The main reason that Nine Black Alps are such an enjoyable band to see live is because they are just so unpretentious.There is something refreshing about going to see a band play who don’t care about how ‘Rock-and-roll’ they come across, they only care about the music and putting on a great show. Playing to just under 100 people in the Blitz nightclub in Preston, you get the feeling that they could be playing to ten thousand and nothing in the performance would change. They came to Preston to make noise and entertain us, and that is what they did.
Nine Black Alps were signed to Island Records after just a few months of gigging based on the strength of their live performances, and it’s easy to see why. Somehow the band manage to balance moody, deep songs with a brash and explosive performance, giving the whole show that rare and indefinable feeling of intimacy mixed with excitement.
Though the band put on an excellent show, the planning for the most recent tour left something to be desired. Playing a venue in the centre of the campus of a university town in the middle of the Easter holiday meant that the audience was mainly middle-aged men, which meant that the crowd failed to reciprocate the energy created by the band, instead opting to standing in silence and smiling while they nodded in time to the music. However, this did not stop the band putting on a large and unrelenting show.
After ten years and almost 400 gigs later, Nine Black Alps still rock, something about their genuine desire to perform great songs still captivates audiences and they still seem to care about putting on great shows. they are touring less and less as time goes by, so if they happen to play near you, make sure you go see them.
So, the fantastic Nine Black Alps are in the final throw of their latest UK tour, and while performing to a criminally low number of people in a Preston nightclub they agreed to have a quick chat with me. Telling me all about a decade making loud noises, touring all around the world and arse-hole producers. You can listen to an exert here or read the full thing below.
So, I am in the smoking area of Preston’s The Ship Inn and I’m here with Nine Black Alps, hello guys.
Nine Black Alps: hey, hello, yo’.
So you formed in 2003. Two record labels, four albums and one decade later, how has it been?
Sam: Intense, then not intense and now we are here in Preston. It’s been alright. Dave, thoughts?
David: It has been a rock and roll rollercoaster of dreams, misery, pain, hunger, sarcasm…
David: Joy, poverty…
David: Just general cynicism.
Can we expect anything special for the ten year anniversary of Nine Black Alps?
Sam: No, I don’t think so. I hate it when bands do ten year things, so I think we’ll probably split up on our ten year anniversary.
David: I’m going to say the opposite, I’m going to say yes.
Sam: David is really sentimental about things. He likes advertising himself.
Karl: he takes the albums to bed with him.
Sam: and jacks off onto them.
David: I do, I love it.
So what is next then? Have you got a fifth album planned?
Sam: No we’ve nothing, we have got… what have we got? We have three dates and then three festivals. That’s it. And then the future is just wide open. We get together whenever we can be arsed and that’s kind of it. I think we are past our career phase of having a career, we just do it when we want to now. Which is kind of nice, because it means there is sort of, we have to do this and we have to do that. Which is nice.
Do you think you can a take it easy now and just sort of let creativity strike you when it does?
Sam: Yeah, that’s definitely the best way to be, otherwise you end up working with dickhead producers and doing horrible things. At least now we do horrible things, but we do them because we chose them.
David: Yeah, Yeah, exactly. Its nicer.
Was it like that at Island Records, when you speak of dickhead producers?
Sam: well the first record we did was with a really nice producer, but the second was a dickhead producer. But we never chose them. Basically we just started getting more and more compromised as we went on. And then we ran out of money. And then we got confused for a while. And then… But now we are kind of in a zone where we… its kind of a bit more comfortable with each other and things, because there is not that pressure of having to be a thing really. Because we know there is no way we are going to be featured in young, skinny, male, dot com magazine. So it’s kind of… we can do what the fuck we want.
So of the ten years you have been playing together, what has been the highlight?
David: I think, there have been a few. As in the first album, recording with Rob Schnapf. When we started out he was big. Sam really liked Beck and Elliott Smith, a few records he put out. I did as well. He was such a nice guy to work with, and I think he got the best out of us at the time when we were quite green and naive.
And then working on the third album with David Eringa on the third album was a really, really fun time, as in to the point where all I remember about those sessions was laughing. And seeing how heavy we could get was just funny to us, but when the album came out I think that scared a lot of people. But I think it was good, we needed to do it as a counseling session as a band more than anything. And then… Sound like bloody Metallica doesn’t it [about the music in the bar]…
The new record Sirens, we did it ourselves, because me and sam we are both really into recording, and we had been doing demos and we really liked the feel of them. And we did five days of recording, which was hard work, but fun. Me and james hadn’t really heard the songs that many times, we got sent some demos and just wrote parts as we were going along. It was more organic. Because we have always liked the sound of the demos, so we have tried to make demos that sounded good, as opposed to thinking right that will do, its only a demo. And I think that worked well.
