Perfection in the Flaws: An Interview with Here We Go Magic
Here We Go Magic’s third album brings a new kind of clarity to Luke Temple’s agitated, rhythmic pop aesthetic, giving each element of the sound space to resonate. Temple credits Nigel Godrich with helping the band focus on essentials, showing them how to strive for perfection while tolerating occasional flaws.
"Now, with all the digital tools available, we can autocorrect the voice if it's a little bit out to tune. We can snap rhythms to grid. We can fix almost anything," said Luke Temple, the founder and main songwriter for Here We Go Magic. "We strive for perfection. But what we don't realize is that the things that make art the most appealing are the flaws. That's what's human about art. That's what we relate to."
Temple has been leading Here We Go Magic since 2008, and over these four years, the outfit has gradually evolved into a fully-formed band. Here We Go Magic's self-titled debut was largely Temple and long-time friend Michael Bloch. By Pigeons, the second disc, a full line-up had been assembled. But it was not until the long stretch of touring after 2009's Pigeons that the band -- now Temple, guitarist Bloch, drummer Peter Hale, bassist Jen Turner, and keyboard player Kristina Lieberson -- developed what Temple calls a "kinetic, almost symbiotic" relationship with one another, one in which they could hear, understand and immediately respond to whatever was going on in the music.
It was that seasoned, intuitively connected outfit that was jamming at Glastonbury in 2010, early in the day, before a sparse, straggly and mostly indifferent crowd, when the band's members noticed a couple of guys up front, dancing frantically and clearly enjoying the set. A closer look (Here We Go Magic members were a bit woozy, too) revealed that the two were none other than Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich of Radiohead.
Godrich became a fan almost immediately. "I was turned on to them by Thom Yorke while we were sharing a tipi at Glastonbury and was awoken by their opening set at the park stage," he remembered. "He dragged me along to see them bleary eyed and hung over. They gave an amazing performance for breakfast."
Godrich met up with the band after the show and saw them again several times during the summer. "I was inspired to try and capture what I had seen, something I found very powerful and unusual. They were up for it," he said. "What happened after that is a bit of a delicious blur, and ultimately came out being something else than originally intended. Nothing is ever as simple as its conception and this project was no exception."
Luke Temple admitted that he was, initially, a little nervous about working with Godrich. "At first, I was feeling pressure because he was this A-list producer and I put him on this pedestal. I was having a hard time feeling free," Temple remembered. "But then after we started working together, that went away pretty quickly, and he became a friend, and it felt good."
Godrich "saw what was the most important about us as a band and got rid of anything that was unnecessary," Temple added. "When we produced ourselves, there were always feelings involved. He wasn't worried about taking care of anyone's feelings, so we all kind of trusted him. So in the end, I think the economy of the record, all the space, I think is largely due to his effect, I think."
Most of the album was played live, but Godrich was especially valuable in augmenting these tracks with overdubs and ambient sounds. He is the one, for instance, who arranged the abstract sounds at the end of "A Different Ship", and in "Over the Ocean".
And, circling back to the idea of perfection, Temple said that Godrich also helped him to weigh technique against emotional honesty. "I get caught up in myself, not even realizing when I'm trying to make something perfect in an inappropriate way," Temple admitted. "Having Nigel there, having an objective ear, he was really good at sort of calming me down and saying, ‘No that vocal's really good. It has a lot of character. Let's just leave it.'"
"My vocals, for instance, on the record, they're not perfect," Temple continued. "I can hear a lot of times that I'm wavering. I don't think people really will notice that stuff. I think you just generally get the overall sentiment and the heart of it. And if the heart's not there, which by trying to make it perfect, and by squeezing all the imperfections out, sometimes, it gets rid of the heart."
Temple has been listening lately to albums like Neil Young's Tonight's the Night where technical proficiency takes a back seat to evocative power. "In those songs, the harmonies are so off all over the place, and the rhythm drags and speeds up -- it has all those things that people try to correct in the studio now – but that record is so amazing and it's so satisfying."
Temple explained that the relationship between humanity and its technological surrogates was one of the main themes that runs through A Different Ship. "It's about coming to terms with the world physically," Temple said. "To me, this so-called evolution through technology, where we are creating surrogates that are making all our decisions for us…It's de-evolution. We're erasing ourselves. "
"Lyrically speaking and also in the sonic texture of the record, there's an attempt to find a cohesive middle meeting point between human beings and technology -- without having technology completely overriding the human aspects," Temple continued. And indeed, the record combines moving, evocative human sounds with repetive beats, synthesizers and altered vocals. "Alone But Moving" put soul-flavored vocals into the foreground, with a mesh of repetitive, vaguely futuristic instrumental sounds in support, while falsetto'd "I Believe in Action", nearly submerges the words under a disco-synthetic staccato of bleeps and bumps and clicks.
Temple said that, despite occasional futuristic touches, his band made minimal use of technology in creating A Different Ship. "Everything is played. There's nothing really processed," he stated. "We're not using technology as a crutch to fix something. We were just using it as an additive thing, to help bring the music current." He even thinks that many of the space-age elements on the record sound a little retro. "It's science fiction in the 1960s or something. Like Kubrick. 2001. Like an old future," he explained.
A Different Ship's songs are sublimely ambiguous, bristling with rhythm yet also contemplative, layered to the point of iridescence yet also full of clarity, melancholy and celebratory, sometimes all at the same time. Given all that, it's not surprising that, when Temple was asked what he liked to hear in a song, he answered, "I like melodically for there to be a mixture of major and minor…happy and sad," he said, citing great soul singers like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson (especially "Billie Jean") as examples. "My favorite music is music that fills me with joy but also makes me cry at the same time. I guess, I want to be surprised. I like there to be some sort of turn where it's like a mixture of emotions that creates a new experience that I haven't felt before."