21st Century Psych: Temples carry golden age traditions into the digital age
We are not experiencing a psychedelic revolution. Psych music, since its inception, has oscillated through pop culture. In the beginning, when love, drugs and the Beatles were free, the Byrds spun their dark web of bad trip/good trip to a lesser audience. The 70’s saw momentum from groups like T.Rex, with their fearlessly tripped-out glitz and glam rock. In the 80’s, I’m sure there were some dark underlords dosing people with anti-disco, and the 90’s had the Brian Jonestown Massacre, keeping the scene very much alive and kicking.
“There have been bands every decade who’ve revived what’s good about that Golden era of music and kind of carried it on to the next generation,” says Thomas Warmsley of the UK-based psych-pop group Temples. It’s a few hours before the group’s set at London’s Latitude Festival, and we’re on the phone discussing the past.
“I wouldn’t say psychedelic music has a revival, it’s just coming through… maybe people are just realizing that live music is really important again, and the psychedelic thing might be catching on, or appears to be, because that’s one of the best kind of musics to experience live.”
While that’s his personal preference, he’s absolutely right. This year marks the 8th year of Austin Psych Fest, a festival put on by the Reverberation Appreciation Society — a label that showcases talents in garage psych, surf psych, drone, blues psych and neo-psych. There’s Psycho De Mayo, a newer festival that recently popped up in Orange County, CA, and the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, which is basically a two day psych-city takeover. In addition to these festivals, groups under the umbrella (Temples, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, White Fence, Ty Segall, Dead Meadow and Tame Impala, to name a few) have served to headline Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Pitchfork, and every other big name festival you could shake a tambourine at.
Of course, this era is not the same song and dance as as the notorious psychedelic 60’s, or any other Golden age. There’s a disconnect between 60’s and 70’s recording styles and today’s, with standards of technology metamorphosed and allowing for cleaner sound. Warmsley believes that’s the best thing about making this style of music right now.
“You have to embrace the technology that is now where it is easy to sample things and cut things up and sort of not really be a purist about how you record. It doesn’t matter how you do it… by any means necessary, whether it’s recording vocals in a shower, or [whatever]… as long as it sounds like a cathedral or a mountain top then that’s all that matters.”
Temples, for instance, can sound like 60’s acid-fueled Beverly Hills or an outer space flight, depending on which song you’re singling out. “Keep In The Dark,” which was a single released last year via Heavenly Records and then re-released on 2014’s Sun Structures, sounds like a trippy fog-bounce through a Grecian garden. Then there’s the “Shelter Song,” a super hooky radio choice off of Structures with a 12-string intro that could beat the Beatles.
“For us, every single song from Sun Structures has a different reference for what it was influenced by, whether it was Krautrock or 60’s pop or maybe a little bit of Detroit Soul in there, or some weird soundscape — every song is a different genre really but we record it in a way that sounds like us.”
In an article on the new generation, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne said of today’s musical frontier: “Any musician not playing by the rulebook and going inside their heads is psychedelic.”
So, today the rules must be broken. To me, that seems too vague to put a finger on. But when I asked Warmsley what the felt the hardest part of making “new” psych rock was — how he was able to remain fresh without being sucked into the nostalgia and standard structure — he provided a deeper understanding:
“That itself is one of the hardest things because you know it’s such a strange and wonderful mix of people there really aren’t any rules to the music and the people it attracts,” he said.
It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole when trying to pinpoint the mystique that surrounds the genre, and the people, too. Psych music, and having a passion for it, means being able to appreciate what you don’t know, because, as Coyne put it, it’s all inside someone else’s head. A lot of times, it’s black fog over a whirlpool of hallucinations (and yeah, sometimes drugs). It’s out of this world and it’s okay if it’s indescribable or nonsensical. You have to accept that.
“We find spirituality very interesting but I wouldn’t say any of us are, you know, religious. It’s that kind of thing. It’s the fascination with the process rather than the actual thing,” Warmsley said of Temples’ aesthetic. “Just having a piece of art that’s completely saturated in symbolism and maybe not a direct message there but just the point of… ‘look at this, this is symbolic, isn’t that amazing?’ Not for any particular reason sometimes.”
You’d be hard set to find someone who stumbles upon the weird of deep psych music with completely open arms. Try listening to Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica if you’re new here and you’d lying to yourself if you said you liked it. It’s when the weird and whimsical is hinged on pop music (ala Temples, Tame Impala, etc.) that it becomes more edible. The Beatles were a great gateway, which is why I found it interesting that Warmsley and the rest of the group cited the Byrds’ veiled darkness as more of an inspiration than the Beatles’ light.
“I think there’s a lot obvious with the Beatles which is kind of the point with their music, I guess, to be out there and that you get straight away,” Warmsley told me.
“I mean obviously no disrespect, I’m not trying to take anything away from the Beatles or how prolific they were in the time that they were together. But yeah, I think there’s certainly other ways of writing pop music without alluding to just sounding like the Beatles. There’s a whole family of different bands who did it in a more interesting way and that’s the kind of music where it kind of carries something with it, a mystery or an unanswered question that just makes it that little more interesting and… I guess an experience for whoever’s listening. But yeah I’d definitely say we try to put that in our music. The mystery.”
To be revived, something first has to die. To die, something has to lose its power. Psych rock has never lost its power. It’s still here, responding to today’s standards of sound and being re-introduced to younger generations — as the Beatles and the 13th Floor Elevators, or the Flaming Lips and BJM, or Temples and the Black Angels… as whatever face it’s taking at the time it’s being taken in.
Today is not a psychedelic revolution, it’s just another chapter in a really weird old book with a bunch of tripped-out pictures and no descriptions, and a ton of blank pages to be filled in.
Temples play a free show at Morgan’s Pier on Wednesday, August 6th; more information can be found here.