Alpines’ latest album ‘Another River’ can be summed up in three words: organic, raw, and original. GIGsoup caught up with the clever London duo Catherine Pockson and Bob Matthews to chat about the album and accompanying music videos, lyrical inspiration and personal realisations, their upcoming tour, and that motif.
‘Another River’ could be interpreted as quite a personal album. Were the experiences that inspired these songs your own or an amalgamation of yours and others?
Catherine: Predominately it is quite a personal album, but there are tracks which were written out of experiences I was having with close friends. For example, ‘Take Me The Water’ was written in a period where a few of my really good friends were getting married and [I was] living through that experience with them – the meaning of being with that one person, and making you think about life in a new way, like a new chapter. But it is a very personal album. It came out in a period for me of a lot of learning and healing, and having to face up to a lot of stuff. I wrote it very honestly.
So now that you’ve released an album full of quite raw emotion, how do you feel about performing it live when you tour in February?
Catherine: Yeah, really good! We’ve done a few shows in the last few months, which has been a good warm up. I had to really think about my approach, because at first I was quite overwhelmed ‘cos I felt like it’s the first time that I am being a bit more exposed in my writing. But I was given a really good bit of advice:“Remember, when you’re performing live you’re there to be with the audience and entertain, and you’re not giving away your whole self.” You’re giving that part of yourself and you’ve still gotta maintain a sense of steadiness, ‘cos you’ve gotta keep going the next night, the next night. So, it’s about finding that balance. Giving a great performance. Giving a soulful performance without completely losing yourself in it.
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That must be quite hard at times?
Catherine: Yeah, it is. I think with gig preparation you’ve gotta not overthink it, but it’s good to have a focus and think about what your purpose is for that show, that night, and remember that the people in the audience are with you; they want to be there, and they’re probably there because the music has meant something to them. Remembering you’re all together is a really nice feeling, actually.
That’s a great way to look at it. Now, Catherine, you once said in an interview that you’re “obsessed with humans and what they’re going through”. So, how long does it take you to pen lyrics once exposed to that inspiration? And is your ability to write lyrics dependent upon ‘the right’ conditions?
Catherine: That’s a good question. I like to be in the studio to really sit and be quiet and channel. But whenever I’m out and if something comes to me, it is good to just note things down. I’ve got a lot of really dodgy voice memos in my phone, like from when I’m stuck in traffic, or I’m going somewhere and I’m trying to quietly put an idea down in my voice memo. It’s always nice to keep record of those things when you’re on the move. But ultimately, when I come to really write a song, I like to be in the studio. It’s quite quiet. And Bob slips in and out, ‘cos sometimes it’s really helpful to have Bob’s kind of interjection of rhythmic influence. It’s really nice to write to the beat sometimes, to bring it back to life. Every song is different though. Every time I write, it’s different.
And Bob, obviously you’re there during that process. Are you helping to write lyrics or bounce ideas off each other? Do you write your own lyrics or stick to the music?
Bob: I tend to leave Catherine to do the lyrics because they’re always so personal for her. I mean, 1% of the time I might suggest a change but I really like her lyrics so I just let her do it. What I’ve learned is that in that initial moment when she’s coming up with the song, it’s best to leave her to it. And then I come in at Step 2 as we start to build the song and decide which parts are the best. It took me a long time to realise that letting Catherine do her thing might be the best way rather than trying to control or help at every moment, and put my stamp on it. My job comes a bit later.
Well, whatever you’re doing, it’s working great for you! Now, the lyrics for ‘Completely’ encompass a sense of fatalism – the girl’s existence lies in the hands of another. The music video is really a film noir in the way its black and white cinematography reflects the lyrics. Was it a conscious decision to film the video in such a way, and what role did the two of you play in its development?
Catherine: Well, the videos came at the end of a period of doing a lot of photography, and we were working closely with a photographer we always work with, and were working in a very relaxed manner – we didn’t have a full crew. We thought“why don’t we try and do a video in this space?” which is an extension of these photos, creating a moving image from everything we’ve created. We put together a storyboard – me and Jason the filmmaker – and we did it together fairly quickly. It was about the landscape as much as it was my performance. We wanted Bob to be a really important element as well, because it was the first video we’d released after quite a while. I really liked how Bob was a strong subliminal force – if you don’t look closely, you might miss him. It’s really nice because I think it can be difficult for the producer who is not necessarily lip-syncing to have a role. But Bob is such an important role; he’s the whole sonic sphere of Alpines, and I feel like he’s the all-encompassing element: he’s always surrounding what I do, and I quite like how visually he is surrounding me in this landscape. He was there, he was present. Visually, it really portrays how we make music and how it comes across in many ways.
Bob: And then the decision to make it black and white.
Catherine: Yeah, very early on when we started writing the album, we made a very conscious decision that black and white was going to be very representative of all the music we write, because it strips things back to tone and composition. Colour can sometimes distract. I love colour, but for this period, we felt like black and white was most symbolic of what we were trying to create. And photography in the desert was a really good starting point. So, when you look at those desert shots in black and white, it can be a more refined visual in some ways. It definitely changed the mood.
It worked well with those lyrics in particular; there was a darkness about it. At what stage of the planning process did the dance movements come into play? I think together with the quick camera shots against the desolate landscape, they were quite striking.
