PREMIERE: CJ Temple Reveals Her Truest Self on Debut LP Smoke

Photo Credit: Shawnee Custalow

CJ Temple has the magic touch when it comes to social media. While some artists and influencers post sexy, glossily filtered selfies or try to nut out the right hashtags to draw a mass following, Temple did something else. Since January 2020 she’s regaled TikTok viewers with her quirky skill for imitating the old-Hollywood movie accent of the 1930s and ’40s. Within a year, she’d drawn over a million followers (her character Millie rehearsing for the funeral party is a gas, recalling Hedy Lamarr). The platform had boosted her artistic confidence enough that she began sharing music too – and with barely restrained surprise and delight, eventually announced her debut album Smoke. It’s officially out on all streaming platforms January 28, but it’s premiering on Audiofemme today in its entirety.

The album’s evening mood is all moonlight, last vestiges of sunset purples and oranges giving way to a smoky grey sky, stars sprinkled above silent trees. It’s the magic-hour soundtrack to peeling off your social façade after being who you are in the world and becoming effortlessly alone in your skin.

Its title refers to the time of “quiet, where you can breathe again,” Temple says. The strings are sadly romantic, the patter of drums like a steady beat of rain against the window pane, and her sultry, lovely voice is intimate and confessional. She has read the room, too. In the wake of Taylor Swift’s versions of her own original songs, Temple’s pop-folk, vaguely Baroque-rock take on ballads is in the same vein, sonically. This is no critique – the opposite, in fact. Temple emerges with a richly-rendered debut, thanks in part to hard work, and in part to serendipity.

“Every single one of the songs had a demo basically, which is the song that I wrote however many years ago – starting from 16 years ago. I wrote from then up until my mid-20s just using a guitar or a keyboard that I didn’t know how to play because I could never sit down and learn instruments,” Temple tells Audiofemme. “I’d play on a guitar and a piano, recording my harmonies. When I got to my mid-20s my dad got me this music software and I started making demos with my computer instead of instruments.”

The Richmond, Virginia born-and-based Temple had – until 2019 – sailed on a path of circumstances and a deep-rooted fear of failure. “I didn’t go to school for anything practical because I always wanted to do something in performance art,” she explains. “I did the arts my whole life and I went to college for theatre. When I left school, I left very disheartened by the industry and the business itself and what was presented to me as normal.”

Thoroughly schooled in the inevitability of constant rejection and brutal competition, opportunities in the lucrative legal administration field were enough to dissuade her from even entering the performance industry – at least, for a little while. “I was like, okay, I’m settled in this job where I’m making more money than I thought I would, I was living alone in this apartment in the city, I was self-sufficient, independent and I thought okay, I can do this for the rest of my life,” she says, then chuckles, “Turns out I couldn’t!”

Seeking an outlet for the self-expression she’d been bottling up, she began posting on TikTok. It was the accent – which she’d perfected during a college performance of Psycho Beach Party under the director’s guidance to sound like Joan Crawford – that won her attention at first, and only after she’d hit one million followers did she begin to post her own music seven months later. That attracted the attention of Erin Anderson at Olivia Management, who asked Temple if music was something she was interested in pursuing.

“I told her yes, absolutely it is,” Temple says. Having chosen to post her original music and be her wild, funny, silly self on social media had sent her hurtling out into the great, wonderful unknown. “It was a culmination of people’s responses to my singing, a couple of originals that I’d posted, and then [Anderson] reaching out to me in that way. It gave me a little bit of courage that maybe people would like this. I’d scared myself out of pursuing it because I kept saying, ‘This is bad, nobody’s gonna like this terrible music, it sucks…’ all the things we tell ourselves… I realized that I had an opportunity and I didn’t think that if I passed up this opportunity that I’d be able to have another one. I gathered up as much courage as I could and we launched the Kickstarter in February and the rest is history.”

Ultimately, 836 backers pledged $42,066 toward Temple’s album, just beating the $40,000 goal they’d set. It enabled her to employ Nashville-based producer Josh Kaler; together, they began going through Temple’s demos, expanding some elements and building some anew. By the time she got into the studio in April, Kaler had already started working on a few of the backing tracks for the songs.

“He wanted to get the bones to the eleven songs in the studio in two weeks – which we did. He’s amazing, he did incredible work,” Temple says. “For two weeks, song-by-song, we went through and built them up. He used all kinds of instruments, synths, my voice as an instrument a few times, and the Czech Studio Orchestra did strings on three of my songs, so we had a lot going on, but mostly it was Josh Kaler just working his magic.”

The Czech Studio Orchestra recorded remotely from Prague. Kaler had worked with them in the past and knew that they could bring the dramatic mood Temple’s songs were calling for. Kaler wrote and arranged all the string parts and they were recorded via livestream.

