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In many ways, it was a perfect way for live music to return to Fishtown: the first truly sweltering weekend of 2021, a wide-open parking lot across from The International Bar at Front and Cecil B. Moore, and two day-long lineups cross-sectioning the heavy rock and psychedelic scenes of Philadelphia, capped on night one by headliners Heavy Temple.

The Live On Front festival and the energy in its wake has propelled the Philly power trio to find its post-pandemic doom legs, so to speak. Comprised of bassist/vocalist and bandleader High Priestess Nighthawk, along with guitarist Lord Paisley and drummer Baron Lycan, Heavy Temple is releasing its first full-length after almost ten years of shredding on the local scene; Lupi Amoris comes out this Friday on Magnetic Eye Records. It’s an intricate interweaving of complex riffage and down-to-earth narrative; the band described it in Brooklyn Vegan earlier this year as two pairs of songs that each tell a different character’s side of the same story, with one standalone song (the ripper “The Maiden”) meeting in the middle.

The band is doing a livestream playthrough of the record next Friday June 25th on Jam In The Van’s YouTube channel, and then co-headlines Ardmore Music Hall alongside their friends Ruby the Hatchet on July 30th, with a gig at Cookeville, Tennessee’s Muddy Roots Festival the first weekend in September.

When we caught up with High Priestess Nighthhawk via Zoom earlier this week, she was perched on the rooftop of a Center City building with 360-degree views of the city surrounding her. There were myriad paths forward at her feet, and she brimmed with excitement at the prospect of leading Heavy Temple out of its pandemic respite. We began our conversation reflecting on the heady day that was Live on Front.

The Key: The show at The International looked epic. How was it from your perspective performing there?

High Priestess Nighthawk: It was awesome. It was a little strange, just because nobody’s played a show in 16 months or whatever. Our last show was February 2020, so almost a year and a half. But once everything started going and bands were playing, it was like 2020 never happened. Which would would have been cool if that were actually the case. But yeah, it felt good, and normal – whatever “normal” is now. It was nice to see our friends, it was nice to see people play. It was weird seeing everybody without a mask. You know that it’s okay, I guess, because the CDC said it was okay. It just feels weird, because you want to enjoy the fruits of your labor as a responsible citizen, but you also want to be respectful of wherever everybody else is at. But it felt great to hug people, and be able to understand what they were saying because they don’t have something obscuring their mouth.

TK: Watching the set, it really struck me how much the three of you really rely on one another when you’re playing. You’re often in a triangular configuration, facing one another, really locked in. Given that, what was it like working on this record in this time period when you had to be isolated? It seems like the whole upload-tracks-to-Dropbox approach would be a challenge for Heavy Temple.

HPN: To be honest, we wrapped up recording [Lupi Amoris] in 2019. The plan was to shop it, get it picked up, put it out last year and do all the touring and stuff. And in the process of shopping that album, everything started getting weird. So we were like “let’s just put this on the back burner, it’s not like we can tour anyway.” But then, Jad from Magnetic Eye reached out, and we’d already done the Women of Doom thing, and we said “would you want to put this out with us?” And we said yes, since they’re a great label.

Fortunately, we live pretty close to one another, and once we could kind of gauge what was acceptable as far as seeing friends – ‘cause we all worked the entire time – we actually started working on yet another album, since we already had this album in the can. But to speak a little to the quarantine stuff, we’re kind of always sending each other files like that, whether it’s somebody singing into a phone and sending it to everybody else. We kind of do that regularly, but we really do prefer to be together when we play, as I imagine most bands would. The skeleton is easy to email back and forth, but when you’re trying to flesh it out it requires a bit more face time.

TK: You mentioned the Women of Doom compilation – can you talk about what that was?

HPN: Yeah! It was Blues Funeral and Desert Records put it out. I saw that Alexis from Doomstress and Amy from Year of the Cobra and Mel from Royal Thunder [were involved]…it was a great lineup of musicians, so I reached out and said “if you have room, we’d love to do something for this.” It was all previously unreleased music by all of these artists. And the artwork, the pedal they put out, the vinyl pressing, all of it was fueled by women. So it was awesome. And they wanted to highlight the fact that there’s a lot of talent out there and some of us are not dudes. That was our first introduction to Jad, and he ended up working with Magnetic Eye.

TK: Does it feel odd to have these comps where…you know, I think of a band like Helms Alee, who aren’t all dudes, or Baroness. Does it still feel odd to have these efforts to remind people of that?

HPN: Yeah, it does. I’ve been asked a lot about, at least once every time I’ve been interviewed or talking to people about this [album], they’re asking about the theme of this album. And it can be tricky, because being autonomous, having your independence, those are important things for women. But I don’t want to talk about it, because it makes it a thing. But I also I do want to talk about it, because it’s important. But I think eventually it would be nice to get to a point where we don’t have to bring it up. I could see things from both perspectives.

