Here We Go Magic: TAS In Session
Here We Go Magic, which evolved from being Luke Temple's solo project to a full-fledged band, has lately undergone more significant shifts.
Work with Radiohead and Beck producer Nigel Godrich on A Different Ship, the group's third album, changed the band's own perception of its artistic promise and direction. Bassist Jen Turner recently departed the group, leaving Temple, guitarist Michael Bloch and drummer Peter Hale to continue as a trio, collaborating on the road with touring members Eliot Krimsky of Glass Ghost and bassist Brian Bettancourt of Hospitality. Despite an August spent, as Hale puts it, focusing on "barbecues and swimming" following a cancellation of some European gigs, Here We Go Magic launch a fall tour with Andrew Bird on September 26 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Several weeks ago the Brooklyn band, which opened for the Afghan Whigs in Australia late last month, headed north to the Bronx for a session at Studio A. Watch the videos of their strong four-song set of tracks like "I Believe In Action" and "Make Up Your Mind" and listen to the interview on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, August 24 at 11 a.m. EDT, also streaming on The Alternate Side's site.
A Different Ship is available now via Secretly Canadian:
Kara Manning: Luke, when did you Michael and Peter come together. It was really for Pigeons, correct?
Luke Temple: Pigeons, yeah.
Pete Hale: Well, we came together in the beginning.
Luke: But [Pigeons] was the first documentation of our union.
Kara: This third album, A Different Ship, has come out this year and has probably gotten you some of the most amazing reviews and feedback that you’ve had so far. It marks a real change for you as a band as well. The first you worked with a producer — and not a shabby producer, I might add.
Luke: Nigel Godrich.
Kara: Who has worked with Radiohead, Beck and Air.
Luke: And Paul McCartney, Sparks, a bunch of people.
Kara: We’ll talk more about Nigel, but I had to start off by asking you … you picked up John Waters hitchhiking? Back in May?
Luke: We were leaving a hotel or a motel [to drive to a gig] and we were getting on the on-ramp to get on the highway, about nine in the morning, and we see a guy holding a sign. Jen, who was playing bass with us, used to hitchike so she’s really sympathetic towards hitchhikers. She was like “Pick him up! Pick him up!” And we’re like, “No …” Everyone was tired and it was a full van. So we drove past him and we’re going down the highway. First our sound guy, who was driving, looks over and says, “That was John Waters.” I looked at the same time, as we were going by, and was like, “That was absolutely John Waters.” Everyone is like, “No way.” Pete is like, “Man, he wouldn’t wear that hat!”
Kara: And he was holding a sign? What did it say?
Michael: It said “To the end of 70 West.”
Pete: His hat said “Scum of the earth.”
Luke: We googled “John Waters hitchhiking” and all this stuff came up. He enjoys hitchhiking. So we thought the odds are that it might actually be him so we swung back around, pulled up and it was him. He got in the car and went, “Hi! I’m John Waters!”
Kara: Had he heard of you guys?
Luke: No. He didn’t know.
Kara: How long were you in the van together?
Luke: Like six hours.
Pete: From eastern Ohio to Indianapolis.
Kara: Did you talk about movies and things?
Luke: Lots of stuff. Iggy Pop a little bit. He talked about hanging out at Max’s Kansas City in the back room. Stories that we want to hear. We were asking him questions. Little inside scoop about Divine eating dog excrement and how they got the dog to do it.
Kara: Are you still in touch? Are you going to coax him into directing one of your videos?
Pete: We had dinner with him in San Francisco and that was really nice. Haven’t been in touch with him recently but I have a feeling we’ll keep in contact. He’s a very, very nice guy.
Kara: I’ve read that A Different Ship is not acquatic, but [in terms of a] spaceship.
Luke: Yes. I kept picturing in [Kubrick’s] 2001 when you have those long, slow scenes of ships docking, with classical music playing and space, I kept getting that image. Especially with a lot of the ambient stuff, like the in-between sections. That movie in particular, there’s a lot of ambient, in-between parts and then it switches to a narrative. Then more ambience. I kept having that image. So when I say “ship” I think of “spaceship.” There’s a song called “Over the Ocean” so I’m sure everyone just thinks it’s a sea vessel. That’s okay, though. They can think whatever they want.
Kara: Was this an image that came after the album was completed or did it inform the songwriting?
Luke: You kind of have your head so deep in it that you’re just dealing with nuance and trying to get that take. You can’t really see the big picture. I didn’t realize what the record was until it was mastered and I listened to it back in my apartment, three thousand miles away from the studio that we recorded it.
Kara: Taking a loop back, you were all at Glastonbury in 2010 and you’d gotten there late and slept outside ….
Luke: On a hill.
Kara: You had an 11 a.m. set which at Glastonbury equals hungover people.
Luke: We’d gotten there the night before to pick up our credentials and then we were going to go back to the hotel, which was a 45 minute drive. It was a beautiful day and our first major festival like that so we were excited. We were like, “Let’s hang out.” One hour led to the next and we [decided] to stay and see what happens. So we all split off and me and Pete ended up sleeping on a hill and Mike slept under the car. I don’t know where the girls stayed. But miraculously the next day we all happened to wake up, 15 minutes before we had to be at the stage, and we showed up at the same time. We played the show, felt kind of bummed. It was this big festival so you want it to be so great, but it was so early and we were all hungover. It was either people who were still up from the night before — so they weren’t much help — or people who had just gotten up with their kids. Everyone is swaying on their feet staring at us but there were two guys, up front, who were really enjoying themselves, it seemed. So you play for those people, whoever they are. On closer inspection, one of the guys I recognized as Thom Yorke. That got me really excited. I didn’t say anything to anyone else because I didn’t want to spook anyone, but I think other people noticed him. He was standing with another guy, but I didn’t recognize who that was. It was Nigel, but he doesn’t have a “public face.”
