“What’s important is the visceral experience”; Alpines
Hailing from South-West London, Alpines, with Another River, have created one of the most crafty and emotive records you’ll hear this year.
Eloquent, honest and faultlessly positive, it’s no wonder that Catherine Pockson and Bob Matthews have managed to craft their layered and ambitious take on R’n’B and move from strength to strength just five years since their first release – a two track EP which released on Polydor Records in March 2011. Jack Rayner caught up with Catherine and Bob ahead of their performance at The Cellar on Tuesday 21st February.
‘Another River’ sounds more ambitious than your previous output. Have you changed your approach to songwriting much over the years?
Catherine: I feel like with this album we had to do a lot of soul-searching. We wrote almost 100 songs, and after our first album we very much wanted to take things to the next level, push boundaries and try to create something new.
How do you find inspiration for an ambition like that?
Catherine: It’s about being open-minded to the use of sounds and subject matter that you’re using, and not putting any restrictions on yourself. It’s also really important to not worry about what’s happening in the charts or where the trend in commercial music is going. It’s very easy as a musician to get distracted by what other successful artists are doing, but you have to remember to focus on creating your own thing and working on your own terms. For this record we just cocooned ourselves in our studio and experimented with things by ourselves.
On the subject of your studio, have your spaces and equipment changed dramatically since your first album?
Catherine: Oh yeah, we started out working in a bedroom like so many others, just with a computer, a synth and a guitar. We built our studio and we’re very lucky to have the bits and pieces that we’ve built up over about 7 years.
Bob: It’s changed very gradually. We did a lot of the first album in a room at my parents’ house and it’s still very much like a home studio project, but hopefully our skills are getting better as we expand.
Does it make it harder to write when you have more to play with? Restriction tends to breed creativity.
Bob: We always say that too many choices are your enemy. You want to narrow down what you have available, which is why I don’t like using too many software synths – you can just tweak them forever.
Do you use a lot of hardware?
Bob: We have a few pieces – four or five synthesizers and a couple of drum machines. A couple of keyboards. Actually, quite a lot [laughs]. But even with lots of hardware, it still limits your choices because the sounds are limited by what the unit can do.
On the new record, tracks like ‘Another River’ and ‘Under The Sun’ sound markedly more upbeat than a lot of your earlier work. Is this a celebratory record?
Catherine: That’s a nice way to put it. We went back to our roots quite a lot on this album – we grew up in a time when these massive R’n’B artists like Aaliyah and Timbaland were very much the soundtrack. When we DJ we still play out all of those tunes. That’s really how I spent my youth: in my kitchen, pretending to sing, trying to be like Aaliyah.
Bob: The soul classics, as well. Catherine: Yeah, when I was really young the first music I experienced, from my dad’s records, was Aretha Franklin and those soul and motown albums. Blues as well. The new album draws from all of those references.
Catherine, do you ever get involved with the production side of writing? And likewise Bob, do you contribute vocal ideas or lyrics?
Bob: There’s a bit of crossover, for sure.
Catherine: Yeah, Bob will often get me to think about how I’m writing a lyric and about what’s going on structurally. Very often I’ll just sit and write a track at the piano and put it into Logic, then chop around some of the structures. I do really care about every little sound, and I will sit over Bob’s shoulder whilst he’s working on the production. Every now and again I’ll help write a beat.
How easy is it to translate your compositions into live performance?
Bob: It can be quite difficult actually. We try not to think of how we’re going to do a track live whilst we’re writing – that can often stop you from trying more interesting stuff. For this record, when we came to put together the live show we were less worried about making every track sound like it does on the record. Also, when we play live we play with a drummer and keyboard player, and this time round we were a bit more open about what they were going to do. I think that makes for a more interesting live show. Before, we had a lot of background tracks and everything was the same as the record. A little bit sterile, sometimes. Nowadays there’s a lot more life in the live show.
Your production is so layered and uses so many elements that it has to be daunting task to translate that into a traditional band format.
Bob: I spend ages thinking about it, to be honest. This summer when we were practising the live show a lot, I’d be lying awake at night thinking “how are we going to do that?” In the end, people aren’t too worried about what gear you’re using or how you replicate the sounds. I think what’s more important is the visceral experience, and sometimes it’s difficult for a nerd like me to remember that. I try not to get too caught up in it.
If I can talk about your visuals for a moment, how much creative direction do you have in your videos?
Catherine: For this album, we’ve directed everything. The video for ‘Completely’ I put together with Jason Baker, the videographer – we were shooting the album artwork at the same time and we just aimed to create a moving image version of what we were creating in the photo.
So how important is it that your visuals are an extension of the track?
Catherine: I think when you’re an artist that’s trying to be independent in your vision, you have to have your idea as a whole. For us, the visuals and the sonic sphere have gone hand in hand.
Which current artists do you particularly enjoy?
Catherine: Oh there’s so many.
Bob: Sampha, for sure. Catherine: Solange, Kendrick Lamar. The XX. I’m obsessed with Loyle Carner. There’s so many interesting artists coming up at the moment.
Where do you see yourselves taking this project in the future?
Catherine: Doing Another River has made us realise how much we love albums as a format. I’ve got a feeling that we’re going to be very much an album band. We love the intensity of the process and trying to create a body of work. I hope that we keep exploring new territories and I hope we get to collaborate with many more musicians.
Bob: We’re hoping that album three won’t be too far away. We’re already collecting ideas because we know how hard it can be to follow up an album quickly. We’re going to make sure that there’s not too long a gap this time.
Excellent news. Cheers guys.
Alpines appear at The Cellar, Oxford, on Tuesday 21st February.
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