Heavy Temple: Interview With Bassist & Vocalist High Priestess Nighthawk

Heavy Temple have been fighting the good fight since 2012, but they’ve kept the world waiting until 2021 for their debut album. Fortunately, it was well worth the wait: Lupi Amoris is a finely streamlined record crammed with awesome riffs, soaring vocals and memorable song-writing. Singer, songwriter, bass player and all round head honcho High Priestess Nighthawk was kind enough to take some time out to answer our questions.

Heavy Temple - Photo by Gene Smirnov
Heavy Temple – Photo by Gene Smirnov

Sadly, stage names seem to be the wane these days so kudos to you for keeping the flag flying. Where did High Priestess Nighthawk come from and how do you decide on names for new members?

There’s a Tom Waits album called Nighthawks At The Diner, and I guess it just stuck with me. Every member gets to choose their own name. Unless they really don’t want to, in which we try to come up with something that reflects their personality. I structured it around the religious nomenclature system because I always wanted Heavy Temple to feel like rock and roll church, where you go to worship the riff.

Heavy Temple have gone through a plethora of different line-ups. Could you give us a potted history of the ins and outs of the band? How did the current line-up come together?

It’s certainly been a revolving door. People’s lives and priorities change, and I wanted a band with that flexibility so we could always keep playing and touring. When we started almost ten years ago, we were a three piece. Bearadactyl was kind of on loan and Rattlesnake moved to the west coast. Saint Columbidae joined on drums, and we were a two piece for a while. Then I found Tempest, or perhaps I should say she found me, and honestly, she really saved the band. Good drummers are like mythical creatures, and they’re always all in multiple bands, so I got very lucky. Then we added Barghest, who ended his tenure to work for NASA (hopefully making Heavy Temple the first band to have a member in space). Thunderhorse stepped in almost immediately, and that brings us to 2019.

Heavy Temple has always had a wide array of influences, but if I had to pin it down I guess psychedelic doom…

We were able to do a lot of touring, despite not having been able to record Lupi Amoris, which was intended to be tracked with the previous line-up. Parting ways was not easy, and it was a very hard decision to make. I don’t expect anyone to understand it, but I think we just had different expectations and creative goals. I knew that Paisley and The Baron were great musicians, so it was a no-brainer to ask them to join. Every iteration of Heavy Temple has shaped what we are right now, and as objectively as I can say so, this line-up is probably the closest to what I envisioned when I started.   

I absolutely loved Lupi Amoris. It touches on a wide range of musical genres but is really hard to pin down. How would you describe it?

I always laugh a bit at this question because I have a hard time describing it myself. I suppose I’d just call it heavy rock and roll. I think that Heavy Temple has always had a wide array of influences, but if I had to pin it down I guess psychedelic doom. We like kraut and classic rock, psych, stoner and sludge, desert rock, black metal. I think we’re just an amalgamation of those genres we like

Heavy Temple ‘Lupi Amoris’

One thing I particularly enjoyed was the interplay between the riffs and the vocals – you don’t just follow the riff melody like Ozzy did and the I found the dynamics very striking. Could you talk us through the process of how a Heavy Temple song comes together?

I still struggle when writing vocal melodies because I’m also playing the bass, so generally they are last to develop. The composition and arrangement are the easiest parts for me, but I do like to nurture them and let them take their own shape. As for the vocals themselves, I like to let the music breathe a little, so I just sing when I feel it’s appropriate. What I do like about Ozzy is that he kind of does the same thing. Sing on the verse and chorus, then let the band take the reins. I’m very excited about writing the next album as a band. I’ve been the primary songwriter so I think creating collectively will lead to some sonic exploration for all of us.

I’ve been the primary songwriter so I think creating collectively will lead to some sonic exploration for all of us…

Clearly a lot of thought went into the lyrics and artwork for the album. Could you tell us about the broader themes underlying them?

At its core, Lupi Amoris is a collection of love songs. I met my partner at a festival in the woods, and they were the one to show me the Angela Carter story. A couple tracks on the album pre-date our relationship, but this album as a concept didn’t start to take shape until maybe three years ago. Sometimes you meet someone, and it changes the whole trajectory of your life, so I wanted to write about that using the Carter’s story as a skeleton. My confidence, independence and autonomy are of great value to me, and there was something about the narrative that just spoke to me.

How did you guys hook up with Magnetic Eye Records?

I think it started through the Women Of Doom compilation, that’s how we connected with Jadd. When we were shopping the album around, he reached out and said that Magnetic Eye was quite interested in working with us, so we gave him an enthusiastic yes! We’d already heard a lot of great things about the label through friends of ours, and we were equally as interested in working with them. They give us artistic freedom and support us every step of the way.

Heavy Temple - Photo by Gene Smirnov
Heavy Temple – Photo by Gene Smirnov

Your first album has been a long time in the making. Are you going to make us wait as long for the follow-up?

No! We’ve been creatively juiced up and pretty efficient during our forced time off. It’s mostly the personnel changes and touring that hamper the writing process. This past year has been fucked in nearly every sense, but that was the one silver lining for us.

Once the plague abates do you have plans to hit the road? What are the chances of you guys making it across the Atlantic to tour?

We would absolutely love to play these songs to people that aren’t our neighbors. We had our first show several weeks ago and it was glorious. We might have a few plans but coming to Europe is definitely on our to-do list.

You’ve mentioned elsewhere that the heavy music scene in Philadelphia is really supportive and vibrant. What local bands would recommend The Shaman readers check out?

Alright, strap in. Ecstatic Vision, Ruby The Hatchet, High Reeper, Slomosapiens, St. James and the Apostles, Caged, Witching, Moros, Blazon Rite, Bloodspore, Morgul Blade, Boozewa, Clamfight, Red Touch Black, Sonja, Grave Bathers and also even though they aren’t categorically heavy, Cosmic Guilt. There’s probably a bunch more that I forgot.

We had our first show several weeks ago and it was glorious…

You mentioned in an interview with JJ Koczan of The Obelisk that St. Anger had some endearing features. I’ve consulted far and wide and am totally stumped as to what they could be. Could you shed some light on this for us?

Well, everyone knows about the snare, plus we got that great documentary out of it, which inspired one of my favorite Metalocalpyse episodes. And when you stack it up next to Lulu, it might as well be Beethoven’s 9th.

Thanks so much for your time. Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share?

This album is really a landmark for Heavy Temple, and we’re just so stoked and happy to have it out in the world. And we’re excited y’all dig it!

Label: Magnetic Eye Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Interviewed by: Liam Blanc