Alice Temple Interview
Part One - Sex and Music
In today's crowded room of music genres, fashion muses and new thought, it's important to give a nod to those who were here first. Sitting not very quietly in a corner is Alice Temple. She's performed with UNKLE, been shot by Testino, and was a key player in the dawn of the New Romantic movement in the 80s. Her iconic status has never dimmed. Today she speaks to Post New.
Post New: Tell us about the London scene in the 80's in your eyes, was this the golden age of London as many say?
Alice temple: The 80's was a weird time for me. I was a naive kid, a loner obsessed with my BMX bike. I literally lived on my bike. I was the British female BMX champ at the time. In 82 all I had to do was win one more race to secure my number 1 spot for the following year. There was one race left...David Bowie was doing a gig on the same day of the race. When faced with a choice it was a no brainer. Go to the Bowie gig. It was the beginning of the rest of my life. That was about the time I started going out to night clubs. I was lucky. I was too young to get into clubs under normal circomstances, but my sisters best friends dad happened to own The Camden Palace so I was able to get in. I didn't quite make the Blitz club but I knew all about it. At 14 years old I was drawn to the New Romantic scene, at the time I didn't know why. Now when I look back it's obvious. I always felt different. I was a girl but I didn't relate to normal girls, I didn't relate to the boys either and suddenly there are all these boys that dress and look like girls and girls who dress and look like boys. I identified with them 100% and when I showed up at The Camden Palace I felt comfortable and I felt like I belonged with these people. It was a life changing experience for me without a doubt. It meant there were other freaks out there just like me. I was still painfully shy in those days but I knew I belonged. I literally went from living on my BMX bike to living in nightclubs overnight and I never looked back. (I still managed to keep my No1 plate for the following year even though I stopped racing!)
PN: Whats great about London today?
AT: I used to think London was a place to leave, but now I love it and I'm happy there. I bought an old enamel factory in Shoreditch and it's now my home. I love it. There is so much culture in London, it's a beautiful city. Since I started riding a motorbike and moved east 7 years ago, suddenly the whole of London opened up to me and I fell in love with it. I lived in NYC for many years and a few in LA. I grew up in Paris from the age of 10 till 12 and I lived in Southern Spain too. I even lived in Tokyo for 6 months but I am very happy to be settled in London now. Just as long as I get to travel every now and then (which I do) I'm happy.
AB: How did you go from being a BMX champion to a model and singer songwriter? Thats a pretty interesting path?
AT: I always knew I wanted to make music. I didn't particularly aspire to be a singer but I wanted to make music and so singing was just a consequence of that. I don't consider myself a singer. I just sing the songs I write. I have learned over the years how to get a decent sound out of my mouth and I'm definitely better at it than I used to be, but technically I'm no singer. I was extremely shy as a kid/teenager, it took a long time for me to get my shit together and actually make music, I ended up doing quite a few things before that happened. The BMXing again was an accident. I loved riding in the streets and doing street tricks. It never occurred to me to race until me and my gang decided to check out a regional race meeting that was happening at a track we used to ride on. We all entered into our race categories and I ended up wining mine. This guy then came up to me and said he wanted to take me to a national race meeting, which I did and won the race. That's how I ended up getting into racing. In all honesty I was never really competitive and I didn't think too much about it or train, I was just naturally fast. It was the street riding that I was really into, and riding in skate parks, but I was better at racing.
The modeling also happened because I went to live in New York in 1985 and my best friend at the time was Joe McKenna. He made me go for an interview at Click Models. They took me on but I did it reluctantly. I actually hated having my photo taken. I felt like a charlatan when I was put in front of the camera and was being paid to look feminine. I felt the opposite. I didn't do very well as a model. I didn't really make any money until I went to Japan, but I was photographed by some great photographers like Bruce Weber, Nick Knight, Steven Meisel (for the KC1 perfume) and Mario Testino. Mario always shot me as a boy and I felt much more comfortable and therefore it worked. He was also a lovely guy and good fun to work with. It was pre Jenny Shimizu days so before the androgynous thing happened and by that time I was long gone. When I eventually moved back to London that's when I started to get the music thing happening. The first thing I did was with my friend Andrew Hail from Sade. I recoded a house version of Eric Sate's 3 Gymnopedes. No vocals. I have always been into house music from the moment it started. It's all a bit hazy though as Extasy was being consumed on a daily basis. It was a while before I hooked up with Eg.
PN: Can you tell us about Eg and Alice?
