If you’re looking for a classic example of “looks can be deceiving,” look no further than L.A.’s Twin Temple. Photos of the married duo paint a dark, gothic picture. The pair are clad from head to toe in black suits, veils, pentagrams, and occasionally blood or snakes. Alexandra James looks like a vampire priestess, while Zachary James looks like the gothic Lee Hazlewood to her Nancy Sinatra. Just from their pictures, one would imagine their music would be noisy and discordant — heavy metal, perhaps, or death rock a la Christian Death and 45 Grave. You probably wouldn’t guess that they play "Satanic doo-wop music."
“I think people look at photos of us and go, “Wow! Who’s this black metal band?,” singer Alexandra James says with a laugh. “And then they listen to us and it’s like the oldies.”
While Twin Temple look like Siouxsie and The Banshees, they have more in common with Amy Winehouse and Phil Spector. The duo craft a beguiling throwback sound, full of upbeat horns, bubblegum backing vocals chanting “Beelzebub,” and James’ commanding voice crooning about how the “devil didn’t make me do it.” They’re probably the first openly Satanic band in existence that wouldn’t sound out of place on AM radio.
“When we were the starting the band, we were like, ‘This is the weirdest idea,’ but it really came from a place of us wanting to express ourselves to the fullest,” she adds. “Zach and I both love classic, golden-era '50s and '60s rock 'n' roll.”
The duo had been working as musicians for years before coming together to form Twin Temple in 2016 after performing a ritual on Halloween. Ceremonial magic is an important part of the band’s identity. While some bands might flirt with Satanic imagery as a way to shock the squares, the band are proudly out of the broom closet as practicing occultists. Their identity as Satanic witches isn’t performance-art window dressing: It’s a part of who they are.
“To us, Satanism is a living tradition. It’s very much about exalting the individual,” Alexandra says. While both Alexandra and Zachary are open to talking about their interests in ceremonial magic, they’re quick to point out that they don’t subscribe to any one pre-existing system of Satanic "magick."
“We feel it’s antagonistic to that philosophy to follow one specific set of rules,” she says. “We’re very much a believer in finding what works for you, so we don’t really follow any set of tenets. We’re not LaVey or Temple of Set or Satanic Temple. We’re just doing our own thing and bringing our own perspective to it.”
In the modern occult underground, it’s actually unusual to find Satanists who actually practice magic. Some of the more prominent groups, like the Satanic Temple, use Satanism more as a vehicle for making political statements than as any kind of ideology.
“They’re definitely using Satanism as a way to hone in on the hypocrisy of a nation that’s supposed to be divided,” Alexandra says about the Satanic Temple. “Church and state are supposed to be divided, and it’s clearly not when you have giant 10 Commandments statues going up on government property. But I’m pretty sure they don’t espouse any kind of magical practice whatsoever, so we’re different from them in that sense.”
And while it may seem odd that a L.A. “doo-wop” band would be into the demonic side of things, Twin Temple are tapping into an old vein of infernal Hollywood glamour. Sammy Davis Jr. used to party with Anton LaVey. Kenneth Anger, occult filmmaker extraordinaire, also wrote gossipy tell-all books about old Hollywood.
The influence of Anger in particular can be seen in the band’s music videos, which the pair conceive of and create together (they share a background as visual artists). The video for “Sex Magick,” for example, sees the couple showing off the actual tools of their trade. “We wanted to give people a sneak peek into our magical practice, so everything you see in the video are actual pieces from our collection that we do use in ritual,” she says. “That’s our altar.”
They also based the idea of their haunting video for “Let’s Hang Together” on their own nuptials. “It’s kind of a twisted re-imagining of our wedding day,” Alexandra says. “I was reading a lot of poetry by Bonnie Carter of Bonnie and Clyde fame at the time and was inspired by the idea of love and destruction being two sides of the same knife blade.”
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The duo’s 2018 album, Twin Temple (Bring You Their Signature Sound... Satanic Doo-Wop), is a devilish delight. The band craft a timeless, upbeat sound that's just as at home in a '60s lounge as it would be in a modern club. And they remain committed to their theme, with songs touching on femme fatales, Santa Muerte, and good old Lucifer Morningstar. They pull off a similar trick that filmmaker Anna Biller pulls off in her 2016 film The Love Witch, taking a retro form and making it feel utterly contemporary by injecting subject matter that absolutely wouldn’t fly back in the day.
But while singing about Satan doesn’t ruffle nearly as many feathers now as it would back in the golden age of rock and roll, the band have found that people still pitch a fit about seeing a woman’s nipple on their album cover.
“We had to go through three different streaming services just to get that album distributed,” Alexandra says. “Printing houses would send the album back and ask us to remove the nipple. We just thought it was so hypocritical — look at Adam Levine at the Super Bowl! He had both his boobs out.”