Temples, lauded the best band in Britain by both Noel Gallagher and Johnny Marr, are relaxing ahead of their headline slot in the Desert Daze Caravan show in downtown LA. They’re sharing the stage with California psych acts Night Beats, Deap Vally, and JJUUJJUU, in a capsule version of the desert-based psych festival they played a few months back, against a backdrop of twisted Joshua trees, coyotes’ howls and an impossibly clear Milky Way.
The otherworldly Mojave setting was a far cry from Temples’ hometown of Kettering, England—but as Keith Richards, Donovan, and PJ Harvey will attest, there’s something about the California desert that attracts English rock musicians, a magic so inspiring it warrants getting your Clark’s shoes a bit dusty.
With that in mind, we introduced Temples to a couple of fellow Limeys and desert aficionados—journalist and screenwriter Caroline Ryder (Dazed, New York Times) and Marc Sallis, founder of London’s Art Rocker magazine and guitarist for the Duke Spirit—and invited them to muse on the distinctly special experience of being British in California.
Caroline: Tell me about your connection with the desert — I mean, Gram Parsons took The Stones out there, and a lot of British musicians have recorded out there, just wondering if you guys felt the vibe too?
Temples / James Bagshaw: There's something very beautiful about that part of America. As to whether it's a spiritual haven for modern guitar music is another thing completely. I think you could have a spiritual show in New York as much as out there…but the atmosphere is different. The desert doesn't feel claustrophobic. And for our music, we always wanted a sort of vastness to it, so that sort of connects us to the desert. We love the imagery of that sort of stuff too, certainly for the first record. In a sense, we were singing about deserts before we had even gone to them.
Caroline: Not many deserts in Kettering.
Temples / Thomas Warmsley : No, no…just the one.
Caroline: When you played Desert Daze, Desert Trip was happening the same weekend right down the road, with Roger Waters, The Who and the Stones.
Temples / Sam Toms : Oh yeah, Oldchella!
Caroline: At Oldchella, you had artists like Roger Waters who had so much more support and backing when they were young and taking risks. Meanwhile, up the hill in Joshua Tree, were you guys, the contemporary artists who are trying to achieve the same things, but in a world where it's so much more difficult to be a Rock 'n' Roll artist. What are your thoughts on that, on the struggle?
Temples / James: I mean, it's almost like a novelty to have that many, shall we say "heritage acts" play a festival. I'm sure for many it was like their dream line-up, I mean, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney... I can't even imagine.
Temples / Adam Smith: Back then, it was kind of a clean slate. You could test things out and it was more easily accepted.
Caroline: They had the sort of room to invent sounds and equipment, and to pioneer things in a way that, I think, is just going to be so much harder for a band today.
Marc: Well, they had the financial support too, didn't they? They knew they had five albums to get it right.
Caroline: Do you feel distinctly British? Is it a torch that you're going to be bearing the rest of your lives?
Temples / Thomas: Yeah, I think all of our favorite types of songwriting has a British-ness to it. We can't help but to have applied that to our own music. I think it's about not taking it entirely seriously, and not taking yourself entirely seriously.
Caroline: How do you feel about it, Marc? You've been in Cali a long time.
Marc: I don't know. A lot of people here don't get sarcasm here. So probably when you're using humor in songs, they're taking it quite literally!
Temples / Adam : There's a bit of that on Volcano, yeah. Hopefully, people will get the sarcasm.
Marc: Do you think the current political climate is going to have a big impact on the arts and music? Because I went back to England the first thing after Brexit, and there was a strange atmosphere.
Temples / Sam: We're certainly feeling it, but I guess we'll have to see just how much. If it's a soft Brexit or a hard Brexit.
Temples / Thomas: A hard-boiled Brexit.
Temples / James: It could actually have an effect on people creating amazing art as a result of feeling disheartened. It was like that with Thatcher in the 80s. So many artists were spurred on, in revolt against it. So maybe it could work like that, or it could be that people just go "I can't do this anymore" because they aren't supported anymore and they have other responsibilities.
Caroline: I recently read Vivienne Westwood's autobiography and she and Malcolm McLaren literally had nothing when they were starting out. At least today, you can be a young broke artist, but you've probably got a cellphone and access to the internet, a way to communicate or upload your music and share it with the whole world. Which gives me a bit more hope, but who knows.
Marc: I think everyone thinks there needs to be a punk movement, but I don't know if we'll ever see another genre-specific scene happen again. Because obviously guitar bands have the hair and the leather jackets and all that, but also there are people that make electronic music who dress like us now, so you can't associate fashion necessarily with a movement anymore.
Caroline: You sort of developed your own style, but now as you’re touring more, are you working with stylists or do you keep it all in-house, that part of your expression?
Temples / James: The only time we ever work with stylists is if we're forced to. They pin me down and put me in trousers.
Temples / Thomas: No, only for one or two shoots have we ever had a stylist. I just wear this, the same thing, I'm boring. And 5 or 6 tank tops.
Caroline: I heard there was a book of Marc Bolan's poetry that one of you was inspired by? Warlock of Love?
Temples / James: Yeah.
Caroline: It’s unbelievably rare, it's like $500 or even more on Amazon.
Temples / James: Oh, I didn't know how much it was, it was a present.
Caroline: What specifically about that collection that has been inspiring to you?
Temples / James: I mean, poetry is such a great way to spark an idea, especially with that book, there aren't really any rules he's abiding by. The imagery is very ambiguous, but the way that he describes things, it made me realize that you can create such amazing imagery just with choices of words in an unconventional way.
Caroline: So it influenced you lyrically, in terms of reminding you that you can be abstract?
Temples: Yeah, like, I think songs like "Oh, the Savior" there are lyrics in there that are definitely, slightly inspired by some of the poems. Phrases like "detox dandy" the alliteration of that, and the strange image of this person that's like a doctor for your health but at the same time isn't wearing a doctors uniform…it’s this strange character. I was sort of channeling a little bit of stuff I had read in that book. Oh, and it's quite English. Very English.
Temples / Thomas: Which we love, of course…