Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Interview: AlterRed

Better than mending...

Image by Vix Vain: She Takes Photographs

“They’d usually be ideas based on our own childhood (and sometimes adulthood) fears and nightmares. Disjointed faces, carved features and dissociative identity disorder came up a lot!”

London's electro-creeps AlterRed have across the course of their first three albums weaved a rich tapestry of dark cabaret infused electro-rock and conceptual narrative, in the process becoming one of the UK's must-see live acts. Since putting their original story arc to sleep, the band have struck hard and fast with their new album 'In The Land Of The Blind...' showcasing a darker and harder sound that builds on the previous album sand develops beyond expectations. Throw in a new record deal with US label WTII Records and the future is looking bright for the band.

Intravenous Magazine caught up with AlterRed maestro Mikey fresh off the band's tour with industrial rock maniacs Be My Enemy, to talk about the new album, inspirations, visuals and the importance of live presentation.

Intravenous Magazine: Your latest album 'In the Land of the Blind...' is about to be released. What has the feedback been like for it so far?

Mikey AlterRed: Very good so far. We’re finding a lot of new fans and a new audience, and we’ve had a lot of great feedback from existing fans, which is great. Always a bit precarious when a band changes direction!

IVM: Where did the inspiration for the title of the album come from?

MA: It’s from Desiderius Erasmus's Adagia or so I understand, but it has derivatives in many other sources. It’s a little bit of a jibe at popular culture and how so much of mainstream culture has become diluted to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, which in turn has resulted in the creation of so much arrogance and ego for little more than just being not quite as awful as the rest! The song 'Unpopulism', which was originally going to be the title track, is probably a more defined and pronounced rant about this. The actual title track, an instrumental, was written as a sort of soundtrack to a fictional movie trailer about a huge behemoth of an industry, issuing wave after wave of the same banal, tried and tested product to a passive, sedated consumer.

IVM: The album showcases a darker, heavier sound. What led to this direction and how do you feel it complements the material on your previous releases?

MA: I’ve been a fan of harder and heavier bands for as long as I can remember, but I became a little bit weary of them. My last band (D.U.S.T.) was an electro rock band that ended in 2007, so when we started AlterRed we wanted to try something new. Well, we did that. We played with synthpop, with cabaret, with the spooky kid sub-genre and several others too. Then in 2012 we played a live show with Sulpher, who I’ve long been a fan of, and then in 2013 we toured with William Control, and I found myself craving to perform more energetic and aggressive tunes. I’d had a bunch of ideas for songs for previous albums that didn’t really fit as they were too heavy and fast, so I figured now’s the time - let’s put these together in a set list and see how they play live. They actually fit perfectly well with some of the older stuff, particularly stuff from our first album, but are absolutely at odds with some of the others! But I don’t mind that! I’m a huge Alice Cooper and Bowie fan; both have had very diverse output over the years.

IVM: 'In the Land of the Blind…' is the first release since wrapping up the story-arc of the previous three albums. Has this significantly changed your song writing approach on the new album?
MA: Yeah it has, actually. I have found myself writing self-contained concepts now, rather than carrying a narrative over the whole album. I’ve also found myself restricting the more theatrical ideas to instrumental pieces. I think that way, the music delivers the mood but without directly imposing a narrative onto the audience. Instead the listener can decide for herself/himself what it is about.

Lyrically what have been your main inspirations behind the new album, and which authors / poets / lyricists have inspired your style over the years?

MA: Hmmm… I’m not sure if any have directly influenced me. I re-read a lot of Clive Barker still, and I find myself re-reading Huxley, then a lot of the atheist philosophers or polemicists (Hitchens, Dennet, Harris, Dawkins…) but I don’t think I could name a direct influence.

IVM: The new album will come out on US label WTII Records, through which you've already released a compilation album. How did this deal come about and what has the relationship been like so far?

MA: It came about when both Mechanical Cabaret and Deviant UK signed with them. I’ve been friends with both bands over the years and both Jay (Deviant) and Roi (MC) both recommended us. I spoke with the label, who said they’d been following our progress anyway, so it progressed from there.

IVM: Your music videos go hand in hand with the strong visuals of the album. Are there any plans for music videos in support of this album as well, and if so what can you tell us about your plans for them?

