JOHNNY TEMPLE: GIRLS AGAINST BOYS
To some he is the bass player for nineties indie rock kings Girls Against Boys, and to others he is the founder, president and editor-in-chief of publishing company, Akashic Books. Whether you know him for his stellar musical legacy or for the substantial mark he is leaving on the independent publishing industry, there can be no doubt that Johnny Temple has played a vital role on the arts scene that surrounds him.
Born and bred in the punk scene of Washington DC, Temple cut his teeth initially in the post-punk band, Soulside, which released music on Fugazi’s Discord Records. That group split up in 1988 and would lead to the eventual formation of Girls Against Boys, with fellow Soulsider vocalist/guitarist Scott McCloud, drummer Alexis Fleisig and multi-instumentalist Eli Janney, all of whom remain in the band today. After relocating to New York City, the band would go on to release three critically acclaimed albums on Touch & Go Records that eventually led them to signing with Geffen for only one record before being dropped. The Geffen fallout wasn’t all bad news though, because the bonus that the band received upon signing with the label, allowed Temple to have the sufficient funds to found Akashic Books. Akashic has skillfully navigated the turbulent waters of the publishing industry and has managed to forge a truly unique and successful place within the book world or as their masthead says: “reverse gentrification of the literary world.” Now, with the release of The Ghost List EP, Girls Against Boys has blown out the cobwebs and is back in action for their first release of new music in more than eleven years.
chorusVERSEchorus caught up with Johnny during a lunch break at Akashic’s headquarters in Brooklyn and we had a chance to talk about not only the rebirth of Girls Against Boys as a studio entity, but also of his very successful foray into the publishing industry.
It has been eleven years since Girls Against Boys last recorded an album and you have recently released The Ghost List EP, so how does it feel to have new Girls Against Boys music out in the world?
Johnny Temple: Well, it feels great. It has been eleven years, but in that time we have been playing a lot of shows and we are more active now than at any other time since 2002, so it feels really good. We are really happy with the way the recording turned out.
This is only an EP, so are there any plans for a full length? Or are you just going to play it by ear?
JT: We are going to play it by ear. We don’t have anything recorded or planned beyond this EP.
Did you guys work with a producer or did you handle the recording yourselves?
JT: We did it ourselves. My bandmate Eli Janney, who has handled most of our engineering and a fair amount of the producing of our songs over the years, worked on it with a friend of ours named Geoff Sanoff. So, between the two of them we felt like we were in good hands.
Ted Nicely (Fugazi, Shudder To Think) produced your most celebrated albums, was there ever any talk of working with him again?
JT: I think we would all love to work with Ted again if we continue to record new material, but we just didn’t have much time to work it out. Plus, our singer, Scott, lives in Vienna now, so there were geographical issues as well.
Did you get together to record in New York?
JT: We did. The rest of us all live in Brooklyn, so Scott came over here for a few days to work on the songs… after we had sent files back and forth online for awhile.
The majority of Girls Against Boys touring in recent years seems to have all been spent in Europe; is that because Scott lives there and has a good feel for how loyal your fanbase is?
JT: It’s true, we do have a very loyal fanbase in Europe and we have played there a lot more than we have in the U.S. in the last few years. We love playing shows in Europe because we always get such a great response. In fact, our response there now is as good as it has ever been!
Why do you think that is?
JT: I don’t know. We have talked about it and we think about it… Europe has always been great for us and part of it’s because there is more support for the arts in Europe. Bands get paid more and that would explain why so many bands go there but that doesn’t explain why our fanbase has remained so loyal. I guess all the work we did touring in the nineties paid off. I mean we wouldn’t just play the big cities, we would play so many small towns as well. If we went to France, we wouldn’t just play Paris and Lille, we would play through the entire country. Also, you just get treated better as a band. Because it’s so much harder now for us to get out and tour as Girls Against Boys, we have to make sure it’s worth our while and that guarantee is just easier for us to find in Europe.
Do you find that you’re getting a better reaction in some particular countries?
JT: Yeah, oddly enough we seem to be getting a great response from Poland these days. Belgium has always been a great country for us; Italy and France are always great. Every show we have ever played in Croatia has always sold out. It is hard for me to put my finger on why we do so well in these locations though.
The last three GVSB records have been released on three different labels, so how did The Ghost List end up getting released by Epitonic?
JT: They just came to us with a whole bunch of enthusiasm, and we respond very well to enthusiasm!
You guys had made a high profile move from Touch & Go to DGC Records back in 1996 that ultimately saw you dropped from the label after just the one album; was the band scarred from that experience and maybe even jaded by the record industry by that point?
