Over an hour and a half from London, tucked away in the heart of the British countryside, is the village of Carlton. It's a quiet place; one where the daily routine can involve popping into the sole village shop that doubles as a Post Office, taking walks across vast fields and woods, checking in to one of the two pubs, or popping by the local village hall for a community catch-up.
But, Dork isn't here for an idyllic, touristy detour. It just so happens that in Carlton's ranks, there's someone who knows a thing or two about dreaming. Dreaming big, that is.
"Oiii Oiii," laughs a figure from the window of a nearby house. Scoffing down a bowl of cereal and beaming from ear to ear, it may seem like a stretch that Alfie Templeman would call a village like Carlton home. In the space of two years, his cosmic blend of genres and immediate pop has set him apart from the indie pack as a bonafide magician pulling out all the tricks and flourishes. Big lights shine on everything he touches, and things are only just getting started.
"Let me finish my breakfast, but head 'round the back!" he shouts out. Five minutes later, he comes bouncing out with a cup of tea in hand and his phone playing a track from the 1970s which includes so many swear words, Dear Reader, that our eyes are watering ("the aim is one day to have as many streams as this," Alfie proudly declares).
"Welcome to my house, this is it!" he smiles, pointing around the garden, his cat Max taking up prime position under a tree and the open fields out the back basking in a calming countryside day. It's this house that Alfie has called home his entire life, his mum and dad first meeting in a makeshift pub that his dad built in his family's garden, before moving just over the road together a matter of years later. His grandad lives just down the road, his friends not too far either. It's an oasis of sorts, cut away from the rest of the world, where everyone knows everyone.
"The thing is, you kinda go unbothered here," he admits. "It's each to their own and really respectful of one another. The good thing about where I live is that everyone's close to one another so you're incredibly familiar. The downside of that is that it can get a bit boring and repetitive, which is why sometimes it's nice to get out and go somewhere to write a song. But I always find that, y'know, as repetitive as it can be - it's just a really great place to grow up."
It's the sort of upbringing you may not expect from an artist sitting squarely on the cusp of something much bigger. Yes, it can be easy to simply throw out lines about someone soundtracking a generation, or capturing what it means to be growing up in a world that right now is unlike anything seen over the past however many years - but with Alfie Templeman, it makes sense. The pop prince making the music world try to fit in with him rather than the other way round, the past few years have proven to be the most eye-opening. He stares off into the fields and shuffles in his seat. "Really rock and roll around here, isn't it?" he laughs.
2020 has been a year of two sides for Alfie. In 'Happiness In Liquid Form', his latest EP, he set apart his grandstand intentions in the clearest manner possible. A bold, bright and eclectic collection of tracks that featured his biggest and best work to date, it signalled a fact that now can't be questioned. Alfie Templeman is an artist unlike any other, freewheeling and bouncing between genres in a way few have done before, but also with an insatiable thirst for fun and energy.
Millions of streams, hundreds of thousands of followers online, universal acclaim. It's stepped up a notch in 2020, but Alfie has found himself squarely stuck in one place. "It's felt really weird because there's so much going on, but I'm surrounded by the same thing every day, y'know?" he reflects. "Maybe if I was touring, I'd be able to see the impact of everything that's going on, but because I'm stuck in my room, it's been so interesting to see that things have got so much bigger, but I haven't actually moved at all. It's really cool, but it almost feels undeserved because I literally have done nothing! It's like I wake up, have some breakfast… and then like, gain a million fans!"
Setting up shop in his bedroom for practically the whole of the past 7 months, it's found Alfie stuck in a moment of limbo. The recent diagnosis of a childhood lung condition has meant that Alfie has been carefully shielding from the world as the months have passed. Where one life was set to morph into another, now he physically sits on pause. The van which has taken him and his mates across the UK sits on the driveway, a physical manifestation of a summer that could have been, and the adventures currently on ice ("I wouldn't open the door and smell it," cracks Alfie). It's the perfect visual take on where he finds himself, with the whole world ready and waiting for what he does next. It's been time to take stock, because even with a global pandemic - there's no slowing down Alfie Templeman.
The success and attention feel surreal, especially as he spends another day sitting in his back garden. "That's it, like sitting here and just…" he begins. "I've never taken myself seriously or anything, and everyone at school used to joke like, 'oh I love your music so much!' All sarcastic and stuff. I still feel like I'm at that age where everyone takes the mickey a bit. When someone says they're a fan of my music, I almost feel like they shouldn't be. I feel like the whole room is playing a trick on me, and I can't believe it. It's been amazing to see that."
