An Interview with High Priestess Nighthawk of Heavy Temple

High Priestess Nighthawk has some serious pipes and plays several instruments, including the bass and cello for the psychedelic doom trio Heavy Temple. Heavy Temple is freshly signed to Magnetic Eye Records. Their upcoming and long-anticipated full-length, ‘Lupi Amoris’, will be released June 18, 2021. You can stream “The Maiden” now.

Nighthawk and I covered a lot of ground during this interview, I could talk to her forever. We discussed the upcoming album, current events, early influences, and more.

Elyse: So I have to ask, is Nighthawk a Step Brothers reference?

Nighthawk: No (laughing). When I started the band, I wanted everybody to have aliases. It actually came from a Tom Waits live album, Nighthawk at the Diner, though it’s not actually a live album. Though I have been sent that meme several times by people!

You are the only person that has ever asked me that.

E: Stupid comedies are my brand. Ha ha. Now before the latest Heavy Temple, you released an album under the alias Nighthawk last year, 'The Dimensionaut'.

N: Yes. That was something I had been working on in tandem over the past 10-years or so. I’d been mulling over the idea of doing a solo thing. So I just kept the alias to put out a couple of things, because you know, what else am I going to do? It’s a pandemic. I’ll put these songs out that I’ve been saying I’m going to put out for years or something. So that’s how that came about.

E: How do you decide when you’re writing is going to go to which project? Like if it’s going to be something on the side vs say, Heavy Temple.

N: Most of the riff-based stuff goes straight to Heavy Temple. There was a point a couple of years ago where I was in four bands where it was different assigning which goes where. One band was a six-piece party band, then I was playing guitar in a black metal kind of band, and bass in a grind band. The black metal and grind band I didn’t have to write as much for, but with Narcos Family Band I was definitely contributing a lot more to writing.

The solo stuff, I’ve always liked synths, 80’s horror stuff. I also like a lot of late '70s, early '80s European disco. So there is that influence as well. When I’m writing that stuff it’s almost exclusively for that. Though I am trying to blur the line between that synthy solo stuff and Heavy Temple.

I’ve been the primary songwriter of Heavy Temple for so long, pretty much everything just goes to that.

E: That’s actually something I was going to ask you about. I noticed you did the writing on the earlier albums. Is that the same for the upcoming album?

N: The first couple songs I wrote and found people to track them. I don’t mean for it to sound like they were studio musicians, they weren’t, we were bandmates. Once the self-titled came out, I had already started writing for Chassit. There were a couple of line-up changes and by the time Chassit was being released the guitarist left, and I had already started writing for this new album.

So yes, 'Lupi Amoris' is mostly things that I had already written. But the new songs we’re working on is much more collaborative, which is awesome. And it was never like, “these are my songs!” It just happened. I thought, I wrote these songs and my policy was always: if you like these jams and want to go on tour and play them with me, let’s learn them and do that.

The newer stuff is much more of a group effort and it’s great. You can kind of pinpoint where everyone is coming from.

E: You said that “The Maiden” is related to another song on the album, “The Wolf.” Can we expect more of that interconnectedness throughout the album?

N: It just kind of happened for those two. We may have actually done that on the last album as well. In the first album, there are two songs that run into each other. I think we do it on Chassit. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes when you’re writing and just playing the songs live, you sort of create this transition into one song into another. In all of these cases, it’s worked well on the album.

They are two songs, but since they’re complementary, we’ll play them as one long song when we play them together.

E: For 2021, you guys are talking about doing some shows.

N: I think that people really want to go out, and it could a couple of different ways. Like you could have your first couple of shows and everything can be fine. Or it could be that people have been cooped up for so long that they’re freaking out.

I know that a lot of bands want to play, Heavy Temple included. But when is it socially acceptable and safe enough to play? We want to play but we also want to be safe. So case by case basis for sure.

Muddy Roots seems like a good jump-off because the June Bug Ranch is huge and it’s outdoors. You could probably do it where everybody is spaced. California is doing it where they are checking their vaccination cards, which all sounds very Orwellian, but at this point, I’m just like, whatever. I've spent plenty of time being angry at 'the man'.

E: I mean I’m still angry…

N: I’m still angry and I don’t trust anyone [in government] as far as I can throw them. I think they’re wildly incompetent, but I’m also more resigned at this point, sadly. I try to do what I can within the realm of my own civic duty and encourage others to do the same, but ultimately, unless every American shows up in DC to tell them how pissed they are, it’s not going to change.

E: It’s the direct-action end that is hard. And that’s where I think social media has kinda complicated things. It’s been a good thing, but it’s also like everyone is an expert now, people have an opinion, they want simple answers, and activism just seems very shallow right now.

N: It’s very performative, yeah. But I do appreciate it at least on the level of bringing to light things that your circle might not be aware of. So it still has its place. Particularly when organizing events.

E: I find it refreshing artists like you, like sweet I like their music, but they’re also using their platform to be like “here’s my music,” they’re also saying “whoa this is fucked up.”

I remember you sharing things like “I’m getting unfollowed” or people being shitty simply for saying “black lives matter” or similar. How has that impacted you or Heavy Temple?