Like “female fronted doom” – I dislike that immensely, because you wouldn’t say “male fronted doom.” But it does give it a different feel, as far as your timbre, the sound of your voice, the melodies you come up with, the way you sing things. It can change a record! But it would be cool to just not have to have that discussion. I’m just a person in a band doing doing the things I do like do do, and that should be enough.

TK: So, uh,  I do have a question about the album theme…

HPN: Ha!

TK: But yeah, when “The Maiden” debuted at Brooklyn Vegan, you talked about how the record was two sides of a story, with that song being the point where they intersect in the middle. Can you talk about that dual-storyeller approach to the narrative of the album, and whether there were any books or films that inspired that? I feel like I don’t see it super often, but when it works, it can be super cool.

HPN: Sure! That’s not the question I was expecting, but I’m glad you asked that though. With “The Wolf” and “The Maiden” specifically, it’s the story of Little Red Riding Hood, so it’s the wolf’s perspective’s perspective and then Red Riding Hood’s perspective. And I was inspired by the Angela Carter short story “In The Company of Wolves,” which is part of a longer collection of short stories called The Bloody Chamber. In that, she is pursued by the wolf, but then she also turns that around into…you know, the wolf’s always been desire, and lust, and sexuality, these things we  are supposed to be protected from, or whatever. And in the Carter story, it sort of flips that narrative around, and that resonated with me. But I also wove that into my personal life, things that were going on at the time.

I met my partner at a festival in the woods, and they were the one that showed me this Carter story, and I knew that I wanted to write about this relationship, because it’s been a life-altering relationship on a couple different levels. The narrative is very much from the Red Riding Hood perspective, but “The Wolf” is very much from the perspective of the wolf. And I guess in one way, Side A is about The Wolf, and Side B is about Red Riding Hood.

TK: Heavy Temple has been active in Philly for almost ten years. How have you seen the scene change, and how do you feel the band has changed?

HPN: The band that I was in before this one, that Heavy Temple kind of rose out of the ashes of, I found it hard to book smaller heavier shows. Nobody knew who we were, so I felt it was hard to get into that sort of like the baseline of where you want to be as far as bands who get asked to play in Philly. “Oh, you’ve never played here before, so you’re not going to draw.” But I can’t draw anyone if you don’t let me play there. But that could have been because I was not tapped in to the right whatever. But then after a few years of not doing anything and then getting Heavy Temple together, it seemed like there was all of a sudden heavy shows every night And there’s so many good bands, too.

I would say the evolution of that scene over the last decade in Philly has contributed to Heavy Temple’s evolution. I don’t think we would be where we are without the other people we play with, and the people who come out to support us, and it seems like that scene is so vibrant now, and so diverse, and really strong, as evidenced by that Live on Front show. All the bands sounded a little bit different, but everybody was super into it and really supportive, and that’s nice to see because it’s not always that way.

As for the band itself, this is the sixth lineup, I think. When I started the band, I wanted to play music that I liked, and find other people who liked what I was writing to play it with me. I’ve gotten lucky, for sure, being able to find people. But people move, our first guitarist moved to Seattle, and our second guitarist went to work for NASA, and our first drummer moved. You move, there’s creative differences, or you just want to be in different places musically, but I think this lineup is probably the best sounding lineup. We work really well together, this is the first lineup I’ve had where I’m not the primary songwriter, and I’m looking forward to writing more stuff with them. I feel pretty good about where we are right now, and having the time to play together during quarantine just…you know, we used that forced break to our advantage. It makes me feel good to know that we didn’t slow down. I mean, we did in a way, but we didn’t become complacent, we’re working on new stuff. The excitement is there still, and I’m looking forward to whatever happens next.

TK: The next thing you have is this show with Ruby The Hatchet in July at Ardmore Music Hall, which makes a nice Live on Front encore sort of, since you were the two headliners. What do you like about gigging with Ruby?

HPN: The first show we played with them was at John and Peter’s in New Hope, and then I saw them later at Johnny Brenda’s. But the first time I saw them and got to really pay attention to what was going on, I mean, they work really well as a unit, they sound great. Their live performance is awesome. And we got to go on tour with them a couple years ago; they were headlining and we were support, so we knew people were coming out to see them, and those people hadn’t necessarily seen us. So we knew we had to step our game up. And I think there’s a mutual appreciation: we shred super hard, and then they’re inspired by how hard we’re shredding, and then the next night we’re remembering how hard they shredded the night before. It’s a good working relationship. They’re fun to be on the road with, they’re really fun to hang out with. And Jillian has always been – and I think some of it is the camaraderie that comes from being a woman in music – but she’s always been really supportive of both myself and of Heavy Temple. It’s nice to play with them. It’s nice to play with your friends!

Heavy Temple’s Lupi Amoris is out this Friday, June 18th, via Magnetic Eye Records, and can be ordered here. The band plays a limited-capacity, 21+ show at Ardmore Music Hall on Friday, July 30th with Ruby The Hatchet. Tickets and more information can be found here.

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