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Twin Temple: Sympathy for the Devil

Nov 28, 2019

By Christine Colby

Words by Christine Colby

Photography by Harry Eelman

Los Angeles’s Twin Temple call their sound “Satanic Doo-Wop” and bring fans onstage during their shows to take part in devilish rituals. But despite all the Hail Satan–ing and occult trappings, their sound is more retro-soul than headbanging. Alice spoke to bandmates and married couple Alexandra and Zachary James about their religious practice, being on the road together, and keeping rock and roll the Devil’s music.

In the past, you’ve been booked with metal bands and played the Psycho festival more based on the content of what you produce. Your upcoming NYC show is with King Dude and Amigo the Devil – kind of an Americana folk sound, very different from metal.

AJ: Totally. I mean, it’s kind of funny, I think because we’re literally the only band of its kind and we’re so unique. We can kind of play with anything, because it’s not really a specific genre, it’s something that we kinda made up. I mean, our next tour [in the spring] is with Tiger Army, like an old-school throwback.

ZJ: You gotta like evil, there’s just gotta be some evil shit. As long as there’s some element of darkness or macabre, it really works with anything…. This tour ends in December, and then we’re going to Europe in January, and then after that, we’re going with Tiger Army in March. 

Whoa, when do you guys get a break?

AJ: Never. Well, we signed our souls to Satan, so we agreed to do this in perpetuity, you know. Forever. [Laughs]

Does it make it easier or harder to tour all the time when you’re also a married couple?

AJ: I think it’s easier, to be honest. I mean, we’ve done tours apart and it kinda sucked. 

ZJ: It’s a part of why we put a band together that we could both do. 

How did you decide, when you started to work togetherto bring your spirituality and beliefs into the music?

ZJ: It was kind of like our final album, really. We’d done so much before, we’d worked with a lot of industry, and it never really felt good or worked out. This was sort of our last—

AJ: It was our “I don’t give a FUCK” record [laughs]!

ZJ: It was kind of an alchemical thing, really, because it was all these parts of us being synthesized for the first time. Before, everything was more compartmentalized, and it was like the music is one thing and the other is our own personal thing and separate. 

AJ: I don’t know, I guess we just had to come out of the broom closet! I mean, we actually did a series of magickal rituals to give birth to Twin Temple. I don’t know if you know the ceremonial magician Don Webb, but we’d been speaking with him and he recommended a trio of sigils. We charged three different sigils with the creation of Twin Temple, and we also performed a destruction ritual on ourselves.

Can you describe your personal interpretation of Satanism?

AJ: We use Satan as a symbol for non-conformity, individuality, rejecting the status quo, creativity, non-servium. We don’t believe in a literal Devil that’s running around, forcing people to sin, just as we don’t believe that there’s a God up above us in sandals who’s telling us what to do. We believe that the self is the ruler and that all of our actions have consequences. So, we have to be the deciders of our own fate, and understand that how we navigate this world is on us…. But we also are witches, and we practice magick, and in that case, it kind of verges into theistic Satanism, although we’re not really working with Satan as a deity.

ZJ: We’re a little bit of everything, we’re just left-hand path–affiliated. Thelema as well, we take from everything — Golden Dawn, traditional ceremonial magick. Any practice that’s going to serve our purpose, I don’t care where it came from. 

AJ: I think the beauty of Satanism is that there is no dogma and there is no doctrine. It would be completely antithetical to be like, “To be a Satanist you have to…”  

ZJ: “… read the Satanic Bible.” It’s a living tradition, and that was written a long time ago.

I think you present your beliefs in a much more feminist way than, say, the dogma that came out of the 1960s.

AJ: Absolutely! We’ve seen the birth of intersectional feminism since that time. Satanic Feminism is a big part of what we do. Inclusivity and equality for all people no matter what their background is definitely a large part of who we are and our message.

Do you feel that there are political reasons why Satanism and witchcraft seem to be coming more to the forefront these days?