N: I think at the onset, yeah, cause I saw it happen to a lot of friend’s bands as well. And here’s the thing, I appreciate it when an artist has a platform that they use to help educate people. Even still, there are plenty of fools out there, but I’d like to think that the majority of the people within our community, whether or not they’re vocal about it, they understand the horrors of the world and are empathetic toward them.

We posted a few things and we got a few remarks and I tried to handle them as diplomatically as possible. I’m not a huge fan of ganging up on someone online, and if anything they’re going to leave that interaction being further dug into whatever their position is. I have a policy where I’ll call them in to message it separately.

And there are people who say politics don’t belong in rock-n-roll. Someone brought up that Alice Cooper said something like that.

Art is inherently political. Being weird, especially now, is a form of political dissent. Just like being a weirdo is a way to say fuck you to the man. To those people (who say politics don’t belong in rock n roll) I would say maybe try to find out more about the history of art and rebellion. If someone doesn't like us based on our belief that the current system is massively fucked up, so be it.

At this point, Nighthawk and I had an in-depth discussion around ethics and supporting artists. She said, "it's not just a person, it's an album or song that becomes a part of your life," and ultimately it was up to the individual listener to decide what they could separate because there has been an entire system upholding this.

We agreed that there could be more accountability for predators in music and with more people creating music than ever before, it's easier to find artists that align with our values, regardless of genre. Which brought us to the next part of the interview, early influences.

E: What were some of the earliest bands you were into as an early teenager?

N: I was really into the Beatles. I was obsessed with the White Album. I would just sit in my room and play it over and over and over again. I listened to The Cure a lot in high school and Deftones. Tool for sure. Nine Inch Nails is another. A lot of stuff off the radio. A mixed bag.

I also grew up around a lot of classical music. So I listen to a lot of opera.

This comment leads to a whole discussion about different composers and early classical influences. We remarked about how a lot of the modern compositions we listen to are from film composers.

N: And that’s why I like John Carpenter. Film composers are composing a mood rather than just a piece of music. Know what I mean?

E: Oh for sure. Now I want to talk about your art a little too. The Titty Sweat

hot sauce you just designed for. Do you do graphics regularly?

N: I actually did a lot of posters for flyers and stuff. For us and other bands, but mostly for us. I do that and some digital art. That label was the first time I ever really tried anything like that. Because you have to draw it out and then render it digitally.

It was a fun project and now that I know I can do it, I’d like to do more.

E: So you work full-time, how do you do all this? Has the pandemic impacted your creativity?

N: Recently I got a job closer to home where before I was commuting 45 minutes away. I was definitely starting to feel that drain. So I would work 8 hours a day and then drive 2 hours on top of it. I have dozens of recordings on my phone just singing ideas in traffic. But my new job I can ride my bike to work and I’ve definitely been feeling more inspired now that I have more time.

I would like to spend more time writing. We all live really close so it’s nice that if we all want to practice, we can do that. We’ve been practicing on the weekends more because we all work so sometimes getting together in the evenings is hard because you work all day.

But with our efforts being more collaborative, it’s been easier for me to have people to bounce things off of. So we’ll send each other recordings and one of us will re-record it and add things.

E: Build it up

N: Yes. It’s been a relief because sometimes I get into this: am I just writing the same stuff over and over again? So I'm happy to have great writing partners.

Because of the lineup changes, we’ll learn songs, go on tour and then you never have time to sit down and write stuff. So you release an album, but you already have like ten new songs. And you don’t want to play the old shit anymore. I don’t know how Lemmy felt about having to play “Ace of Spades” all the time, maybe he hated those songs.

It’s been good but I hate saying that because there’s a lot of people who are on that toxic positivity kick. Like, “come out of quarantine with a hot body.”

No, I gained twenty pounds and I’m depressed as shit. I haven’t learned anything new. I don’t want to say it’s been alright because it hasn't, it’s been mentally taxing. But the forced break is surprisingly positive. We’ve pretty much written everything for the next album and we’re pretty busy for a band that isn’t touring.

E: It seems like if you really want to make money on the road, how do you feel about that?

N: This time two years ago we played this big show at a venue here, then Decibel Metal and Beer, then we went to Baltimore, then Desertfest New York, and then we went on a two-week tour with Ecstatic Vision. I was just thinking, how did we do that? Physically how did we do that?

It can be hard trying to navigate having a job and also wanting to do the thing that you’re most passionate about. Which is one of the things that drives me so insane about western culture. You spend most of your life working, for what? In terms of being a musician, in a lot of cases, you're being forced to have this job you don’t really want to have, so you can do this thing that makes you happy, but only when your boss says it’s ok that you can do that.

Luckily we have some flexibility in our jobs, but before the pandemic, it was certainly coming closer to an "I might need to quit" moment so we could be on the road more. I'd consider us to be relatively fortunate that we had pretty steady employment when this all happened. A lot of bands who tour all the time fall back on bartending or service industry jobs, and those all but went away at the beginning of last year.

E: And tattooing. And those jobs were some of the last to open up if they have opened up (depending on their place in the world).

