PREMIERE: Vanish Into Solitude with Here We Go Magic’s New Album ‘Be Small’

The duo discuss ditching alcohol and how technology is not only killing process but encouraging society’s dissociation with rather worrying results.

Derek Scancarelli

All photos by Derek Scancarelli

The world is filled with empty information. Without the process of discovery, facts are just facts. If you ask the guys in Here We Go Magic, a trip to the library is far more important than the book you check out. For life, learning, and creating, the enriching period is the process, not the outcome. The nine-month period it took to write and record the band’s forthcoming record, Be Small, was unpredictable and reactionary. This experience wove a tapestry, an album layered with nuances of twiddly guitar and soft vocals, bluesy grooves fit for both dancing and relaxing, depending on the mood. These songs absorb and reinterpret life in a much broader context than the confines in which they were written—between the four walls of their respective New York apartments. In hindsight, the record is an observance of greed and complacency; a look at our nation’s unsettling lack of collective will, particularly in relation to our increasing dependence on technology.

The new record was written by the band’s latest, streamlined incarnation of Luke Temple and Michael Bloch, but the group will include Brian Betancourt (bass) and Austin Vaughn (drums) on the road. Noting the difference between Here We Go Magic and his solo releases, Temple says that HWGM isn’t quite as straightforward. The lyrical linings don’t exemplify stories as on 2013's “Florida,” where he poetically detailed his gripes with the Mexican cocaine cartel La Familia Michoacana. Be Small isn’t hyper-specific, and it also doesn’t confront romantic grandiose troubles, but like the generations of his portrait-painting ancestors, Temple is telling a story. He’s creating a work representative of a greater paradigm shift. Our culture may not have a Bubonic Plague or The Inquisition, but, what we're combating on the home front is much more insidious and tough to qualify: the loss of presence and clarity—the charm of life that isn’t felt through the touch of an iPhone.

Recently Temple took the routine two-hour commute from his new home—the reclusive DIY community in Hudson, NY—to meet with me and Bloch outside the band’s practice space, where we discussed the new record, Temple’s relationship with alcohol, and the nihilistic nature of our increasingly dissociative society.

Noisey: The last record was recorded in 2012 with Nigel Godrich in London. This time around, you recorded everything yourself. Was it weird to switch back?
Luke: I don’t think making records is a progression or an arc. They all have their own set of circumstances and dictate different limitations. Inspirationally, this just felt like the right time.

What happened with the lineup?
: We had tried a few different attempts at making the next Here We Go Magic record. We actually had one session that we went in with the band as it was before. We kept “News” and “Ordinary Feeling” from that session. We had attempted to record but a lot of it didn’t seem right. Lives change and our drummer moved to Maine, Jen (Turner) got busy, it was just kinda left to me and Mike, so rather than waiting around to get the perfect band together, it seemed like it was time to just start recording.

So what’s your inspiration cycle?
I’ll have a phase where I’ll think. Then there will be a couple months of listening to a lot of music, digesting, ruminating, and eventually it’s time to do it. At a certain point when it’s time to work the brain has to shut off, but you have to do your homework and gather all the nuts for when it’s time to hibernate. Then just let it go on autopilot.

How do you shut it off?
: You’re not hypercritical. It’s a time when your inspiration reaches a tipping point and it has to act. Then it takes over and you’re just inspired and you keep going. You’re never really looking back. Then at the end, you have this big pile of crap that you sift through. That’s when you make your crisis. But when you’re making it, it’s this straight line. You’re allowed these little grace periods, then at a certain point you have to make sense out of it and put it together as a record. The hard part is the before and the after.

What’s hard about after?
: Just making decisions about printing something, permanently, you know?

Michael: The decision to make it permanent makes you regard it from imagined external eyes.

I know there was a bit of a panic mode in your first California sessions for A Different Ship, then when you flew to London you were able to work things out. Was the stress different this time around?
Luke: It’s less stressful because you’re not on the clock, aside from working with Nigel, which was a bit of a trip because he was on this huge pedestal, and then he became a brilliant friend. Once I worked out my own illusionary idea of him, then working with him was a real breeze. But when you’re working alone, you’re not worried about racking up time at a studio that charges per day. You don’t have to answer to anybody else’s opinion of what you’re doing, so that’s less stressful, for better or for worse.