MA: Yes there are. We have one in post-production at the moment, which is Vix Vain’s directorial début. That’ll be for the track 'I Breathe You'. I won’t say too much about it but it features a sledgehammer and a piano. We’re also planning a video for 'Unpopulism'. That’ll likely be released in the winter.

IVM: You've had a long standing relationship with Duncan Catterall of Clockwork Amoeba for the creation of your videos. How does the collaborative process typically work?

MA: Yeah, Dunc played a big part in translating a lot of the narrative to video. Vix, Duncan and I would sit down with a bottle of absinthe and a note pad and spend hours going through ideas for characters, stories and imagery. They’d usually be ideas based on our own childhood (and sometimes adulthood) fears and nightmares. Disjointed faces, carved features and dissociative identity disorder came up a lot! Like Rene Magritte does Multiple Miggs! It was great fun.

IVM: In addition to the videos, the artwork and photography of Vix Vain is integral to the presentation of the band. How important is this to the AlterRed philosophy and do they come before or after the song writing?

MA: They usually happen at the same time but it varies. Sometimes I’ll mention a theme for a song and Vix will instantly come up with her visual interpretation of the theme. We have also had instances where we’ll disagree on a topic, and I’ll find myself writing about it only to receive her rebuttal in the form of the image. It can get quite interesting when two creatives disagree and argue with their output! That said, the new material is a lot less cabaret and a lot more stripped down so the new imagery is appropriate for that.

IVM: Your live shows have always had a theatrical/vaudeville element to them. How important is this live invocation and how do you go about planning the live presentation?

MA: The live performance is everything to me, actually. I like recording new songs but it’s not my first love when it comes to the music; it’s the performing live that I do this for so getting the overall show right is essential. I suspect to answer this honestly I’d need to make the distinction between the shows that accompanied the first albums and the new show. As we’re currently a little more straight forward electro-rock, the live show is less of a theatrical play, though we still find ourselves playing out many of the moves from the old show (I don’t think we’ll ever manage to perform and not “stop-start” during certain songs!). The addition of James, our new guitarist has really brought something extra to the live playing as well as the performance on the whole.

With the previous albums and shows we’d put the set together based on the songs we loved performing, which of those carried the narrative on stage, and which we could build a dramtic performance around with our other performers. Once we’d put together a 45 minute show we generally developed it, show by show. One thing I wish we’d been able to do, and I’d like to try more in future, is set more live set-pieces to add to the mood of the song… yeah, watch this space for that!

IVM: You've recently be touring with Be My Enemy. How was that for you and how did the crowd react to the pairing?

MA: Yeah, it’s been great and has gone down surprisingly well. BME are far more stompy and aggressive than us, so I was unsure how it’d work, but I think there’s a common attitude that we share when it comes to playing live, especially with our new songs, which has given the tour a certain flavour! It’s pretty punk, actually. Add to that, “Mad Max:Fury Road” came out just before the tour started, making us all act like post-apocalyptic rock-star-road-warriors! Hahaha!

IVM: Are there any more live shows planned for 2015?

MA: There are indeed, we’re opening the Saturday at Infest in a few weeks, which we’re absolutely stoked about. Then we’re hitting the road again with Be My Enemy in October, visiting Manchester and Glasgow this time (hopefully a few more). We’ve something potentially awesome pencilled in for October in London that I can’t quite announce yet, but if it goes ahead it’ll be an amazing event. Then in December we’re headlining Carpe Noctum in Leeds. We’re planning on playing this album live as much as possible in as many places as will have us! (Attention promoters!)

IVM: Going back to the trilogy of 'Mind-Forged Manacles', 'Dollstown', and 'The Time It Takes To Smile'. Given the strong lyrical and visual narratives of the album has the thought of expanding on the story as either a novel or graphic novel ever been a thought?

MA: Well the first part, Mind-forged Manacles has already been written as a short story; in fact the concept started out that way. We have had many conversations about what else we could do with it. Full-on musical, has been one suggestion that’s come up a lot, a series of short films and yes, a graphic novel even. The tricky part is having the time and energy to invest in it while we’re still pumped and on fire for the current album and show. I’m sure it’ll happen at some point though. There are too many unfinished ideas for it to let go just yet!

AlterRed's latest album 'In the Land Of The Blind...' is available to purchase now through WTII Records. For more information on the band, including live dates and future releases, please visit their official website.  

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