Shine on Mellow Moon – the Alfie Templeman interview

It promises to be a memorable summer for rising indie pop star Alfie Templeman, this talented North Bedfordshire teen’s debut LP hitting the shops this weekend, with various in-store and live dates marking the occasion.

The impressive Mellow Moon lands today (Friday, May 27th) via Chess Club Records/AWAL, and after a few listens I reckon there’s enough there to suggest he’s on his way to the big time. But don’t think for one moment this likeable multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter is taking any of this for granted. What’s more, he comes over as nothing but down to earth and humble.

It was only early days listening to the LP when we spoke, but I told him its quirkier moments suggested he’s anything but a passing pop fad, despite a canny knack for writing winning melodies and commercial hooks.

“Ah, cool! Thank you! I appreciate that.”

There are plenty of neat moments en route. Do his songs tend to be fully formed at the construction stage? Or does he noodle away with ideas and see them grow?

“Oh, I’m demoing stuff all the time. That’s my way of writing songs, just putting it together.”

He was demoing songs as early as the age of 13, and this 19-year-old is unlikely to forget his roots. He’s said before that his Carlton, Bedfordshire background has influenced his work. In what way? Is he one for driving around getting ideas for songs, or going for walks, thinking, ‘There’s an idea!’?

“All the time. I go on a lot of walks, take my phone, and if I have any ideas I memo stuff in my head, literally just hum it.”

Many of us would struggle to get down those moments, which often materialise at inopportune moments, such as killer melodies or lyrics, battling to store them internally then get home and work on them. It’s easier these days with phone technology, but it’s no doubt still a perilous situation.

“Oh, of course. That’s so true. You always get little ideas and can’t memo them, frustratingly thinking, ‘That would have been perfect’.”

Well, hopefully, in those situations there’ll at least always be the next ones to come along.

“Yeah, fingers crossed!”

Alfie released his first single and EP in 2018, recording in his bedroom after school back then, leaving a formal education after his GCSEs the following year to pursue a career in music, with two more EPs following that year.

In 2019, he supported Sundara Karma at Brixton Academy, going on to tour with Sports Team the year after, early supporters including influential BBC Radio 1 DJ, Annie Mac, with Alfie soon featuring on the daytime playlists and receiving ‘hottest record’ accolades on that national station, as well as further BBC plays on Radio 2 and 6 Music, plus Radio X, Virgin (where he’s performed in session on Chris Evans’ Breakfast Show), Absolute, and Apple Music 1.

In fact, Alfie’s already clocked up more than 140 million streams worldwide, his stock rising further through supporting Chloe Moriondo in North America. But when he started work on his debut album in early 2020, like so many of us he could never have imagined the turbulent path that lay ahead, for him personally and the rest of the world. However, it seems he’s reached the other side, in style, saying, “It feels like I’m on a different planet. I’ve gone somewhere new and I’m discovering fire for the first time.”

He began the pandemic shielding due to a respiratory issue first identified in childhood. Feeling ‘very low’, he sought help and started taking antidepressants to attempt to deal with anxiety. And while he’d not spoken out about his mental health before, he felt that to ignore such a significant moment in his life, having finally sought help, would be hiding something of himself.

“I think people assume I’m this easy, outgoing person, but there’s actually a lot more layers to me, and this record shows that. Writing songs like ‘Broken’, ‘Take Some Time Away’ and ‘Mellow Moon’ were like therapy.

“It was me asking ‘What’s wrong with me?’ and ‘How am I going to get better?’ and just figuring things out in real time. I had therapy but there were still things unresolved in my mind. So I turned to music for the answers.”

Across Mellow Moon’s 14 tracks, he aimed to close his eyes and imagine another world, one where he’s more at ease, not distracted by life’s many challenges, embracing honesty and moving past the fear of failure.

“I’m being really open for the first time about where I’m at mentally. Overcoming that felt life changing.”

