about their experience at t61, the new EP, and the process of crafting and polishing the musical treasures they've laid before us.

silkworm: What effect, if any, has your experience with thesixtyone.com had on the process of putting together the new EP? What are your thoughts about the site?

Temple Scene: Until recently, we’d been streaming the music and keeping our options open about the next move, but the fantastic feedback we’ve been getting on the61 encouraged us to re-assess that. There’s nothing more satisfying for a musician than people wanting to buy your music - and nothing more frustrating than telling them they can’t! The best part has been seeing the reaction to our songs. We just try and make music we like, but it’s amazing to find out that other people like it too.

Like a lot of people, we found the61 on Digg, and it was immediately clear that someone had finally solved some of the fundamental problems with music discovery sites. There are countless places that use competitions and votes as a way to get extra traffic from a band's existing fan base, but where no one has any incentive to stay and explore. the61 actually puts listeners in contact with new music, and makes it fun - any site that can do that is something special.

silkworm: Your EP, Another Town, is available in the US through Amazon.com's digital music marketplace - a great beginning! What's your ideal vision of how the commercial side of the band will evolve? Are you still sending your music to record labels or are you hoping to make your mark independently?

Temple Scene: Of course, we would love to have the kind of backing that would allow us to reach a huge audience, but at the moment, it’s just fantastic that there are people out there who have reacted in such a great way to our music.

The plan is to release our songs four tracks at a time, as E.P.s. This way we can build up a relationship with people by releasing new material on a regular basis, rather than throwing everything at a huge campaign every year or two for a whole album. If this E.P. goes well, we have things in place for the next two releases. In fact, we are just in the process of recording E.P. number four.

silkworm: The name of the EP "Another Town" is presumably taken from the lyrics to Everything: "And somewhere there's a wall falling down/ And these stones are gonna build another town." That sentiment of rebuilding is also echoed in the opening song Somewhere In This City: "...instead of beating your heart out/You can start again instead." Where do the inspirations for your lyrics come from and how do you go about crafting them?

Temple Scene: Many of our lyrics play with a sense of place, and it’s certainly this strand that makes these four tracks work together. "Somewhere In This City is about someone who feels the need to be uprooted, who never wants to stay still. It’s about trying to exert control over where you are emotionally by changing where you are physically.

"Breathing" is a natural counterpoint to this. It expresses almost the opposite feeling - of how someone feels dislocated and uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. One song is about running away from life, the other is about trying to hide from it - neither character really knows how to connect with it.

"Everything" and "Half Life" continue the theme of our lives and relationships being a kind of journey. There is constant moving and searching in "Everything". "Half Life" is about pausing to take stock of where we’ve come from and where we've got to.

We try to get across feelings and sensations rather than concrete stories, but we tend to have a type of lead character in each song. We create a personality and then put them in a situation and imagine how they are feeling. The fact that we write together has a big influence on this - instead of only having our own experiences to draw on, we pool them and come up with something - or rather someone - new.

silkworm: And on the topic of names, here's the obligatory question - how did you come up with the name Temple Scene and does it have any special meaning?

Temple Scene: It's nothing more complicated than a corruption of Temple Sheen, a place near where we make our music.

silkworm: Blog contributor Apocalypse says that, to him, Temple Scene's music embodies the "hopeful melancholy of attachments," and that "each song is nearly a perfect one act play, taking us through a full range of emotions, all the way to catharsis." He would like to know, how much thought goes into the arrangement or layering of each song? Or is that just a natural progression of the collaboration between the two of you?

Temple Scene: We know broadly the feelings we want to get across, but we work pretty instinctively and we often feel like we’re just going along for the ride - we’ll know what it sounds like when it’s finished!

Brian Eno said you should “use your limitations as secret strengths” and we definitely believe that having certain musical avenues closed off to you is a help, rather than a hindrance - it gives you a direction. The most obvious example of this is our working lives. There are huge benefits to being audio engineers, particularly having the chance to watch some great people at work. On the flip side, the hours are long and unpredictable. This has meant we have to be a two-piece, so that juggling our time is just about workable. Trying to keep up a full-size band would probably be very unfair on the other members when they were left hanging around.

