Interview: Twin Temple
A lot of people ask us how we became Satanists, but in our opinion, you don’t ever really "become" one. I feel like I was born a Satanist and that all Satanists are born into it. It really encapsulates a pretty specific set of core values and a certain way of viewing the world.
Bound in unholy matrimony and devoted to spreading the dark gospel of God’s great Adversary, the duo known as Twin Temple may not sound the way your local church describes the ever-so-dreaded “Devil’s music”. Sure, your old pal Satan may thrive on the sounds of strident, distorted guitars and thunderous blast-beats of modern extreme metal, but one mustn’t forget that the Dark Lord occasionally does like switching up his listening habits from time to time. As you may know, having a restless job does not exclude you from maintaining an eclectic interest in music. Formed in the City of Angels, Twin Temples’ freshly re-released debut record definitely holds a special place in the Devil’s hot record collection, as its ten songs harken back to a timeless love for good old-fashioned doo-wop. The bands’ album title, Twin Temple (Bring you their Signature Sound Satanic Doo-Wop), is as transparent as it gets in its throwback to a time when blasphemous hip-thrusting dances and the backbeat-accented rhythms of rock ‘n’ roll first took the world’s youth by storm. On their first tour on European soil, Twin Temple marked a stop next door to the Moulin Rouge. and were kind enough to take us backstage for a quick chat about Satan and rock ‘n’ roll before their first dark mass in the French Bohemian capital. Not the worst way to spend a Wednesday afternoon, by any stretch.
(((o))): First off, can you introduce yourselves along with the band?
AJ: I’m Alexandra James!
ZJ: And I’m Zachary James!
AJ: And the band that we have playing with us tonight is Robin Ryder on the drums, Jeffrey Howell on keys, Aaron Orbit on bass and Kyle O’Donnell on sax.
(((o))): I understand that you come from the punk scene. Given that you’ve released your first record as Twin Temple, was there any challenge in switching over the musical register to doo-wop? Let’s face it, doo-wop isn’t the most common music style at the moment.
AJ: [Laughs] Not really. We grew up listening to classic Fifties and Sixties rock ‘n’ roll. Funnily enough, that’s actually why we got into punk rock. If you listen to the Ramones or the Misfits, it’s essentially the same classic chord progressions from the fifties, only through a distorted, aggressive filter. I grew up loving Elvis and the Beatles, as a little girl, and I was also trained classically. I remember listening to the Ramones ‘I wanna be your Boyfriend’, and hearing the classic fifties progression in the five chords. That’s when I realized that I could write music with only a few chords, as long as I had something to say. That’s how I basically got into punk. I probably wanted to be like the Beatles but I couldn’t write like them. Punk rock was a place to start. Not that punk is any ‘easier’ to write, it can be complex in its simplicity. It simply didn’t seem so “far away”, to me. It wasn’t really a stretch for us to move to doo-wop since we’ve grown since those punk days and gotten closer to sounding like the old records that we always loved.
(((o))): You work as a duo but your recordings feature full-band arrangements. How do you typically proceed to write and arrange your songs?
ZJ: It’s a little different every time, but for the most part we have a little “system”.
AJ: I’m like Bernie Taupin.
ZJ: So that means I’m Elton John? [Laughs]
AJ: I pretty much write all of the lyrics and the vocal melodies and Zach handles pretty much all of the arrangements.
ZJ: Once we have a bulk of the vocals, we sit down and start tweaking each other’s stuff before we start demoing and presenting parts to the rest of the band and editing it from there.
AJ: Every song is a little bit different. Sometimes Zach will bring me a song he’s written on guitar and I’ll go write stuff over it. Other times I have the whole song written, vocal melodies and lyrics, and we’ll start playing with arrangements from there. For the most part, however, we find that each having our own department over a certain creative aspect works really well for us.
(((o))): The production of the songs also plays an important role in recreating the doo-wop style. The album has an amazing authentic old-school sound production, which sounds like it was recorded on tape. Can you tell us a little more about the recording of these songs and your quest for the Twin Temple ‘sound’?
