In conversation with Alpines

On the eve of the release of their second LP another river, alpines took over Omeara to host an exhibition of the artwork and imagery that accompanies the record, proving that their artistry and focus on visuals is still some of the most striking in music today.

With the exhibition in flow, we sat down with the London duo to discuss the new record and how the gallery showcase came to be.

Take a look at our review of the brilliant Another River right over here.

So where did the idea for the gallery exhibition come from?

Catherine Pockson: Well we wanted to do something a bit different for the launch of the album and something that people could interact with, as well as showcasing the brilliant work of the different artists. I feel the imagery with this record is all very coherent so it seemed to us that it’d all make a great visual experience.

Bob Matthews: It’s nice to get everyone together at an event that isn’t a gig as we never get the chance to talk properly at live shows. It’s something a little bit more than a party that keeps within the visions of the band.

Visuals have always been a key part of the Alpines package right from the start. Catherine, we spoke before hand about your time at Art College but Is art a big influence for both of you?

C: I suppose it’s more for me but we both have an appreciation…

B: Well I studied film so I’m a great lover of cinema and when we work on the videos but I think Catherine’s really got the mind of an artist when she approaches everything. My mind is a little bit more mathematical, maybe. The coherence for the body of work we’ve done comes from Catherine’s vision. When we started recording the album, we had a pin board with 30 to 40 images she’d chosen and that helps me chose which sounds I want to use. It’s important for me but it all really comes from Catherine.

C: The mood board is interesting as that is how I was taught when designing a collection of clothing. You refine it down to a selection of key images which is almost the language you’re going to create for the collection. I’ve never really thought about it but that’s probably why it works so well for me.

Your music videos have always been almost like individual short films as opposed to straight-up pop videos. Who comes up with the concepts?

C: We wanted Completely to be a moving scene of the all the stills from the album art, bringing it all to life. I think nature is so important for us and that we get so much out of it, I like how we are so small in the dominant landscape in the video and that’s really what the record is all about.

B: Even if we don’t come up with the concept, we end up working really closely with the director. Completely was essentially Catherine directing and then Heaven was your idea too.

C: With anything creative or artistic, you’re going to go need to work with other creative people closely. You can’t be doing that on your own. It’s so nice to get the vision of whoever you’re working with to combine with your own. I get a lot out of that.

There are four artists that collaborated with you to create the visuals for Another River. Who approached who?

C: It’s a bit different for each person. Cyrus Mahboubian, I was at uni with. He’s been a really good friend for years so it started very organically. He just wanted some shots to use for a display so it’s nice that it’s become this amazing thing where he is very integral to how we put ourselves out there.

B: Jason Baker directed the video for No Other Lover off our first record and since then he’s been doing loads of behind-the-scenes stuff for us. He’s 6.5ft tall yet manages to make absolutely no noise which is why he’s so great for behind the scenes stuff… [laughs]

C: Jason was also there when we started writing Completely as he just wanted some studio footage. I do wonder if he hadn’t been there then if the video would have turned out the way it had…

B: Pablo [Thecuadro] is an interesting one…

C: He’s been a fan of the band and we’ve been a fan of his art. No idea which came first. We’ve been in touch for years.

B: He did a collage for us a four years back, around the time that Chances came out. It’s so lovely when fans do make art for us. The collage he made for this record was for a tour poster, which featured us both cut out and pasted back down on separate levels.

C: And finally, Stephan Furnrohr, I reached out to him after I was scouring the internet looking for artwork to use for singles. We wanted a desert, really inspired by Ansel Adams, the American photographer.

B: Some of the photos on the mood board were a desert, going back to the imagery of bare landscapes again. We found Stephan who’s been everywhere taking these amazing photographs, like Greenland to shoot glaciers and deserts so we thought if we get a relationship with him then we can use his imagery for our singles.

Did you find any noticeable differences in the writing and recording process from the first record?

