In a musical alphabet of up-and-comers, Melbourne indie pop sextet, Alpine, certainly have the ‘A’ covered. Their debut album A is For Alpine is a mix of dreamy vocals and bittersweet melodies and harmonies. Singer, or rather one half of their vocal component, Lou James says the album is ‘the primal reaction to experiences in our twenties.’
The band, fronted by the vocal pairings of Lou James and Phoebe Baker, project an innocent sense of naivety in their music but James says ‘the innocence translates through the vocals and the way in which the words are sung, but a lot of it has a darker metaphorical version of what things mean.’
To look at her, you would never suspect that there was even a hint of darkness underneath her kind eyes and friendly demeanour. ‘It seems really poppy and light but if you actually listen to the meaning of the words, there’s a lot more maturity and rawness to it.’ I guess this is why Alpine hold such a wide appeal.
‘There’s sort of two layers to it, there’s the surface and then there’s what lies underneath,’ James explains.
In putting the album together James says, ‘we had a really strong idea of how the songs should sound.’ While the writing process often involves both Lou and Phoebe working individually on lyrical content while guitarist Christian O’Brien works on the instrumental component, the band will usually get together to finish the arrangement.
‘It’s a really good structure to the writing process, it just works really well. It just means that we all end up writing and finishing the song together which I think is really important.’ There is a definite overwhelming sense that Alpine is entirely a group collaboration. From writing the songs to preparing for shows James says they tend to do everything as a group.
‘It’s so important for us to be together before we go on stage because it’s a reminder that we’re all in this together.’
The first single from the album, ‘Hands’, is the perfect example of Alpine’s penchant for catchy hooks and washy vocals.
‘The song itself is about acceptance. It’s more an acceptance of when a relationship is over…feeling like you can be free to be yourself, someone who was your love, your enemy, your friend.’
The film clip to the song features several girls in a home sleep-over type setting; practicing kissing and being generally tongue-in-cheek, and has sparked mixed reactions with viewers.
‘People either love it, or they find it really in their face,’ says James. Director Lucy Schroeder took the song and visualised her own interpretation. ‘It’s sensual, it’s sexual, it’s random, it’s evasive.’ James admits that even her dad has yet to watch it, ‘I was telling him about it and he was like “I can’t watch it, I don’t think it’s appropriate.”’
There is definitely a strong visual element to Alpine’s music. A typical live show might involve ‘a lot of jumping in the air,’ and theatrics. James and Baker are unequivocally a team on stage, ‘both our vocals are one instrument; it’s like having the two personalities of the one instrument coming to life in the show.’ With very few bands coming to mind that contain two female co-vocalists, Lou and Phoebe are very much in unchartered territory.
‘I guess we really embody that female front-lady power,’ says James. Fortunately for them the unique format has been received really well, ‘I’m noticing that there’s a lot more emphasis on female vocalists at the moment.’
James explains that the music industry is definitely changing: ‘For a long time the way I saw it was very male dominated rock and roll vibe. Now there’s a bit of jazz with power pop and what we’re doing as well…it’s interesting to see that there’s this really cool sense of girl power at the moment.’
James herself has a great appreciation for female fronted bands and musicians. After supporting The Jezabels on tour, James admits ‘it helped me to knuckle down. [You’ve] got to work really hard if you’re gonna get [to] where you wanna go.’
She is full of praise for The Jezabels, ‘they were such a hard working band, we thought we could just muck around [and that] we don’t have to take it too seriously. That [experience] tweaked me.’
Another female artist who James looks up to is Kate Bush, ‘I’m just infatuated with her. I think she’s just the most amazing song writer, the way she experiments with her voice.’ James reveals that Phoebe is very inspired by Grace Jones, so it’s clear that there is a fervent sense of girl power within the group. Both Lou and Phoebe were often involved in theatre at school: ‘I guess we’re quite sort of daggy weird girls, we’re not your typical girls.’
For Alpine it seems there is very little that is typical about them. Their dynamic set-up and stunningly simplified style of pop has already seen them play overseas at Texas’ SXSW festival, although James acknowledges ‘we still haven’t been to Darwin.’ As far as their future plans go, ‘we’d love to do more regional shows… there’s so much of this country that we need to go see and visit [the] people who can’t get to the main cities.’
Of course with an album that is already receiving high rotation on many radio stations across the country, it would be impossible to expect Alpine to sit still for too long!
By Freya Jones