ZJ: We recorded it all live unto tape. We only did a couple of takes. It took a day to do the whole album and half a day to mix it.
AJ: Yeah! [Laughs] The same way Black Sabbath did it, too.
ZJ: We chose Johnny Bell because his recording studio had a lot of analogue gear.
AJ: And he’s got pictures of Elvis and RCA Studios all over the studio.
ZJ: He has some vintage gear that is specifically from the late Fifties and the early Sixties, which is what we were looking for. Another reason why this sound carries over is the actual music and the parts we write. All of that is being thought about, all the way through from the beginning.
AJ: We also mixed it in mono, which nobody does anymore. I actually like the way records sound in mono better, sometimes! I love that sound.
ZJ: Well, it depends on the record, but for the kind of stuff we’re doing, mono is the way to go.
AJ: I don’t know if any current records I know of are being mixed in mono.
ZJ: We’re the first Satanic mono record!
AJ & ZJ: [Laughs]
AJ: Johnny Bell was telling us about the fact that all of the bands come in and want to sound vintage, only they don’t write vintage “parts”.
ZJ: It’s a modern song, but they expect it to sound old because they’re in a vintage studio and they record on tape. It’s far more than that.
AJ: It starts with the writing as well. Obviously, we wanted to pay homage to all of our favourite artists that recorded just live, with one microphone in the room. . .
ZJ: . . .plugged into a Fender with a bunch of reverb. Everything was period correct, for the most part.
AJ: I think you can actually hear Robin’s drums fall over in the background on one song. That’s the kind of stuff I love, you know? I feel like nowadays, music is so steam-rolled with autotune and multi-tracking. It takes the feeling out of it. I’ve done records where I’ve overdubbed the vocals, and it’s so unsatisfying. You’re in this aquarium ball and your whole band is staring at you and you’re singing your parts over and over again. It sucks the life out of it. It’s way more fun to just have a few takes and to have to step it up. It’s more challenging for me. Even my vocals have some parts where I stumble for a bit. We’re about capturing the moment and the individualism of all of the players.
(((o))): So this is something you are going to stick to.
AJ: Yeah, I don’t think I could ever go back to overdubbing vocals. It’s just so soulless and it’s really not fun for me.
ZJ: I think, at most, we might record the core elements live and then maybe add a little bit of stuff afterwards.
AJ: Actually, we lie, because we did actually overdub the background vocals! Because we did them and we obviously couldn’t do it all at once. But that was it.
(((o))): Satanism plays a big role in the band’s music as well as your personal lives. How did you first come across it and initiated into its philosophy and practice?
AJ: A lot of people ask us how we became Satanists, but in our opinion, you don’t ever really “become” one. I feel like I was born a Satanist and that all Satanists are born into it. It really encapsulates a pretty specific set of core values and a certain way of viewing the world. It’s like being asked how you become the type of person who really values individualism, free will, pushing back against societal norms and revelling in subversion and transgression. You feel like an outsider and you enjoy donning the vestments of the adversary. . . It’s such a complex type of identity that I’m not really sure that you can simply become it. It’s more about realizing that’s who you are. I think that was the case with us.
Growing up as a first-generation mixed-race woman in America, I had a family that wasn’t like every other family. I got my first death at age six: we had a really racist neighbour who didn’t like that my dad was Korean and that he was with a British woman. I remember him screaming racial epithets over the fence and me having to ask my dad what they meant. At a very young age, it clicked that I wasn’t like everybody else and I felt like an outsider, but I was very lucky because I discovered art, poetry and music as a way to harness all of that stuff. Getting into art, I felt that pull towards expressing myself. Later on, I started discovering witchcraft, the occult and magick as another way, besides art, to self-empowerment, to feel in control of my own life, will and destiny.
Do you remember the first ‘contact’?
AJ: Funnily enough, I really liked going to the library as a little kid, and my library had a small “Occult/Witchcraft” section. I think it was mostly Wicca-related books, which didn’t fully resonate with me, but I got the basics of Witchcraft down. I loved all of that stuff. I started reading Lord of the Rings and stuff like that, and there are some magical ideas in there with the runes and whatnot. It just developed organically. I’m not sure where it specifically came from, really.
