We have been instructed to arrive at Twin Temple’s home after dark. Located in a quiet residential neighbourhood in Los Angeles, the old house sits behind tall hedges, its outer walls painted black. A metal art deco bat watches over the porch and funereal lace covers the windows. After a knock on the door, we meet singer Alexandra James. “Welcome to the crypt,” she says with an inviting smile, fake (we assume) blood trickling from her lips.
The singer lives here with husband Zachary, her life partner in art and magick. As Twin Temple, they make what they call ‘Satanic Doo-Wop’, a loving throwback to classic girl group rock’n’roll with genuine demonic overtones. Tonight, they will lead Metal Hammer on a tour of their carefully curated 1895 Victorian home.
They’re a perfectly matched couple, dressed in black rodeo suits stitched with ornamental designs of glittery red and white pentagrams and daggers. Zachary’s short hair is slicked back, while Alexandra’s is piled high into a 60s-era beehive. “I gotta have somewhere to hide my knives, you know?” she says with a laugh.
Since releasing their first single as Twin Temple in 2017, the twangy guitar pop of Let’s Hang Together, the singer and her guitarist mate have explored their dual obsessions with Satan and a particular moment in Los Angeles pop music history – almost exclusively from 1962 to 1965, as played by the musical gunslingers and session players of The Wrecking Crew. (That collective included virtuosos like drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye and arranger Jack Nitzsche, who were the frequently uncredited force behind some of the biggest pop hits of the 60s, from The Ronettes to The Monkees.) Twin Temple’s newest album, God Is Dead, is likewise a romantic journey through black magic and sexual healing, with self-explanatory songtitles like Let’s Have A Satanic Orgy and Burn Your Bible.
At home, their hardwood floor is stalked by Ziggy, a 14-year-old pug, who seems unbothered by all the bones and demonic symbols. In the living room and dining area, he waddles beneath an impressive collection of antiques gathered by Twin Temple, including an 18th-century Italian console table with satyrs carved into the wood, surrounded by chairs smothered with snarling griffins. “We collect anything devilish,” Alexandra explains, standing beneath a renaissance revival Victorian chandelier that once hung inside a castle in Germany.
From more recent history, Zachary pulls out a one-of- a-kind acetate of an unreleased mix of Dion’s Baby Let’s Stick Together, a 70s wall of sound recording produced by Phil Spector, with handwritten notes on the label. They also own an autographed copy of Spector’s classic Christmas album, signed by the producer on the day he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1989. Over the decades, Spector made history as a pop music maestro, and was among the first to truly use the recording studio like an instrument, before earning a reputation as a madman for pulling a gun on John Lennon, Leonard Cohen and Dee Dee Ramone during recording sessions, threatening wife Ronnie, and later becoming a bizarre pariah in a fright wig convicted of murder. “Ahh, I wish he didn’t go out that way,” laments Alexandra. “But he made a lot of magic.”
Before Twin Temple bought this house in East LA, it was painted white and mint green, says Zachary, “so we made it a very cheerful black. I do love walking up to the black bay windows every morning – after our grave- digging expositions at night.”
Their shared aesthetic is demonic Victorian layered with the influences of Hammer horror movies and the underground films of occultist Kenneth Anger Zachary and Alexandra in their home studio, where they make beautifully evil music together. “I feel like all the best occult rituals went down in the 60s in Victorian houses,” says Alexandra.
On a table are portraits of the Twin Temple duo made from tintypes, an early photographic process popular in the 19th century, giving them an ancient look of vampires passing through the ages. They have a weakness for vintage taxidermy, so their home is decorated with the remains of various “Saturnian creatures” – goats, baboons, etc. There is a stuffed peacock and a very old dead parrot, and a stand where a mongoose is frozen in battle with a cobra. A real zebra skin decorates the hardwood floor, right beside a collection of beloved vinyl – records by Spector and occult rarities such as the 1971 eponymous double-LP Barbara, The Gray Witch and Alex Sanders’ 1970 album A Witch Is Born.
All the taxidermy is from the era before widespread acknowledgement of endangered species, when captains of industry regularly hunted big game and brought home the skins and mounted heads to decorate their mansions. Despite Alexandra and Zachary’s collection of knives and skulls, the idea of actually killing any living creature is of no interest to Twin Temple. They even tried vegetarianism, though it didn’t take. Like many of us, the couple remain inherently carnivores, but real human flesh is not on the menu.
Along one wall is a collection of small post-mortem photographs – ancient portraits of children and adults posed after their deaths as grim mementos for grieving survivors. “These are my children. I especially like the babies,” says Alexandra. “They’re so beautiful, their tiny coffins.” She points to one of the pictures and says, “These are triplets who passed away,” and she reads the names written on the back: Bessie, Essie and Jessie.
Specific details about Twin Temple’s new neighbourhood in East LA are confidential, a necessity after their previous home became a magnet for Christian extremists when they were ‘exposed’ by hothead and far-right propagandist Alex Jones. That led to online death threats and insane accusations that the couple were killing babies. They left their mid-century house in LA’s Silver Lake neighbourhood after finding this rare Victorian gem.
That experience fed the theme of God Is Dead, which is painstakingly period-correct to the early 60s, based on obsessive study of vintage studio logs, out-of-print books, recording sessions, manuals and interviews. Twin Temple do own some vintage gear, including a 1964 Fender Jaguar guitar and a couple of mid-60s Fender amps, but the duo are believers in the ability of modern tech to recreate the sound and feel of old recordings they love. The album title, Alexandra adds, is about “imagining a world post-God”.
