Interview: Tempers on the architecture of an album

The city sleeps. Sirens wail in the distance, a soundtrack for you as you stagger home late at night, exhausted. Shops normally welcome to passing pedestrians are shuttered closed and bartenders are kicking out their last patrons. As you glance above, curtains are drawn but the light from streetlamps lining the roads slyly seeps into unconscious bedrooms between the gaps. Although one window still glows. A cold, blue light fills the room and radiates out. Within that room is the setting for Tempers’ third album, Private Life, released in October 2019. As listeners we can only peer in, to see snippets of another life.  There is an exclusionary atmosphere to the album, aware that we are looking into another world from the outside.

This blue room is the album cover of Private Life, photographed by Elsa Bleda. Coming across this image was a happenstance half-way through the writing process for members Eddie Cooper and Jasmine Golestaneh and became the perfect façade for the messages they had to transmit. The album title lines the bottom of the cover as imagined subtitles from inside the room, enforcing this exclusionary motif.

Despite being a band based in New York, there is a distinct European sound to Tempers. Since their first release Services, it has been a dark-wave indulgent sound which has seen their popularity rise in the UK and in continental Europe. Ahead of their show at Moth Club in Hackney, I joined them to learn more about the two.

Their success in Europe likely also stemmed from their previous Berlin-based label Aufnahme + Wiedergabe. But speaking to them they told me it wasn’t a good fit. “There was always a disconnect between our presence in Europe and back home”, Jasmine tells me. Eddie jokes it felt like “Do we even really exist to you?”. I choose not to pry but being under the umbrella of NYC/LA-based label DAIS Records for Private Life seems to suit the two well. “Our audiences have really evened out between Europe and America since moving to DAIS and especially since the record”, Eddie mentions.

Tempers have strong connections to Europe. Having been raised in London before moving to New York, Jasmine’s accent is a peculiar blend of American and English, a description which could also be pinned to the band’s sound. It becomes quickly evident that the two are heavily influenced by Joy Division and Kraftwerk on listening to Private Life, but Eddie believes these creative influences impact him more fundamentally. “I don’t think it directly influences my creativity, but it does affect the way I live and what music does for me”, he says.

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To be an artist is to draw inspiration from all fields. Where Private Life exposes feelings of vulnerability and loneliness, their album Junkspace is the musical sister of a study of modern wastefulness in architecture by designer Rem Koolhaas. His 2002 essay is a detailed analysis of the anthropological trends that create “junkspace”, the arbitrary space labelled by Koolhaas as residue. He writes, “When we think about space, we have only looked at its containers. As if space itself is invisible… Architects could never explain space; Junkspace is our punishment for their mystifications.”

The design of the shopping centre is a focus in the piece. Particularly, American shopping malls are criticised by emotive and visual language for their “unnatural” arrangement. “There is zero loyalty – and zero tolerance – toward configuration”. He discusses the impact of corridors which have shifted from transferrers to destinations, “perfunctory dresses” and “implausible flowers”. The entire article is an artist’s cry against human nature, the intrinsic traits which enable architectural oversight.

In the world of the shopping centre where so many staples of real life are abandoned, Tempers nestled into this surreal world to create the concept album Junkspace. I asked them how the gloss and glamour of a shopping mall fitted in with their music, two atmospheres which I believed to be distinctly different. “[The album is] a critique of malls”, Jasmine explains. “In America they’re quite different [than in England]. They’re like suburban community centres. They’re not really that glamourous”. Eddie sees them in a similar light. “I think they’re probably intended to be”, he replies. “But then as capitalism takes over and destroys everything in its way, they start to crumble from the inside out.” Jasmine assures me the album is not a celebration of them. Her words drip with sarcasm as she cries “Bring back consumerism!”

