Matchstick Man | Luke Temple Fires Up a Classic

“I said that phrase in the shower one day and liked the sound of it.”

Luke Temple has a great, easy-to-remember name. His debut CD, Hold a Match for a Gasoline World, is one of the best album titles of the year. If the music contained in its grooves weren’t worthy of such a title, one could be forgiven for feeling disappointed, but thankfully, Hold a Match turned out to be one of 2005’s singer/songwriter gems.

“The record was able to happen because a friend of mine gave a copy of a demo I had done to Mike Manning in Seattle,” said Temple, who’d lived in the Boston area and had also begun generating a fan base in New York. “He was starting Millpond Records and had already put out a record by this band Blessed Light and was ready to expand his roster. We started flirting with the idea with very sporadic phone calls over a few months. He finally offered me a deal and at that point I wasn’t sure I was going to take it…but Millpond turned out to be far more than I had anticipated.”

Moving from New York to Seattle was also serendipitous because Temple’s girlfriend, a dancer, was in a company that was relocating there. So the move made sense, and it jumpstarted the musician’s career. Temple rewarded the label’s faith by releasing a warm, intoxicating song cycle distinguished by his charmingly vulnerable voice and deft acoustic fingerpicking. His style earned Temple comparisons to high-caliber artists such as Paul Simon, Neil Young, and Elliot Smith.

“Since we need a reference point in order to explain our experience, sometimes we will make over-simplified connections,” said Temple, who said he said he was flattered by the comparisons but sometimes found them arbitrary. “Simon is someone I haven’t spent much time listening to; however, I admire his craft. We share a similar vocal style, but I also think that we share the same sculptural approach to writing and the same desire to recreate with every song. We probably both got that from the Beatles, so maybe it’s more of an indirect comparison to Paul McCartney.”

And the other two names?

“Elliot Smith I resist because he is more or less a contemporary. But I love his music and it was a big part of my life for a long time, so I’m sure the influence has saturated my music regardless of whether I know it or not. Neil Young—what can I say? Neil is my heart.”

Although any new artist inevitably gets compared to others, it’s striking how Temple pulls elements together in such a fresh manner. His voice sounds naturally engaging and centered, and Temple fully inhabits every one of his distinctive melodies and arrangements. There’s nary a musical misstep to be found.

“I wanted the acoustic guitar and vocals to be central, with other elements making appearances when absolutely necessary,” he explained. “We were very conscious of economy and clarity. I wanted every element to have its own meaningful voice, nothing arbitrary and no clutter. In terms of production we wanted a dry, close sound.”

Hold a Match is one of those albums you can play all the way through without getting bored—each tune seems to follow naturally from the preceding one, and Temple’s voice keeps you hooked with its emotional honesty and appealing vulnerability. “Mr. Disgrace,” “Old New York,” and “Private Shipwreck” are captivating examples, while “Radiation Blues” sounds like Paul Simon fronting the Beatles. Not bad for a guy who only started singing six years ago!

“My voice continues to grow from experience,” said Temple. “I’ve never taken formal voice lessons; however, I probably should—maybe then I could get that Broadway sound I’ve been going for. At this point, I’m definitely more aware of singers and the art of singing, and I’m going for something more specific, even more than on the record. I think there could have been more vulnerability and connection in the music if we had done it in a more live way. All the songs were of equal importance, but…I’m happiest with the more acoustic numbers. I guess I particularly enjoy ‘Old New York’ and ‘Make Right With You.’”

Temple is building a following slowly, and is refreshingly relaxed about the pace of his career. He’s not concerned about getting lost in the shuffle of bigger names.

“Art that has something to say will find its audience eventually. I do think right now that the gap between indie and mainstream music is becoming thinner with the success of a band like Arcade Fire or songwriters like Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens. They have healthy careers and their once-marginalized audience is continually expanding. There’s room for middle- to upper-middle-class musicians, and that’s all I can ask for.”

An obvious question for the budding songsmith: Where’d he come up with that title?

“I said that phrase in the shower one day and liked the sound of it,” said Temple. “The record is from the point of view of one individual coming to terms with the transience of the world, trying to find peace with himself before the moment finally comes. One small burning flame is a symbol of romance, but if held up to gasoline is destructive.”

A glowing thought from one of our brightest new songwriters.

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