Luke Temple is a Boston-raised, New York-based singer-songwriter turned musical alchemist. After releasing two solo albums of stately, Sufjan-ish indie-folk —2005's Hold a Match for a Gasoline World and 2007's Snowbeast— Temple has reinvented himself as Here We Go Magic. Recorded at home on a four-track, the songs on Here We Go Magic's self-titled album summon opaque, dreamlike atmospheres via layered instrumentage and warped magnetic tape.
Interview: 15 April 2009
When did you first start performing as Luke Temple?
"In ’99, when I moved to New York from Boston. I was focusing on visual art at that time, music was just something I’d tinkered around with. I got a four-track in high-school, so I'd been messing around on that, but I didn’t record anything properly until a long, long time after that. I spent years playing solo at open mics and stuff.”
What were those experiences like?
“Really nerve-wracking. My first performance ever was at this open-mic that was every Monday at the Sidewalk café in New York. It was really hectic: you’d put your name down, they’d pull names from a hat, and you’d get two songs to prove yourself.”
This is the anti-folk scene, right?
“Right. That was where that whole scene was birthed. When I first started going there, the Moldy Peaches and Adam Green were playing, Diane Cluck, Jeffrey Lewis. I was going there every week, and right at that time the Moldy Peaches broke, and brought that whole scene to the world.”
Did you feel a part of that community?
“No. I’d go there pretty religiously in the first year I lived in New York, and I met those folks here and there, but I didn’t feel like I was a part of that community. I liked the music, but my own music has been very personal for me, and I’ve never identified with any other musical trend or movement that’s going on around me.”
Was what you were doing then similar to what turned up on your solo records?
“Some of the stuff I was playing actually ended up on those records. I was writing a lot at that time, I was super-prolific. I didn’t really understand the mechanics of songwriting and I didn’t really edit myself, so there was just this huge volume of songs. Lots of those things just fell by the wayside.”
Things to be released after you die?
“Well, there wasn't a lot of archiving of many of those songs. But, I’m sure if someone was to rummage through my old, buried cassette tapes, they could put together a compilation of extreme rarities, stuff I’ve completely forgotten.”
Did Here We Go Magic arise from a definite idea to do something different?
“In many ways it was business-as-usual. I’m always recording, logging ideas on my four-track, and then I usually end up treating that stuff as demos, and recording the songs ‘properly’ in the studio, using the demos as preliminary sketches. But with this Here We Go Magic stuff, I realised pretty quickly that these were going to be the definitive versions of that music, and that I wouldn’t be able to capture the same energy if I tried to re-record it. It definitely had a different timbre to things I’d recorded under my own name: less narrative, less about my voice, more about the music working as a whole, the music as a sort of texture.”
What do you think was the catalyst for this ‘different energy'?
“Probably music I was listening to. I was getting into different stuff over the past year. I was listening a lot to Arthur Russell and Robert Wyatt, a lot to this Ethiopiques box-set. All that music is more linear, not as traditional in its form, so that was inspiring to me. And I really like Ariel Pink, also; he’s someone I was listening to last summer a bunch, right around the time I was recording this record. I really like his production value, that murky, really condensed tape sound he gets. That was probably pretty influential.”
What did you want to 'do,' so to speak, with this approach?
“I definitely wanted to investigate rhythm more, as opposed to melody, which had always been more of a focus for me. I was experimenting with different sounds, different timbres and tones, exploring this linear approach to song-craft. A lot of times I write with this very intense sense of structure, there’s a lot of little complexities, subversive rhythms and melodies, little tricks that you have to be more or less an educated listener to understand. I got tired of that, wanted to make music that was less challenging, more easily immersive; these simple songs that, through layering, had a sonic complexity, as opposed to a compositional one.”
Did you have to fight natural inclinations to do that?
“No, no, it was completely natural, more natural than anything I’ve ever done. I’m probably more proud of other songs I’ve written in the past —in terms of song structure, melody, lyrics— but a lot of those songs songs have been almost self-conscious. This time, I was consciously not really editing myself at all. It was reactive. I was just doing things, reacting to them, not over-thinking. I was trying to detach myself, my persona, from the music. Calling it Here We Go Magic helped make it feel that that was more possible.”
Sorry for asking the most generic rock-interview question possible, but, where did the name arise from? Why did you settle on it as, like, totemic embodiment of what you were doing?
“It was just a group of words I said to myself that I liked the ring of. There’s a hopeful quality to this music, to me, and a lot of mystery in it. I don’t feel like it’s answering any questions, but maybe it’s raising some. There’s a lot of possibility and wonderment in the music, and, to me, that alludes to this idea of magic. So, I just seemed like a fitting name.”
Is Here We Go Magic your main gig now?
“Well, it will continue. And Luke Temple will continue also. It gives me an outlet for both sides of myself. Here We Go Magic is coming from a different part of me than my more folkie, confessional type songwriting, but it’s definitely still a very big part of who I am, and feels like it touches on things I’ve touched on before. It’s more of an aesthetic difference than a personal one, but it definitely is different, and definitely feels exciting to me at the moment.”