Alfie finishes up his tea and claps his hands together with a grin. "Shall I show you a few of the sights? There are a few places to go around here…"
Less than two minutes down the road is Alfie's primary school. By the age of six, he admits, he was already enamoured with music, the result of growing up in a household where his dad would surround the place with guitars and progressive rock. He'd pick up and play around with those guitars whenever he could, and it quickly became all he could think about. He'd regularly have to dash down the long alleyway that leads to the school's main entrance because he'd been stuck in daydreams at home thinking about different sounds and tracks. By the time he had moved on to secondary school in the nearby town of Harrold, his attention was purely fixated on just one thing: playing music.
Alongside his childhood friend Jos (who still plays with Alfie in his band), the two would go back and forth writing songs and burning off CDs, starting from the age of nine and refusing to look back from there. There were bands (try Marble Apes out for size - "we basically tried to copy Arctic Monkeys with the name," cracks Alfie). There were countless sessions in school music rooms, which would eventually lead to Alfie getting kicked out for disturbing nearby lessons. There were hours of assurance to one another that music was the best thing they could be doing in their lives. "Jos is a really great footballer, and I think I kinda converted him badly to come and play music with me," Alfie recalls.
All the while, Alfie was picking up more and more instruments where he could - drums, piano… anything. "I just wanted to be able to record everything myself because, well, why not?" By the age of 13, Alfie was loading tracks to Spotify for the world to hear. "They would get no plays, but I didn't care at all. It was all trial and error, one-upping yourself each time."
"To be honest nobody at school really knew who I was until I got signed by Chess Club. I wouldn't really talk to anyone," admits Alfie. "In lessons, I would daydream all the time about music and making music and how I was going to make this new track I'd been working on when I'd get back from school. At school, I was just failing at everything because that's all I'd care about. But I did manage to pass English, Maths and RS - that'll do!"
Without any distractions, Alfie embraced his surroundings and his ability to confine everything he did into sitting in his bedroom and creating the vast sounds that influenced him. Whether it was prog rock, jazz, indie, or pop - it's a motto that lives on with how he creates music to this day. "The fun thing about making music for me is I try to make every type of song for every type of person, so it's not like I'm sticking to just rock music, for example. I'm trying to make something where even if you hate everything else that I've made, there may be one song that you really enjoy."
One look at Alfie Templeman's catalogue to date backs up that mantra entirely. Whether it's the funky grooves of top pop-bop 'Obvious Guy', the slinking 70s soul of 'Stop Thinking (About Me)', the blissful songwriter swoons of 'Yellow Flowers' or the tropical scrunch of 'Things I Thought Were Mine' - Alfie doesn't so much as switch lanes but switch entire motorways with ease. He's embracing being an artist from a generation where "genre" is a word that doesn't fit into the new dictionary.
"Exactly that!" states Alfie, "and everyone starts off experimenting, too. I grew up on progressive rock, then moved on to jazz, and now I guess it's a bit more indie, but I don't want to pin what I do as indie particularly. I don't mind it, what I'm doing now has this indie touch to it which I guess is why people say it, but I think there's a lot more 70s soft rock and 80s pop in it now.
"I think now's the time for me to go really creative and do the sort of things you have to do to lay a groundwork for who you are. It's why I put out these little EPs, because each one is a kinda recap of the past half a year in my life. It's no different to when I was at school: 'this is what I've learnt, and here's an EP to show it'."
Further down the road from his primary school, sits a vast allotment space. All sorts of vegetables grow in the sprawling field - a place that Alfie would sneak off too when he had some spare time with his mates. "Olives are my favourite food, y'know," he exclaims, drawn in by the vegetables growing around him as he checks out the sheds and digs that make up what has become a true community asset. The kids nearby would come to the allotments from time to time, cheekily nicking a couple of raspberries. Standing on top of a wooden pile, he clicks and smiles. "Oh, this is actually where I shot one of my first music videos!" he remembers, referring to 2018's 'Like An Animal'. "I would be running around here being filmed by my mate. Not sure if we were allowed to be here, though…" Soon enough, we're told to move on. "We'll get out, I reckon!" he laughs.