I think that touring with weezer was a pretty big thing.
Sam: Yeah, but they were pretty boring though
David: yeah but it was the dream.
Sam: I think that any sort of touring. Well when we started out touring just the idea of turning up at a venue and having a crate of beer in the dressing room was pretty awesome. Even now, tonight we came to the pub and we got a free burger and free drinks, that still is to me awesome.
And there is like tonnes of downsides, that is like our knackered-ness, failed relationships, you know, anything. But in terms of like, turning up and having people open doors for you, it makes you feel cool.
You spoke about Elliott Smith before, was he a major influence? Because, forgive me if I’m wrong but there is a little bit of him in some of your songs I feel.
Sam: Yeah, I mean I love him. He is probably the best songwriter from like 2000 to 2010, even though he died fairly early on in that. You know, every decade has its brilliant songwriter, weather it’s the Beatles in the early sixties, Neil Young, kurt Cobain, Elliott Smith, I think they own that decade. In terms of songwriting I don’t think there is anyone better.
Is it hard to balance, because he’s quite mellow and you are more alternative rock?
Sam: I think it is just keeping the momentum in a song, its just about the songwriting so it keeps the mood throughout it, and doesn’t become cheesy and yet remains interesting.It’s really hard to talk about it without sounding really boring. Because that’s what’s magical about it, it’s the fact you can’t put your finger on why it is good.
So from 2004 when you did “everything is” to 2011 when you did “sirens” do you think you have changed as a band?
Sam: we have got a new human involved, which is Carl. He’s a bass player because our last bass player left to form his own band. But I think we are still pretty much the same people. We probably have got more confident, if anything.
David: Yeah, because we meet through mutual friends, because we all seemed to move to manchester at the same time. I met Sam and we had nothing else to talk about other than music. Sam had some demos, we were meant to join a different band that never happened, but we liked each other and I liked his songs, so we ended up doing that. It turned in to the Alps, and James and Martin joined along the way. It was like from day one when we got in the room, it sounded like us. Musically it’s the same, but personality wise we are very much the same people. I don’t think we have ever had a serious argument between us.
Sam: It might be a bit of a downfall for us that none of us really take it seriously enough to believe in ourselves enough to be Jim Morrison types. Because I think we are fairly cynical and extremely sarcastic. So as soon as somebody starts playing up to the act of I want this, then one of the rest of us just takes the piss out of them, or it doesn’t work. So, you know. And fortunately we are just just complete twats and we don’t let anything slip. We will always have to stay because we are grounded people.
David: A lot of it is to do with the fact of a lot of the music we listen to is kind of, anti-ego music. It’s not standing on the front of the stage with your arms up, saying “look at me, I’m amazing”, Its always been, I hate the word slacker. But it is in that essence of wanting to…. Its going in the clothes that you have been in all day, not putting your stage costumes on that look a bit grimy, and then putting on your nice boss suit afterwards.
Could you give me an example of that?
David: I’m not into band bitching….
No, I mean who are the bands that have inspired you that way?
David: Oh in that instance? Well obviously there is your Neil Young, Elliott Smith, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Queens of the stone age, bands like that fall into a category where you think ‘oh yeah, they’re awesome rock stars’. Josh Homme, he’s cool and everything, but to me he’s part of Queens of the Stone Age, he always will be, and to me that band, and all of them are big influences on us
Sam: I think we just want to rise above the shite of when we came out in 2003. There was very much a strokesie, liberteenie kind of thing, where is was like poncing around in leather jackets, that sort of top shop fashion. Its just so london centric, I have always preferred people on the outside of that. Even though I am not a massive outsider, you know, I pay my car tax and things. Its just anything opposed to Hollyoaks Indie music. Even though we have been on Hollyoaks.
David: The essence of just trying not… We have never tried to fit into a scene that is going on at the moment. I think that is the best thing about us. There has been the new rock revolution, like The Strokes and all those bands, and then there was the pork pie hat bands, and then you have the high hat bands, and then you have ‘oh lets put keyboards in it, so now its new.’ we have never tried to fit in with what’s going on around.
Sam: All our songs are so fucking easy that an idiot could play them. Like we haven’t practiced in almost two months until we got to the venue today and realised that we probably didn’t need to practice because they are just so simple. I don’t know… I want to sound like a school band.
But the band’s name comes from a Sylvia Plath poem, so there is obviously more than just simple rock, there is something more artistic going on.
Sam: Well I think that we like to think that we are artistic, I think thats basically it. Because we are not complete thugs…
Is that all it takes?