JT: Yeah. We were definitely soured by the whole experience with Geffen, but it’s not like we were naïve going into that relationship, in fact that’s what we expected to happen. That is ancient history now though because the music industry now doesn’t look anything like it did back then. The situation we are in now is completely different than when we were dealing with Touch & Go, Geffen or even Jade Tree.
Speaking of Touch & Go, was there ever any talk of rereleasing any of the Touch & Go albums? This is, after all, the twentieth anniversary of arguably GVSB’s best record, Venus Luxure No.1 Baby.
JT: That is a great question! …there was, but I honestly can’t remember what we discussed.
Speaking of Venus Lux, you guys have played sets where you play that record from front to back, and I would say that it is generally regarded as your strongest record. With the aid of hindsight, why do you think that record has made such a lasting impression?
JT: I think it was a period of self discovery for the band. We had made two previous records and you can hear that we were still experimenting with our sound, but it was during the touring for that second record (Tropic of Scorpio) that we seemed to have happened upon our sound…the sound that would be on every future GVSB album. On Venus Lux that sound is in its most pure and raw form.
During that time, which included Venus Lux and Cruise Yourself, Girls Against Boys had a signature sound that featured not only you playing bass but Eli Janney as well; how did that come to be?
JT: Well, I think a lot of bands from Washington DC are heavily influenced by soul and rhythm & blues music and we, as a band, are certainly more geared towards rhythm than melody, so I think it was only natural that we would start playing around with two basses…since it is a rhythm instrument.
Are there any particular bass players that you would cite as an influence or inspiration?
JT: I have always felt that David Wm. Sims of The Jesus Lizard was one of the best rock bass players of the nineties. Erik Sanko from the band Skeleton Key is another one that I really admired. I would say they were more inspirations than influences though.
Akashic is releasing “Book” which chronicles the entire story of The Jesus Lizard. I recently had the chance to interview David Yow (The Jesus Lizard’s lead singer) and he told me that this was all your idea; what was the genesis of that?
JT: I had been hanging out with David Sims and I had proposed it to him at a party without really thinking about it and he said he loved the idea and that he would ask the other guys what they thought. They all agreed and we got down to work. The Jesus Lizard is one of my favourite bands and I am really happy to have an Akashic book featuring them.
When I spoke to Yow, he mentioned that he was in the finishing stages of his illustrated book of cat puns (called Copy Cat: And a Litter of Other Cats) that Akashic is also putting out, I bet that is a first for Akashic, eh?
JT: Well to tell you the truth we had already done a cat cartoon called “Simon’s Cat in Kitten Chaos”, which was very successful and a bit of a departure, but it basically allowed us to go ahead and do David Yow’s book of cat puns.
So how did you enter the publishing world in the first place?
JT: Well, I had always wanted to start a record label and after Girls Against Boys had signed with Geffen in 1996, I finally had disposable income (for the first time in my life) that I could devote towards it. The problem was that at the time there were thirty-five thousand pretty good indie rock record labels and so there was no demand for it. I mean any decent musician or band already had a label and you would have six or seven companies fighting over one piece of unsigned music. I didn’t want to do work that was redundant; I didn’t want to put out records if there was another label that could do just as a good a job! So the fact that a friend of mine had an unpublished novel kind of became the inspiration for Akashic to become a publishing company rather than a record label. Even though we didn’t start with his book (we published it later), it was the inspiration in starting the company. Then once we had started publishing books, I realized it was everything I had wanted out of a record label. Plus, there was a need! There weren’t, and still aren’t, that many independent publishing companies, so it was fulfilling a vital role.
Your pre-Girls Against Boys band Soulside was on Discord Records and GVSB had a great run with Touch & Go, two labels renowned for their independent spirit; did you pattern any aspect of Akashic on either of those two labels’ business model?
JT: Definitely. I consider Discord and Touch & Go to be my biggest inspirations, in terms of running a company… Discord in particular. I have been hugely influenced by both of those companies in how I run the business. That’s not to say that we are like the book version of Discord Records, there is a lot that is fundamentally different, but I can’t think of any entity that has inspired me more than Discord Records.
So what is on the near horizon for both Girls Against Boys and Akashic Books?
JT: Well, as far as Girls Against Boys, after our December European dates, we don’t have anything planned but I suspect we will be getting together to discuss what our next move is, whether that’s more recording or maybe some US shows. As far as Akashic goes, we already spoke of The Jesus Lizard book, but we also have a great novel coming out called “As Flies to Whatless Boys” from the author, Robert Antoni.