Name: Here We Go Magic
Progress Report: Luke Temple opens up about the band’s serendipitous new Nigel Godrich-produced album
Sometimes life really is a lot like a romantic comedy. I’m thinking specifically of that Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors (I apologize) or any number of Lifetime cable movies that explore that age-old idea of how your life might be changed forever by simply crossing paths with a stranger, missing a train, or being at the right place at the right/wrong time. Such is apparently the story behind Here We Go Magic’s forthcoming record, an album that came to be because two random dudes named Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich just happened to be up early in the morning at a music festival … or something like that. In any case, the excellent new album—a beautiful, expansive step forward from 2010’s Pigeons — is the product of a chance encounter that bloomed into a friendship that eventually resulted in what will surely be one of 2012’s loveliest records. Someone should make a movie about it.
I called up band frontman Luke Temple so he could tell me how it all happened.
STEREOGUM: So how did this new record come together?
TEMPLE: We had just finished our tour cycle for Pigeons and hadn’t really talked about making our next album at the time. After playing a set in Glastonbury to basically only Nigel Godrich and Thom Yorke. It was early in the morning as people were just waking up or were still awake and tired from the night before. There were a few scattered people watching us and then those two standing down in the front. So we met Nigel there and then we started playing shows in London and in France and he came to every one of them. Finally in Paris he mentioned that he was interested in us. He was sorta shyly offering us his services but wasn’t sure we’d want to work with someone like him because we generally prefer to do things ourselves. So we knew it would happen at some point but then it was a “his manager talking to our manager” kind of thing. Then Christmas of last year we found out he was available to work at the end of March. So we basically had two months to prepare to make the whole record. Because we were touring straight through the prior year I had no songs written and it was like this crazy pressure cooker. So we rehearsed for two months straight and I wrote twenty sorta mediocre songs. And we had our first session with him in L.A. I feel like because of the pressure I wasn’t feeling relaxed or inspired. So the bulk of that first session was for naught to some degree. There’s like two songs that ended up on the record from that batch of songs. Then we had a little bit of a break and I think he was originally thinking that we’d get that whole record done in that month but he realized I was under so much pressure and that we didn’t really have a shot of expressing ourselves the way we do naturally. So he set up another session for us in London with a little month break in between. We went upstate and demoed a bunch of new songs at my friends cabin. Then things started to flow really freely, like we knew him and I wasn’t putting him on a pedestal anymore. Then we ended up going to London for two months and basically recorded that whole record during that session.
STEREOGUM: Did those circumstances radically change the way you usually make songs as a band?
TEMPLE: The writing process was pretty much the same. I write the shell of the song, the lyrics and the melody and chord progression. But then a lot of times, the band have pretty idiosyncratic ways of approaching it so sometimes it will just by virtue of Jen coming up with a different bass line we will come up with a totally new direction and shift the song. By the end it is a collaborative process. I’ve worked with session players before and they just kinda do their job, but the way that this band thinks of the music and tries to kind of subvert it somehow it ends up becoming specifically something this band does. It’s always been like that, I think we spent the same amount of time on Pigeons but it didn’t sell as well as we wanted it to. I think we were feeling after this crazy year of touring — 150 shows and not having much to account for it at the end — we were thinking that this next record is sort of our shot, with this weird pressure in my head of not knowing if this band would stay together. Also this specter of Nigel Godrich working with us, it felt really exciting but also overwhelming. We never solicited him or could afford him. It was kind of just like a coup that just happened, but it was also really intimidating. I was having a harder time initially relaxing than when we were recording Pigeons. I think in the end there was a catharsis. I was so stressed out about it but then I just kinda broke down and some magic kinda seeped out. I think in the end, we’re all super proud of this album. It was a long and difficult process but it was all worth it.
STEREOGUM: It’s funny that this album would be borne out of a time so fraught with anxiety because the record doesn’t sound that way at all. It sounds so restrained and beautiful and spacious.
TEMPLE: Well, the majority of the record really happened in England. I take the whole arc of having to prepare, the LA sessions, the rehearsal in the dead winter of New York … it took all of that to really get to the right place. There was no grace involved until we went to London. It took all that time, it took like six months to get comfortable with him and figure out what we wanted to say. We wrote so many songs and whittled them down to the most communicative out of the bunch. Then it’s funny, it’s like beating your head against the wall forever with no inspiration and going through the motions. Maybe eking out three songs I liked in two months and then all of a sudden I write like a song a day when I’m feeling good. Most of those songs I’d come up with a sketch the night before or even morning and we’d track it that day. Most of the tracks the vocals are all live, first or second take.
