Music Interviews

Interview – Nine Black Alps

Manchester’s Nine Black Alps are one of the many exciting new rock bands to emerge on to the scene this year. In a very short space of time, they’ve secured a major label deal with Island records, toured incessantly around the UK and recorded their debut album in California.

musicOMH caught up with the band to discuss their rapid ascent, their debut album and comparisons to Nirvana.With all the publicity surrounding them and every other magazine declaring them as the ‘next big thing’, you’d expect the band to be making wild, Johnny Borrell-esque declarations about world domination. Yet it’s immediately clear that they’re remarkably modest and down to earth characters, seemingly not understanding what all the fuss surrounding them is about.

“It all started about 2 weeks after our first gig, we started getting people from record companies ringing us up,” explains lead singer Sam Forrest, trying to pinpoint the time when his life as he knew it would be changed forever. “I’m still not quite sure why, I thought they were all just having a laugh – we were waiting for Jeremy Beadle to jump out!” laughs bassist Martin Cohen.

The group take their name from a line in a Sylvia Plath poem called The Couriers, but they assure me they’re far from intellectual English students. “I don’t think we’re intelligent enough to understand poetry!” James proclaims. “It just sounded big and scary,” says Sam. “And now we’re paying for it with every interview!” adds Martin, slightly grudgingly.

“It just sounded big and scary”
– Nine Black Alps on what makes a good band name.

Their material certainly fits the above description – it’s a deadly cocktail of destructive riffs, pounding bass lines and raspy, aggressive vocals – with the occasional toned down power ballad slipped in for good measure. This has led to the inevitable comparisons to Nirvana. So have the seminal Seattle grungers been an inspiration at all?

“I don’t listen to them anymore, but I liked them a while ago,” Sam confirms. “We’re at that age where we all grew up listening to them because they were the best band of the time, but I’ve not listened to them in ages,” adds guitarist David Jones.

Their forthcoming single, Not Everyone, is possibly their biggest homage to Kurt Cobain to date, sounding like something lifted off Nevermind or In Utero. If anything, this is a huge compliment.

“I’d rather people thought we sound like Nirvana than New Order, because everyone seems to be like them at the moment!” Sam affirms, with a sly dig at the large number of ’80s obsessed groups out there at the moment.

“I’d rather people thought we sound like Nirvana than New Order.”
– Nine Black Alps aren’t part of the ’80s revival

The band recently finished recording their debut album, Everything Is, in Los Angeles with Rob Schnapf (Foo Fighters, Beck, The Vines) at the production desk. So what was it like working with a big name producer first time round?

“He was a fine, he was a normal man, he wasn’t a hot shot really,” Sam assures me. “He’s not some guy in a suit and a pony tail or anything, he’s just a guy in jeans and a T-shirt!” Martin confirms.

Sam goes on to explain how he influenced the sound of the record: “He helped us find guitar tones we were after, because he had all these vintage amps so we spent ages trying different guitars, different amps and pedals before we found a sound.”

Were there any other bands that influenced how the songs sounded? “I think we were listening to a lot of Queens Of The Stone Age, but at the same time we were listening to a lot of Elliot Smith, which you can’t really tell from the album,” David explains. “We just thought to ourselves, what does the song need at this point? – we just did it on a day to day basis,” adds Martin.

“A Texan man in the second row just shouted “You guys rock! – and I didn’t quite know what to do”
– Nine Black Alps on their American fans.

Talking of America, the band were recently over in Austin, Texas, taking part in the annual South by Southwest music convention with a whole host of promising acts from Bloc Party to the Kaiser Chiefs.

Sam explains the positive reception they received from an unlikely source: “We were playing a gig and a Texan man in the second row just shouted “You guys rock! – and I didn’t quite know what to do. If we’re attracting that kind of person then we’re doing something right I think!”

But despite making a huge racket on stage, they assure me they were fairly insular off it, shying away from the huge number of parties and social gatherings that are synonymous with the festival, and at the same time not bowing to any rock n’ roll clichs -“We partied with each other, we sat in each others rooms and just watched Legally Blonde!” Sam confesses.

With regards to the rest of 2005, the band are doing a new music tour in May as well as a wide selection of summer festivals – “Glastonbury, T in the Park, Isle of Wight, the Carling weekend…” Sam reels off their list of commitments for the next few months. “We’ve got about 5 days off in about 6 months, so that should be fun” David adds, just about accepting the harsh realities of being in a band in this day and age.

After seeing them play live later tonight, it’s clear that there’s something quite spectacular about them, even if they’re not fully aware of it. As long as they don’t buckle under the weight of expectation, these four lads from Manchester are sure to become Britain’s answer to US rock heavyweights like Foo Fighters and Queens Of The Stone Age – these are exciting times indeed.

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Interview – Nine Black Alps