Alpine, to Scale
ABOVE: ALPINE. IMAGE COURTESY OF TRACEY LEE HAYES
Despite its name, Alpine was formed in a warm, flat bedrock: Melbourne, Australia. Metaphorically, though, it’s a different story. The past three years have seen the band climb the music industry’s mountain armed with fresh songwriting, a drum sampler, and a slew of iconic jumpsuits. If being selected to play 2011’s SXSW was the equivalent of reaching base camp, then their following string of international tour dates and a critically acclaimed debut album should indicate they’re not too far from reaching the summit.
Ahead of their first major American tour’s NYC gigs, we chatted with the band’s pair of frontwomen, Lou James and Phoebe Baker. Between an oddly frosty Melbourne morning and a balmy New York eve, the ladies gave us an idea of what awaits from Australia’s latest cultural exports.
GEORGIA FRANCES KING: Good morning and/or evening, girls. Whose couch are you calling from today?
LOU JAMES: We’re putting some demos down at my parent’s house, where I live because I’m broke! It’s not all rock-‘n’-roll…
PHOEBE BAKER: We both live at home, actually.
JAMES: Shh, don’t say that. That’s not cool! [laughs] But we’re usually at Phoebe’s. She has this shed out the back she lives in—which kind of makes her sound like a hobbit—but it has a nice vibe. We’re at my house today though. It’s got a heater, which is good right now. It’s so cold I’m in my Nordic outfit.
KING: You won’t have to worry about that much longer—soon you’ll be packing for summer in the States.
JAMES: Oh, it’s warm there already? That’s good! It means I can take less clothes over and have more space to bring stuff back. We’re going to be driving everywhere in our bus, so no doubt we’ll have lots of weird, huge thrift shops to go to. At some stage on tour we’re going to pull names out of hats and thrift stuff for each other to wear on stage.
BAKER: I’m terrified who’s going to draw me. It’s going to be shocking. They’ll make me wear a ski suit or something.
KING: To you guys, how nuts is the concept of having your own tour bus?
BAKER: It’s very cool. Maybe it’ll be like Almost Famous, but I don’t think it’ll be that glamorous.
JAMES: I’m imagining one of those giant buses with beds and kitchens, but I reckon it’ll actually be a six-seater car we’ll classify as a “touring bus.” I’m going to feel so guilty if I fall asleep or tune out. When you’re driving around Australia, you’re like, “Yeah, there’s another gum tree,” but the landscape is going to change so much in America.
KING: Last time you were in the States for a gig or two, I remember gathering from your Instagram feed that you loved your crappy diners. Why is that?
BAKER: Yes! Hooters! IHOP!
JAMES: The service is so amazing. You’re treated like a fucking queen, and all you’ve probably ordered was a burger or something really gross. But it feels so much more special. We also eat a lot of Mexican because Phil [Tucker, drummer] is a vegan and Tim [Royall, keys] is a celiac. It sorts them both out.
BAKER: In L.A. we found a vegan chain called Veggie Grill where there was a donut that both Phil and Tim could eat—they were in heaven.
KING: When you’re traveling so closely together, in what ways do you take on each other’s idiosyncrasies? How do you start to merge into the same person?
JAMES: My gosh, I definitely do that. You pick up some weird mannerisms, form certain words, fuse senses of humor…
BAKER: I feel like we’re all really different and have very contrasting personalities though.
JAMES: It’s like a pick-‘n’-mix lolly shop: we’re a collection of weird, lovely and strange sweets.
BAKER: Yes! We’re all lollies, but we’re all different. I’m one of those chewy pineapples.
JAMES: And I’m definitely a sherbet bomb.
KING: And although you’re all different flavors, you taste good when you throw a bunch in your mouth and start chewing, right?
JAMES: Yes, exactly! [laughs] Some bands look so cohesive in their image, but when we do photo shoots we just look like a jumble of weirdness. I really like that, though. We’re starting to paint a picture of our personalities through the music as well as what images, colors and textures we relate to.
KING: You’ve been in a lot of fashion editorials lately, even in Australian Vogue—how does the band’s aesthetic as a whole translate on and off stage?
BAKER: On stage we wear jumpsuits because we love them, but also out of practicality. You can jump around! It takes a bit of inspiration from ’60s and ’70s glam. And because my mum makes a lot of them, we can go to town with the designs.
