1:25 pm May. 8, 2012
The most obvious one is the way it was made. Opulence doesn’t happen by accident, and in A Different Ship’s case, that meant three months of studio recording (a relative luxury these days): one in Los Angeles, and—more crucially—two in London, with longtime Radiohead boardsman Nigel Godrich, in his studio.
The biggest shift in the group’s identity, though, is that it has a group identity. Well, sort of: Here We Go Magic began as a home-recording alias for one-time solo singer-songwriter Luke Temple, who’d issued a trio of albums under his own name before a series of four-track demos yielded something sufficiently re-nameable.
“I recorded a record that I thought at the time was going to be my next Luke Temple release,” he said over the phone earlier this week, “but there was such a departure from stuff I had done earlier, I decided to use it as a chance to develop a different name just to have fun with it. Because it’s ensemble-based music, I had to put a band together to perform it live. We got offered a tour pretty quickly after it was released. I think after it was finished and mastered and put out, it was only a few months before the band came together. I felt like it was a band the second we played together. It just seemed like it had kind of an idiosyncratic language from the beginning.”
Though there have been a couple of personnel changes, the group’s current lineup—Temple, guitarist Michael Bloch, bassist Jen Turner, and drummer Peter Hale—seems to have solidified. On A Different Ship, they sound watertight, especially on numbers like “I Believe in Action” and “Make Up Your Mind,” tense tracks with steady krautrock rhythms and vocal melodies that rise and fall like an EKG-machine readout.
Now that the group’s more or less in place, more a band than just a backing band for a singer-songwriter, I asked Temple whether the group’s chemistry altered his writing style.
“I do intentionally keep the [songs] simpler,” he said, “because it’s easier for people to find their own space inside of it if it’s simple. The way I respond to myself is different than the way like Pete, the drummer, would respond to me. When I record myself, if there’s any specific vibe, it’s very different from the band. Neither [is] better or worse. It’s definitely more powerful with the band—more surprises, because we can’t predict each other the way we can predict ourselves.
“I never write [songs] with [the group] in mind, but sometimes there’s one that feels like it would be a shame not to give to Here We Go Magic. There’s a few songs [on A Different Ship] that I didn’t necessarily write actually with Here We Go Magic in mind. ‘Hard to Be Close,’ that has a country feel, and the band really subverts that feel, which is pretty cool. The way that they treat that song kind of throws it on its head a little bit. In the end, it’s a hybrid that doesn’t sound like anything I would normally do or we would normally do as a band.”
Another thing Here We Go Magic hadn’t normally done as a band before was to head overseas to make a record. Where Turner’s own home-studio work tends to be a one-person operation, Godrich wanted to put a breathing unit on tape. To ease the travel, the group left their instruments home.
“We just used [Godrich’s] stuff,” said Turner. “There’s no shortage of toys. Nigel had all these cool vintage synths that you could modulate and twist and turn.”
A pitch-shifting analog synth adds an uneasy layer of cool to the jittery rhythm of “Make Up Your Mind.”
“That’s a first or second take I think,” Temple said. “We recorded most of this stuff live. Everything’s close-miked. That was the ’70s M.O.: carpeted, smaller studios, everything in its own little orbit. It makes it sound less live because you can’t hear the room in-between instruments, so it sounds overdubbed. But the feel—a lot of those records in the 70’s were still done live, and it’s that intangible. It’s the feel that you can tell when something’s done live, as opposed to overdubbed. Harvest by Neil Young has a very close-miked, dry, 70’s sound but you can also tell it was done live.”
Turner went on: “A lot of times when you record stuff live, you have to sacrifice your idea of perfection. To get that vibe is actually more important than something being totally perfect. We would do 30 takes in a row sometimes. The funny thing is a lot of times we’d end up just going with the first or second take. It’s hard to let go of a song after the first take [when it’s] been sitting as an embryo in your mind for so long. You want to feel like you’ve worked for something. But a lot of times, in hindsight, you realize after you’re 30 takes down that there’s a certain naïve quality with the first take. You get more perfect as you go along. You get tighter, you sing better, but the vibe suffers in a weird way because there’s less vulnerability.”
Still, A Different Ship is most resonant, at least for this listener, when Temple is psyching himself up and away from being vulnerable, as with “I Believe in Action.”
“Not moving doesn’t mean you don’t move,” sings Temple in near-wispy, heavily phased, multitracked harmony. Where was Temple when he wrote that line?
“I was sitting down in the control room,” he said. “It was, ‘I need the next line for this song.’ My lyrics usually just fall out. A lot of times it’s just free association. I feel like the best metaphors come that way. At first, maybe there’s a few awkward things that need to be trimmed but for the most part I just let them come into the [lyric], and if it needs a little bit of tweaking to make the narrative come alive a little bit more than I’ll do that. But that’s just an interesting thing to think about for me. You can think about that anyway. Everything’s always in flux constantly.”
The control room, huh?
“Yeah, these things happen in the most boring places.”