AJ: I think we’re in the midst of another occult revival. When you look at it historically, anytime that people are looking for self-empowerment, they’re going to turn to the occult. Because all you need is yourself. You don’t need any authority, whatsoever. Part of the impetus for putting ourselves out there … was seeing the election of Trump and watching hate crimes rise…. It was important for us to use our platform to say something about what’s going on. 

I wonder if you think it’s more subversive to present Satanism and Black Magick through your sound then, say, Norwegian Black Metal.

ZJ: Yeah, we do! We know people who are devout metal fans, who grew up on Black Sabbath, and they say to us, “Why would you do that? That’s so evil!” And they’re like, well, you guys must be real. 

AJ: Rock and roll has always been the Devil’s music! Not because early rock and rollers were associated with the Devil, but this was the music coming out of people of color. Rock and roll was basically born out of blues and jazz, and the mixture of different backgrounds coming together in America. This was a predominantly black musical form that was crossing over into mainstream white America, and some of these people, like Frankie Lymon, were starting to get money and success and the old guard hated that. Frankie Lymon danced with a white girl on national TV and the show got canceled after that, like completely shut down. And there’s Fats Domino, singer of “Blueberry Hill,” getting attacked outside of his hotel room. This once was a music that was, in my mind, Satanic, as it was very much pushing back against the old Jim Crow laws of the South and trying to tear down all these really dated and racist rules that had been in place. So to us, like, we’re just kind of carrying on that tradition in our own way, and so in our minds, it makes total sense — but we also recognize that it makes no sense at all!

There’s also the legend about Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Devil at the crossroads, right?

AJ: Blues, early jazz, all of this was demonized because it was made by people of color. When white audiences starting getting hold of it, people were threatened…. When you have people coming together like that, it’s actually threatening and it’s dangerous. And we believe that rock and roll should still be dangerous!

heard that because of your deep love for vintage sound, you even recorded your album in a retro way? Can you tell me about that?

ZJ: Yeah, we recorded it all live to analog tape. 

AJ: Yeah, it was the most freeing experience ever! We recorded our record in a day…. We literally just played each song a couple of times and chose the better take…. We were just trying to capture the way the bands sounds, and the way our heroes have made records, you know? They weren’t auto-tuning or multi-tracking or any of this nonsense. So it was done in a day, and we mixed it in mono; some of our favorite records are in mono!

Do you have any plans to record again as Twin Temple? 

AJ: We need to be in one place! We always say we’ll write on the road, but the road is so grueling that we never really have time. Hopefully 2020, 2021, we’ll start writing and looking into making another record.

Do you have any tips for travelers or touring bands, for, like, packing or road food or anything like that?

AJ: Last time we were given a Tupperware full of graveyard dirt that lived on our dashboard, and I firmly believe that helped protect our van! And make sure your hotel has coffin storage, for when you need to sleep [laughs]. 

These tips might not work for every band, but I’m glad that they work for you! 

I’m curious about what you guys like to see in a live show. For each of you, what was the best concert you ever attended?

AJ: Oooh, we saw Ghost this year! And actually got to perform with them in Salt Lake, Utah, and I was so blown away by the attention to detail, by his performance, down to the lighting! It was diabolical. They’re one of our favorite bands around right now. We actually have been fans of them for a long time so we saw them at the Roxy then they first came to the U.S. and every show of theirs has been flawless.

ZJ: Yeah, Ghost was amazing. Behemoth was really great as well, you know, we just love theatrics, and when they’re evil, obviously they’re great. Aside from shows, we saw Faust in London this year, that was an incredible production. We just love theatrical productions. 

AJ: We’re just really bummed we’re missing Slayer. We’re literally like two hours outside of Omaha where their show is; we’re so close and so far away!

Is there anything New York fans should know to expect from your show at Bowery Ballroom?

ZJ: A lot of blood and Satan — and doo-wop of course!

AJ: And the Watusi! Hail Satan!

Twin Temple plays Bowery Ballroom on December 1, opening for King Dude and Amigo the Devil.

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