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Being compared to a devastatingly beautiful, meteorological act of God may seem like a high bar to aspire to, but for indie electro-rock group, TEMP3ST, it seems just right. They build their sound on a foundation of catastrophic electronic beats infused with dramatic, sweeping melodies that seem to shape-shift just as you think you’ve figure them out. Atop this mountain of sound rests the effervescent and raw voice of lead singer, Gabrielle Wortman, whose sheer vocal power can only be topped by the poetic and heartbreaking stories it tells.
Apparently, that’s what you get when you combine a classical pianist from Connecticut who harbors an obsession for mixing original synthesizers with a punk drummer from Florida who slings simple yet slamming beats. Gabrielle Wortman and Christopher Roberts, the pair that make up TEMP3ST, met in Los Angeles in 2010 and have nurtured their unlikely creative compatibility ever since. Gabrielle, who had already established herself as an award-winning songwriter prior to the group’s formation, describes her first encounters with Roberts as “the greatest thing that came out of my debut solo album.” She explains that her “classically-inspired piano riffs and his driving, heavy beats produced a musical misfit that is beautiful, fierce and unique.”
Fierce seems to be one of two perfect words to describe the TEMP3ST duo. Stemming from Gabrielle’s terrifying vocal command, her unabashedly edgy lyrical content, the Timbaland-like hip-hop beat undercurrent, and the dramatic, mature melodies that resemble the songwriting of Florence + The Machine and Fleetwood Mac. The second keyword would be unique. Equating TEMP3ST’s sound to another artist has continued to confound music critics since the band’s earliest release. Their sonic imprint is original by nature and in today’s music industry, which is a rare gem.
It’s not just TEMP3ST’s songwriting that can show their teeth, the group’s live show combines multiple keyboards, electronic drum pads, acoustic drum kits, multiple microphones with vocal effects, computers, live bass, innumerable pedals, laser light shows, projectors and even a keytar. Each band member plays at least two separate instruments during one show and in an average show, Gabrielle herself plays five.
“We like to think of our live show as pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz., except instead of Oz, it’s electronic music, and instead of just being a DJ with a laptop, we’re showing you how electronic music can be made organically in front of your eyes,” Roberts explains. Organic and electronic music seem like two things that do not often end up in the same sentence, but TEMP3ST is adamant about changing that perception. They are masters of their instruments and songwriting and their “organic” talent is undeniable.
“Sometimes we’re elegant with it but most of the time we resemble mad scientists,” Wortman says.
These “mad scientists” have captured the attention of a mounting army of fans and music critics who continue to support the band as they catapult into mainstream success. In 2012 alone, TEMP3ST has supported well-known indie powerhouses like Cults, Grimes and Grouplove, performed in four festivals with over 10,000 in attendance, was named “Next Big Thing” at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival (where they performed five separate times), released their self-produced debut EP: I Am Tempest, to a sea of praise from blogs and music critics, and Wortman’s dub-step remix of Bon Iver’s “Minnesota, WI” placed 15th in the world during the Bon Iver Stems Project Contest.
However, make no mistake about one thing: the rush of success has been undoubtedly hard earned. The group writes their own songs, produces their own tracks, schedules their own touring, meticulously handles their marketing, designs their own websites and even creates their own album art. Their artistic blueprint is on every song, show, music video, and piece of art they release as a band. And they have an unfaltering habit of doing things out of the ordinary. An example of which is their hard copy release of the I Am Tempest EP. Instead of the standard jewel case format, Wortman opted for a more original approach.
“Jewel cases are tired,” she said. “I felt like we had a great story to tell on how we had gotten to that point as a band, so I felt like we should release a book.” And release a book they did. The I Am Tempest EP books are hand-made, hollowed out, hardcover recycled books. No two are alike and all have been pre-owned and picked from thrift stores. They all contain lyrics, a self-written band biography, CDs and art. Unsurprisingly, they designed the books themselves.
Even the name, TEMP3ST, arose from a sincere connection its members have to the word. “We were continually being equated to a ‘storm of music’ or a ‘musical storm’,” Wortman explains, “It seemed like the name chose us more than we chose it.” Wortman has also been known to talk about her childhood fixation with storms when discussing the subject of their band name.
“I spent countless hours during my childhood staring up at the sky during summer thunderstorms. I was so moved by the brilliance, drama and violence of it all. I think this fascination may have really influenced my art as I matured. Either that, or I’m just completely insane.”
While controlling every aspect of their artistic output may seem like a stress-induced nervous breakdown waiting to happen, TEMP3ST’s DIY nature is a fresh, rare and welcomed alternative to the major-label puppets of pop that dominate the mainstream nowadays. In fact, combating this “bobble-headed bullshit”, as Wortman puts it, seems to be high up on the band’s agenda. “We are breeding an army of conscious music consumers,” Wortman insists, “that reach for a more honest musical experience.”
Wortman and Roberts operate with a brilliant and fearless integrity that on its own could rally a following, but coupled with their undeniable musical ingenuity, could start a revolution. Diving into the core of this indie electronic band leaves you with the feeling that a storm is brewing and TEMP3ST is hell-bent on being in the eye of it.