After uploading track after track online, Alfie made a decision to try and package something together around 'Like An Animal' and 'Yellow Flowers', songs that would grab the attention of a certain Chess Club Records and in turn, change Alfie's life entirely. If ever there was a pivotal moment, this was it. Let's just say, secondary school was a little different after that. "People actually acknowledged me at school because of the signing. Before that, nobody gave a shit. All of a sudden, on the first day of school about two years ago now - that was when I got signed - I was just being asked, 'HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU MAKE?', 'GET ME TICKETS TO AMERICA!' Which I couldn't even go to!" he laughs. "It was nice, though. I was lucky to be somewhere supportive. My friends would come down to my gigs and my teachers actually too were really supportive. It didn't feel like I was being pushed into anything, though. There are so many artists who come out of nowhere and then disappear just as quickly, and my biggest worry for ages was becoming one of them. I wanted to be the opposite of that."
The response was immediate - no surprise there. 'Like An Animal' on release took Alfie far beyond Carlton in a matter of moments. "We didn't have time to adjust at all, not joking! One week I played Brixton Academy and the next I was in an exam hall doing my RS exam," he remembers. "I dunno, it was really weird because it went from 0 to 100 in such a short time. I only started properly gigging last year when I was 16, so it was amazing. It set me up, and I learnt so much so quickly."
A car suddenly rings by the village green. "Wow, that's more than one car today - you're in luck," cracks Alfie as the scenic route back around the village ends up back at his home. The quiet streets and general greetings that ripple around the village seem like a million miles away from an artist boasting millions of video plays, adoring fans and the sort of feverish response that has comments streaming in around every move he makes. Yet it's that exact idea which makes Carlton the perfect hub for him to grow from. The quiet normality, if you will.
"I try not to look through comments. If I see a mean comment, it makes me sad," he admits. "Sometimes I'll look at the top comments because they're usually quite nice. I like not being fully aware of how things are going because I think if I had a moment of realisation, it would intimidate me to the point where I'd be even more shy. Just focusing on what I do. At the end of the day, whether you have one fan or a million fans that shouldn't affect your art."
A quick five-minute ride up the road takes us to Harrold. Standing outside the local centre, a family friend comes up to talk to Alfie, spotting him from across the street and wanting a catch-up. "You know what, it's weirdly become like big news for people around here," reflects Alfie later. "Honestly, you come back, and everyone around the village is talking about it, and everything going on. Bumping into everyone is really nice, though."
Statue incoming, then? "Yeah, I want a big Carlton statue," he cracks. "Naaah, I hate all of that!"
Like the villages he grew up around, Alfie Templeman remains grounded. Instead of heading straight to the clouds and running away with ideas and visions of what he can go on to do, he's more focused on nailing the music he's creating and having fun with those around him. At the heart of it all, Alfie Templeman wants to enjoy the happiness this whole experience can bring, all while pushing himself through any boundaries that stand in his way.
"I don't think I've become more confident," notes Alfie, looking at his journey across four EPs over the past two years and where he finds himself now. "I actually think the bigger things have got and the more people listen, the more shy I get and the more I actually want to steer away from being out there. At the start, even to put out an EP at 14 is quite scary. So I was definitely confident in putting stuff out. The reason why I like doing that is I can put it out there and close my eyes, not look at how people are taking it in, and I'm on to the next thing. That's what I like about it. It's why I'm not sat looking through Twitter and looking at whatever people comment because I get kinda, y'know… It shakes me up a bit. I'm a bit scared. So, I like closing my eyes. Putting it out there. Seeing what happens."
The only people who should be scared are those trying to keep up with him. Maybe that comes from a unique writing style which Alfie admits, is weird. "The thing is, I honestly can't tell you, I honestly can't remember writing any of my songs. It's like I blackout or something when I do it! It's weird for me because when I listen, it's like, it isn't me? Like I have fresh ears to it. I only spend four hours on a song, but the other day I was listening to them, and I realised I'd let out all my feelings without consciously knowing about it. I find that really weird. It literally is my escape because I don't even know I'm doing it."
While Alfie may find solace in the escape that music provides him, and comfort in growing up surrounded by support and space to explore, it's not to say that his newfound voice and following has been lost on him. One look through Alfie's social media will find him speaking out about a whole range of issues, from politics and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, to the Black Lives Matter movement and sexual abuse within the music world. Alfie sees the attention he's receiving as a chance to change the dialogue.