Michael: We went through a different version of that process. We were going to do this whole album as another live album. We did a lot of preparation and we were [upstate] for two weeks. We got a lot out of our system doing that and playing as a band again, but there wasn’t enough communal energy to sustain and actually make a whole full band album. But I think that it afforded a refresh. It was a clean palate. Eventually we were able to weave some of the upstate stuff back into it.

Why do you think that it wasn’t gelling?
: Anytime we play with those guys, it gels to some degree naturally. We definitely have a real understanding of one another, but energy-wise, the headspace, it takes a lot of commitment to get four or five people to really focus and see something through. We just can’t do that every time.

You’re talking about headspace. When you went in writing these songs, were they a reflection of where you were in life? Or were they written about a particular subject?
: Anytime you’re writing it’s a reflection of where you are, it’s not a conscious thing, I felt relaxed last winter. I had made some changes in my life for the better. I had a difficult year the year before.

Was that a health or lifestyle choice?
: Yeah, and I think last year I was reaping the benefits of those decisions. I was in the honeymoon stage of my new way of life, I was pretty happy.

Did you go vegan? Did you kick booze?
: I kicked booze. That was a big thing.

Have you stayed off of it?
: In the last few months I’ve drank a couple of times. More than a couple, occasionally I’ll drink, just to not be so militant about it. But now I’m feeling like I just want to stay cold turkey.

Was it something that you felt was a problem or were you worried it could turn into one?
: Oh, it was definitely a problem. I stopped after I made Good Mood Fool, the last solo record. I was drinking a lot. Every night. By myself. It’s a pretty embarrassing scene. [Laughs.]

Michael: Well when you’re working on something, it’s not exactly by yourself, though... it’s not like you were just sitting looking at the wall and drinking.

Luke: That’s exactly what I was doing. “Five o’clock, the guilt is off about going to get booze!” Work from 9-5 and then I’d drink like five 20 ozs of Coors, the tall ones, every night. I got kinda fat. I would get really tired and drunk really quickly when I went to bars. I would just want to go home and drink. Really anti-social, [drinking] wasn’t like what it used to be.

Was it difficult to quit?
: Well it took a while. At first, it’s a little uncomfortable because you have no way of escaping. I realized how much I drank even before it got crazy. We were on tour for however many years…

Drinking can get expensive too…
: You save a lot of money. I don’t really balance my checkbook, but I noticed that I had way more money once I stopped drinking. Especially if you’re out drinking socially, I mean it’s cheaper to drink alone.

Did you just decide to take a step back or did you realize that you were a straight-up alcoholic?
: I don’t know if I’m an alcoholic. I think for some people, if you go to the program, they call alcoholism an illness, akin to schizophrenia, which is debatable, but I do think for some people it’s on a clinical level. They need to stay completely sober. They need intervention. I’ve seen that with people in my family and friends. But there’s a gray area. I’ll drink occasionally and for whatever reason, it hasn’t stuck. I can kind of drink and not need to keep drinking for the rest of the night. They say if you’re an alcoholic, like you can never pick up a drink because you’ll just be going as fast as you were when you got off the highway, but that didn’t happen with me, so it’s hard to say. For one, I really feel the effects even having two drinks and not getting drunk. I think when you’re drinking all the time you stop noticing that. It’s pretty crazy how much it changes your whole chemistry. You get tired and spaced out. Your brain doesn’t work as well.

Do any of the songs on Be Small deal with drinking?
: Maybe indirectly. I’m not an evangelist of any sort. I don’t want to wave a flag of sobriety or recovery.

Did you go to the program?
: A little bit. [Alcoholism] runs in my family. So it’s hard-wired in me that when you stop drinking, you go to the program. “Because relatives of mine are alcoholics, I must be an alcoholic.” I tried that for a little bit. I don’t want to speak badly about it. It’s a miracle for a lot of people. But it didn’t really feel right for me. I felt like a Charlatan. I felt like I was wasting everybody’s time. I’m not in crisis mode. It’s better if they give that advice to people who really need it. I never hit a bottom. It doesn’t feel like a physiological thing to need to drink.