AT: Eg was a friend of mine who was a musician. He had been in a punk country band called Yip Yip Coyote. Then he started a band with his brother called Brother Beyond. They had their moment but he left the band after the first album. I had wanted to make music since I had first heard my Jungle Book album when I was 3 years old. Eg had his own studio so I called him up and asked him if I could exchange studio time for assisting him with twiddling knobs and making tea. I ended up singing some backing vocals for him on some of his songs. We worked well together and within a few months he suggested we start a band together. I said yes immediately. He was and still is an incredibly talented singer, song-writer, musician, producer etc. I was completely in awe of him and was flattered to work with him. We wrote and recorded lots of songs in his kitchen in Ladbroke Grove. His studio was in his kitchen/living room area but the studio took up most of the room so it was basically now just a kitchen and studio. Vacuum cleaner and pots and pans sounds made it onto the album and telephone rings and dogs barking too. They were just sounds that were genuinely around and it made sense to keep them in as it was a very home made project.
PN: Tell us a little bit about your music and the ideas/influences behind it?
AT: When I was working with Eg we were very much into people like Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Steely Dan, Prince just to name a few. You can her them all over the record, but we never tried to copy any of them. I think our record ended up sounding very English in the end which I think is why so many people liked it. We put every thing into what we did 100%. We both shed blood, sweat and tears over it. In fact when it was over and we released the record we were done. We would never have been able to do it again. It would have been a very different process if we had made another record and I doubt it would have worked. I left just after we released the record. I know it was bad timing but I couldnt do it anymore. Things had changed a lot from when we started to when we finished the album, I suppose I had changed. I had grown more confident in my abilities and the shift in power made it hard for Eg I think. I mean I went from looking up to him to then feeling undermined and I wanted to have more input. The whole thing was very much like a marriage and then a divorce. In the end there was no hard feelings and we still love each other very much. Also a big part of it was that I started to get into bands like Janes Addiction, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Nirvana etc and that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to rock out.
When I left the band I went and lived in LA for a few years, about 1992. I wrote some songs and in the end I asked Eg to produce my album which he did. I was very happy working with him that way. Unfortunately things didn't quite work musically. I knew what kind of a sound I wanted to make. I had discovered Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey by then. The record I had meant to make was basically a Strokes sounding album. They didn't exist at this point. The problem was I still didn't quite have the confidence to speak my mind and say 'No, this is sounding way too sweet and too pop' which is what it ended up being. I was also now in full heroin addiction and everything was getting more and more out of control. I just wasn't present enough to get it right.
AB: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? How is it different when writing for someone else or collaborating?
AT: I used to start with messing around with chords on my guitar until I came up with something I liked the sound of, usually a verse. I would record it and then put some more instruments down like drums and bass and maybe another guitar. Then I would get some kind of tune and then do the chorus. Then the hard part would be writing the lyrics. Thats always a bit of a chore for me. Im much more into the music side of things rather than the words. But that is quite a backwards way of writing songs and I've learnt or rather forced myself to write songs with just my acoustic guitar and not record anything until the whole song is written with a tune and words and then I will record it. The best songs are always the ones that get written in 10 minutes. That can happen. It just comes from somewhere and it flows out of you. Its great when it happens. I used to try and emulate the artist I loved but I would always be left disappointed. I've learned that the best thing to do is just be myself. My voice always left me feeling a bit down cos it just doesn't sound right over a more rocking type on track. It seems to work best with a more acoustic sound or more mellow music. As I've gotten older I've learned to accept that and just go with it. My music has definitely mellowed.
PN: How has it developed through different stages, whether that be early on or with UNKLE or by yourself?
AT: So I ended up in rehab. about 3 weeks in, I was sent the finished version of Bloodstain, the song I wrote for the UNKLE album Psyence Fiction. I love UNKLE and I love James. He has become a very close friend of mine, but to this day I find it almost impossible to listen to that song. When I went to the studio to sing it, I was fucked. I was extremely nervous and I was not only on heroin at the time but I kept going to the bathroom every 5 minutes to inject cocaine. I could barely stand or talk, let alone sing. It was a disaster. I did take after take. Somehow they managed to patch a vocal together but when I hear the song I hear and remember the state I was in. I suppose there is an authenticity to the song as its about the loneliness of drug abuse but I still cringe and turn it off when I hear it. I still feel extremely privileged to be on that recored, and I have worked with UNKLE since then and have managed to redeem myself by being sober whenever I have sung for them again.
PN: The music industry has changed a lot as has media in general.. you lived through that era of The Face and i-D when magazines ran culture.. these days whether it be music or media, the internet rules supreme.. what are your thoughts on that transition?
