Alfie Templeman on Honesty, Evolving & 2001: A Space Odyssey

The dream-pop star shares the inspirations behind his new single ‘Broken’, released today, and teases his upcoming album.

IMAGES Lillie Eiger

“I hate the weather at this time of year, I need to see the sun!” laments indie-pop hitmaker Alfie Templeman as he joins our Zoom call. Despite his outcry, his sunny disposition does not falter as we speak on the eve of his single release and first teaser of his upcoming debut album, Mellow Moon. “I’ve been working on this now for so long, I’m very relieved to see it out in the world,” he says.

To celebrate the single’s release, the teen is taking a trip to Stockholm with his girlfriend to explore and visit friends. “I think it’s meant to be snowing,” he comments. We agree that snow can be fun, so long as the sun remains shining. But despite his excitement for the brighter weather, on new single ‘Broken’ the budding artist isn’t shying away from darkness.

A continuation of last year’s single ‘3D Feeling’, the new disco-inflected pop track features shimmering guitars, slick vocal melodies and a funky bassline. “It’s still got a really good feeling to it, it ties in nicely with the weather now that things are lightening up a bit,” he explains. “It’s got a fun summery vibe, but at the same time, people think that all their problems will be gone by summer. But for me, sometimes these problems get even more intense in the summer, when that comes around. So I guess there’s something in it for everyone to enjoy, but if anyone is having a hard time, I hope this song might help them for a bit.”

With the summer season firmly on his mind, Alfie shares he’s looking forward to having a really chilled-out summer. “It’s going to be a lot of work these next few months now that the record is out so I’ve got to pace myself to get through it and take breaks when I need them. And y’know, just enjoy the rest of the year and enjoy the success or even failure of it all, who knows what is to come!” he says. The unknown outcome seems more exciting than daunting for the 19-year-old. “I like it, and I’m sure there’ll be a few people that will like it. So either way, I have a positive feeling about it all.” 

Below, Alfie shares the inspirations behind his new single ‘Broken’, out today, and teases details from his forthcoming and first full-length album, Mellow Moon.

His mental health

While the Bedfordshire bedroom artist is best known for his sunshine-pop singles ‘Happiness in Liquid Form’ in 2020 and ‘Everybody’s Got To Love Somebody’ in 2021, but on new track ‘Broken’ the teenage songwriter is sharing new sides of himself. “I’m quite nervous to release this one, it’s a little bit different,” he starts. “The song is quite honest and open about mental health and what I’ve been thinking, how I’ve been feeling. So I hope that people who enjoy the upbeat music make way for this? I’m excited to see what people think”

While the new track features his signature upbeat inflections, it’s in his lyrics that Alfie has delved into deeper material. “This direction is a massive move for me and it’s something that’s so important so I wanted to be straight to the point with it and describe it in a way that literally just describes my mind in the best way. The way I was feeling, it felt like everything at the time was a bit broken or messed up. Being straight to the point is new for me because usually I hide my feelings in symbolism, but being this honest feels like a next step for me.”

Being straight to the point is new for me because usually I hide my feelings in symbolism, but being this honest feels like a next step for me.

Alfie Templeman

He explains that in 2021 he struggled with depression, which remained until “the dark little room that I go into in myself became so intense I felt claustrophobic,” he explains. Speaking out helped lift the weight from him, and now he’s determined to document his experiences in the hopes of helping other young people. “Knowing other people were experiencing similar things helped quite a lot, and knowing that sharing my experiences could help other people to feel a bit more confident and honest in addressing their feelings, that’s really important to me.”

Pandemic reflections

Alfie is keen to demonstrate where he’s grown since his mini-album, Forever Isn’t Long Enough, debuted in May last year, and his astute reflections suggest a maturity beyond his years. “I spend a lot more time on lyrics these days,” he considers, “I think I focus a lot more inside my own mind, but I mean, that’s bound to happen even without the pandemic, at this age. When I started, I was melody-driven and felt focused on making good-sounding songs and then filled the songs with whatever came to mind. That’s still a valid way, not every song has to have a really heaving meaning. At the same time, I think I’ve managed to find that balance between using symbolism to speak about the things I’m not comfortable with putting down in black and white.”