Sam: Yeah, just name your band after a Sylvia Plath poem, it kind of points it in the right direction. It points out the fact that, yeah I might have read a book. I do read books, it’s not a crime.
David: It’s that essence… I keep saying “essence”, I fucking hate that… It’s the fact that we come from small towns, and a lot of the time when you are trying to be more than you are, and are being pretentious, you get shot down so quickly. It becomes an embarrassment. To me, if you are trying to be like that all the time, it’s just a facade, a fakeness, that you shouldn’t not be like, but it has always just been kicked out of you. So I get embarrassed about it more than anything.
So there is that side of us, but then there is also the other side that just likes to play bar-chords and noise. It’s a juxtaposition that we are in, but it is a nice position when we want to do that. But to me, sam writes the songs, we add stuff on top of it, and it always sounds like us. Its not a formula. It’s not, “oh that went well on radio testing”, it’s just like what you are listening too at the time.
I think that we listen to a lot of old music, what is considered old now, and I think that has influenced us greatly. As opposed to a lot of modern bands, that see the strokes as retro…
Sam: That’s because they are young though!
David: I know! I am so jealous!
David: Jaded youth.
So you have been pretty prolific tourers in your time. Between 2004 and 2009 you had something like 375 gigs. Is that because you prefer the live experience compared to the studio experience? or why?
Sam: I think it was because we could afford to tour the, and we had management. And now we just don’t. And also it was just that time in your life where none of us had any fixed anything. Whereas now we have more, other obligations. More of a life basically. We were just young idiots.
David: Yeah, when we just started, in 2003/2004, when we got signed, it came from us mainly. We just wanted to tour, tour, tour. Because thats what bands do, that’s how band’s become good. Thats how you know if it’s working, playing in front of other people. It’s difficult to write a record in a studio and see how its gonna go. And we tried to do a lot of shows before and get as many songs out before it went down.
Sam: But it gets to a point where it does get a little repetitious with the touring. I think our first few tours were really, really good fun, and then you kind of get to a think where it is a little bit like a treadmill, because you are just playing the same thing every time.
Well, you have toured all over Europe, you have toured all over America and you have played in Japan, where is the best place you have played, do you think?
Sam: I loved Japan, because it is just like another planet to me… It’s just yeah… easy.
Do you think that [to David]?
David: Well I think personally, and it’s not because I’m in the country, I have preferred playing in the UK, because we have always had really, really strong fans over here, and it does mean alot to me. In japan it is crazy, and the level of fans over there is amazing, really dedicated, but we went there twice really early on and it just seems so distant. I would love to go back, go back there with the Alps because it would be amazing. But the UK, for me has always just been the
hub of what’s going on and where we could really cut our teeth. I have loved playing dive-bars, I have loved playing big venues, I have loved headlining, I have loved supporting over here. Just because you can play some really rare songs that people don’t really know, and people will sing along. To me that’s insane, really insane. So I prefer the UK personally.
So finally, when you are touring and driving around in your tour bus, what songs are you listening too… what’s going on at the moment?
Sam: Usually its just a combination of the Beatles, Sonic Youth, Neil Young, Pavement…. Old reliables I guess.
David: It depends if James is on the stereo, he choses AD/DC or Led Zep, some sort of classic rock thing. Me and Sam have similar tastes that cross over, but then you prefer…
Sam: What do I prefer? Go on, tell me…
David: I have forgot both of their names. And they are very cool..
Sam: What is my favorite record at the moment?
David: It is… I have forgotten his name… He’s dead…
That Narrows it down…
David: It is… The guy with the curly hair and I have forgotten his name…
Sam: Bob Marley?
David: no… He didn’t have curly hair…
Sam: Lionel Richie?
Sam: Right… next question….
No, I want you to tell us what your favorite record is…
David: Jay…. Jay Reatard! Is that your favorite record at the moment?… you have played that a lot.
Sam: You are so last year david… you don’t know me anymore.
David: Is it Ty Segall?… Is it…
Sam: I don’t know. Is it?
David: Is it?… is it?… is it the bald guy from the die hard solo record?… I can’t even remember his name
Sam: Bruce Willis?
David: yeah, it’s him isn’t it… with his harmonica?
Sam: Yeah, so, you know, just Neil Young and The Pixies and what have you…
And Bruce Willis…
Sam: And Bruce Willis.
With his crappy blues
David: It’s not crap! No it’s just the usual
Sam: But not at the moment, our van doesn’t have a CD player and we don’t have any CD’s. Can you pick up some CD’s tomorrow?
David: Yeah I will pick up some…. Jay Reatard?
Action Records in Preston… that’s where you want to go for music.
Sam: Oh yeah, well we have played there, in 2004. We did an in store there. Thats a fact.
Well thank you very much for talking to us.