N: I feel fortunate. But then I feel bad for feeling fortunate. There are so many musicians who are like, what do we do now?

I don’t want to say that no one saw this coming, because I’m sure there are plenty of virologists who did. How do you prepare for it?

It’s frustrating because there are all these things you can do but you can’t go to a show. How is it different going to a restaurant? Where even though people are outside they're not always 6 feet apart, not always wearing masks, not always being socially responsible.

You know, can we take venues that hold 200 and raise the ticket prices a bit and only have 25-50% capacity. Maybe it's just wishful thinking. It just seems strange that it’s like, you can do anything but see a band.

E: Yeah, you can hang out in a bar. Sit there, take off your mask and have a drink. I have seen more people with the acoustic alongside food and other things. While I’m not against masks or social distancing, it’s going to change the music experience. It’s weird going to a metal show where everyone is distanced. There’s no feeling like going in the pit, that collective experience of enjoying a show.

N: I feel the same way. I wear my mask every day and get tested for work. We’re careful about how we do things. But I think as long as we’re reasonable people, we still have to account for everybody else who doesn’t think that way.

I’m not super excited about the things I have to do, but I’m going to do it. If you have half the room that's responsible, and the other half is like SPRING BREAK 2021, that’s where we run into the complication. And that’s what live shows are facing. Everybody who isn’t being responsible means that YOU have to be responsible longer.

Here we will enter another written intermission of sorts, as Nighthawk and I ventured into a discussion about Orwellian policies and the importance of not policing each other's choices.

N: There are huge injustices thrust upon people every day because of how they choose to live their lives.

It’s been a wild ride and I was thinking about this when you asked initially about posting on the band Instagram. For one, we went to one of the marches here in Philly and it was awesome. Everyone was super nice. All ages, races, everybody from everywhere. The vibe was really good. I wonder if we hadn’t been in this pandemic if a lot of this wouldn’t have happened. We didn’t have sports, movies, all these other stimuli to distract us.

Not to sound tin foil hatty, but that’s the idea. You keep the proletariat preoccupied with shit that doesn’t matter. I think it was a visceral reaction because we didn’t have any distractions.

This ventured to a discussion about capitalism and influencer culture, then twisted into female representation in the music industry.

E: There are so many spots with all dudes. The chick to dude ratio in heavy music.

N: I think it’s becoming more normal, not that it shouldn’t be normal.

E: I remember playing shows and feeling like…

N: You feel like an anomaly.

E: And even other women perpetuate this. A writer for a magazine stated that “they’re one of the few women bands that can do this..”

N: It’s one of those things where you don’t realize that it’s how you have been conditioned to react. I would find myself surprised – not surprised that there are girls in bands, but pleasantly surprised that I'm not the only woman in the room. I would say within the last couple of years, I’ve seen more women in heavy music. And I would very much like to get away from even having to fucking talk about it.

It’s something I talked about with our guy at Magnetic Eye. He said, “I know you have been kind of vocal about being a woman in a band. But I’ve never talked to you about in an in-depth way.”

My thing is that it would be nice to get to a point where it’s not even a point to be asked. Ask me what it’s like to write this record, be on tour, what it’s like to get Iced every night your on tour. Ask me anything except for what it’s like to be who I am in the scene I’m in. But in kind of not wanting to talk about it, you also don’t want to come off like you can afford not to think about it.
I don’t want to talk about it, but I have to talk about it. It’s this weird interplay that happens for me all the time. I feel like it’s important to talk about it, for all the times where the door guys say “this is for bands only.” Like why the fuck do you think I’m carrying all this stuff? Don’t assume I’m a girlfriend. Or the surprise, like “I didn’t expect you to sound that good.” Well, what did you expect? And why?

Would you go up to Pepper Keenan and say “I wasn’t expecting this to be this good”? No.

E: Yes! I remember being young and learning to play. And dudes would be like, "Whoa! That’s so good." And it’s like... Was it really good? Or is it because you set the bar so low to begin with, it’s just impressive I can do this? There’s so many mixed-in little details that are hard to convey.

N: I will say that I was really fortunate growing up. I’ve been playing music with bands since I was 14, mostly dudes, who were all friends who did nothing but encourage me to play. So any of that kind of stuff I get usually comes from people I don’t know.

I actually was working at a bar in 2006 and Windhand played this shitty dive bar I worked at, but it was the best bar. They came through and I didn’t know who they were. When I saw and heard Dorthea, it gave me the boost of courage I needed. I was thinking, "I can totally do this".

We talked about female influences and how we were under-represented and how much more accessible music is. How YOUTUBE helps some of the gatekeeping.

N: It’s exhausting to have a conversation about what it’s like to be a woman and playing music. There is a female CEO that said something to the effect of “If you tack on the word female before my job title or what I do, it immediately negates everything else I’ve done." Subconsciously, you’re already thinking about the fact she is a woman rather than thinking about the fact she is a human person who founded a company and now is the CEO. I don’t like it as a descriptor.

E: Yes. Like saying someone is black. While some of it may be, depending on the family, warning for the ra