JAMES: Getting into the jumpsuit is like a costume, almost like Wonder Woman. You feel like your alter ego can be unleashed.
BAKER: Yeah, if you’re feeling shit, you put on your jumpsuit, jump on stage and then everything’s okay. But it’s important for me that when we go onstage with our outfits and glitter makeup, although we’re all glammed up, we’re still us.
KING: In your fantasy romper world, which designers would you like to work with to create a couture range of Alpine jumpsuits?
JAMES: For me it’d be Vivienne Westwood, hands down. I love her, especially her early stuff in the Sex Pistols era. She’s been this chameleon as a designer. I would love to work with her.
BAKER: I’ve always liked the extravagance of John Galliano, like when he did the Dior shows—they were so epic! There were all of those ye-olde Renaissance dresses, but they were also neo-modern. I love that. He’s crazy. I would love to have a Renaissance-slash-modern-looking jumpsuit.
KING: Who have you been listening to recently that might creep musically into these demos for your sophomore album?
BAKER: James Blake and Milton Nascimento, who’s this amazing Brazilian psychedelic guitarist. It’s awesome shit. Then Kendrick [Lamar], of course.
JAMES: I’ve been listening to two songs quite a lot lately: one is by Ane Brun and the second is this old song by Brian Eno and David Byrne called “Strange Overtones.” They both have this high energy, really layered, almost tribal kind of feel to them. I like that sense of chaos.
BAKER: And Pond. Always! Tame Impala always too. They’re both amazing. And obviously Kevin who writes the songs is some freaky, amazing genius. To us, our fellow Australian bands are like the cousins you only see at family events and Christmases.
JAMES: And you’re like, “Hey! ‘Sup?”
BAKER: And you play some games and get drunk together. And then you won’t see them for another six months! [laughs]
KING: Speaking of which, I hear you guys have formed your own touring drinking game?
JAMES: It’s not so much a drinking game as it is a game we play when we’re drunk… You get a big bin, and then you get a ball, and you stand in a circle and grab whoever’s close by—maybe some dude walking his dog or whatever—and then you just have to kick the ball into the bin as a team.
KING: Sounds like… fun?
BAKER: It’s fucking hard.
KING: Well, in terms of teamwork, how do you two communicate on stage? You have such different energies but seem so in tune. Is there a system of ear pulling and secret hand signals, like in baseball?
JAMES: When we’re performing and in the groove, we’ll catch eye contact. You can tell if the other person is enjoying it or freaking out. It’s cool to acknowledge you’ve got someone there supporting you.
BAKER: It’s funny though, sometimes I’ll be all in the moment, and then I can hear the boys behind me just chatting! I’m just like, “Shut the fuck up, I’m trying to feel sexy!” Do you ever get that?
JAMES: Nope! You stand near Tim and Christian [O’Brien, guitarist] though, and they’re chatty. I get Ryan [Lamb, bassist]. And you know what Ryan’s like: he’s all sweaty and getting bass goo everywhere, but at least I can concentrate. I just try not to get whacked in the tit with a bass head. It’s happened quite a few times.
KING: I don’t want to make a big deal out of the whole lady frontwomen thing—I’d like to think musical society is over that psychological hurdle by now—but does the culture surrounding it affect the way you think or sing?
JAMES: As it has been such a male-dominated world, I’m influenced by strong female personalities on stage. So in Alpine, I think having two females at the front is a bit powerful and a bit intimidating, even though we’re actually really just a bit daggy and really lame.
BAKER: We’re just inspired by people like Grace Jones, Kate Bush, and Joni [Mitchell], but we have our own thing going on, and we want it to be us.
JAMES: A lot of people obviously think ABBA straight away too, and I hate that. I’m not an ABBA fan.
KING: Really? ABBA? I mean, you’re two chicks and you wear jumpsuits, but that’s where the likeness stops for me.
JAMES: I know! A lot of interviewers have been like, “Yeah, so you guys like ABBA?” God, no. [laughs] No. No no! No no no. No!
ALPINE’S DEBUT ALBUM A IS FOR ALPINE IS OUT NOW. THE BAND IS PLAYING A FREE GIG TOMORROW AT THE PROSPECT PARK BANDSHELL IN BROOKLYN. FOR MORE INFO, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.