So that’s a lot to think about when going into a new record. Is there a theme to this record?
: Maybe [the record] is sort of a commentary on opulence, the destructive nature of greed and wanting more and selfish desire. As a destructive force in the world…

With respect to consumerism or narcissism?
: Everything. Human beings want to conquer and be bigger and better and stronger. We’re reaching a crisis point with global warming and potential economic failure. In hindsight, it seems to be a narrative thread.

Sometimes these international issues make me feel helpless...
Michael: We’re so OK with feeling OK living in our little bubble. The branding world is so good with repackaging, as soon as someone has a feeling, the next day CNN tells us, “America is feeling outraged!” But where is the actual outrage? Where is the willingness for people to come together and change anything? We could change things tomorrow, but everyone is so individually comfortable. Breaking out of that box is difficult.

In the past you’ve talked about computers becoming a false external representation of us—is it happening?
I was talking about the singularity, the whole Ray Kurzweil thing. I’m not too educated on his philosophy but I take it from skimming that the transformation is complete when our consciousness becomes downloaded or taken over by digital consciousness. It seems like we’re indirectly aiding that by allowing our computers to become a surrogate version of us. They’re becoming more nuanced and remembering our preferences, they can answer questions before we ask them. The problem is process is being eliminated.

Michael: But what about all the free time you gain?

Luke: No one is using that time. Time for higher learning, whatever they say, it’s bullshit. There’s a nihilistic streak or something. We’re giving up. We’re passing the baton, surrendering. We know that we’re not gonna make it, the less we have to move the less we have to actually act in the world for better. What is information, what the hell is it without your senses? Without touching? Without having to make decisions? What is it if you’re not gonna go out in the world and use it?

What are the extreme cases?
: Humans have to be stimulated or people are gonna go really crazy. More and more crazy anti-social behavior will start happening. Then someone will have the bright idea to investigate the dissociative results of this age we’re in, and how people are losing touch with instinct. Worst-case example obviously is someone walking into a school and shooting people, it’s happening all the time. It’s completely dissonant, so anti-social. Their way of experiencing the world is maybe through video games or entertainment. They’re disenfranchised and don’t have friends, this is the only way they engage, then the real world becomes the same, and they don’t believe there’s consequence for the behavior.

This got heavy. What advice would you give to the person who is lost in their phone and forgot how to touch and feel?
Like any sort of addictive thing, it takes discipline to make sure that you get outside every day, or actual face-time with other human beings. Be engaged in something creative with an aspect of problem solving. Limitations are really helpful. They force you to not be presented with so many options that you become paralyzed. I think it’s important for people to stay in touch with the hardware in the world. The process.

Here We Go Magic Tour Dates
Thu. Oct. 22 – Washington, DC @ Rock & Roll Hotel
Fri. Oct. 23 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot & Saddle
Sat. Oct. 24 – New York, NY @Bowery Ballroom
Sun. Oct. 25 – Somerville, MA @ Cuisine en Locale
Mon. Oct. 26 – Montreal, QC @ Divan Orange
Tue. Oct. 27 – Toronto, ON @ The Drake Hotel
Wed. Oct. 28 – Detroit, MI @ UFO Factory
Thu. Oct. 29 – Bloomington, IN @ The Bishop
Fri. Oct. 30 – Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle
Sun. Nov. 1 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry
Mon. Nov. 2 – Omaha, NE @ Slowdown
Tue. Nov. 3 – Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
Wed. Nov. 4 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
Thu. Nov. 5 – Boise, ID @ Neurolux
Fri. Nov. 6 – Seattle, WA @ Sunset Tavern
Sat. Nov. 7 – Vancouver, BC @ Fortune Sound Club
Sun. Nov. 8 – Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
Tue. Nov. 10 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
Fri. Nov. 13 – Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg Theater
Sat. Nov. 14 – San Diego, CA @ San Diego Music Thing
Sun. Nov. 15 – Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
Tue. Nov. 17 – Austin, TX @ Red 7
Wed. Nov. 18 – Dallas, TX @ Three Links
Thu. Nov. 19 – New Orleans, LA @ Siberia
Fri. Nov. 20 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
Sat. Nov. 21 – Durham, NC @ The Pinhook

Be Small is out on 10.16 via Secretly Canadian.

Derek Scancarelli is trying to be more present for the process, but Twitter isn’t helping.