Along the way he called on regular collaborators Tom McFarland (Jungle), Justin Young (The Vaccines), Will Bloomfield, and Rob Milton, the LP largely inspired by modern influences like Steve Lacy, Khruangbin and Leon Bridges, as well as Alfie’s ‘constant cosmic guide’, Todd Rundgren.

And he sees the finished product, his ‘most complete work to date’, as both ‘an intimate diary entry and a communal call to arms’.

It’s certainly a feelgood LP, full of smile-on-the-face quirks and upbeat hooks, with plenty of twists and turns en route, opening track ‘A Western’ getting us off to a breakbeat-drenched baggy, dream-pop start, at the same time setting the tone for the radio-friendly fare that follows. By contrast, ‘You’re a Liar’ is more bass-heavy and a steady builder, but again it provides a soundtrack for summer, Alfie’s voice sounding soulful.

From there we have the more outright pop-funk of ‘Broken’, while ‘Folding Mountains’ and ‘3D Feelings’ remind us that he loves to noodle away on guitar but is never in your face, the latter number another surefire heatwave hit and catchy as feck, complete with a big anthemic chorus.

‘Candyfloss’ and ‘Best Feeling’ are also insanely singalongable, and we’re still only halfway through, the wondrous single, ‘Colour Me Blue’ picking up where ‘Do It’ kick-started side two, a nailed-on hit, surely.

As for ‘Galaxy’, that’s more Prince-like, the shadows lengthening somewhat, his added Isley Brothers-like guitar again somewhat subtle in the mix. And then comes the sumptuous ‘Living Today’, somewhere between ’70s soul and early ’80s Respond fare.

Meanwhile, ‘Take Some Time Away’ hints at a ’60s film soundtrack and maybe a little Lenny Kravitz at his early career-best. Again, it’s super-soulful, but this time bluesy, and as mellow as the moon in the title track that follows. And what a track that penultimate number is, leading us neatly into a more Pink Floyd-flecked dreamy finale, ‘Just Below the Above’. Splendid work all round. Hats off to Alfie.

With all that in mind, what was the first act he saw live, or the first record he heard that made him think this was what he wanted to do with his life? Only it seems that it all happened at an impressionable age for Alfie.

“The first band I really got into were Rush, when I was a kid. I just really liked that kind of music.”

That’s interesting. It would seem at first that might be several light years from what you’re doing.

“Yeah, definitely.”

Is that still your ‘kick off the shoes and relax’ music, away from the day job?

“I think so. I still listen to that kind of stuff … all the time.”

Was that musical taste down to your Dad’s influence?

“I think the first time I heard Rush was because his friend was playing them. That’s what got me into it.”

Are we talking ‘Spirit of Radio’ time?

Hemispheres, man! That as well though – ‘Spirit of Radio’ is great.”

Are there specific artists you see and hear now and think that’s where you want to go next, providing that inspiration to propel yourself on?

“Yeah, I’ve been doing that with a lot of prog recently. Even Black Midi. I love listening to them. You never know what’s going to come next.”

Again, that doesn’t fit your label’s description of you as an ‘indie r&b’ artist, even though I feel that sums you up quite well. I’m more a ‘60s and ‘70s soul man, but there’s lots in that later field I enjoy, and for me there are winning elements of ‘80s and ‘90s soul meets electronica in your music. For instance, on ‘Leaving Today’, which might well be my favourite track on the album …

“Ah, cool, thank you!”

I get the impression it’s as if you felt, ‘Right, we’ve got the catchy, more radio-friendly singles out of the way, now the real me …’. You seem to stretch out more towards the back end of Mellow Moon. Am I anywhere near the truth?

“Yeah, mate, of course … for sure!”

Have I just blown your cover?

“Ha! There is a lot under the cover! And there are so many different songs – so many flavours going on – on this record, to be fair.”

Agreed, and maybe because of your voice, among the acts that sprang to mind for me were one you may not recall hearing, and clearly not first time around, The Questions, the early ‘80s band that Paul Weller signed for his Respond label in The Style Council days. And come to think of it, maybe you should try covering standout tracks like ‘Belief’ or ‘Tuesday Sunshine’.

