Empire of the Sun
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Empire of the Sun
"Hot pink square guitars and men in full laboratory jumpsuits were what I spotted on stage, and I knew we were in for something special. Sure enough, when Luke Steele hit the stage his world of dreams exploded with him and I witnessed one of the most stunning debut live performances ever. Beautiful lights, otherworldly video projections, and Luke with his spiky headware and flanked by four costumed dancers, taking to the stage. Pitch perfect, he ran through Empire of the Sun's debut album with costume changes, heavy beats, and a world of intergalactic colour and light filling the stage. The dancers changed costumes almost every song. I pondered to a friend if this was the work of a genius art director but no, this is what is inside Luke Steele's head. Empire of the Sun put so much into their maiden voyage into live performance, and it blew me away." Zan Rowe, Triple J
A is for Alpine, six friends from Melbourne who make bold, twinkling, sophisticated pop music. Their debut almost-self-titled record is a collection of vibrant songs that shimmer and shine with colourful harmonies and inventive melodies. Featuring the dual vocals of front women Phoebe Baker and Lou James, Christian O’Brien on guitar, Ryan Lamb on bass, Tim Royall on keys and Phil Tucker on drums, Alpine traverse diverse themes, ideas and sounds on the album, always assured, but never quite taking themselves too seriously.
Phoebe Baker describes ‘A Is For Alpine’ as the band’s “innocent and not so innocent explorations through our twenty-something emotions.”
“It’s an introduction to us,” Ryan Lamb goes on to say. “We wanted to represent the different sides of our music, so there's some sad moments, some dancey moments, some rocking out, and lots of harmonies. I think it's a much more fun record than people will expect.”
The album was recorded out of Melbourne in the gentle bush surrounds of rural Gisborne, with producer Dann Hume (Lisa Mitchell, SURES) whose outstanding skills in arrangement helped the band to experiment with sounds and textures.
“Dann is a multi-instrumentalist, and, to be honest, a bit of a musical genius,” says Lou James. “So when he would throw ideas at us, we were eager to take them on board and vice versa - he would take on ours. His ideas at times would challenge the way we saw a song, but the outcome was always for the better.”
No strangers to the benefits of shared ideas and the collaborative process, Alpine’s own methods for song writing reflect the strong and respectful working relationship they had with Hume. They take their time to write, with input coming from each band member as the process moves in a circular motion.
“It’s a bit like pass the parcel,” says Phoebe. “It generally begins with the main man, Christian and his guitar ideas: handed on to the girls, Lou and Phoebe: now passed over to Ryan, Phil and Tim. Back and forth, over and over until we feel pleased and at ease with the music, until we want to play it and feel excited about it.
“It’s so much fun putting these song puzzles together, so satisfying and unexpected. It's like being on the ghost train and the love boat at the same time.”
The band’s six members are an eclectic bunch, and come from very different musical backgrounds.
“Before Alpine, me and Phil were punk kids, playing as fast we could in rock bands,” says Ryan. “Tim made electronic music and played the piano as a kid. Christian has the most musical training out of all of us, having studied composition, written operas and taught music, and Phoebe and Lou have written music together for years now, although stylistically they have some pretty interesting individual influences.”
The short story goes that all six members of Alpine are interconnected friends. The slightly more interesting Alpine family tree story goes a little more like this, in six steps:
1. Phoebe and Lou meet at high school.
2. Christian hears Phoebe and Lou sing and is keen to make music with them.
3. Christian grows up with Phil on Phillip Island in regional Victoria.
4. Lou goes to uni with Tim.
5. Lou and Phoebe meet backpacker Ryan at Cherry bar in Melbourne late one Thursday night.
6. The six decide that together, they make a formidable musical team and collaboration is the only way forward.
Since forming, Alpine have toured with the likes of Kimbra, Sia, Cloud Control, The Jezabels, The Naked And Famous and Matt Corby to name but a few, and have graced festivals across the country including Splendour In The Grass, Southbound and Falls Festival. They were invited to perform at SXSW in Austin, Texas in 2012 and surely must be able to claim some kind of record for playing 10 shows in a mere three days.
‘Villages’, also on the band’s debut EP ‘Zurich’, has proved another firm favourite both at home and abroad, with its haunting video amassing close to one million views on YouTube. “People just seem to connect with that song,” says Ryan. “It's a song that came together really quickly. We wrote it in a tiny, dank rehearsal room next to a liquor store, which meant we just got drunk, played it over and over and danced!”
That format – getting together, playing music they love, having a good time, dancing – seems to work exceptionally well for Alpine, and is reflected in their exuberant live shows, where energy and charisma reign supreme. Their infectious enthusiasm also finds its way onto ‘A Is For Alpine’, a debut album that introduces six friends in love with what they do, and express that through their music.