Cooper and Golestaneh intended Junkspace to denounce the shopping mall. “We wanted to create an awareness of how the architecture affects you psychologically. Malls are designed to manipulate you into buying. You become dissociated into this fantasy land”. I ask whether the two were inspired more by Koolhaas as an individual or by the idea of the shopping centre. “We were inspired by the essay. In the essay, [Koolhaas] talks about the tropes of the mall, the escalator, the water fountain, the fake palm trees and how they all conspire to create that fantastical landscape.” I can tell Jasmine could discuss this for hours. “The way it’s written is quite poetic. It reminded me of French surrealist literature from the ‘30s, and quickly became visual for me.” The visual language Koolhaas chose enabled Tempers to write songs from the perspective of those anthropomorphised tropes, and some tracks off Junkspace are titled ‘Air Conditioner’, ‘Water Fountain’ and ‘Fake Palm Tree’.

“The essence of shopping is to eliminate reality as much as possible”. Backed by a deep, entrenching bass, these words spoken by Koolhaas blare at you at the start of “Love at the Mall”. What follows in this track is an experimental blend of xylophones and electronic sounds settling underneath Golestaneh’s breathy, otherworldly voice. Its music video is equally as hypnotic. Glossy plastic mannequins ride a never-ending escalator, passing fake trees and flamingos in an all-white landscape. Kaleidoscopes of people and shapes unfold in front of you and emboldened words drift across the screen like subtitles. You would be wrong if you said you’d seen something like this before.

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Junkspace and Private Life became two albums released in two consecutive years. I was curious to know what motivation lies behind such efficient writing. “For me it’s like eating or sleeping,” she tells me, “I can’t not do it. It’s like survival for me.” As Eddie wasn’t contributing much to this question, I asked whether the writing is mostly stemmed from Jasmine or if it is shared. “I’ll usually write the lyrics, but we do have this telepathic creative connection”, Jasmine says. “It’s really interchangeable. I wouldn’t say there’s any set role [for us]. We’ve known each other for ten years. At this point we don’t really need to say much. We know what works and what doesn’t”.

This creative link allowed them to write two albums, back-to-back. “We started writing Private Life, and halfway through we had this opportunity to do the concept album with Rem Koolhaas”, remembers Jasmine. “We plunged into this world [with Junkspace], and then we went back.”

Where Junkspace was written in the short time of two months, writing Private Life was a two-year effort, starting in 2017. As someone who also struggles with this, I ask how the two knew when the project was finished and ready to be released. “It took us a while to learn how not to overdo things”, Jasmine admits. “As soon as it starts to feel like labour, you should probably stop.” Eddie adds: “For me there’s definitely an architecture to the album, you know, we have this many songs and they each have this kind of energy. Is [the album] a structure that can support itself? Do we need another song to bolster it? When you feel it’s all held in place, it’s probably done”.

Through Services, Junkspace, and Private Life, Tempers have maintained their dark edge. Services leaned on their acoustic influences. Junkspace was a surrealist exploration of the capital of capitalism, the shopping mall. When I asked them about their newest release Private Life and how it differed for them, Jasmine had this to say: “It’s an integration of the elements that define our sound. It’s done in a really fleshed-out, well-considered, mature way.” “For our first album, we had a lot of those songs way before the album was released so we were living with them for a long time,” Eddie replies. “It felt like a collection of songs. With Private Life, it felt much more intentional”.

This is certainly true: Private Life is much more cohesive in the message it wants to tell. Haunting drums throughout leave you vulnerable and isolated. ‘Capital Pains’ is its most accessible song. In the chorus, Golestaneh sings “I don’t want it anyway // I don’t even want it anyway now”, aching for something she can’t have. Where Tempers shines is in their ability to crescendo so subtly and meaningfully.

London’s 300-capacity Moth Club was filled with their fans. If asked to define what their music does to you live, watch their crowd. Dimly lit shadows sway from side to side, dreamy soundscapes washing them over. Even in such a crowded place, their performance still manages to instil a distinct sense of loneliness. Golestaneh’s high-pitched voice contrasts Cooper’s deep instrumentals to make for a unique performance.

Tempers are the bad dream you want to remember and are currently touring the UK and Europe.

Interview and Live Photography by Byron Gamble
Cover Photograph by Sebastian Mlynarski

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