“Read our interview with a hot new L.A. Satanic doo-wop band” may sound like something out of the VICE Headline Generator, but fear not, ye of little faith: said band is real, and it’s spectacular. Twin Temple’s sultry, Satanic midcentury doo-wop is red in tooth and claw, drawing liberally from early rock ‘n roll’s sonic swing while merrily subverting the traditional societal norms that birthed it. The duo’s unabashedly retro sound is far more elegant and politically charged than rockabilly’s self-conscious greaser vibes or your garden variety, buttoned-up Oldies outfit, and high priestess Alexandra James’ fiery black rose croon is a Luciferian revelation. With Twin Temple, she and Zachary James (her partner in music and in life) seek to explore ideas of free will, autonomy, and the occult, and to channel their combined power as musicians—and Satanic witches—to fight oppression in all its forms.
The Jameses, who are now joined in unholy matrimony, met through the punk scene about seven years ago. They were both involved in other projects that slowly became more and more closely intertwined, until the pair decided they might as well form their own band. Twin Temple was officially brought into being on Halloween 2016, and as Alexandra says, “We just sort of wrote a million songs, found the places where our Venn diagram joined and that’s how Twin Temple was born, [as a] merging of our musical, philosophical, [and] political interests into one joint thing.”
Since then, the pair have recorded and released their debut album, Twin Temple (Bring You Their Signature Sound…. Satanic Doo-Wop), which straddles the hitherto unexplored divide between the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll and ritual sex magick (the latter of which happens to be the title of their NSFW new music video we’re premiering below). Their aesthetic screams metal (or at least goth) but their sound is anything but; as Alexandra told me, “We kind of joke that we created a metal wormhole. We basically went to the extreme origins of metal—rock n’ roll.”
Intrigued by their bubbling melting pot approach to the Devil’s music, I called them up to find out more about the band, their politics, and their mission. As is fitting for such an anti-patriarchal entity, Alexandra did most of the talking.
Noisey: How did you go from the punk rock scene to making Satanic doo-wop? That’s a bit of a leap.
Alexandra James: I think punk rock shares a lot of the same impulses of Satanism, and in a lot of ways, it’s rooted in classic American rock ‘n’ roll. If you listed to the Ramones or the Misfits, it’s classic 50s chord progressions, except with buzzsaw guitars. It’s kind of all in there to us, and we’re all practicing magicians and Satanists. To create this sort of paradoxical vehicle to express those sides of ourselves, the side that loves the oldies and the side that hails Satan, we were just like, ‘Can this be done? I don’t know. Let’s just try it!”
When it comes to your practice of Satanism, your interpretation of Satanism, and the way you use Twin Temple as a sort of conduit to explore issues of free will and identity, how do you tie that all together?
Right. Alternate spiritual practices such as study of the occult, witchcraft, and magic have always been feared and demonized. You saw this in everything, from the genocide of indigenous people of America, to the Salem witch trials, to the colonial enslavement and so-called conversion of indigenous people, and on and on and on. Our coming out with this project and saying, ‘We are Satanic witches reclaiming those terms to recontextualize them, and take them away from being colonial epithets, to symbols of power and self-empowerment,’ is basically our way of donning the vestments of that which is fear, rather than trying to evade or trying to explain, ‘Really, we’re good witches, we’re white witches.’
I think Satanism shares a lot of the same fundamental themes any form of political resistance like feminism. It seeks to liberate the self. It seeks to transcend boring, binary concepts and reject societal norms. We’re trying to get people to see beyond good and evil, man and woman, mother and whore, light and dark, sinner and saint. It’s really about pushing back against these outdated societal norms that really suppress and limit the individual.
It’s interesting to me that you explicitly talk about being Satanic witches, because the witch has had sort of a cultural reclamation moment in the past few years. I’m interested to see what you think about why that is, and why the idea of the witch has been embraced specifically in more political feminist scenes as something that we want to reclaim.
I think first off, anytime you see groups of people being oppressed, magic is a way to reclaim that autonomy and that self-empowerment. You don’t need organized religion. You don’t need the blessing of priests; you don’t have to confess your sins. You really only have to go within. You can empower the self through witchcraft. I think we’re in turbulent times. We’re seeing a president who’s racist and sexist and overtly so, and who is emboldening these groups of extremists who have similar viewpoints. I think a return to the old ways in magic is a way to fight back on an individual level, and a way to reclaim some that power that some of us feel is being taken away from us.
I definitely think it’s born out of this sort of political, socio-political climate and landscape that we’re living in right now. I think the reclaiming specifically of the word “witch” comes out of that, wanting to reclaim our power, but also, for thousands of years, any woman who is powerful has been called a witch. We’ve been burned at the stake. We’ve been murdered. We’ve been sunk under rocks because we have a little modicum of power, or land, or wealth, or an ability to heal. That epithet of witch has always been used to oppress us, [and] I think it’s in line with everything that’s happening, we’re going, ‘You know what, I am that witch.’ It’s about being completely unapologetic, and owning that identity that, for so long, has been used to oppress us.
I love that you’re applying that nuanced, empowering critique to music that sounds like it was made back in the 50s, when women were basically expected to get married, iron their husband’s shirts, and die pretty.