AT: I love the internet. People seem to resist it and see it as a dark force but I love it. In fact I embrace it. Yes its made things hard for musicians but I have faith that it will work its self out in that department. The only negative thing about the net is that once something is out there it becomes fact even if it isn't. There is a lot of trial by media and guilty until proven innocent. But that might just be a human thing that has always been there, the internet just enhances it.
PN: Tell us about coming out at the time..especially given the high profile nature of your relationship with Rachel?
AT: Well in all honesty I never 'came out'. I just had a girlfriend one day and it wasn't weird for me or anyone else. I was a very late bloomer sexually. I thought I was bisexual for a while, it was confusing. I didn't grow up fancying any friends or teachers or mothers of friends. I definitely felt a bit strange when I saw Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot but I was too young to understand what it was. When I started going out to clubs I was hanging out with pretty much all gay boys. Sometimes I fancied them, and because I basically looked like a cute boy they would fancy me too and I was always snogging them. You can understand why I was a little confused. I didn't really fall for a girl until I was about 17. Every one was taking a lot of E and they were all snogging each other. Girls snogging girls, but I knew that it meant something else to me so I avoided all that. The snogging I mean, not the E. I did plenty of that. I didn't actually have sex with a woman until I moved to LA in 1992. That was a very liberating time for me. Not just sexually but in every sense. I had gotten away from EG and Warner Brothers. Was half way across the world from my home town and I was feeling particularly independent. I grew a bit more confident in my self. It happened naturally. I wasn't weird being with a woman. Its not like id been with loads of men. I had a few minor affairs until I met Rachel. From the moment I saw her walk into the Formosa Bar in LA, I had fallen in love with her by the time she had sat down at our booth. She came to meet a friend of mine, apparently I didn't say a word. She thought I was weird. Then over a bit of time I got to know her a bit more. There was a little gang of us girls. Me, the gorgeous Jenny Shimizu and a few others. Then Rachel joined in. We were all getting up to no good and it was great fun, good times in NYC. I wasn't really aware of all the fuss that was being made of me and Rachel being a couple. I don't think she was either. We were just out a lot having a great time, I was completely and utterly in love with her. She had my back and vice versa. We didn't care what anyone else thought, we had each other. She was the best thing that ever happened to me. She was quite scary and didn't let me get away with any shit. She made me grow even more as a person. The fact that someone that beautiful and intelligent would be interested in me was good for my ego. Plus it was my very first relationship which had been a long time coming. I was 25.
PN: Whats the most important thing in a relationship?
AT: Don't ask me about relationships. My first was 10 years, Rachel. The next 18 months. The next 7 months, the next a few weeks. Maybe Im just getting less tolerant of people? haha
PN: What is sex to you?
AT: Sex has changed for me over the years. I was 20 when I lost my virginity and I only did it cos it was getting pretty sad by that point. I mean who the fuck stays a virgin that long. Truth is I just wasn't quite switched on yet. I wasn't craving it. Needless to say I lost it to a gay guy. But it was someone I loved and still do so I guess it could have been a lot worse. Then you get the exploring bit where I started to sleep with girls which was nice. Then you have sex with someone you are in love with which is amazing, but to be honest I didn't really appreciate sex until I got sober. Now that is something. Suddenly you can't drink or take drugs and then you have sex and its like Waoh! I went out with a dominatrix when I first got clean and I really had some fun. It was great being in a relationship with someone who isn't hung up sexually. She taught me to try and let go of my inhibitions. I have definitely become more relaxed about sex and that is extremely liberating. Life is just too short.
I never have one night stands. Sometimes I wish I was more of a slut but it's just not me. I have to really like and know someone to want to have sex with them. I used to put a lot of emphasis on sex. I used to be concerned about if I was having enough or not. Now I have to admit I don't feel that way anymore. I'm afraid I now associate it with trouble and ultimate pain. I'm trying to change that though. I'm lucky. I have a girlfriend now and she is so chilled no matter what is going on.
PN: What’s changed about sex and sexuality in your lifetime? Nothing and it's the way people look at it – or do you think the way people act and think of it is different?
AT: Im not sure much has. Maybe people talk about it more openly. I guess it's easier to come out these days than a few decades ago, but then I think about all those college kids committing suicide and I think, fuck me maybe nothing has changed. I have always lived in city's like London, NYC, LA and Paris. You step a few feet out and your back in the dark ages. One thing that has definitely changed is that when I was a kid there were no role models. Lesbian meant butch, cropped hair men hatting tobacco chewing women. Now you get people like Megan Fox and Angelina Jolie coming out and saying they sleep with women. There are much better women to fantasise about these days!
Photographer - James Pearson-Howes
Words - Adam/Megan/Angela