Could Alpine be the next great hope of the Australian music industry? Read the press, and it certainly seems that way.
But this is a band a long way from being a simple product of the zeitgeist. Alpine have taken a refreshingly considered approach to releasing records and building their collective name. A year and a half on from a head-turning EP, the Melbourne six-piece are only now releasing ‘A Is For Alpine’, their debut full-length.
Some would say that it’s overdue; did they ever feel that way?
“Yeah, I suppose so,” explains Phoebe Baker, one of the band’s twin vocalists. “But it also felt quite natural and it happened as it would have happened anyway, at the right time.”
One gets the feeling that this is a band not to be rushed. Even on the phone from her home in Melbourne, Baker is reflective and speaks with an almost stately paucity. There’s no fetish with the new when it comes to Alpine, well illustrated by the fact that they were more than comfortable remixing two songs from the EP and including them on the album.
“I think we decided, especially with the ones from the EP, that we’re still a young band and we want to give those songs exposure. They feel more settled. I still love the EP versions, but now they marry well with the newer material … it just seemed obvious really, to everyone. If in the future we release this album overseas, that will be maybe the first time for people over there to hear some of these old songs, which we’re still very much proud of and still love playing.”
So what have Alpine been up to over the last 18 months? The answer it seems is touring, both via their own shows and a slew of high-profile supports for the likes of Kimbra, Sia, Cloud Control, The Jezabels, The Naked And Famous and Matt Corby, among many others. It culminated in an invitation to this year’s South By Southwest music conference in Texas, during which the band played a whopping ten shows in just three days.
The live performances have been invaluable in spreading word of the band, but they’ve also contributed to a steady evolution of Alpine’s sound. Listen to ‘A Is For Alpine’ and it’s a big shift in both quality and confidence from the earlier EP.
“Definitely. Because once you play them live, you discover different things about the songs, or different things about how you’d like your songs to sound or how you’d like to perform them,” Baker explains.
“Then you just immediately change the way you record it. Also, as people we are becoming closer and becoming more in-tune with each other’s tastes in music – there’s a good vibe or a good connection when something’s working out well. So with that agreement you can go further, I suppose.
“I feel like our music is still changing. But that doesn’t surprise me: it’s changed a bit because we have become more collaborative in the way we write, so I suppose there are a lot more influences seeping in, whereas some of the songs on the EP were just written by me and Christian [O’Brien], or me, Christian and Lou [James]. But now, as we’ve gotten closer it’s much more collaborative, which is great and it seems to be working out well – which is lucky,” she laughs.
Ask Baker what the band specifically wanted to achieve when moving on from the EP and she talks a lot about greater experimentation. Helping Alpine nail that goal was Dann Hume. The now Victoria-based Hume is best known as one-third of Kiwi rockers Evermore, but has quickly developed a reputation as both a producer and an able machine man when it comes to songwriting and arrangements, having recently helped Melbourne’s Gossling burst through her writer’s block to create the spectacular single ‘Wild Love’.
“Well first of all Dann’s just the loveliest guy – he’s really easy to get along with – which makes a big difference when you’re stuck in the same place for a couple of weeks,” Baker says.
“He’s just incredibly patient and very, very creative, and has great ideas that we might never have thought of. But that patience: we could do take after take after take after take and you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. He very much wanted to help us get it right and help us feel like it was properly finished.”
Putting the band at ease further was the decision to record in Hume’s brand new studio in Gisborne, 45 minutes outside of Melbourne.
“That was just the way the cards fell. Dann and his brothers have built a studio out there and we weren’t going to miss an opportunity to record in the country.
"It’s so beautiful, it was a good atmosphere. That and Dann himself just helped immensely. I’m sure it comes across in the music: we were happy, we had a great time.”
Now Alpine are swapping the studio for life on the road. Despite the band having mastered their craft on the touring circuit, headline shows have been in relatively short supply. Baker talks with excitement about not having to win over someone else’s crowd for once and despite some loose ends, most of the new material is ready to go.
“Yeah. We’re pretty comfortable. There are still some bits and pieces here and there, but I’m comfortable. It’s going to be good. It’s always just this crazy journey, going on tour, and each night is totally different to the next and you make mistakes as you go along. Actually, hopefully no mistakes on tour – I didn’t say that!” she quips.
“Touring with six people can be quite intense, but it’s a good number of people because if you’re having a disagreement with someone there’s always someone else to hang out and gossip with, so we seem to balance each other out.”
And beyond the headline shows? There’s the busy summer festival season and then – hopefully – a trip overseas. After Alpine’s success at South By Southwest you’d think this was a given, but Baker’s careful not to count any chickens just yet.
“Hopefully,” she says, pausing for effect. “I guess it all depends on how the album goes. We’d love to go overseas and there’s the summer festivals over here as well. We’ll just see what happens.”
ALPINE PLAY THE GREAT NORTHERN AUGUST 16, THE ZOO AUGUST 17 AND COOLY HOTEL AUGUST 18. ‘A IS FOR ALPINE’ IS OUT NOW.