“Ah, that’s interesting. I like The Style Council.”

I really like the title track, ‘Mellow Moon’, too.

“Thank you, that’s a highlight for me as well. That and ‘Just Below the Above’, the last song.”

I’m with you on that too. And is that right that you were surrounded by guitars, growing up?

“Yeah, a lot of guitars!”

And you learned to play upside down, as your Dad was a left-hander?

“Yeah. I had to get used to playing the other way around!”

As a leftie myself, I get that. I’m also reminded of past interviewee, guitarist Steve White, of The Bootleg Beatles, who to claim Paul McCartney’s role in that tribute act, dedicated himself to learning left-handed bass in Macca’s honour, but told me he loved to unwind playing right-handed guitar when not on tour. That kind of blew my mind.

“Wow, no way! That’s so interesting. So he actually got into a method of playing it backwards?”

Absolutely. That’s a hell of a discipline, isn’t it?

“Oh yeah!”

Talking of discipline, apparently Alfie can play 11 instruments, at the last count (recently taking up the flute), and contributes heavily with production and co-production duties on Mellow Moon, that full-length release coming after 2021 debut mini-LP Forever Isn’t Long Enough. All that and those boyish good looks too, like a young Neil Morrissey. And self-taught on everything but the drums, I gather. He’s clearly dedicated to the cause.

“Yeah, I mean, I was obsessed growing up with like, Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren, and stuff. I listened to their guitar playing very closely, learning that way.”

I understand you were recording and demoing as early as 13.

“Yeah … although some of that stuff was pretty bad!”

Have you kept everything?

“I actually have. I’ve tried to, at least. There is a lot of it that I’ve still got.”

That could make for at least a bonus disc on a box-set one day.

“Oh, yeah. One day!”

Did your dad play in public before you?

“No, never! I don’t think he’s ever actually done that.”

Well, he clearly inspired Alfie, who had his own guitar by the time he was eight. His sister is also a talented musician, playing trumpet and piano. I’m guessing he grew up in a house where all that was positively encouraged.

“My Mum played a lot of music in the house, but the main influence really was my Dad for music.”

There have been several recommendations so far from sections of the industry and pop music press. For instance, The Sunday Times’ Culture section calling him, ‘one to watch closely’, and Vogue saying he was ‘a soon to be international rising star’. He was also included on a 2021 BBC Sound Of poll and subsequently the BBC’s Brit List initiative, while making further tip lists with Radio X, Vevo, Amazon, and MTV. But again, he’s taking that with a pinch of salt.

“Yeah, that’s pretty cool … but it’s just someone’s opinion at the end of the day, so it doesn’t really bother me.”

You’re clearly keeping your head on your shoulders.

“Well, it is just someone’s opinion. It’s the same as any review.”

I certainly get the impression you’re in a good place right now. You’ve mentioned personal battles with anxiety and depression before. Is it your music, your family, your friends, or all those things that see you through when the going’s tough?

“Yeah, just all of that. Family, friends, music … and relaxing. Everything like that is very therapeutic.”

It must be a real thrill to have the album on its way. Reaching that next landmark stage must count for something.

“Yeah, it’s a big one. It’s scary, but also really exciting.”

You’ve had some prestigious support slots so far. Has that proved a learning curve, picking up tips from those you’ve played with?

“Oh, definitely, just in pacing yourself on tour and taking care of your mental health, things like that. You learn so much every time you play a gig or go somewhere. There’s always something to take from.”

He’s already completed a UK headline tour, including sell-outs in Manchester, Bristol, Brighton, playing iconic venues like Shepherd’s Bush Empire, West London, along the way. That must have been a thrill as well.

“Oh, it was so surreal doing that. That was the biggest one … ever.”

There have been positive reactions in mainland Europe too, notably France, Germany, Holland, and Belgium. Do you tend to get nervous at times like that? Or does everything kick in after a couple of songs?