Absolutely. I suppose in some ways it’s fun to imagine—what if a crooner back then hailed Satan instead? Or what if occult rock embraced du-wop instead of the emerging rock n’ roll of the day? But I think our society operates under this pervasive Christian fairytale of Adam and Eve that essentially portrays women as the original source of sin and wickedness. This pervasive patriarchal fairytale has basically formed the basis of our societal understanding of gender and morality. It’s widely been used to promote and justify male supremacy both historically, and I would say within contemporary thought. For us, this idea of woman as wicked is a crucial allegory to subvert and embrace in many ways paradoxically. I think that’s why in our music, it’s important for us to kind of reclaim and subvert that fairytale, and create a new one.
What led you to this specific place? Were you raised religious? Did you have cool hippie parents? How did you get here?
A lot of people say, when did you become a Satanist? For me, when I think about it, I look back and realize that that part of my nature has always been there for as long as I can remember. I think in part for me personally, growing up as a woman of color in America, there’s just this sense that I’m outside of normal American culture. I’m mixed, my father is Korean and my mother is from England; we’re first generation here. I got my first death threat at age four. I had a neighbor yelling ‘chink’ and ‘gook’ and ‘I fought a war to kill people like you,’ and ‘I’m disgusted to live next to people like you,’ and having to ask my parents, ‘What the hell is a chink?’ And this man next door wants to kill me, and having to move, and having our next neighbors poison our cat.
As I grew older, I realized that striving to be a “part of” “normal American white whatever culture” was basically a futile attempt. I don’t want to belong to this, nor do I belong to this, nor am I going to strive to something that will never fully accept me. Satanism is all about transgression, rejection of societal norms that don’t fit our view, embracing the individual, and understanding that there’s no one size fits all life or religion or way of existing for any one person. For me, it’s just always been there, and discovering writing by other proponents of the left hand path resonated with me on a deep level. I feel like I was born a Satanist. I’m not really sure you can truly become a Satanist. I think it’s a set of ideals that resonates with you or doesn’t.
And how does rock ‘n’ roll fit into that?
We’ve always loved classic rock n’ roll; a lot of our past bands have been influenced by early soul, and R&B, and doo-wop, and rock n roll [but] we always thought it was sort of separate. When we were forming this new project, we were just sort of like, ‘Fuck this, let's just go do what we want. Even if it’s ridiculous, we’ll be happy.’
It feels like all parts of ourselves are firing on all cylinders. We can play doo-wop, we can hail Satan. We can practice magic. We can hire a horn section. We can have everything we want with this project. It was just sort of like, ‘Let's do this because at least we’ll make ourselves happy.’ I think this band is a culmination of not making all the mistakes we’ve made in the seven bands before.
So now that you’re here, what is your goal for this project? Outside of making yourselves happy, where do you want to take this?
As lofty or optimistic or naive as it may sound, we want to change the things that we see in society that we find to be suppressive and outdated. For example, our record cover featured a female nipple, and I can’t tell you how many hoops we had to jump through—how many road blocks we hit, how many streaming services refused to distribute it, how many record companies refused to print it. This is a divine symbol of feminine power. This is a nipple, and men have them too, only men’s nipples don’t even do anything. Ours produce the milk that probably raised you, but yet it’s this huge deal to include it on our record cover. I’d love to see that double standard that is super sexist just fade away along with every other remnants of patriarchal society that we live in. I’d love to open the lane of what rock n‘ roll can be.
It’s another cheesy thing, but we’d love to basically carry the torch and make sure these super amazing classic American musical forms don’t get forgotten. We want to keep those traditions alive and then also put our own spin on it. I guess that’s the huge goal of why we’re doing it in the first place. Tactically, we want to make records, we want to make music, we want to be able to support ourselves with that music and go out and play that music to people.
Alexandra, how did you develop your voice? Did you have training or are you just naturally talented?
I love answering this question because I did an interview recently with a hardcore Christian woman for her website, and one of her questions was, ‘Where does your God-given talent come from? If it’s not from God, do you think your talent comes from Satan?’ And I’m just like, ‘You know what, I actually had to work really hard for it. I took vocal lessons for six years. I rehearsed and did exercises for two hours a day for six years straight.’ I feel like the idea that God gives you talent, and this myth of the artist, needs to be demolished. It prevents a lot of people from just starting—’They were just born with this’—but the reality is I think a lot of people have inclinations toward things. I always sang as a kid and I love singing but I also had to work for it. It’s something I like to put out there. I actually worked really hard for it. I didn’t just wake up and start singing.
That’s what the Church has always striven for; robbing humans of any shred of agency that keeps them docile—and keeps them donating. It is really interesting to hear you talk about the way Christianity and organized religion has impacted people, and the way it filters into other aspects of our lives. I like the way you pull everything together in a neat little devil’s knot.
We signed a deal with the devil, obviously, that's how we got our talent. I think a lot of those narratives are a way to take away our agency and our individualism. The cool thing about Satanism, it’s like, find those things you like, and then ruthlessly pursue them and work toward them. Just like my wins are my own, my failures are my own. I am in command of this ship and my life, and not some external Dad in the sky wearing sandals giving me things or taking them away.
No magical sky friend pulling the strings.
No magical sky dad. Why do they all wear sandals, too?
Honestly. I know the church has money. You can afford some Louis Vuittons or something..
Right? If you’re all powerful, get some cool shoes. It’s 2018.
Kim Kelly is dancing with the Devil on Twitter.