The glock-stop beat on “How It Feels” provides the foundation for Temple’s snaking croon to wrap its taut body around the beat. What sounds like a dancefloor groove hides a malevolent threat in the lyrics: “I’m coming for you, and I won’t stop,” she warns.

“The Game” exposes the all-too-common experience of staying in a relationship for the safety it provides, well after the flame of desire has been snuffed out and everything your partner does is irritating. Temple wrote these songs while she was still uncertain of her own sexual identity. Her self-revelation that she was queer gave her the license and liberation to revisit the songs and imbue them with her understanding that she was not only unfulfilled by particular partners, but by her own stifled desires.

Her album is, in fact, a testament to her newfound ability to admit what she really wants and who she really is. She’d tried to squeeze the infinite circle of her being into a narrow square room. The affirmation of her innate theatricality and magnetism via TikTok was the catalyst for her to revisit the music-making that depression, self-criticism and self-doubt had beaten into submission. “What’s it like to be free? To finally be able to breathe?” she sings in angelic harmony on “Lost.” “I trapped myself inside this prison of lies that I made for myself to keep everyone outside.”

In dropping her armor, baring her open palms and face to the world – even if it’s one million anonymous TikTok users – she has come home to the CJ Temple she’d never been brave enough to see and embrace. It’s a revelation to meet the person you really are, and she clearly takes delight in this new relationship all over Smoke.

The sweet Calypso-breeze sweeping through “Take Me Where You Go” luxuriates in a soft tinkling of piano keys, the lilting, dreamy melody of Temple’s voice providing a soothing lullaby. It’s a nice contrast to the pattering drum and electro-pulse of “Something That Now I Know.” Whereas “The Game” was about staying too long, this track addresses being with the wrong person and notching it up to experience with the beauty of hindsight.

“That song [Take Me Where You Go] was around my Iron & Wine, The Civil Wars era, in my folk-pop era of music. I loved that subtle, simple feeling to music and, being someone who has severe undiagnosed ADHD, I could never stick with one genre to listen to when I was growing up and writing my music. There’s a lot of influences from a lot of different places,” she says.

Temple has averted pastiche, managing instead to infuse the guitar-heavy, harmony-laden moodiness of gothic, Americana, dusty-boots and furrow-browed folk into a fresher, more autumnal mood, lightened by strings, synths and her untroubled voice.

“I never wanted to copy other people or sound like other artists, but it’s the feeling I got from those musicians and the bands that I wanted to emulate,” she explains. “I wanted people to get that feeling that I got when listening to them.”

The dramatic, ’80s-movie style synth drum on “I Am You, You Are Me” is so lushly melancholic, it could be a fully-formed, climactic heartbreak movie in around four minutes.

Temple’s own movie is not a heartbreaker though. She came out in 2020 – to herself, her family and her followers. She also began a relationship with a woman she’s now moving to Michigan with, in a schoolbus she’s converted into a home-on-wheels. TikTok validated her self-expression, and it was also how she met her current partner, but she also watched a large coterie of her followers drop away when she came out.

“Two years ago I started off with a specific type of following and my follower count has not changed and that’s because I’ve lost so many men and gained so many women,” she says, estimating that before she was even out to herself, she had a following of about 95% men; right now, she’s at about 79% women. “I got to the point where I actually didn’t care if people judged me based on [my sexuality]… All the people that wanted to leave, fine, go! If you can’t support all of me, then I don’t need that support, if it’s conditional.”

TikTok one day, music stardom the next. Whatever life has in store for CJ Temple, she deserves it – unconditionally.

Follow CJ Temple on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Stretch Panic Tells Spooky Stories on Debut LP ‘Glitter & Gore’

Austin-based indie rock band Stretch Panic fills an unusual niche: their songs are based around witches, vampires, demons, and other Halloween creatures. Their debut LP, Glitter & Gore, delves deep into this quirky theme, not only for the fun and humor of it but also as a means to make incisive observations about people and society. The album is out Friday, February 19, but it’s premiering exclusively via Audiofemme in a track-by-track video series below.

The members—MJ Haha (vocals, guitar, synth, omnichord), Jennifer Monsees (bass, vocals), and Cassie Baker (percussion, vocals)—had been friends for years and were working on separate projects until Halloween 2016, when they got together to create a song about ghosts and monsters. The experience inspired them to write more songs around the same theme, and they’ve been playing them in Austin ever since, naming their band after the 2002 cult classic PlayStation game about a girl whose sister gets possessed by demons.

Though they’ve since been reworked, many of the songs on the album were written during these early days of the band, reflecting the love of the otherworldly that stems from the members’ childhoods. “It’s an easy thing to find a common love for a Halloween aesthetic,” says Haha. “Halloween vibes, getting dressed up—we’re all later ’80s kids, and a lot of the culture and movies that came out when we were kids were fun monster movies. There’s just a friendliness to that spooky atmosphere and a playfulness.”

