Some music is too powerful to ignore. For proof, please meet White Bear, the raucous new rock ‘n roll animal from The Temperance Movement.
Based in London and Glasgow, UK The Temperance Movement is a four-piece band featuring front man Phil Campbell, bassist Nick Fyffe, guitarist Paul Sayer, and drummer Damon Wilson. Prior to forming the band, the members each played and performed with prominent acts including Deep Purple, Jamiroquai, Ray Davies, The Waterboys, Jack Bruce and even James Brown. When the friends got together for a jam in 2011, everything they’d experienced as sidemen and session men coalesced, and The Temperance Movement was born. 2012’s five-track Pride EP introduced them to the world, and their debut studio album, 2014’s The Temperance Movement announced the arrival of a major rock band. White Bear is their giant step forward.
So much stadium-ready rock today seems computer-designed to function as such. Mass appeal without excessively apparent commercial aspiration—that’s one way to put it. White Bear is the sound of a band whose songwriting and musicianship have reached a rare kind of equilibrium.
Among the album’s clutch of up-tempo burners is “Oh Lorraine”, a song combining traditional blues with future funk and Phil Campbell’s unshackled vocals. “Lorraine is quite a popular Glasgow name, and I actually did once know a girl with that name. I put a move on her and got beaten up by her boyfriend. But it’s not about her specifically,” the Scottish born singer explains. “It’s about bad behavior being cyclical, and moving on from self-defeating behaviors.” As the lyrics go: “Lorraine is a potion that can slow ya down…”
Which leads us to the album’s lead track, “Three Bulleits.” The title is not a typo. Bulleit Bourbon is the name of a Kentucky whiskey the band encountered on tour. “We have a bottle of bourbon on our rider,” says Phil, “that’s our pre-gig drink of choice.” “Not in a Guns ‘N Roses way, more like gentlemen in a drawing room,” clarifies Paul with a laugh. “So one night before we’re going on stage someone was saying who wants a drink? And three hands went up. The comment was made, that’d be a good title for a song….”
A smash-and-grab rocker, “Three Bulleits” finds Phil clambering atop escalating riffs to open with the sobering couplet: “I ain’t saying’ more than you been told / got high on information bought and sold.” Throw in a lyrical nod to The Who’s “Wont Get Fooled Again” as well as the telling line “There won’t ever be a right when it’s all so wrong” and surely the song has to do with news media and current events.
“It comes from an attitude that’s a twisted mix of anger and apathy,” clarifies Phil. “We see the crisis in Iraq or the bombing in Paris or someone in London hacking someone’s head off with a machete, but I believe there’s more to life than all of it, and trying to have some fun in the face of all of it is still worthwhile.”
The song gets to the very core of the album: the idea that communion can still be achieved through secular music, specifically rock ‘n roll. “While it’s quite cool in life to have a religious experience,” believes Phil, “I don’t think religion is essential to have one. I don’t know that there’s one religious truth above all others. All of my life I questioned that more than anything else.” He points out new track “Battle Lines” as being about natural selection, and his own experience becoming a father of a young son, “something that’s made me look at life a bit more optimistically.”
While rockers abound on White Bear, the band all agree “I Hope I’m Not Losing My Mind” is the album’s magical slow-burn ballad, their “At The Dark End of The Street.”
One stunning aspect of the new album is its cover image of a girl and a bear, interlaid and overlapping in magical realism, the creation of celebrated rock n’ roll photographer Steven Sebring, director of the award-winning Patti Smith documentary Dream of Life. “We met up with Steven in New York so he could take some photos of the band,” explains Phil. “He took us out for pizza, to the top of a skyscraper, to a guitar shop, we just really hit it off. He mentioned that he had this new multi-dimensional photography system, and he offered to do our album cover. We’re really stunned and proud of the result.”
The cover photo concept originated with a line from Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Winter Notes on Summer Impressions: ‘Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.’” And so is it with White Bear the album: It’s simply too strong to ignore.
Based on White Bear’s sonic coherence, it’s a surprise to learn the album was recorded piecemeal in different studios at different times. “Our situation dictated it,” Sayer explains. We were touring a lot around the time we knew we had to record this new album, so we did two days back at Fish Factory [where the band had recorded their debut album]. We didn’t call it the start of album two, we just went back in with our producer Sam Miller, and we recorded a few things. Then we went away for a couple months on tour, and after that tour we went to Rockfield in Wales” – the famous studio were bands including Queen and Oasis recorded – “and we were there five days.” In between they had an opportunity to record at Abbey Road. Singer Phil sums it up: “I don’t think you can tell which tracks were from Rockfield or Fish Factory or Abbey Road, it still sounds like us.”
Listeners will detect the influence of The Faces, AC/DC, Little Feat and Cream. Others might hear the legacy of everything from Otis Redding to Radiohead. Actually, it’s not hard to imagine White Bear’s “Magnify” being sung by Aretha Franklin. (“Go on, make that happen!” is Phil’s raucous response to that observation.) But the mention of influences gets Paul Sayer riled up.
“As a society we’ve become obsessed with nostalgia, and things that are called retro,” Paul insists. “When Oasis came out in the ’90s, they were obviously trying to be the Beatles with their shades and haircuts and louder guitars, but they were talked about as a new fresh band. But at some point the need for nostalgia overtook rock and roll. Nowadays as a band, you’re not allowed to be fresh but influenced by other artists? I mean c’mon! The Stones were influenced by all the blues musicians, but they weren’t considered a retro act.”
“All music is influenced by that which came before it,” says Phil, picking up the conversational baton. “If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t want to listen it. It’s great to play in a band where we all love The Black Crowes and Led Zeppelin. But we’re out there playing songs that we’ve written and the passion comes from who we are.”
Perhaps it’s that today, the desire for genuine expression in a throwaway society is strong. Phil Campbell agrees: “In the beginning, authentic rock and roll was a party that only a few people knew about and it would be after hours, late night, lots of dancing and drinking… and now its a set sound used to sell a t-shirt and a sticker… but it’s not, not really. Great music will never be outstripped by someone using rock ‘n’ roll as a marketing tactic.”
After opening for the Rolling Stones in Europe, the band played their first American shows in early 2015, a tour that included some memorable shows throughout the South. “Obviously we’re hugely influenced by Southern soul music and Southern rock ‘n roll, so to finally play down there was thrilling,” says Sayer.
“A lot of times the first half of a gig is warming the crowd up and getting them on your side but those gigs in the States, even though we were still relatively unknown there, it felt like the crowd was with us from the first note,” said Campbell. “When our first album came out in America we were actually starting to move on a bit as a band, because it had come out much earlier in the UK. But this time White Bear is coming out everywhere around the same time. We’re very excited to play the new stuff for people. It’s a great moment for us.”