“I was pretty nervous! You definitely zone out sometimes though. But I feel every musician gets that.”

I probably shouldn’t say this to you, but I recall a chat with Glenn Tilbrook in 2013 when he was talking about being on stage one night, suddenly distracted, wondering if he’d left the grill on after making cheese on toast before leaving home, losing himself mid-song, during ‘Up the Junction’, of all tracks.

“Ha! Oh, my God, yeah, that is such an on-stage thought! You can’t focus properly, then you forget your lyrics, and … oh!”

You’ve certainly got a busy summer ahead, with in-store shows, festival dates, BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend, and all that. Then there are those seven Australian dates supporting The Wombats (which seems rather apt, at least geographically speaking). A huge arena tour – that’s a big step again.

“Yeah, that’s gonna be … I mean, everything’s kicking off really, isn’t it? Crazy!”

Will that be your first time Down Under?

“The very first time! I’m really excited to go over there, have some fun.”

It seems like you’re building a bit of a reputation there, not least via plenty of airplay on Government-owned national radio station Triple J.

“Yeah. That’s like a dream in itself! I love that.”

And what do we get from you, live? Will you be fronting a full band?

“Yeah, it’s just us having fun on stage, basically. Amazing, just me and my mates.”

Is that the case with the LP? I mean, you seem to be capable of playing more or less everything we hear.

“That’s just me, but when we play live, it’s like, ‘Here you go. Here’s the song, do it however you want to.”

All in all, it’s not a bad life for a young North Beds lad, is it?

“I know, I’m so lucky!”

I think back to careers office visits at school, wondering what I could do, career-wise, perhaps not fully realising I could choose my own creative path at that stage. But you seem to have known where you felt you were headed from a young age. Did you always have that focus?

“It was always there. Then getting signed when I was 15 was like, yep, that’s kind of it, I’m a musician. I never really looked back … and I’m lucky to have that.”

Well, whatever happens next, you’ve made a cracking debut album, and I wish you well from here.”

“I really appreciate that. Thank you.”

But whatever you do, try not to dwell too much on what you may have left under the grill during a performance.

“Ha! I’ll try to avoid it!”

On the back of festival sets earlier this month at Liverpool’s Sound City Festival, Reading’s Are You Listening? and Brighton’s The Great Escape, Alfie Templeman is set for further May dates at: 26th – Banquet Records, London (in-store); 28th – HMV (in-store) and Dot To Dot, Bristol; 29th – Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Coventry, and Dot To Dot, Nottingham; 30th – Phase 1, Liverpool (in-store); and 31st – Crash Records, Leeds (signing only). Then in June he features at: 1st – Rough Trade East, London (instore); 2nd – Pie & Vinyl, Portsmouth (instore), and Vinilo Records, Southampton (instore); and 4th – Live At Leeds In The Park, Leeds. 
 
Dates follow supporting The Wombats in Australia, also in June, at: 9th – AEC Theatre, Adelaide; 10th – John Cain Arena, Melbourne; 11th – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney; 14th – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney; 15th – UC Refectory, Canberra; 16th – Howler, Melbourne; and 17th – Riverstage, Brisbane.
 
In July, Alfie moves on to: 2nd – Barn On The Farm, Gloucester; 6th – Mad Cool Festival, Madrid; 9th – Depot In The Castle Festival, Cardiff; 10th – TRNSMT, Glasgow; 16th – Community Festival, London; 23rd – Tramlines Festival, Sheffield; 24th – Truck Festival, Steventon; 28th – Kendal Calling Festival, Lowther Park, Lake District; 30th – Y Not Festival, Pikehall, Derbyshire. Then in August, Alfie reaches: 6th – Bingley Weekender, Bradford; 12th – Sziget Festival, Budapest; 14th 110 Above Festival, Atherstone; 26th – Big Festival, The Cotswolds; and 28th -Victorious Festival, Southsea.

For more details about those dates and Alfie Templeman’s debut LP, Mellow Moon, out this Friday, May 27th, visit his website. You can also follow him via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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