Dunedin musician Julian Temple may not be as self-effacing as his band’s two most recent album titles, ‘Nowhere Fast’ and ‘Upsidedownbackwards’ would suggest, but seems to do little ‘by the book’. The former Californian feels always out of balance, as Amanda Mills discovers over a not-so-hot coffee.
Julian Temple knows a thing or two about coffee, and this one isn’t good, judging from the way he doesn’t touch it throughout our entire interview. It’s a sunny Dunedin Sunday, and we’re talking about the Julian Temple Band’s latest album, ‘Upsidedownbackwards’, released late in 2012. Temple and the band have just returned from a nationwide tour, which he says went well.
“I’m just kind of settling back into reality,” he laughs.
Julian Temple moved to Dunedin from Cayucos (kayak in Chumash Indian) in his native California. The teenage Temple liked the city, but was keen to return to the US. However, his dad had different ideas.
“He was quite cheeky… he really wanted me to go to school. He found out about the music course down here, and applied for me to go, behind my back! He woke me up one morning, and goes, ‘You have an audition with Graeme Downes in 45 minutes’.”
He auditioned, mainly to pacify his father, and was accepted into Otago University.
“There were 20 students out of 200 applicants, and I was thinking, ‘That’s kind of crazy’. So I came down and did music at university… the rest is history.”
As that story suggests, his relationship with music began early, his mother and father both musicians.
“My mum’s a Dixieland jazz pianist, so I just used to play under the piano. I’ve been writing my own songs seriously since I was about 12, I just picked up a guitar.”
His music is eclectic and genre-crossing and similarly his influences aren’t what you might expect.
“It’s funny, I don’t listen to music so much. Early influences are still my biggest influences. I actually get my fix while I’m playing music with these awesome bands… like the Alizarin Lizard boys, [and] the Left or Right guys are amazing. I think one of my earliest influences was Nirvana, and The Pixies, that kind of era, early ’90s. That’s when I… [clicked] with music.”
It’s not only grunge, though.
“I did always like… the little folk song writer in the corner, the little troubadour. That’s how I started playing music. I was the only one who could play the guitar at a party, at a bonfire at the beach.”
Defining his style of music is not as simple.
“It’s very blues influenced, [but] I don’t think that I play the blues as such. It’s real. We mess with so many different genres, that it’s not really one anymore. Some songs are country, some songs are jazzy, some songs are really funky.”
The Julian Temple Band formed in 2004, with other students from his Otago University rock course.
“We were just kind of cruising around… We’ve gone through a few different members. The same drummer is still with us!”
With ‘Upsidedownbackwards’ launched through Oscillosonic Records in December, the band has released four albums. Temple also has a solo album.
“The solo thing… I actually did that recording for a postgraduate diploma. I had to write those songs… I arranged them on paper, and I did the recordings so that the supervisor could hear what I was on about. Then I just put it out, it was like a demo.
“The process for those songs wasn’t that different… I just write songs. It’s different this time again with the violin. It’s really lovely.”
A recurring theme in Temple’s albums is stories of local characters.
“You get these iconic characters, [and] everybody knows them. I just got talking to them, actually asking them about themselves. I think they are more interesting than your average Joe! The new album has a character song called Baz – if you listen that song, he’s quite scary.”
The energy from the Julian Temple Band is always significant, if variable, and has stepped up again.
“That’s definitely happened with this new line-up. They’ve just jumped in, they’ve had so much enthusiasm and learnt the songs so quickly. The intensity that they bring… I’ve always been quite an intense person, so it’s nice to have that beside me as well!”
The band’s just completed NZ tour to promote the album, “pretty much went from Invercargill to Northland, though it wasn’t quite that straight forward.
“We got halfway up the West Coast, and the bridge washed out… so we ended up having to go all the way back around the South Island. 27 hours straight to get to the next gig! We decided to name it the de-tour!”
Touring is what Temple and his band love doing.
“It’s kind of why we play music. I don’t think we… play the same song in the same way twice. You actually nut out a lot of stuff on the road, which kind of sucks, because if you record an album, you rehearse it a few times, and you go out on the road, then the songs get way better!”
NZ Musician readers will be familiar with Temple’s solo ‘three countries in three days tour’, in late 2011, promoting his solo album ‘Nowhere Fast’, en route to his California wedding. (See NZM’s Feb/Mar, 2012 issue for his diarised account.)
“I started out in Tuesday in Dunedin, then Auckland on Wednesday, Sydney on Thursday, and LA on Friday, and then San Luis Obispo on Saturday… 29,000 miles in three days!”
There are more international gigs on the horizon, with plans to go to Australia and “…maybe somewhere like Berlin for a little while, and just tour Europe. We’d love to do that.”
‘Upsidedownbackwards’ is a passionate, polished, but fresh album, a move on from the Julian Temple Band’s previous three albums. The songs are immediate, rhythmically propelled and his vocals sounds looser on this record.
“The addition of the violin has really lifted the band. It’s not just a singer songwriter with a backing band. It’s… a band now – it just adds another kind of dimension. We play organic acoustic instruments, and we tell stories.”
The violin of Alex Vaatstra provides texture, echoing the melodies or colouring the acoustic-based songs with tonal dissonance.
“I’m all out of whack… and I always strive for balance”, Temple tells me. “I can kind of find balance in being completely upside-down-backwards! So that’s where the album title came from – just a line out of one of the songs. ‘Will you scrawl my name across the wall, upsidedownbackwards…’”
The album was recorded at the Attic in Dunedin, and in Vaatstra’s house.
“Recording was pretty amazing, it was all rushed. Basically we got a commission to do this little snippet of a song for a promo video for a coffee loyalty app. We set it all up because we do all our own recordings anyway, and I said, ‘Why don’t we just record a bunch of songs? We’ve got this new band, let’s capture the sound.’
“The first album we ever did was at a studio, but everything else has been at our houses. The second album… we went to a bach out in Purakanui. Yeah, [we] usually just do it on the cheap because you can.”
The arresting cover art was pretty cost effective too.
“I had my 7-year-old son do the artwork,” Temple says proudly. “It’s very abstract. I like to do the art. I’d mocked up about four different versions and I wasn’t happy with any of them. I had one of his paintings one day and I thought that would be cool.”
He’s keen to continue promoting ‘Upsidedownbackwards’, which impressively reached #7 on the NZ album chart in January.
“I really want to push it because we’ve got such good reception,” he enthuses. “It’s been 10 years or so since we started touring, and finally people are starting to come to our shows. We’re not one of those overnight bands, and we were really stoked that so many people bought the album on tour. The boys were pretty chuffed we got on the charts. We just sold a bunch of albums at gigs – just the old school way!”
Our interview wrapping up, I ask something more philosophical: why does Julian Temple write and create music?
“You know, it’s a weird thing for me,” he says after a pause. “I don’t know. It’s almost like a weird, psychological thing, but music is just all the time. I can’t get away from it… so I just, you know, don’t. I can’t really stop.”