Alpine have just released their second album, Yuck, and will perform at Metropolis Fremantle on Friday, July 3. ADAM NORRIS reports.
There are many reasons why we have caught Phoebe Baker and Lou James at a good time. Melbourne sextet Alpine have a string of successes to their name now, including global tours and festivals, accolades and television spots – the highlight a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! – and plenty of gigs to come.
It’s also a lovely day, sunny and warm, and the girls are relaxing on comfortable couches. But mostly you know the co-leads are in a good mood thanks to Paul Simon. After I complain that You Can Call Me Al has been in my head all morning, the conversation is off and racing, with impromptu sing-along’s and unexpected topics popping like champagne corks. Prepared questions are lost in the dervish, and as we discuss alternative lyrics to the Simon song, it becomes immediately clear that these two have turned banter into a strange art.
“I always thought it was Caught Me Out,” James laughs, and the pair start singing alternate lyrics about a guy called Eddie walking in on his cheating partner. “I thought it was about a guy having an affair, and he gets caught by his wife. But he’s also some cockney geezer, you know? “‘Cor, you caught me out!’ It would make a great karaoke song.”
“I’ve only done karaoke once,” Baker recalls, “and it was fun, but I was a little too ambitious. I went with Prince, I Would Die 4 U. Great song, but karaoke?” She shakes her head sadly.
Before I really understand what’s happening, we’re suddenly in Disney karaoke territory, trying to recall the lyrics to Friend Like Me while Baker sings Arabian Nights and James reflects on her Lion King obsession growing up; collecting the quilt, the lunch box, the Lion King Polly Pocket (which apparently was a thing). It’s invigorating conversation, and speaks volumes about not only Baker and James’ ease in interviews, but also their own friendship and the idiosyncratic banter that has become such a vital aspect of Alpine’s live performance. This, however, has not always been the case.
“It comes down to us being more assured now, and being more comfortable in expressing what we want,” says James. “It’s building a world that we don’t want to seem too disconnected or out of reach, especially once we start performing onstage. We want people to feel as involved with it as we are. I don’t like going to a show and feeling that the stage is some barrier between me and them, you know? There’s something about crafting a show which is magical and that has the audience involved, too. But it’s been hard to figure that out. You’ve got to have a strong identity for people to connect with, and I think the first time around we were a little fragmented. Things like interviews, the banter at our shows, it wasn’t really that connected. I think you definitely need to reconnect with a song in order to get that feeling of storytelling. You’re not just playing a song live, you’re bringing something to life.”
“I mean, sometimes songs do become muscle memory,” Baker considers. “When you’re on tour, doing gigs every night, you can’t expect yourself to be feeling that emotion 100 per cent across every song. Sometimes you’re just feeling something different, and it’s hard to replace that. Different songs will always connect with you more than others, depending on your mood. Some nights you’re going through the motions a little, but it just means that you’re responding to different aspects in it.”
“There are so many factors, which is fine,” James agrees. “Anybody is going to get sick of performing the same song over and over. But you’re always in such a different context spread across the world, too. You could be in a dive bar; you could be in a beautiful old classical theatre. You could be having a good day, having a shit day. Even singing the same songs and knowing your way around them, they’ll always be a little fresh, a little bit new. The songs might be the same, but you express them differently each time.”
Following the rolling success of their 2012 debut album, A Is For Alpine, it was always just a matter of time before their sophomore dropped. They’re now a little bit older and a lot wiser for the three years in between. Yuck has already seen its lead single, Foolish, released to strong acclaim and high rotation, and the record itself is only days away. The self-assurance James speaks of has served the band well in piecing together a release that truly reflects who and where Alpine are today, but it also helped ease concerns about how their follow-up would be received.
“I don’t feel anxious, because I just feel so much happier and more content with this album than the first one,” says James. “In terms of recording it, having so much more time was important. I feel like being a bit older with more experience, the big difference was knowing what I’m trying to say with the lyrics, being able to write them down and being happy with them. Not many people get to do an album, let alone two, so at the end of the day it’s awesome.”
“I think with your second album there might be more pressure, but I think what will be, will be,” Baker grins. “I enjoyed the process and we’re really happy with the songs.”
“I still listen to it all the time,” says James. “I’ve found that with both albums, but this one I listen to and there are songs that still put me in that emotional place when we were writing them. It touches me; there’s a real connection. We’ve only performed maybe two or three songs from this album live before, and if I’m nervous about anything, it’s just not knowing. Performing the older songs, it’s fine – I know how I’m moving in each of them – but with these there hasn’t been that chance to connect with them yet onstage.”
“They take you back to that moment, that emotion,” agrees Baker. She pauses, and looks across to James. “But part of that is because we really, really worked on this – together and individually. The two of us always work collaboratively, but this time the other guys in the band had more input. As you listen and reflect on it, you’ll always hear things you didn’t recognise at the time. You’ll be surprised by bits working in ways you never thought about. Even if you’ve moved on from those emotions, it’s always interesting to listen back and realise, ‘Oh, so that’s how I reacted then’. I remember when we first listened to the master, it was all too much. You’re thinking about all the things you could have done, the things you want to change. But really, I’m so happy with it.”
“And you know what’s funny?” James asks. “Since we settled on the title, I hear people using the word ‘yuck’ all the time now. I think people might say it quite frequently without realising it. And you know, if people don’t like the album, at least they have a good word to describe it (laughs).”