Catherine: It was completely off the cuff. My friend’s a really good dancer, and she was meant to choreograph it with me but she was doing musical theatre and couldn’t make our meeting. I mean, dance is something I’ve always loved, always done, but I’ve never done it professionally. And so much of this process has been very natural and raw and ‘of the moment’, I just thought “Why don’t I just see what I can do in the moment, in the space?”
I think those words ‘natural’ and ‘raw’ really do give a good overview of the album and the videos that you’ve created to go with them. Another question for you, Catherine. I wondered whether your keen interest in people and their experiences warms you especially to the music video for ‘Heaven’, considering it’s focussing on a variety of individuals in private, introspective moments, and also in differing circumstances?
Catherine: I worked very closely with the director. It was really important to me to have a video that represented a range of human emotion, a range of people at different stages of their life, because that was very much an inference for me when writing the album. I’m really, really proud of this video. A lot of people came involved in it, and in a way I kinda like that because it was always about everybody else, this video. I think it’s a really, really nice video. It’s definitely trying to say something.
It’s very powerful.
Catherine: Yeah, and the main message that we wanted to get across with it was that everybody is going through something. That’s something that I’ve really come to learn over the last few years: how important it is to remember that everybody is going through some struggle – to really respect that. I have a lot of time for people’s stories. I like to hear what they’re going through, and I like to help people. So, that’s an important part of the process. So yeah, I think the video really represents that.
Bob, this is a question for you. Perhaps you could tell me about your musical talents on this album. There’s a definite tribal beat in ’Heaven’, and a beat nostalgic of a 90s R&B anthem in ‘Take Me To The Water’. Who are your musical inspirations, and how do you differentiate your own sound from your predecessors?
Bob: Well, I kind of quite like to think of myself as not really having one person. I like to try lots of different things and amalgamate the sounds. Those drum sounds – I usually play the loop that maybe sounds reminiscent of the inferences you mentioned. But then I like to run it through with synthesisers and stuff, and just kinda take the edge off and make it sound a bit more raw. I guess I just try stuff to make the sounds more organic or a bit more Alpines. I’m very keen on not sounding like anyone else. I’m trying to do stuff slightly differently then has been done before. I think it’s really important to stay interesting and always be trying to do something new. Even if I have a sound and it sounds too reminiscent of something else I’ll run it through a weird piece of gear or do something unexpected to it to try and get something more interesting.
Well, you’re doing a good job because I was trying hard to find an obvious musical inspiration, and I couldn’t pinpoint it! So you’ve definitely made it your own.
Bob: (laughs) That’s great. That’s so sweet of you to say. Yeah, I mean sometimes that backfires because people find it difficult to have reference points or compare it, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Catherine: Yeah, on this album we really wanted to try and do something unique. And I know there’s nothing new in the world in a way, but we decided to just really focus on doing something which was our own sound.
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You’ve done it and you’ve done it well. Now, your albums feature the motif of water – and its especially prominent on this album. Is there a conscious effort on your part to include this theme when penning or sharing your lyrics with one another, or is it a fluid inclusion that comes naturally?
Catherine: It’s interesting, this question because I had a big chat with my Dad about the album. The thing that he said was “I find it really interesting the amount of metaphor you use. I’m wondering why you use so much metaphor.” It’s funny because metaphor has always helped me make sense of things that I find very hard in life.
I think, sometimes, interestingly, metaphor can really help me to heal. I’ve come to realise lately that actually, when I look back on my life, it’s felt like my foundation has never felt very steady. It’s always felt like I’ve been in quite a watery kind of… ‘water world’. I think that will explain a lot about how and why I am the way I am. I think subliminally that’s why I’ve always gone towards water – the metaphor – because it’s helped me to understand the way I am.
Also, I think water, symbolically, is quite a healing thing if you look across time. When I wrote ‘Take Me to the Water’, I was thinking about a lot of those old spiritual songs as well as more modern references, and tracks like ‘I Go Down to the River to Pray’ – very much this mass movement, community thing of water as a healing force.
It’s interesting – we’ve started writing our next album and none of the songs have anything to do with water, and I think this is the first time. So obviously, I’ve got that thing out of my system. (laughs) I’ve definitely moved onto a new chapter and I’m quite glad about that. So water has always been a subliminal, subconscious driving force in the way that I write.
That’s really interesting, Catherine! What a great response! Ok. Finally, what can fans expect from your upcoming tour, and what are you most excited about?
Bob: I think we’re most excited about being able to do a long run of shows for the first time ever.
Bob: We just haven’t had the opportunity ever to do more than about four shows in a row, whereas this time we’re going to do 10-20 over the course of a few weeks. Hopefully by the latter half of the tour we should be the best band that we’ve ever been. We’re just looking forward to learning a lot about ourselves and about the music and getting better.
Bob: What can the fans look forward to, then?
Catherine: I think they can look forward to a show which is quite dynamic, which is both intimate but also at times quite grandiose – quite large in sound. But also, uplifting as well. We’re just really looking forward to playing for new people and meeting new people, and meeting up with fans that we’ve been in touch with on Twitter and various things for a while, but we’d never made it to those countries, so that will be really rewarding as well.
That’s so exciting! I’ll have to pop by and catch a show!
Alpines’ tour kicks off 14th February 2017. Tickets on sale now!