But even in its fantastical imagery, the music addresses topics more relevant to real life, such as toxic relationships and political misogyny. “A lot of those motifs are used to have further conversations about complicated feelings and different kinds of relationships, whether that be romantic types of relationships or friendships or relationships with yourself,” says Monsees. “That’s kind of a thing we find ourselves doing: using these kind of fun, silly imagery to talk about real things.”

Vampire Love,” for instance, features a spoken conversation between a vampire and someone shocked to see them covered in blood, along with a catchy chorus about “vampire love sucking me dry,” expressing the emotions involved in a relationship with an emotional vampire. “You Can’t Stay” similarly uses energetic percussion, groovy bass, and sassy vocals to portray both a literal demon possession and a quarrel between lovers that ends in one person calling “the priest” on the other.

“It sounds almost like ‘called the police,’ and it almost sounds like the person is finally standing up for themselves and ridding themselves of this person who’s possessed their lives,” says Baker.

“Burn the Witch,” driven by electric guitar and shouting that’s somehow equal parts dark and peppy, was written as a reaction to Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” exploring how we continue to verbally “burn women at the stake.” The phrase “blame the woman” repeats in escalating volume—a line that’s “very specific and can also be applied to a million different situations,” says Monsees.

The title Glitter & Gore actually comes from lyrics to “Spirit Juice,” a previously released song about drug addiction that’s not on the album, marrying together the band’s interest in the “sparkly and colorful” and the “morbid and dark,” Haha explains.

Stretch Panic have played tons of live shows, but have released just one EP—2017’s Ghost Coast—so the band is happy to finally put out more recorded music. “We’ve put so much energy into those specific shows where we’re connecting with people who live in the same city as us,” says Monsees. “It’s exciting to be taking these steps to be able to connect with more people, hopefully around the world.”

The band raised money to make the album on Indiegogo and first demoed the songs at home using Logic before bringing them into Austin’s King Electric Recording Co. studio, where sound engineer Justin Douglas recorded and mixed the music. “We brought ideas and feelings and emotions and vignettes of poetry, and he was able to turn that into sounds,” says Haha. For instance, they told him to make the guitar solo in “Vampire Love” sound “like a shooting star,” and he used a guitar pedal he crafted himself to do just that.

While much of the band’s discussion of the supernatural is tongue-in-cheek, Haha has had real-life experiences with such. She grew up in a haunted house in rural New Mexico and remembers trying various ghost-busting remedies, like sprinkling salts in the house, before getting the idea to play the autoharp and sing a song “acknowledging that it really sucks to feel alone and I understand.”

“I had chills and goosebumps all over my body as I was singing this song,” she remembers. “And ever since then, the house was in a lighter and sunnier place. I think the ghost is gone. It just needed to be acknowledged.”

In a way, that’s still what she and her bandmates are still doing today: speaking to the lonely ghosts inside us that want to be seen and heard.

“It was scary,” she adds, “but I’m grateful I learned how to live with something that scared me because I think that made me a lot stronger.”

Follow Stretch Panic on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: St. Lorelei Ponders the Moon and the Matrix on Debut LP Beast

Photo Credit: Jonathan Traviesa

Jo Morris – bandleader, vocalist, and rhythm guitarist for New Orleans-based band St. Lorelei – likes to create worlds with her lyrics. “I tend to write material that’s based on more of an internal world, whether that’s about love or just imagining fictitious environments,” she says. “All I think about when I listen to music is searching for something that really tugs at me, and I like to try to find the same feeling when I write music.”

The band — also consisting of Marcus Bronson (bass, backing vocals), Philip Cooper (keyboards), Alec Vance (guitar), and Steve Walkup (drums and percussion) — will release its debut album Beast this Friday. It paints colorful pictures of a variety of subjects, from nature to famous film scenes.

Much of the album was inspired by listening to the late singer-songwriter Jason Molina; Morris attempted to capture his vivid scene-setting with her lyrics. One of the tracks — the dark, atmospheric, keyboard-driven “Farewell Transmission” — shares a title with a song by his band, Magnolia Electric Co., which features evocative lyrics like “Now we’ll all be brothers of the fossil fire of the sun/Now we will all be sisters of the fossil blood of the moon.” St. Lorelei’s version reads like a letter to the late artist: “I received your farewell transmission/Its echoes are etched across the sky.”

The rest of the album draws from a variety of influences: the dreamy, wistful “Wish” was inspired by The Ronettes, flipping a love song on its head by describing the end of a relationship. In “Night So Dark,” an emotive track reminiscent of The Cranberries, Morris asks with soaring high notes, “Can we make it through another night?”