It’s meant that there are often periods when just one of us is able to work on a track for some time. Finding that a track had taken shape and completely changed in your absence was difficult at first but we think it has some real advantages. It gives each of us opportunities to run with ideas without them being shot down before they're fully formed. Also, it helps us remain objective which is important when you're not working with outside producers who come along with a fresh set of ears. We’ve got to the stage now where if the other guy comes back and says “Sorry, but I really don’t like what you’ve done”, it’s not a problem. We trust each other’s judgement.

It’s also directly affected the sound of the music. We don’t have a full band, so we have to build up the songs ourselves, piece by piece, and this lends itself to a certain kind of music. So at a given moment we might be listening to Jeff Buckley or Johnny Cash, but of course the way we have to work favours a more constructed, electronic type of sound. We’re not wedded to that sound - but we’re not scared of being pushed into it either.

silkworm: Throughout your experience recording top musicians, what's the most interesting or strange tip you've picked up from a musician and then applied to your own work? Which musicians inspire you musically or lyrically?

Temple Scene: The most important things we've learned are not so much specific tricks as instincts. Working for a long time with really good people, you gradually start to judge performances differently. Sometimes you need to keep at something until it's perfect, but sometimes perfection would ruin it. For example, we’ve learned to always record constantly when we're jamming around ideas for a guitar part - things often come out so much better the first time you play them, when you're not thinking about it.

In terms of influences, we’ve both always been drawn to music with rich, multi-layered sounds and a dark edge, such as Depeche Mode, R.E.M. and Pink Floyd. But one great thing about working with so many musicians is that they always end up showing you the music they love, and this has really broadened our tastes. We’ve discovered so much music that had somehow passed us by - like Carole King, Jeff Buckley and Robert Johnson. Of course, we have our individual tastes as well - Ric grew up listening to Michael Jackson and Lenny Kravitz; for Philippe it was Prince and Bob Marley.

silkworm: There's a nascent topic on the MaxBumps.net forums dedicated to recording gear. What gear do you the two of you use to help create such a full and polished sound? What about live performances?

Temple Scene: We’ve done all of our own music in a home studio, in Logic. We make sure each song is self-contained, so if we’re busy and having to ‘tag-team’, one of us can just load up and see where the other had left off. When we’re recording in a proper studio we use Pro Tools (or tape!), which is much more streamlined for dedicated recording, but as a studio-in-a-box it’s hard to beat Logic.

We’ve also made a big investment in plug-ins and samples; most of the Native Instruments stuff (amazing sounds but you have to put up with the bugs) and Waves. We tend to use Waves SSL channels as our go-to when mixing because they are the desks we are most used to in the real world.

Guitar-wise we do have a lovely Strat which you can hear doing the slide on Everything, but most of the time we use Philippe’s Telecaster which is such a simple, reliable guitar. The acoustic is Philippe’s Taylor (bizarrely, given that Ric plays more of the guitar, Philippe is the one who obsesses over them!). Since we’re recording in a home studio, all the guitar amp sounds are modelled (mostly NI Guitar Rig) and the limitations of this have again forced us to be creative with our sounds. For example, we don’t much like simulated amp sounds on big chugging guitar chords - they always seem to turn to mush. That why on Breathing we’ve got big Green Day style thrashing guitar on the chorus... but played on acoustics!

We enjoy throwing in odd sounds, too, like Ric’s suitcase harmonium. Such a delicate instrument, and we don’t really know what we’re doing with it, but it sounds great!

We haven’t been playing live recently because our jobs would make it so difficult for the other members of a 4 or 5 piece band. It’s something we regret - we would absolutely love to work out how we could get out and play for some of the people on thesixtyone and MySpace, but we’re not sure if people would want to see just the two of us playing over a backing tape!

1 comment:

Apocalypse said...

Excellent interview, silkworm. This is one of my favorite bands on this site and this was a very satisfying read. Keep'em comin'.