Kara: Were they dancing a lot?
Luke: Yeah. Feverishly. Thom Yorke just dances the way he dances. He had a top hat on or something. They came backstage and we met Thom and Nigel. We just really hit it off. [Nigel] kept coming to our shows and came to one in Paris which meant there was some effort involved. He has a house there, but it was kind of interesting that he showed up to a show in Paris. After that, he loosely talked about working with us.
Kara: Did you have any hesitation about it?
Luke: No hesitation about working with him. Nerves for sure, but no hesitation. Something like that … you have to grab onto.
Pete: I think there might have been some if we hadn’t had a chance to get to know him a little bit before that was talked about. I think we got a good sense of how he navigates interpersonally. It felt really comfortable.
Kara: Did he give you some kind of deadline?
Pete: No. He’s a really busy guy. We were on tour that fall and came back to New York in November and didn’t know what was going to happen next, but knew that he’d decided to work with us and it was going to be based on his schedule. What was going to be kind of in the middle ended up being May. We hadn’t really put much thought in how we were going to prepare for that. It was a cold, hard winter trying to get ready for Nigel. Make the dress, make the cake, put the roast in the oven and he comes over and he’s a vegetarian or whatever. We were going to go to L.A. on short notice; we got out there and it quickly became clear, because he’s a mellow guy, that he wanted to continue the sessions in his own studio in London. So we got a month of getting to know each other, working on stuff, trying out material, and then doing the lion’s share of the record in London, on his home turf.
Luke: It took me a minute to sort of knock him off the pedestal I’d put him on. We’d written lots of songs the winter before; we had over a record’s worth. When we went into the studio in L.A. it was pretty clear that there was an anxiety embedded in all of it. You could tell. So we ended up scratching most of that. He was sympathetic; he knew we were nervous. We were the small fry little band and it was a total coup to be working with someone like that. He understood. [By the time we got back to London] we had a rapport with him. We were in his studio which he really understood and its an intuitive space to make music in. In that kind of environment, it starts flowing. “I Believe in Action” was originally another song [and] we had tracked the rhythm section. The song wasn’t working so we put a different guitar part over it and it sent it in this completely new direction.
Kara: The first [Here We Go Magic] album reminded me so much of desert blues and bands like Tinariwen. Pigeons went somewhere else that was equally fantastic and this third album, working with Nigel, is different again, with more clarity and simplification. Is that true?
Luke: Yeah. I think it was serendipitous that we were working with Nigel because that’s his [modus operandi]. To work with a lot of space. And that’s something that I wanted to work with on this record, irregardless of who we made it with. I wanted to strip away. With Pigeons, it was this exercise in a wall of sound, completely pregnant, every square inch with sound. It’s very two dimensional; you can’t really penetrate it. I was interested in making something more three-dimensional, where you could be inside of it. That’s how [Nigel] works so it was a perfect convergence.
Kara: Do you remember when he might have pulled you away from overcomplicating a particular track?
Luke: All the time. He would let us do our thing; we’d go crazy with overdubs or whatever. A lot of the tracks are recorded live. A lot of the vocal takes, guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals — most — are live. And then we’d just go to town doing overdubs and he let us do our thing. Most of that stuff was, in the end, thrown away. We came back to what we did orginally. We’d have all of this ambient stuff laying around in between tracks, people noodling and not even knowing he was recording, intentional ambient sessions we’d do and he’d take that stuff from all over the place and weave it into songs. He’s a real master at that.
Kara: Did he do that with “Over the Ocean” at all?
Luke: He did. We did a different version of [that song]. It wasn’t working and then we decided to cut the tempo in half and do it the way it is on the record. We recorded that live and then he took stuff from the previous take and just fused it into the new one. He did that all over the record with lots of stuff. Some of the sounds; I don’t even know where he got them from.
Kara: Luke, you began writing songs quite late, you were about 25. You were a visual artist, on a fine art trajectory. What was the catalyst that took you from art to music?
Luke: It happened so naturally. Part of it was for finanical reasons. I moved to New York and I was working more than full-time and I was saving up to get a studio, some supplies and it was this inaccessible mountain of financial things you had to deal with to be an artist. I was waiting for that stuff to come together and in the meantime, you always have your guitar. I wrote a few songs and I went to this open mic night at the Sidewalk Cafe. People seemed to enjoy it and it went from there.
Kara: But you weren’t an anti-folk guy. You strayed from that scene.
Luke: Yes, that was the Moldy Peaches and Jeffrey Lewis and all those folks, part of that group of people. There were tons of people who would go there every Monday and try to play. The guy who ran it kind of had his favorites though. It was supposed to be a random lottery but it didn’t end up that way.
Kara: What songwriters inspired you?
Luke: I liked instrumental music for a long time and I think the first music that really affected me, with vocals, was Stevie Wonder. But it’s very unrelatable for me to try to do something like that. The first music that got me interested in writing songs was the David Bowie record Hunky Dory. “Life on Mars” blew me away. And then I retroactively started to get into the Beatles, Neil Young, Dylan and all of these people that I’d taken for granted.
Kara: Is there a particular band that you’ve toured with that’s helped you coalesce as a band in a live setting?
Michael: I think there’s been a couple of really good experiences. The first big tour that we did was with Grizzly Bear and that was trial by fire. We didn’t know anything about playing [those kind of venues]. We didn’t have a sound guy with us. We weren’t really prepared, so that whipped us into shape as a live band really quickly. Our experience with Broken Social Scene was probably the most special. Their camaraderie and their energy night after night on stage, their love for their audiences and what they do was really inspiring.