Like most 16-year-olds in 2019, Alfie Templeman finds himself growing up torn between a maelstrom of political uncertainty, environmental crisis and, well, tweeting pictures of your face photoshopped onto a dog. Unlike his peers though, Templeman’s face has been showing up in some even less likely places – namely splashed across billboards in LA and Times Square. With gloriously hazy new single ‘Used to Love’ adding to an already impressive list of early releases, he might need to start getting used it.
If it’s changed Templeman at all, it doesn’t show. On the day NME speaks to the artist, he tells us he’s been taking part in some time-honoured teenage past times: watching Jackass from his bed, and a futile attempt at cultivating some facial hair. “Right now I’ve got to look like an innocent 16-year-old kid that’s made a few jangly tunes on his guitar. I only grew it out so I could get served anyway…”
Growing up in the village of Carlton in Bedfordshire, Templeman found himself surrounded from music at a young age, learning to play one of his dad’s 30-odd left-handed guitars right-handed,. It was around that time that he also discovered his love of prog rock, and started dreaming about making some extravagant sounds of his own. “Even if I just make one track that’s pure prog rock, it’d be great to get it out,” he confesses, and we’re very much treating it as a confession.
Templeman’s music has been constantly evolving, despite his first single ‘Orange Juice’, a breezy, hedonistic burst of bedroom pop, arriving as recently as last year. His first EP, ‘Like an Animal’, followed in October 2018, and the music already sounded richer, denser, psychedelic pop odysseys bursting with sunshine.
By the time ‘Sunday Morning Cereal EP’ came out in June 2019, everything had changed again. “I’d been listening to a lot of new stuff,” he says. “Frank Ocean was probably number one for me back then, a lot of R&B. Snoop Dogg was quite a big influence for the song ‘Sunday Morning Cereal’, a lot of Dr Dre, ‘2001’ vibes.” For a record that still seems to be essential listening for teenagers today, it’s refreshing to hear a young artist openly talk up ‘2001’ as a key influence, even if it’s probably more ‘Let’s Get High’ than ‘Pause 4 Porno (Skit)’.
“‘Like an Animal’ was a bit more intentionally sloppy, intentionally bedroom-y, but I wanted this next one to be really smooth, and that’s why it took me a long time to perfect those four songs. It was like a releasing a baby or something – pretty much nine months of building something up, caressing it and stuff.”
What Templeman lacks in midwifery skills, he more than makes up for in combining influences to create blissed-out summer jams. For a child of the Spotify age, the artist has no interest in conforming to one genre; the generation that collected CDs and flew the flag for indie tribalism is, thankfully, a bygone relic. “We might as well blend stuff, try new things. A great example of that is Brockhampton. They have those indie guitars, but then they’ve got rapping over it, boyband singing over it, all different stuff. There was a Post Malone and Ozzy Osborne collaboration recently too, wasn’t there? It’s crazy! Imagine going back to the 80s and saying, ‘Yo, there’s gonna be Ozzy Osborne on a rap track,’ they’d be like, ‘What? Are you sure?’”
Though his life today is as rich in emotional experience as any teenager, Templeman admits that he occasionally borrows to fill in the gaps from people who might, perhaps, be old enough to be shocked at an Ozzy-Malone team-up. For lyrical inspiration, for example, the singer takes his lead from TV shows. “All of the romantic stuff, well, I’m obviously too young to have gone through a divorce or anything,” he says. “‘Stop Thinking’, which deals with angsty relationships, was based on what I was seeing on TV; you know, those sketchy drama shows where there’s a couple having a really cringey argument that you just can’t be bothered to watch.” Templeman doesn’t name names, but he knows what he does like. “I just wanna watch Game of Thrones or something without some bird having a go at someone,” he adds. Just occasionally, you’re reminded that the smooth singer-songwriter on the end of the phone is barely college age.
Mention Greta Thunberg to him, though, and the subject of this year’s Extinction Rebellion protests light a fire in the him. “There’s never been a better time for kids to raise their voices,” he tells NME. “As a younger generation, we’re trying to make a difference, and it’s just good to see so many forming together to prove a point, to prove that something needs to change. Billie Eilish, Greta Thunberg, all these young people coming together to show that age doesn’t matter when it comes to right and wrong.
“I think it’s so important that everyone like us should be using their platform; people like The 1975 who used their platform to promote Greta Thunberg’s work on the climate crisis. They realised that they’ve got such a big fanbase, and people who will listen, young people who are worried about their future and what’s going to happen, because we’re the ones that are going to have to live in it.”
While he’s hesitant to draw too many political lines in the sand (“I’m politically more left-wing, obviously, but you have to be careful what you say with that kind of stuff. I watched the House of Commons and it’s a bit hectic recently…”), it’s obvious that Alfie Templeman cares. Besides new music – another EP is expected in November, potentially spearheaded by a track he calls “the best melody I’ve ever written”.
He talks of wanting to join an upcoming Extinction Rebellion event coming up in the next couple of weeks, to be heard on these issues through his own musical platform; like Eilish, like Matty Healy. “Doing a bit of a Dylan, I guess,” as he puts it. With a face already illuminating skyscrapers, anything feels possible.