Back in 2011, the wheels fell off The Peep Tempel. The three-piece, led by singer and lyricist Blake Scott, had just written a record: a vicious, rusted beartrap, full of songs about failed love, and sickness, and cruelty, and beauty. They’d picked the record label they wanted to distribute the album, had received the necessary paperwork, and were keen to get the self-titled debut out into the world as soon as they possibly could.
But a crucial contract got caught in a Gmail spam folder, and the record label deal never went ahead. As it turns out, that proved to be something of a miracle. “The label went south real quick, and a couple of great records from bands we know got buried,” Scott says now. A tragedy had been averted – according to Scott, had the record been a victim of the label going defunct, they’d never have made another one.
But things were still pretty shit: with the deal aborted, the album was shelved anyway. The apocalypse had been swapped out for a disaster; the end of the world traded for a genocide. It was almost like something out of a Peep Tempel song. Worse still, the band, agitated by the delays and uncertain of their future, began to doubt themselves. “The waiting was awful, especially as we had no idea what we were doing in regards to releasing the album,” Scott says.
At our first show, we had two songs – sort of – and played them over and over again for 30 minutes.
Not that the less glamorous side of the industry was exactly new to the members of the Tempel. Originally formed to fill a last-minute gap in a night of music at a Melbourne pub, by 2011, the band had been around the traps a bit – they’d released two well-received singles, ‘Thank You Machiavelli’ and ‘Fatboy’, recorded with the original lineup of Scott, Matt Duffy and Steven Carter. “At our first show, we had two songs – sort of – and played them over and over again for 30 minutes,” Scott explains. “We got quite the reception, so we decided to invest a little more into it.”
But it was Scott and Carter’s brief, interstate tour of Brisbane, conducted as a stripped-down version of the Tempel, that really exposed them to the harsher realities of the life of a touring musician; made them aware of the ugliness and the boredom that you won’t see on VH1 Behind The Music segments, or talked about in stuffy music documentaries.
“We played at Ric’s and did a gig in a lounge in Lennox Head,” Scott says. “It was heaps of fun, and helped reiterate how much we wanted to tour – but also how hard it could be. We had two bands pull out of the show that week. Trying to put together lineups in other cities when you are starting out is a nightmare.”
So no, they had no delusions – were unsurprised, if admittedly disheartened, when their debut went unreleased for an entire year. Nor were they particularly unprepared when, following the self-titled record’s eventual release, they went on the road as a three-piece for the first time, and found that having more bodies in the van does not necessarily translate into an easier time.
“I guess you learn how to travel together or you don’t,” Scott says. “Long drives, shitty accommodation, bad food, lack of sleep, anxiety, the physical exertion lugging gear from venue to venue, playing to the mixer… If you don’t kill each other through that shit, it’s onwards and upwards. I think we’re all considerate and respectful people, and we have always accommodated each other’s needs for the most part. It comes down to the band’s performance really – once that starts to suffer, everything gets magnified.”
And certainly the quality of The Peep Tempel’s live shows – the things they do when they are onstage, and the sheer, unrelenting noise they can make when their powers are combined – is something that has never once faltered.
After all, The Peep Tempel are, simply put, the best live band in Australia. And simply put is the only real way to talk about The Peep Tempel – the only way to get at what they have achieved over the years, and the strength of songs like ‘Carol’ and ‘Big Fish’. They are one of those bands that force you to abandon weasel words, and half-baked platitudes; a band about which you cannot fall back on the tropes that critics love. You can’t simply mumble something about them being timeless, or unique, or perfect – although they are all those things.
At the end of the day, when forced to explain the Tempel, all you can do is point the uninitiated in the direction of their music; all you can do is suggest people listen, and quietly, dramatically, have their lives changed.
Last year, the Tempel dropped Joy, perhaps their greatest artistic achievement to date. A gloriously misshapen, sunblasted thing, it was like Raymond Carver on acid, or Joan Didion fucked up on VB; full of songs that shot out like switchblades, and furious, scraping guitar solos.
Sure, it had its own distinct sense of meanness, and was packed with all the coarseness and the cruelty that had defined Tales, the band’s breakout release, but it had heart too. It was a record about spectacularly fucking up – about corrupt cops hiding out in the middle of the outback, and disastrous weddings, and transgressions of every conceivable sort – and yet more than anything else, it was a work concerned with transformation. All the record’s characters, no matter how grotesque, were granted absolution of one form of the other; all of them were changed.
“It’s a record I’m glad we made,” says Scott. “We took a very different approach than we had with the others, and we gave ourselves a bit more space. I feel it’s a display of where we should be at by album number three; a band playing well and taking some risks. It wasn’t a comfortable session, which was important, because we had to keep exploring sounds outside what we were used to make it work.”
And yet Scott deliberately didn’t overthink writing the thing. He just let it happen; just allowed it to pour out of him. “What I’m hearing musically usually sets the tone or theme for the lyrics,” he says. “I’ll usually spit out a couple of lines when we first run an idea, which will stick, then I’ll sit down and work with that theme. For me, it is important to stay connected to that initial emotional reaction you have to the sound of a song. I do find I leave the final edit for the last days before recording. It’s not ideal, but that’s when I seem to get more bounce and energy lyrically.”
You get the sense talking to Scott that this is the way that he likes to live his life generally; that he just submits himself to his art, and just lets it happen. Not, mind you, that he is totally without regrets. “The Peep Tempel is a shit band name,” he says. “It’s my fault. Thankfully, it works well in a Google search. Other than that? What a nightmare. I wish we were called ‘Mum Smokes’. That is the best band name ever.”
The Peep Tempel play the Bald Faced Stag on Saturday October 28.
Header photo by Ian Laidlaw.