C: Hm… Yes and no

B: It was the same as it was just myself and Catherine up till the mixing stage but the main different would be having our own studio in Kingston now as the first record was recorded in my parents’ house. Having the studio at the end of the garden just made it so much easier to get into the gritty process. Just not having my parents around was a big difference… [laughs]

C: There was always an awareness of someone listening in when we did Oasis whilst now we have a soundproof space. Having that awareness really alters the way you work, plus I’m a night owl and work at night whilst Bob prefers the day time so we have that flexibility too. The mind-set we had going into this record is different to Oasis as we were in a totally separate mental-state but with this record we’ve been a lot braver and not worried about what’s commercial at the time. With Oasis, we say what was working successful as we as having friends that we doing successfully in music so we were really inspired by that. It’s not a bad thing, but this is just a step back and doing it on our own.

B: We’ve really committed to a sound with Another River without worrying too much if anyone will like it… We knew what we wanted and we went for it.

C: Nothing to lose kinda vibe…

One of the things I notice with Another River is you’ve returned back to the much darker sound of your earlier material whilst Oasis was a lot more ‘upbeat.’ Whether this is just because this record is coming out just before winter and Oasis was just before summer…

B: I’m not sure… I do like that this record is coming out as we’re going into winter as there is a very cold feel to it…

C: See, I don’t think cold which is what’s interesting. More emotionally exposed I think…

B: On Oasis, there’s more upbeat and pop numbers whilst Another River is just laying all the emotions out there and not trying to sugar-coat anything. Maybe it sounds dark because of these open soundscapes we’ve been using. I remember thinking we needed dance numbers for Oasis like No Other Lover. We didn’t think like that this time.

C: We wanted to create a body of work a Oasis was songs from a lot of different times and then a few others added on top… I think and I hope that this album is more coherent. More of a body of work…

On the first record there were a couple of song writing credits [MNEK, Vince Kidd] and I know you, Catherine, have done a handful of guest vocal slots [sub focus, The Maccabees]. Do you find collaboration an easy thing?

C: It’s so funny, you learn a lot about yourself doing collaborations. It really does help you as a song writing so I think it’s very, very good to do. With MNEK, we’re still friends as you can build these long-lasting connections through collaboration, he’s so amazing.

B: It can be scary as you can get very self-conscious over the way you go about making your music. It’s always so nice when it goes well. Music is all about collaboration.

C: We will always seize the opportunity, whatever comes about.

out of interest, Do you get chance to go out and see much live music from other artists?

B: We don’t as much as we would like, that’s for sure. I’d love to go and see the new acts that everyone is talking about as you can feel the excitement in the room. We just don’t get the chance…

C: We do a lot of ‘key’ gigs, so we’ll go see people that we really love. We saw D’Angelo at Roundhouse, Jamie Woon a while back. Album writing is so intense and in-the-zone that you just get locked into it so it’s hard to go.

Let’s talk about soundtracking the David Attenborough Planet Earth series with your I Put A Spell On You cover. That’s quite something, right?

B: Yes! That was such a great experience. We’d already done the cover before and it didn’t get put out so it was just floating around. Someone played it to someone working on the show and they just loved it. We actually worked with them quite closely to change it and make it fit that timeslot with the advert. Great fun to work with people who weren’t necessarily music industry people for a change.

C: The visuals are so beautiful that it’s almost hard for anything not to work with it. Absolute dream come true, I put it on my own Facebook and got an onslaught of “you go, babe!” [laughs]

And finally, you’ve got a couple of covers under your belt now. If any artist could cover any of your tracks, who would you want it to be and which song?

C: Ooh, if Prince was still alive then definitely him…

B: It’d have to be someone that doesn’t sound like us, this is a toughie…

C: I think it’d have to be Prince as he’s always been someone I’d have loved to worked with. I really love it when men cover women vocalists and vise-versa and he’s such an inspiration

B: What about if he did one of the slow ones like How It Hurts? Let’s stick with that!

Another River is out now.

Words // Bill Baker