From Robert Johnson to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, from Jimmy Page to Slayer, Satan has always been a rock ‘n’ roller, and his new favorite band—and soon to be yours—is undoubtedly Twin Temple. The Los Angeles husband and wife duo of Alexandria and Zachary James are non-conformist, practicing Satanists with an affinity for doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll of the early fifties and sixties. Their debut album, Twin Temple Bring You Their Signature Sound…. Satanic Doo-Wop, is packed with vintage sounds and plenty of sass: they take aim at everything to patriarchal societies to narrow interpretations of sexuality, and more.
Recently, AQ spoke with Alex and Zach while they were in Milwaukee, currently on tour in support of their latest release.
It’s great to chat with you guys. I love your debut record.
AJ: Aw, thank you…. We appreciate it.
How did you both meet and how did you guys form the band together?
ZJ: We met at a punk rock show. We met through the punk scene. We both had bands. We were playing shows together and then it kind of just grew from there.
AJ: Many moons ago.
ZJ: We started playing [in] each other’s bands and then that turned into co-writing with one another and it just kind of was like, ‘Okay, it’s time to do something together.’
AJ: Yeah. We performed a destruction ritual in 2016 and destroyed our previous incarnations and Twin Temple was the magical child that was birthed out of that ritual.
Wow— that’s heavy, for sure. And this was in Los Angeles, right?
AJ: L.A. just has so much cool musical history and occult history and I think we probably wouldn’t be in the band if we were in a different city, to be honest…. It’s like the land of like Jack Parsons and Lowrider doo-wop music.
ZJ: And Gold Star studios, you know?
Absolutely. I’m glad you mentioned that because I was curious how you both came to be influenced by doo-wop, old soul music, and early rock ‘n’ roll. When did that come into your lives and begin to really embrace that?
AJ: I mean, when I was a little kid, one of the first cassettes I ever bought was Elvis’ Golden Records. Just as a little kid, that’s just sort of the first thing I gravitated towards. I love the Beatles. I love rock ‘n’ roll. I love Freddie Mercury, you know? And I just fell in love with it at a really early age, so I have just loved it my entire life, really.
Cool. And Zach, for you?
ZJ: Yeah, I mean it was almost the same thing. I got tuned in and turned on to rock ‘n’ roll at an early age through my parents, and whatnot. Then I got into punk rock and started playing music then. Punk rock that was released in the seventies, they were doing their interpretation of fifties [rock ‘n’ roll], as they grew up on it, and then as soon as they were in their twenties, they started their own band. So, I feel like it’s kind of always been the seed of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s always been that kind of fifties, early-sixties spirit.
Gotcha. You know, some of the arrangements on your debut LP are really sophisticated and I was just curious, how do you guys go about writing, and what does that process look like together for the both of you?
AJ: Every song is a little bit different, but it’s a very collaborative process. But, at the same time, Zach and I kind of have areas that we focus on.
ZJ: We both have strengths, but we both have things to add into all areas and all fields.
AJ: Yeah, for the most part, all of the lyrics and melodies are written by me and then arrangements and stuff [are written] by Zach. But it really depends! Sometimes Zach will have a song finished on guitar and I’ll go in and tweak the lyrics and melody. Other times I have the whole lyrics and melody written out for a song and then Zach will go in and just kind of put some music under it. It really, really, really depends. A lot of times when it is finished, we’ll both go back in and kind of tinker with it together until it’s something that we’re both happy with. It’s great because there’s always that moment where you’re like, ‘Is it good enough?’ And the other one will be like, ‘Nope!’
AJ: ‘Let’s get back to work!’ So we kind of hold each other accountable to make it as best as it possibly can.
It sounds like a very collaborative process. Though Alex, I was wondering—because you’ve got such a beautiful, powerful voice—do songs ever come together around a vocal idea that you may have, or a lyric that you had in your head?
AJ: Oh yeah, absolutely. Songs like “I’m Wicked” and “Lucifer, My Love,” I had written the lyrics and melody just on the page and then I showed the songs to Zach and then we worked out an arrangement. With “Sex Magic,” Zach had written all of the music to it already. I had been playing with lyrics on that song and had the lyrics, but it was a totally different melody and it was half-time, and it was completely different. And so it kind of evolved. You know, it is really different every time. Like sometimes, Zach will have the whole musical piece before I have vocal melodies. So, they all just kind of come from different places and then start in different ways.
