Words by Leah Phillips
Photography supplied by Alpine
Lou James from Melbourne six piece Alpine took time out from her trip to the hairdressers to chat to Leah Phillips about how the much-loved quirky pop band approached their sophomore LP — Yuck.
After the success of their earlier EPs and first album – A Is For Alpine – the band took on an enormous following in The States. A massive tour was underway; they showcased at SXSW and had their American TV debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live! This routine American circuit has become a big ticket to success for a few Australian artists lately – think Courtney Barnett and The Preatures – but Alpine are at a different point in their career — they were ready to make album number two.
For some bands, recording overseas in big swanky studios or little mountain shacks is what feels right for a follow-up album. For Alpine it was all about making the experience a lovely comfortable creative one that nourished successful partnerships and processes they devised with their debut.
There’s a familiarity to making the second record. You can fix what you didn’t like last time, learn from your mistakes and re-do what worked amazingly. So after a three month break the band were back in the studio — a handy five-minute bike ride from James’ house. There, Dann Hume was ready to repeat his role of producer on the record.
“We stirred the shit more with Dann this time. A lot of producers will take control where as Dann is so open to our ideas. He just rolls with things; he listens and just goes for it. He’s fearless,” states James.
But this time round the band’s guitarist Christian O’Brien teamed up with Hume to hone his producing skills. “Christian was definitely more a co-producer than an artist working with your producer. It sounds very similar but there is a bit of a difference. The two work together and figure out how a snare needs to sound or where something will fit in the instrumentation.” They craft the finer details of how the sound is captured and relayed on the record.
For this record James recalls Alpine went about their usual writing process. Once they started they made sure not to nitpick and refer back to their first album, or listen to what was trendy in music at the time. Some of the songs were written as a skeletal idea while they were touring in a cramped tour van so those were bought to the studio for further work too.
Alpine’s unique way of writing involves hashing out individual musical ideas and bringing them to the group to play with. Tim Royall and O’Brien toyed with musical ideas and instrumentation. James and co-vocalist Phoebe Baker individually worked on ideas for melodies and lyrics and then came together to combine their pool of options.
One thing they did do differently this time around was taking their time in this process. “The first album I think we were shitting ourselves. We didn’t really know if the music we were writing was good; if it made sense, or if people would connect to it. This time around it was more organic and lovely — more confident,” James explains.
The record captures the essence of Alpine in this moment. Despite her and Baker’s unique harmonies and the delectable pop licks the guys produce, James doesn’t think that Alpine are cemented to any distinct sound.
“No matter where we go and how we continue to develop, as long as we are all in the band and are writing together it will always have an Alpine flavour. This album for me contains 90s R&B vibes and more swagger. We really wanted to explore vocal sounds rather than a mesh of harmonies. Your voice is an instrument so you need to use it and explore what different sounds you can make.”
Any reserves towards producing an equally impressive sophomore album?
“To get the opportunity to do a second record as a musician is amazing. There was never a fear towards it. Overall it’s better to just not think about the judgements and comparisons that will inevitably ensue. You don’t want the art that you’re creating to [have] a sense of pressure on it because then you’re not going to create something beautiful. It’s going to come out of a negative headspace. The energy was very positive with this album.”
This positivity will undeniably be brought on stage as the band head off on an Australian tour in support of Yuck. Those accustomed to seeing Alpine’s leading ladies bouncing around on stage may see a little more sass and swagger in their performance. Only a few of these songs have been performed before so this tour is going to be a cathartic experience for the band who are just itching to showcase their brand new tunes.