“After all the relentless death threats and moralising and harassment, we were just like, ‘You want to harass us over who we are? Then we’re going to double down on that.’ In a lot of ways, we really made it like our blasphemy record,” Alexandra explains. “The blasphemous themes are definitely more in your face. If you’re going to harass us, then let’s just be the best sinners on the block.”
To their surprise, the music on their debut album, 2019’s Twin Temple (Bring You Their Signature Sound... Satanic Doo-Wop), found an audience waiting for it. “We were 100% positive that this would not be successful because it’s so bizarre,” she says. “The funny thing is that once we made something we were positive nobody else would like, then other people started being like, ‘Hey, I’m into this too.’ And we’re like, ‘Really?’”
Metal fans, punks and other listeners were drawn to their devilish doo-wop, along with various factions of Satanists, who don’t always get along but find common ground at Twin Temple shows. They now share management with Ghost, Slayer, Mastodon and Gojira, and recently spent a year on the road with Ghost playing arenas in the UK, US and Europe. “They let us just be feral,” says Alexandra of their new reps, Rick Sales Entertainment Group. “We really needed people who would just let us be ourselves.”
On their last tour headlining the US, Twin Temple began hosting meet and greet events with fans. This year, they are offering a ‘satanic baptism’ for a coven of 10 people at a time. “We wanted to do something a little more evil. Let’s baptise people in the name of the Dark Lord!” says Alexandra with a laugh. “We’re going to do a mini-ritual for people.”
At one show, they officiated a wedding – just one more in an ongoing life of rituals onstage and off in their life together. “If there’s two things that we’re trying to keep alive, it’s classic American rock’n’roll and magick and the occult,” says Alexandra. “I’m not trying to proselytise or convert people, but I want to carry on that conversation. We’ll die for this shit.”
We’re standing in the dining room when the couple introduce us to a full human skeleton named Charles, who in life was once a patient at what was then London’s Bethlem Royal Hospital, aka ‘Bedlam’, a horrific psychiatric hospital “where our expression ‘total bedlam’ comes from now because of their deranged practices in the hospital,” Alexandra says. Charles clearly didn’t make it out of Bedlam alive. His skeleton was used later for rituals at a Masonic lodge, she explains, and traces of black candle wax can be seen on his bones. “Then he came to us. He’s got his own personality for sure.”
On the wall above Charles’s skull hangs an old painting the couple found in Florence depicting the Devil hovering over a nude Venus reclining blissfully. “It is a portrait of us,” suggests Zachary. While their house is somewhat secluded behind tall hedges, neighbours have noticed the young couple next door. Some keep their distance.
“I think they’re a little weirded out by us,” Zachary offers. “They’re a little wary of the neighbours who moved in and painted the house black. We did move Charles in at night intentionally because we thought it was appropriate – you can’t bring in a skeleton in the middle of the day.”
In the guest house out back, Twin Temple have built a cosy recording studio, with walls decorated with guitars and artefacts from their other interests: a framed Time magazine cover from 1972 announcing ‘The Occult Revival’ and lobby cards from the 1968 horror film The Devil Rides Out (released as The Devil’s Bride in the States). Among Zachary’s prized possessions is a coffee mug that reads ‘Back to Mono’, honouring the classic sound of early rock and pop records. All Twin Temple recordings are released in mono.
“This is where we make records sound like they’re done at Gold Star with 100 people,” explains Zachary, referring to a now-defunct studio made famous by Spector and The Beach Boys, “but we do it in here, one instrument at a time.”
This studio is one of the couple’s favourite spaces, and they sometimes spend 12 hours a day working on music. There’s also a well-stocked library, with volumes on the occult and a Victorian copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost, but it’s currently crowded with gear for a tour with Danzig just days away. Walking through the garden out the back, Alexandra stops at her sarracenia, a pitcher plant that eats live prey, and sticks a finger in its mouth.
“It has a sweet-smelling nectar, so it attracts bugs in here. And they get further and further and then once they get deep enough, they can’t get back out and they die in there. Then the plant digests them. I love carnivorous plants.”
This is their dream house, and they fully expect to stay for eternity, or at least until they fulfil their fantasy of one day trading up to take over Spector’s old Pyrenees Castle, a nearby mansion where the notorious producer shot and killed actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. Spector’s former home towers above the community of Alhambra like a scene from the Tim Burton film Edward Scissorhands, which depicted
a castle surrounded by little residential houses. Alexandra just celebrated her birthday with a party there.
“There were definitely some people around 2am trying to do some ghost investigation near the site of Lana’s death, and wandering upstairs, wondering which was his bedroom,” recalls Zachary of their visit.
The idea of taking over the castle comes up more than once during our visit, and it’s no surprise. It represents a grim sweet spot of pop music history, elegant architecture and murder – not unlike the balance of the beautiful and the bleak that fuels Twin Temple’s blasphemous music and growing international following. At Spector’s cursed mansion, the duo certainly recognise an ideal setting for their subversive rock’n’roll and magick, just like at their Victorian home.
“The grounds are just incredible,” Zachary adds dreamily. “One day we’ll paint the castle black.”
God Is Dead is out now. Originally printed in Metal Hammer #380