Alfie Templeman doesn’t stop. At the age of only 19, he’s already put out four EPs and a mini-album to great acclaim; now, with the advent of just-released debut full-length LP ‘Mellow Moon’, he’s stepping up once more. Today meanwhile, catching up with the pop wunderkind from his bedroom in Bedfordshire, Alfie is midway through another long day of calls as indie’s most diligent new star. “I started at like 10am, and I don’t finish until midnight. And I’ve got The Great Escape tomorrow!” he says with a grin.
Luckily, Alfie doesn’t seem tired though. Eager, animated and excitable, he’s looking forward to his summer of festival slots - including the likes of Dot to Dot and Tramlines - mostly because it’s an opportunity to see other artists he’s found himself in a new peer group with. Equal parts musical prodigy and super-fan, his ear for new music is keen - though when it comes to his own performances, he’s a little more reserved. “I should be getting ready [before I go on], putting on a bucket hat,” he laughs, “but I’m just anxious, really. I don’t really think I’m a live artist to be fair. Sometimes I have a hard time standing on stage…”
Beginning at the tender age of 15, Alfie hadn’t had much chance to perform live before his current project started to take off, aside from “a few times with an old metal band” he was in years ago. The pandemic further stilted his opportunity to perform, and while he had previously seen his bedroom as a musical haven in which he could experiment with soundscapes and songs, it soon began to become a sort of prison. “Things started off pretty OK. I thought, ‘I’ll be in here a couple of weeks, I can knock out a record’,” he begins. “And then things just got progressively worse and worse, I got more and more anxious. It just sucked to be honest.”
The young singer’s mental health spiralled as the pandemic went on, a prior condition meaning that his ‘vulnerable’ classification kept him even more isolated than most. ‘‘I was just getting trashed because I was so fed up with being in my room,” he continues. “I was drinking a lot, giving up on songs and basically doing nothing. I got really depressed and lost all sense of everything, absolutely everything. I didn’t give a shit about music. Or anything. Everything was just grey.”
Alfie remembers it taking him about six months to finally pick up his instruments again. “I started writing slowly, building up songs, finishing bits and pieces,” he explains, and the result is ‘Mellow Moon’: a celestial musing on mental health and the world around us, accompanied by glittering pop and funky basslines.
“I wanna make the kind of things that give me goosebumps, that make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.”
Tying the album together lies the perhaps lesser-expected theme of space exploration and the calming symbol of the moon itself. “There’s so much out there we haven’t seen!” Alfie enthuses. “It’s a bit like our own minds really - there’s so much we can’t come to terms with, can’t figure out. It makes me comfortable. When I’d spend the whole night alone just thinking, it was always there, it just made me feel sane.”
Mental health struggles have been an intrinsic part of his life - an aspect of his existence he can’t separate from his music. Though the fact he is almost entirely self-taught is endlessly impressive to most, he finds it can be a slight hindrance. “I don’t really know if what I’m playing is right. Say I have a great piano idea, it’ll take me half an hour to actually show it to someone, because I keep messing it up,” he explains. “I feel like most of my good ideas just sweep over my head a lot of the time. I’m too afraid of playing them!”
He’s recently found that physically releasing his emotions helps to clarify a lot of his feelings in a way writing sometimes can’t. “I sit there, trying to figure out how I feel, but if you can’t say it, you can’t really write it either,” he notes. “Crying, though, is one of the best things ever in helping with that. It stops you feeling so numb, and it lifts a weight off your shoulders. I’ve been a lot more comfortable letting my emotions out recently, which is good.”
Yet though there’s a tension at the root of ‘Mellow Moon’ that mirrors that of an anxious mind - the lyrics weighed down with some formidable jitters about the singer’s role in the world - sonically it’s free and experimental, drawing inspiration from ‘70s funk, Krautrock and bubblegum pop. “It’s probably the most poppy-sounding stuff I’ll ever put out. It’s just a fun thing to do, it’s fun to experiment with, and I really just love sugary pop music. I really like how rich it is and how luscious it is.”
“I really love sugary pop music - how rich and luscious it is.”
Alfie is eloquent and open when discussing personal matters, but it’s clear his main focus is always music; he has a sharp observational skill when it comes to understanding different aural elements, which makes him an insightful sonic experimenter. “I like music without a formula,” he explains. “There’s a loose concept to my album, but every song has a different meaning, every song has a different sound. I like anything that doesn’t have a formula but can still fit, like a really good puzzle - that’s what kind of turns me on, listening to an album.”
The versatility of his debut certainly showcases a remarkable knowledge of different genres; ‘A Westerner’ has shades of Gil Scott-Heron, ‘Do It’ is a Daft Punk-like track dipped in cheesy ‘80s synthwave, and ‘Folding Mountains’ is a foray into stoner slacker rock. Alfie approaches music with an analytical eye, looking “beyond the melody, and into the things that are actually behind it, evoking it. The things that lift that track and make your ears warm. The bits that make you think, ‘What is that? I wonder what that sound is…’ I’m trying to find those sounds that make me feel different ways and different things.”
He’s meticulous in applying this method to his own sound, not resting until every element has slotted into its perfect place. “I spent literally hours getting the drums and bass to match up [on ‘A Western’]. I wanna get it all right. I haven’t actually finished a new song in a while ‘cause I spend a whole day on minutes’ worth of music,” he laughs. “I just put in loads of tiny things, because I don’t want people to hear everything the first time. I want people to go back to it and go ‘Ohhh wait, hang on, I didn’t notice that before!’”
‘Mellow Moon’ has been two years in the making, but Alfie is already considering his next moves. “I wanna make the kind of things that give me goosebumps, that make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, you know, progressions that catch me out,” he says. “And I wanna write lyrics that mean the world to me, something that’s straight from the heart. I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I just really need to sing about how I feel at the moment.”
More than capable of consistently creating new and imaginative sounds, with an ability to dig deep within himself and explore the more complicated corners of his mind, Alfie Templeman might have started as an impressive indie teen prodigy, but the future could go whichever way he wants it. “I’m seen as an indie artist,” he says of himself. “But I’m definitely not. That’s gonna change in the next decade. For sure.”
‘Mellow Moon’ is out now via Chess Club.
Alfie Templeman plays Live at Leeds: In the Park (4th June), Mad Cool (6th - 10th July), TRNSMT (8th - 10th July), Depot In The Castle (9th July), Community (16th July), Latitude (21st - 24th July), Tramlines (22nd - 24th July), Y Not (29th - 31st July), Bingley Weekender (5th - 7th August), Sziget (10th - 15th August), 110 Above (26th - 28th August), The Big Feastival (26th - 28th August) and Victorious (26th - 28th August).
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