"You can't live in a paradise when so many other people are living in hell. That's what I live by," he states, pointedly getting across how important it is to him. "Like, say you're buying fancy clothes and the latest technology, then you're a bit of an asshole for not looking out for people who are struggling. I want to make sure that I'm helping in whatever way I can. The Yemen situation, for example, is awful - they shouldn't be in that situation in the first place. The least you can do is give some money to help where you can.
"And it doesn't mean that the 100,000 people on my Instagram are going to right away be like, right we're going to share this, but it's just knowing a percentage of them are going to see it and want to make a difference too. That's so important, even if it's like 0.001% of the total support given."
It's reflective of a generation not willing to put up with injustice anymore. "We're the ones who are going to be living and leading the next few decades. It's our duty to tell those people who are screwing things up to make them realise that this planet has a lot of people who are growing up into it. It's not right to be so destructive. In general, and thanks to the internet too of course, I think people's ages are disregarded a lot more."
While those topics are yet to fully form their way into Alfie's songwriting ("I would love to, but I want to be able to write about it in a completely opposite way to how I write now. Instead of not thinking about it all, I want to really think about it and make it clear in what I'm saying"), what comes next looks set to be yet another step up.
New single 'Forever Isn't Long Enough' signals an exciting new chapter for Alfie, flexing his creative muscles as the first track from his sharpest bop-filled collection to date. Melding dance, R&B, cinematic pop at its finest, electronica and much more - there's a new neon-sized statement about to be made. Yet underneath that, lies Alfie's darkest and most personal collection to date, the result of a tough end to 2019 that forced him to take a moment to recover. It's yet another snapshot, drenched in defiant modern pop.
"I started it in October last year after I got out of hospital, because I was in there for ages," he explains. "I was writing heavily about that. This whole thing is basically more of an album than an EP, it kinda says, let's take away the indie for a bit, and let's go to the 1980s. It's all about making a disco-pop album, but for some reason, it came out sounding really dark if you listen closely because most of it was written at night and during a time when things were hard."
Usually used to moving swiftly on with his eyes shut when releasing music, it's a new collection that Alfie feels really happy with and it's clear to see why. There are touches of The 1975 at their shimmering best, collaborations with Tom from Jungle, songwriter extraordinaire Kid Harpoon and newcomer April, tracks that sound like they should be played late at night with the windows all the way down and glorious hooks galore. To say that this will make a mark would be wildly underestimating how much it will be played on repeat. Trust us.
"Every record I put out I just want it to be different. To all the people who listen to me, I think they're pretty much aware though judging from the last four EPs, things are going to change up a bit - and this is no different," he smiles.
Spending time in the company of Alfie Templeman can be many things. Hilarious? Yes. Silly? Yes. More than anything, it's inspiring. Yeah, that may sound a bit much, but it quickly becomes clear that Alfie isn't just eyeing up the trodden paths countless acts have gone down before, rather thriving in the fun and bright sparks that light up when you throw yourself into something you love. Those around him and those who believe in him are what matter the most, and he can't help but be happy about that. "This whole time, of lockdown and everything, it's made me appreciate everything I have a lot more," he acknowledges. "Anything small to you a couple of years ago becomes so much bigger now, in the bigger picture, the further away you get from it. It weirds me out how so much has changed. We've gone from being the most social world to being the complete opposite."
The future is something that doesn't begin to scratch the surface of his mind. "One of the most fun parts of doing this is that I look at the future in the same way that I don't look at YouTube comments - I think it would scare me, or put me off." Alfie laughs and pauses, looking out on the quiet high street that he's called home from day one. "I dunno, I kinda want to stick around here in general. To be honest, my ideal future is staying around here, making more music, and if the time comes where I want to properly go anywhere else, then it'll happen." Suddenly his phone vibrates. "Oh, I think I'm going to be Annie Mac's Hottest Record!"
He grins again, a sense of bashful modesty mixed with joy. "For now, though, I'm just comfortable as a kid, making stuff in my bedroom, y'know? It feels alright."
At the heart of it all, that's the most important point. Alfie Templeman heads back home, the streets of Carlton rushing past him. The rest of the day? There's the small matter of eating a load of food, seeing what inspiration hits him ("after today, I've probably got loads that could inspire me") and spending some time with Max and his family. What awaits? A new pop revolution? You'd be a fool to bet against it. But for Alfie Templeman, it's all about the ride. What a fun ride it's going to be.
Taken from the October issue of Dork, out now.
Featuring Alfie Templeman, IDLES, LANY, Griff and loads more.