When writing ‘Broken’, Alfie was inspired by an old song he’d written when he was 14, recycling the main riff and restructuring the song to fit his new lyrics. “It was pretty simple because the song wrote itself,” he says with a shy chuckle. “Also, you know, I feel like I’ve improved on my voice a lot, and playing those songs from the last record and going on tour, it’s really helped me get better at singing. I’m learning how to become a better musician in general and how to open up and try new things. I did it in the last release ad it went down well, so just hoping it goes down well this time,” he teases.

2001: A Space Odyssey

The artwork for the single sees Alfie adorn a large yellow helmet made by Phoebe Shakespeare, as if symbolising his meteoric rise and the hopeful success this album might bring. “Have you seen 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick?” he asks me as we discuss the image. 

“So the idea that I had for it, it was a collaboration with Charlie Drinkwater, he’s an amazing designer and he’s in his own band, TV Priest. And then Lilie Eiger, she’s an incredible photographer. I wanted to do a space theme, the whole album is quite space-themed in general visually, so I wanted to bring that concept to life. Space Odessy is one of my favourite films, and there’s a scene where he’s talking to HAL and there’s a closeup of his face, he looks like he’s in a state of shock and it zooms into his face while he’s got the helmet on, and I just love that shot!” he explains eagerly. He got a custom-made space helmet featuring the album’s tracklist, and plans to take it on tour for friends and fans alike to sport the headpiece.

Symbolism is deeply rooted in Alfie’s visual language, and we should expect to see more of it throughout the album’s upcoming singles and the ‘Broken’ music video. “A lot of the time I feel more like a product than I do a person because I’m always so in my own body and because my job, in a lot of ways, is to just be me. It can make you detach from yourself quite a bit and look at yourself in a different way and you can get lost in that quite easily. So for the video, the [set designers] made an action figure of me and put them inside this massive vending machine so it looks like lots of ‘Alfie’ products.”

A lot of people feel more vulnerable doing that, but actually, it does the opposite to me. Just wearing something you wouldn’t normally wear gives me so much confidence even to put it on in the first place.

Alfie Templeman

Flamboyant fashion

19-year-old Alfie has previously performed in a uniform of classic jeans and graphic tee, but his cinematic inspirations have evolved his stage style over lockdown. “Obviously, I love David Bowie, and I really like a lot of Peter Gabriel’s looks as well. I think he’s amazing – a lot of people cringe when I say like Genesis are one of my favourite bands but I really like all of the old Peter Gabriel stuff, the costumes that he was wearing. Those two for me, I just love how colourful and vibrant their clothing is and I want to bring more of that to the stage and be more creative in that sense.”

After a rocky few years of cancelled tours and uncertain or socially-distanced shows, he’s regaining his confidence on stage through fashion: “You know, it really gives you the opportunity to just let loose. A lot of people feel more vulnerable doing that, but actually, it does the opposite to me. Just wearing something you wouldn’t normally wear gives me so much confidence even to put it on in the first place. I still get very nervous, but it’s giving me enough confidence to stand on that stage.”

His confidants 

Instrumental to Alfie’s truth telling was his intimate recording team, he says. “It was kind of just the usual guys. I work with a guy called Rob Milton, he does a lot for Holly Humblestone and he’s a really cool guy. He’s taught me a lot since 2019 about the production side. Common Saints, Charlie Perry is great – he gave me a lot of help with the first song on the record with structuring and bringing crazy new ideas to the table. He’s got an amazing mind, he’ll do the exact opposite of what you expect him to do. And also Justin Young from The Vaccines, he helped on quite a few songs. He taught me a lot about writing lyrics and really helped with ‘Broken’. He’s good at connecting the dots and making everything fit together from a new perspective.”

While a few session musicians lent their skills to some tracks, Alfie prides himself on playing as much on the record as possible himself. “I think there’s about six people across the record including the people whose opinions really helped me,” he explains. I express how few people this is to work on a pop album from a mainstream label – FKA Twig’s recent track with The Weeknd cites as many as 30 producers on one single – and he laughs. “Yeah I know, it’s because to me, even six people feels like too much!”

Those who have made it to his inner circle, it seems, he trusts to reel him in when it’s needed. “I will normally think of the crazy ideas and need people to help me limit it to a digestible amount,” he explains. “But if you go too far with those ideas it can get a bit self-indulgent, and it’s hard to bring yourself back in without someone else’s guidance. That’s why I think it was good to have a few people that I could trust to help me with the record.” He says he keeps his ‘crazy side’ for a side project, separating his abstract art from his increasingly honest songwriting.

Listen to ‘Broken’ on Spotify and Apple Music now, and follow @alfietempleman to find out more.

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