She remembers writing “Night So Dark” in the winter, as she looked out the window into darkness. “I was just kind of picturing waiting for the light of the moon to break through, and it’s just kind of creating the feeling that I get by watching the moon rise… creating a scene of it in my mind almost like a music video.” She remembers the phrase “too dark to dream” popping into her mind as she looked up at the sky, inspiring the line, “These nights, too dark to dream/So we splay open our hearts and pin them into screens.”

Relationship dysfunction is another overriding theme on the album. In “FOOL,” Morris belts about being deceived by love against discordant jamming, and “Snake Song,” written by Townes Van Zandt, is a haunting and poetic ode to being difficult to love, reminiscent of an old folk song.

“Outside the Green,” a cheery closing track full of harmonies and catchy guitar riffs, has perhaps the quirkiest inspiration: the movie The Matrix. “In that period of time, I had been watching that movie a lot and was just thinking about what constitutes our bodies and what is the corporeal shell — what is stopping us from being one with the elements or even with other people in sharing this same spirit?” says Morris. “I started building it around the stories in The Matrix and Neo’s journey from figuring out when he was in the actual reality and in his perceived reality.”

In her typical songwriting process, Morris brings a melody to her bandmates and describes the feeling she wants to capture, and they craft the sound to fit the mood. “It’s so amazing to be able to play with a band, especially when you’ve played by yourself for so long,” she says. Enlisting the help of engineer Mark Bingham and his barn-like recording studio amid the swamps of Henderson, Louisiana, she used layered vocal harmonies to make the album to sound “sparkling and orchestral.”

Morris formerly sang in the Kentucky Sisters, a duo centered on vocal harmonies and ukulele, while also working on her own material, releasing the EP Ghost Queen in 2017 as a solo artist. Walkup was a fan of the Kentucky Sisters and came to a concert of theirs, and he and Morris began making music together. The band is named after the German folklore figure Lorelei, who jumped into the Rhine river after being betrayed by a lover and transformed into a siren who lured sailors to crash their ships.

During the pandemic, Morris has been using her loop pedal and building songs around vocal harmonies and guitar. She’s currently creating a series of songs lamenting antiquated activities, like using cable TV and VCRs and, nowadays, going to the grocery store without worrying about getting sick. Her goal is to “create a rich world around [everyday things] that you wouldn’t expect” — a skill she’s already clearly mastered on Beast.

Follow St. Lorelei on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

EP PREMIERE: Sam Greens “Rugs”



Premiering today on AudioFemme is Sam Greens’ new EP “Rugs.” In addition to composing his own experimental music, the Philadelphia artist has also worked as an engineer, and produced or mixed for variety of artists including Neef, Tunji Ige, GrandeMarshall, Rome Fortune and Spank Rock. His latest release, the EP “Rugs,” will be released May 13 via Rare MP3s and Grind Select.

My favorite kind of electronic music is the kind where you can’t immediately identify the human behind it. That’s why “Rugs” is so endearing; it sounds like a robot gained sentience but instead of overthrowing the human race, it decided to make some sick beats instead. 

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of personality. Each track creates a distinct mood, from the celebratory “Soft Rugs” to the tough “SJMZ” (which features guest artist Jonah Baseball). Another local electronic artist, Moon Bounce, contributes soulful vocals on “Annuals,” while “Riding Shotgun” features a catchy refrain with a jazzy background. There’s an underlying, but not overwhelming quirkiness to the five songs. Production is more focused on creating the perfect atmosphere and letting choice elements stand out instead of throwing a million meaningless details into each track, and the result is as interesting as it is chill.

Grind Select focuses on interactive listening experiences, and this EP is no exception. Just follow this link, and you can create a digital drawing that pulses and changes color with the beat of “Soft Rugs.”

Listen to our exclusive stream of Rugs below, and pre-order it here.

ALBUM PREMIERE: The By Gods “Get On Feelings”

The By Gods - Get On Feelings artwork high-res

“Playing the best songs, a crowded room when we were young:” The By Gods are releasing their latest album, Get On Feelings, this Friday, and it’s going to take you back a couple of years (or decades).

The Nashville band specializes in straightforward, sincere rock music. Similar to Beach Slang, George Pauley’s lyrics revel in nostalgia, but the band’s heavy, garage-rock sound is always moving forward. Along with Tye Hammonds on drums and Natalie Pauley on bass, he’s created an album that is a catchy throwback to 90’s rock (and a bit of grunge) that sounds familiar, but not like an exact copy of their influences. 

Key tracks are “Miss It,” a song with heavy echoes of remorse George’s voice as he sings about younger, rebellious years: “We’ll start a band, we’ll grow our hair/ God I miss it.” “On The Radio” is incredibly fun with a chorus that will make you want to jump around. You’ll have the opportunity to do that in person on February 26, when The By God’s will be playing at Arlene’s Grocery in Manhattan. For now, you can check out our exclusive stream of Get On Feelings below, and pre-order the album here.