(((o))): How about you, Zach?
ZJ: I’ve just always been drawn to the “other”, the dark side of things. For example, when I found out about bands like the Misfits I got sucked into the whole thing without knowing why. You sometimes ask yourself why you’re drawn to certain things and somehow I’ve always been into the occult and symbols. It just resonated with me. As I read into it, I started to realize that there were other people out there that are the same way. You get a whole way of explaining it, a whole new set of terms. It’s pretty natural. I was always into weird shit! [Laughs]
(((o))): One could say that you’ve been “adopted” by the metal scene, as it is more accustomed to the imagery and subject matter you put forward. Before this happened, did you ever run into some audiences or artists who’ve had a surprising, perhaps unpleasant reaction to your music?
AJ: All of the above!
ZJ: People are shocked at every show, metal crowds alike.
AJ: For example, Tiger Army was kind enough to ask us to support them for two nights at the Ace Theatre – it was our tenth or eleventh show as a band and our first show in a real theatre – and a couple of songs into one of our shows, we had a woman run out with her daughter, screaming at the top of her lungs “What is this??!! What am I seeing??”. She was scared for her and daughter’s souls. It caused a whole ruckus. [Laughs]
ZJ: The manager of the theatre came down and told us the story. We were waiting for his response to it and he was like “It’s fucking awesome!” [Laughs]. He was stoked!
AJ: We also got a feature piece in the art section of the L.A. Times, which got picked up by Alex Jones, who said that we turned ourselves over to pure evil. He talked about all of this crazy stuff on his show and that, in turn, got picked up by these Christian extremist hate groups. We got doxed. We woke up one morning and our inbox was full of death threats. Our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles were completely flooded with hateful comments. We ended up deleting our personal Facebook accounts because there was so much to wade through that we just couldn’t deal with it. Our personal info was also on there, so we preferred to delete them. The part that is upsetting is that they were going on there, harassing our friends from the LGBTQ+ community, which is a community that we embrace and that has embraced us in return. The hate comments weren’t only directed towards us but also to our fans, which was really upsetting to me. There’s been a lot of crazy stuff that’s happened. We did this tour with Uncle Acid last month through the South and we weren’t sure how it would be in the Bible Belt. The rest of the band were a bit . . . nervous, but interestingly enough the crowds were really into it! They were just as enthusiastic as any other crowd.
ZJ: Perhaps even more!
AJ: That’s true. A lot of fans came up to us after the show to tell us that they’ve had faith shoved down their throats for so long and that it felt great to scream “Hail Satan!” at the top of their lungs. It felt really off-limits and taboo to them. They enjoyed it! [Laughs]
(((o))): Have you ever had trouble with being turned down by venues or promoters?
ZJ: Not our performances, no.
AJ: We’ve had certain elements, obviously, that we can’t always do. We did a nude ritual on Halloween, which we can’t always do. A lot of the problems we’ve encountered were with the pressings of our album, which features the tiniest female-identifying nipple on it. It was amazing. We had to go through four different print houses just to get it printed. We had to go through three different distributors and call a bunch of people to make all of these arrangements to push the tiny nipple through. It was ridiculous.
(((o))): Etymologically, Satan and thus Satanism derives from a word meaning “the Adversary”, as it represents the symbol for the counterpart to the Christian God. Doesn’t this affiliation with these symbols run the risk of offending, even warding off well-meaning Christians?
AJ: I always find it funny when people call attention to the fact that Satan is supposedly the antithesis to God. Historically, Satan was a really minor character in the Bible. The first time you really saw “popular culture” representations of Satan were in the early Mystery Plays, which were like the precursors to modern theatre. Satan was a clown, basically! He was what you would see in a modern-day circus. He would do acrobatics, people would cheer, he’d steal people’s hats. . . he was a fun, silly, loveable trickster. He wasn’t what he, or should I say they are today. I say “he” because Satan is referred to as such in the Bible. For a while, the Church was really trying to stamp out the idea of an equal power because it’s completely blasphemous to think that there’s an entity that’s equal to God. For a long time, it was actually completely blasphemous and the Church was trying to get rid of this belief.
