One of the joys of running this site is the daily discovery of new bands. As we’ve said before, this has been one of the most vibrant and exciting years for music in decades. But this week we had the incredible pleasure to re-discover a band we’ve loved for years.
Nine Black Alps are a Manchester quartet that formed in late 2003 and were quickly snapped up by Island Records. They spent a year touring and recording with acclaimed producer Rob Schnapf who had worked with Beck and Elliot Smith. Their first album, ‘Everything Is’ was a sonic masterpiece. I always loved the Sub-Pop grunge era and Nine Black Alps felt like the next logical step for the genre. Not derivative, but a hint of the British punk energy that was far more entertaining than America’s attempt to turn grunge into arena rock (see Staind, Creed, etc.).
All that being said, the second album was a bit of a disappointment. When Love/Hate came out it sounded less like the sophomore jinx and more like a major label trying to turn the band into something that it wasn’t. Sure enough, the band left Island in early 2008.
2009 has brought us a new Nine Black Alps album that blows away the masterpiece that was their first album. ‘Locked Out From The Inside” is the sound of a band unsatisfied with their lot in life and we all know that angst frequently brings out the best in a band.
Recently, we’ve interviewed so many bands that yearn to be on a major label. Unintentionally, we’ve stumble upon a parable on the evils that can befall the greatest of bands. This is a call to arms. Once you read this interview and listen to their music, we’re hoping that you’ll immediately buy the new album. Do it to fight back against the oppression of the major label. Do it to show this band your support. But mainly, do it to add a fantastic record to your collection.
Lead singer and guitarist, Sam Forrest surveys the damage and gives us the view of Nine Black Alps.
Vampire In The Sun- First single from new album: Locked Out From The Inside
TDOA: The new sound feels like a return to the more raucous sounds of the first record. What led the band down this path? Tell us about the songwriting process on this record, please.
SF: I wanted to write songs that were less ‘crafted’ than on the previous album, more punky and instant and obnoxious. I think after we got dropped by Island there was a feeling of wanting to tell everyone to fuck off and this probably came across in the attitude and feel of some of the songs. The process was fairly similar to how we’ve worked before. I’d usually sit at home and scratch out a couple of dozen rough song ideas and then we’d chip away at these songs in our practice room for a couple of months until we’d ended up with 11 songs that we were happy with.
TDOA: I’ve always felt that the band had a sound that was similar to the great Seattle/Sub-Pop bands of the 90′s. Do you feel an affinity for those bands or am I mis-identifying your influences?
SF: You are probably right. I was a teenager in the early nineties so it was part of my growing up to hear Sonic Youth, The Pixies, Nirvana and Hole. I do miss the rebellion that those bands had in not playing up to the dumb-ass rock star roles…
TDOA: We’ve always heard horror stories about major labels dictating the sound and content of a record. To what extent did Island get involved in the process of the second album?
SF: They basically chose the producer for us, which was not the producer that I had in mind. So yes, it definitely dictated the sound of the second record to an extent. Island weren’t so much involved in the process of the second album, they left us to it with the producer.
TDOA: How do you feel about your experience with Island? It seemed like they were fully behind you for “Everything Is”, but in the U.S. Love/Hate didn’t get as much of a push. Are you better off going on without them?
SF: We are better off creatively without them as we recorded our best album last year with no interference and very little money in only two weeks. Financially, we are not at all better off without the major record label as it’s really hard to tour without their funding and we are all broke now.
TDOA: To what extent have you gotten to choose your producers? I’d love to hear a discussion of the differences in working with Rob Schnapf v. Dave Sardy and Dave Eringa. Were any more hands-on than others?
SF: We chose Rob for our first album because of his work with Elliott Smith and Beck, he was really fun to work with and let us follow our noses with ‘Everything Is’ and was fairly transparent in his role which I really liked. It didn’t feel like his personality was all over the record.
For ‘Love/Hate’, Dave Sardy was chosen for us by the label. He definitely got much more involved in the songwriting and the production side of things in terms of orchestration and dynamics, which was interesting. Dave Eringa did our third, most recent, album. We chose him because of his work with Idlewild. He was great to work with in that he helped us record really fast and live, experiment with sounds much more and most importantly we had a really good time with him.
TDOA: NBA has played everything from small clubs to Glastonbury and other huge festivals. What do you prefer? The intimacy of the small club or the grandeur of the large venue?
SF: I’ll take the pay cheque from a large venue every time, but I think my favourite shows are usually the smaller club ones with friendly audiences. I don’t think the venue matters half as much as the attitude of the people within it.
TDOA: Any plans to come back to America and perhaps play SXSW again?
SF: (We) would love to, but I can barely afford to catch the bus to the supermarket at the moment, never mind fly to America.
TDOA: How do American audiences compare to those in England?
SF: They seem to smile more and have better teeth and sun tans. And ‘whoop’ a lot. They also have more tattoos.
You can stream the new album at: http://nineblackalps.com
Download it via Itunes here: http://tinyurl.com/m6fsz4
Purchase your own shiny cd here: http://www.nineblackalps.com/preorder.php