STEREOGUM: Once you got past all the nervousness, how was it working with Nigel?
TEMPLE: All in all, it was super great. He’s just fundamentally an easy guy and became a friend. He’s very humble and incredibly efficient with his work. I mean, he is who he is for a reason. It’s like the same feeling I get when you watch short order cooks cracking eggs and the facility with their hands. He’s totally masterful. During the process some of his choices of what to leave out I didn’t necessarily agree with, but I think by the end I agreed with 99.9% of the decisions once I had perspective. That’s the job of a producer. They are able to have that objectivity and see the big picture, which I can’t always. I sometimes make the worst decisions how things are going to be perceived because I have such a subjective view of this music. And the band is only one step away from me in that regard, so they’re not so great at that either. Historically speaking that’s why people work with producers. They are able to see that general narrative that is embedded into the band that they themselves don’t see. Nigel is really good at that. As for the nuts and bolts stuff, he was very adaptable. The first session we had with him we were a bit uptight. We would do like twenty takes of each song in a row and it was always the first take that had the best vibe but inevitably we’d make a mistake and the vibe would get worse and worse as we got tighter with it then we’d reach a point of fatigue and crack and then all of a sudden you get that innocence back but you’re also like a machine. I thought that was a really interesting method he had, pretty old school. Even though we didn’t end up keeping a lot of those songs but like, “Hard to be Close” is one and “Miracle of Mary.” Then when we were in L.A. we were so relaxed it was only first or second take. We also had rehearsed the first batch of songs so much that we had a lack of spontaneity and most of the songs that made it on the record just happened on the fly. Mistakes were kept.
STEREOGUM: I love that. The mistakes make it more human somehow.
TEMPLE: The whole thing was kind of serendipitous. Right after recording Pigeons there were certain kind of sonic difficulties I had with it. It is a character of the record and you either love it or hate it that because of that. It’s very dense. I thought that the way we play live has so much more space, because we don’t use backing tracks. I was thinking and proposed to the band we do it as the band and not worry about making it so dense. I thought part of the reason why working at home stuff gets so filled up. Nigel is kind of a dying breed of real proper sound engineers, not just producers but real sound engineers. People take that stuff for granted. I was listening to certain records that I love and I was hearing the space between the instruments, which allows other things to exist on their own but also sound great together. I understood that we really couldn’t do that ourselves. We needed to work with a producer. The only two people I’ve done reading on and would feel comfortable with were Brian Eno and Nigel Godrich … then lo and behold we ran into him, which is so crazy to me. I was thinking about this space thing and he just does that. We did a bunch of overdubs but barely any of it was kept. There’d be ideas that everyone had their own egos attached to certain things and people would really want their idea to be in there. And he’d say things like “the vocal is doing something important there and there’s another element that’s going to draw your attention away from it. It just doesn’t need to be there.” And I would never think of that. I worry too much about people getting bored, which means you fill up all the sonic space with sounds that don’t always need to be there. He helped us get rid of all that.
STEREOGUM: Has the experience of making this record changed all of your feelings about being in a band together? For example, I was just watching this documentary about The Flaming Lips’ Soft Bulletin record. Before making that album, they felt kind of exhausted and there was this general assumption that they were about to be dropped from their record label. Making that record — not just the success of the record, but also the experience of making it — really invigorated them as a band. It was like a rebirth. Did making this new album feel that way for you guys in some way?
TEMPLE: I think so. I think this has definitely rejuvenated something in us. It will be nice to just play these songs since we know them so well. Pigeons had a lot more artifice in it. I’m sure there will be haters saying it’s a slick sound, but actually this record is much more organic. This album is just us. There was a lot of songs that we recorded on Pigeons that are great recorded but took a lot of concentration to get them right since they’re a little bit out of my range. On this album I made a point to sing just within my comfortable range. I was thinking about performing this music and having it be the easiest most graceful translation from album to live show. We’ve been taking a break and getting ready for rehearsal for the February tour. I think we’re all anxious to start.
STEREOGUM: So the rest of this year will be lots and lots of playing?
TEMPLE: Let’s hope, yeah! I hope people really like this record and it keeps us busy.
STEREOGUM: Has this interim period been a weird limbo time for you or have you been working on stuff?
TEMPLE: Yeah I’ve been recording, but it’s been hard. I’m kind of tentatively starting a solo album but it’s been hard to focus. This year kind of took it out of me a little bit. It never feels right to not be working for any longer than a few days — I have to keep the mechanics going. We’re going to L.A. in two weeks and then it starts. Then it’s just playing and playing. I’m looking forward to it.
Here We Go Magic’s third album will be released by Secretly Canadian later this year.