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Alfie Templeman: “No One Should Look Up To A 19-Year-Old Pop Star” | Features

A star not only in the making but in fact very clearly cemented already, Alfie Templeman – now aged 19 – has established an intoxicating discography over the last few years but has always left us with one question… “When’s the album?” Well, he’s finally giving fans the full-length they’ve been patiently waiting for since 2018 in the form of a concept record exploring his own mental health, ‘Mellow Moon’. A bubbly and multi-faceted 14-tracker, Alfie has delivered more undeniable bangers (‘3D Feelings’) and reflections on his own stability (‘Broken’) amongst a collection of tunes that chart a journey of satisfying albeit it eternally unfinished self-discovery against an array of ever-expanding sonic flourishes. Clash caught up with Alfie the week before the long-awaited LP drops to examine the struggle and joy behind a career that is far from its mountainous peak.

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Do you see it as a bit of a miracle that you’ve ended up with a great debut album after an extremely turbulent couple of years?

Yeah, there were times it felt like I was completely falling apart so it’s surprising that it actually ended up existing in its entirety, to be honest. There were points when I wondered if I was ever going to finish it, but thankfully things evolved and kept getting better.

At what point did you first decide that this collection of songs was going to become your debut album?

I had all the songs already formed but it was last year that I decided I had enough material to put together an album, and then I wrote lyrics around it all. There was a period of time when all the stuff from lockdown occurred, and then after that, I came out from it and lived a different life – that’s when all the lyrics came, once I was actually able to do stuff again. It all came together and I started to form a concept about mental health.

Do you think having a rich background, particularly with records like ‘Yellow Flowers’ which maintained an indie sensibility, informed a meaningful transition into pop?

This is the only pop record I’m putting out, this is a momentary thing. It was the same with indie, I just dabbled in it – I like trying different styles, and those are two genres that I’ve tried. There are many more I’d love to mess around with; neo-soul, prog, jazz, stuff that I grew up with. I went into music with indie because growing up, it seemed like the most sensible way to do it; that was the music that I had connected with in school and what I was listening to at the time.

I made pop last year just because I felt like it, but there are aspects to this album that aren’t pop at all and actually hint at and pull from other styles. There’s not one sound I’m going for really strongly on this record, it’s more that I like so many different sounds and I’m trying to incorporate them all into this one singular pot.

That much has definitely been evident from the singles you’ve released so far, the most recent of which is ‘Colour Me Blue’ – what’s the inspiration behind this track? It was a highlight on your recent headline tour!

It’s one of the most simple songs on the record because a lot of this record is quite intense, so I felt like doing something very indie – it’s probably the most indie-pop song I’ve ever made. To me, it’s a coming of age movie in a song; it’s super sweet and straightforward, and it’s got a teenage love song vibe to it. It helped the album breathe a little and is a nice summer bop. I made that with Kieran [Shudall] of Circa Waves so that process was really cool.

You pulled in a few other experienced collaborators across this album – what did you gain from the likes of Tom McFarland (Jungle), Justin Young (The Vaccines), Will Bloomfield, and Rob Milton?

There were five people that generally helped and every single one of them had a different vibe going on. They all acted as a second pair of ears, providing me with different preferences and different ways of chasing my ideas. Sometimes I agreed with them, sometimes I disagreed, but there were always lots of new and welcome suggestions. That helped me to explore even more styles because all these people got me into new songs and new styles of music.

Discovering new music while making songs is great, and finding new artists through the people I work with has actually influenced my own songs since making this album.

Kieran Shudall has glowingly said, “all [Alfie] needs is the time and space to make the albums he wants.” Is time and space the biggest restrictor on your output?

Most of the time I start all my songs off alone in my room and keep on crafting them so I need a lot of time and space to think and get things write. I often go around in circles, trying to experiment and add new things all the time. When I start working on an idea, I don’t want to show it to anyone before I’ve got it right, and half this album is actually me just playing all the instruments. In places I got help because I knew it would extend the ideas and make them sound bigger. It’s all about building your ideas up until you’re comfortable to show people. 

Do you feel like maintaining that space for your music to grow has been vital to ensure you’re creating art for yourself, rather than as a marketable product?

That’s a big thing because it keeps you grounded. Especially when I’m working at home, it reminds me that I’m a brother, I’m a son, I’m a boyfriend; it reminds me that I’m just a person, and that element plays into my music. That’s what fuels my energy for making songs, so it’s really important to maintain.

Songs have two different lives: the life before they come out, and the life after. I always prefer the life before because it’s just me, my ideas in my own head, and no one else can shape that. I don’t often talk about the meaning to my songs because I like to give the audience their chance to create their own meaning. A lot of the time I contain the secret of whatever is going on in my head even when I put it out, I don’t like sharing what feeling or memory inspired the song because the song should speak for itself.

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Another highlight on ‘Mellow Moon’, which explores how intense positivity can guide attention away from the negatives. You do a lot of cool things in your job, but what negatives hide behind it?

Out of all the pop songs, that’s the coolest one because of the juxtaposed lyrics – it hits really hard. A lot of anxiety comes with my job and that’s mainly because once you put yourself out there, there’s always going to be someone’s eyes looking or ears listening, perpetually judging you.

Seeing people express opinions about you can be quite weird, especially when realising that it’s going on in the moment. I get really bad imposter syndrome too – no matter how hard I try, I can’t convince myself that my music is good a lot of the time. It’s a tough one, but the pro of that is that it keeps me trying to make better music each time. I’m always trying to make music that blows my own mind and gives me goose bumps.

Are there many upsides to being a role model?

It’s good that I have a platform to use, I’ve got a big enough audience to help raise awareness of things. At the same time, I don’t think I’ve got my life together so how can I be a role model for other people? No one should look up to a 19-year-old pop star.

You returned to your platforms recently to share a seven-minute video essay on your anxieties. Did you feel shame associated with your struggles?

I still don’t really use social media, but that video helped to explain how and what I’m feeling so people can understand what’s going on inside my head a little bit more. I do feel guilty about my mental health all the time, so getting that out there actually helped me more than anything else, any knowing that it helped other people is even more important.

Despite the strong character your music always has, do you worry that it’s not perfect?

Yeah, I can see where the criticisms will be. It’s hard to get things right – you can know how to make a good album, but not how to put that into practice. I always have the sound of a good album in my head but it’s hard to produce it or get the lyrics right. I’m learning what I want in my head still.

Is it important to abandon that pursuit of perfection?

Not necessarily. Eventually I will go down that route and spend a long time doing it, but at the moment I’m fine with it – I’m not even 20. I may as well just release music that makes me feel good. This is a good start.

Do you look forward to growing up or do you want to hold onto some sense of youth?

I’m looking forward to growing up. A few years ago I would’ve said I wanted to hold onto my youth but now I’m very much in the present, and I’m quite happy about that. I’m looking forward to being here, right now.

What does the ‘Mellow Moon’ album mean to you?

The whole concept is that the moon is the one thing that’s staring into my bedroom at night, when I’m lying awake thinking. It’s a comfort place for me so this is a comfort record too, it’s just me answering a lot of things in my head. That’s why it’s the mellow moon; when I was recording it in my bedroom I felt relaxed and comfortable, and it was the same way when the moon was over me at night.

Is that what you want for listeners too?

Yeah, I hope it helps them to answer a few questions in your their head.

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‘Mellow Moon’ is out on August 27th.

Words: Finlay Holden

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