You saw it during the early modern-period with the rise of capitalism and colonialism. You saw colonial powers going into the rest of the world, trying to oppress, suppress and enslave the races that they encounter, and the tools that they use was this idea of “Satanism”. They called every indigenous culture Satanic. There never really was a huge role for Satan within the Church or popular culture until that started coming about. The Mayans were Satanic. Native American traditional dances? “Devil-Worship”. Salem? “Devil-worship”. If you look into the actual history of Satan, you’ll find a lot of reasons to understand that it’s not a symbol for “evil”. [Laughs]
So to answer your question: no, we’re not afraid because I think that, as a practice, we try to eliminate fear from all aspects. Obviously, a healthy dose of fear is good if a lion is in front of you, about to bite your head off, but in terms of expressing our will, fear has no place. There’s a practice in Magick where a magician will purposely encode a “Blind” to keep the uninitiated out. Certain Magick and certain concepts are not for everyone. Satanism is one of those things where, to the uninitiated, to the close-minded, to the ignorant and to those who are afraid, it will keep those people out. So no, we’re not afraid. Hail Satan! [Laughs]
(((o))): If you could dispel some misconceptions about Satanism, what would they be?
AJ: We don’t hate everyone.
ZJ: Satan is not a man.
AJ: We don’t drink babies’ blood.
ZJ: We don’t acquire our blood from abortion clinics, as someone said. [Laughs]
AJ: We don’t receive our powers from the Dark Lord. We’re self-created. We practice. A lot!
(((o))): Could you recommend a book or any other resource as a starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about this subject?
ZJ: Any writing on the Greater Left-Hand-Path. That’s what Satanism is part of, really. There’s a lot of variations of that: Thelema, Luciferianism, even part of the Theosophical Society had a Left-Hand hand to it. . . There’s a lot of stuff out there, but any broad search on Left-Hand-Path writing should do. What I enjoy and what Alex enjoys is completely different, for instance.
AJ: That’s the beauty of it. It’s very individual.
ZJ: It’s a living tradition to be interpreted. There are a lot of great modern books, too. Eliphas Levy and Crowley can be pretty difficult to read, but there’s definitely a lot of good modern writers that are easier to approach: Stephen Flowers, Don Webb, Donald Michael Kraig. . . It depends if you’re talking about the philosophy of Left-Hand-Path or the Magickal practice. It’s really funny to see the modern representations compared to what you’d find back in the day. You’d have these huge books or stuff that wasn’t even written down, whereas now you can just find all of this information in a little 50-page paperback at Barnes & Noble [Laughs]. It’s wild!
(((o))): Finishing off: can you name one of your favourite albums, movies and books?
ZJ: Movie-wise, The Devil Rides Out.
AJ: I’ll go with Mask of Satan. One book that really inspired me recently is Satanic Feminism. Per Faxneld basically compiled this whole compendium of Satanism, feminism and self-empowerment through the ages.
ZJ: I’ll go with Strange Angel, Jack Parson’s biography. That was great.
AJ: Only one record? We’re obsessed with Del Shannon, for example.
ZJ: Runaway with Del Shannon.
AJ: What you’re basically getting is what we’re listening to right now.
ZJ: The Phil Spector Collection. It’s got a boring title but it’s a great album [Laughs]. We could go on forever. . .
AJ: What about Ray Orbison? Buddy Holly?
ZJ: This is a loaded question. We’re never going to get out of here. . . [Laughs]
AJ: The Penguins!
ZJ: I’m just going to stop. . .
AJ: And how could you forget about the Teddy Bears!!
ZJ: The new Uncle Acid album too!
AJ: Anton Lavey’s The Satanic Mass. We’ve got a couple of his albums on vinyl and they’re so good! I also really like that Black Widow record. . . Okay, we’ll stop!
ZJ: Hail Satan!
AJ & ZJ: [Laugh]