It’s cool because it’s got this very organic mix of horns, Roy Orbison-styled vocals, even some of the melodies that riff on ballroom music a little bit But, what’s also really cool about the album is that it’s packed with a lot of analog hiss and a strong appreciation for old school recording techniques. Recently, I had read that you guys were kind of tired of hearing very over-produced albums. So I want to ask you, what did you specifically need to do to get the right sound that you were looking for on your debut?
AJ: Well, we recorded the record in the day.
AJ: Yeah. I mean, what you hear on that record is literally us going into a studio, pressing record on a tape machine, [playing the song] like twice, and choosing the better take. So, the entire album was tracked in a day, maybe a day and a half. Actually I lied, Zach and I overdubbed the background vocals, because obviously I couldn’t sing backgrounds and leads at the same exact time. It was two tracks there…. All the analog hiss that you’re hearing is because it was recorded on tape.
ZJ: The studio we chose has a collection of gear from the late fifties and early sixties, like all these RCA ribbon mics, and stuff. So, it’s like everything we recorded on was also pretty period correct…. like two preamps that [were] the same as they had at Gold Star. All the gear was the real stuff.
AJ: And then we mixed in mono as well because, you know, we thought it sounded a lot better in mono, but also just to be antinomian about the recording process. Everything is mixed in stereo these days, but some of my favorite records are in mono, and I think they sound better that way.
AJ: It’s what gives it that vintage feel. But you know, at the same time, you can have all the vintage microphones in the world, but you also need to be conscious on a songwriting level, and with the arrangements and melody….
ZJ: And the writing!
AJ: It does start with writing, because sometimes people come in the studio with modern songs and expect it to sound vintage just because they put it through a sixties preamp or something. That’s not really how it works. That’s why I’ve decided that it’s gotta start from the beginning, I think. It’s a more liberating process.
Sonically, you just don’t really hear a lot of records like that anymore.
ZJ: Yeah. [So many records are] just so sterile and over produced.
AJ: And I mean, that’s its own thing that’s cool, too—if that’s what you want to do. But it just wasn’t what we wanted to do.
Now, naturally you guys are approaching the music from a very unique angle as you’re both practicing Satanists, and the band’s aesthetic and the music’s themes reflect that. But, the album has resonated with people from all walks of life and different beliefs. I believe that’s because the music’s message is really about rejecting conformity. So, I wanted to first ask you both, when did Satanism and the study of the occult first enter your lives, and then also, how do you feel like those beliefs informed your affinity for rock ‘n’ roll?
ZJ: Right. Well, I mean rock ‘n’ roll is always the devil’s music, you know? So I feel like those have always gone hand in hand.
AJ: And not because early rock ‘n’ rollers were worshiping Satan, or anything like that. But because this music comes predominantly from black America, and it’s a sound of rebellion. And it was the sound of people pushing back against dated, oppressive norms of that era, so of course it was demonized. I mean, you cannot deny the role that rock ‘n’ roll played in breaking down some of the racist Jim Crow segregation laws that were going on in the South. I think rock ‘n’ roll was as crucial to civil rights as any of the other activism and social protest that was going on in the fifties and sixties.
ZJ: To us, it was all about individualism and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s whatever you want it to be and its non-confirming.
AJ: Yeah, and it’s always meant to be dangerous a little bit, and threaten the status quo and be transgressive and push back against outdated modes…. In our minds, they’ve always been connected. And in regard to us and when Satanism entered our lives, we really believe that you’re born a Satanist, so it’s not something that you wake up one morning and say, ‘Hey, I have a really strong belief in individualism and rejection of the status quo.’ It’s sort of like you’re either born an outsider or you’re not, and you either realize that you’re a Satanist or you don’t. And it’s fine if it doesn’t resonate with others, but it’s more a discovery of a name of who you are, rather than the becoming of a Satanist. For as long as I can recall, I felt outside of whatever normal, mainstream American culture…. As a woman and as a first generation American, my parents both immigrated here, and I come from a mixed race background. I never saw myself represented anywhere in culture. I never felt part of normal culture. It’s not like I could just turn on the TV and see my family or my reality depicted anywhere. And if anything, I mean, I remember getting my first death threat at age six by this war veteran who hated Korean people, and we ended up having to move because he was threatening to kill me. That was the first time I had ever heard racial slurs against Asian people and had to ask my dad, ‘Hey, what do these words mean?’ At that moment it sort of clicked like, “Oh, you know, I’m different and people hate me for that.” I think that kind of shaped my outlook on things. So, rather than feeling like I needed to strive to conform or to change myself to become more like what people expected me to be like, I just wore that as a badge of honor, really. I think that’s what really draws me to Satanism—it’s about taking something or taking an epithet that’s been used against us for hundreds of years and wearing it, donning the vestments of that, which has been feared as a method of self-empowerment and pride. For me, feeling like an outsider, loving rock ‘n’ roll, that’s just sort of been in my blood since I was a little kid, really.
It’s unfortunate about the incident that occurred when you were younger. It’s a terrible thing, but it sounds to me as though you’ve taken it and molded it into your own personal individuality, and that’s a really cool thing.
AJ: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s the beauty of Satanism. It’s taking those things that make you different and, rather than trying to mute them, to play them up! To express exactly who you are, no holds barred, and to not feel any shame for being exactly who you are and who you want to be.
Absolutely. So let’s stay on the topic of being different: many of the songs on Twin Temple tackle patriarchy, sexuality, and freedom of the mind. That’s a lot different, thematically, than what you might find in the black metal scene, for example. Now, my understanding is that you both kind of bristle at how Satanism, magic, and the occult is often represented in entertainment and arts. So I was hoping you guys could talk about that a little bit more.
AJ: I mean, not necessarily. I really have no judgment on other art. I feel like art is just there to be subjective and it’s open for interpretation. I don’t feel a vested interest in defending what I believe Satanism should look like, because I really don’t care. I love black metal. I mean, we’ve been to a couple of black metal concerts and we’re blown away by the theatrics and the production. I mean, if you want to use Satanism for shock value and entertainment, then be my guest. I, personally, do not care. Like, I’m not gatekeeping the occult or Satanism. This is just my mode of expressing myself. So if anything, I love anything that has to do with the Devil. So if you’re using that in your art, I’m probably going to go see it. Whether it’s the way I would represent it or not, it’s like, ‘Oh you like Satan? Hey, What’s up? Let’s hang out.’ That’s kind of the way I feel about it.
It doesn’t seem like it insults your sensibilities at all.
ZJ: No, we don’t care.
AJ: I don’t care. I mean, I would rather have someone flying a giant upside down cross on stage than a Trump sign or something, you know what I mean? [Laughs]
AJ: I think what upsets my sensibility is blatant embrace of Neo Nazi imagery and fascist imagery and racist imagery. That is what I bristle at.
ZJ: We don’t like or care for any of that. Fascism… none of it.
AJ: No, we take a very hard stance against all of that. I feel like it’s tricky, because when you’re exploring taboo, like we do, it’s like: Where do you draw the line? Right? Because Satanism at its very core, it’s designed to be subversive. And I think a lot of people feel like, ‘Oh you know, wearing a swastika or something is subversive,’ but to me, it’s not subversive because our President is supporting groups that are flying Nazi flags. So it’s no longer subversive when it’s actually part of mainstream America and people are being murdered under that flag. So that’s no longer a taboo. That’s no longer something that is just outdated or that you’re trying to poke fun at and get people to take a second look at to reevaluate their stamp on the thing. That’s like literally a battle cry for violence, hatred, and ignorance and everything that we stand against. So, I mean, if you want to fly a pentagram and you don’t even know what it means, I don’t care. I don’t really ascribe to “leader-ism” that you can sometimes find in Satanism, where it’s like, ‘Oh, this is the right way to do it. Or ‘I know better.’ Like, real witches never begin a sentence with “Real witches…. “
BE SURE TO CATCH TWIN TEMPLE AT THE BOWERY BALLROOM ON DECEMBER 1!