With their third album, Awakening The Forest out at the start of October and a European tour recently drawn to a close, Soph – lead singer and guitarist of Alunah – kindly took some time out to answer a few questions for us.
Alunah are on the cusp of re-releasing their first two albums (as Soph does mention towards the end of the interview) and you can get more details about that on the band’s own web site.
Many thanks to Andy at Napalm for organising things, and obviously to Soph herself for her time.
Three albums in and still a “new” band, only formed in 2006. Tell us a little about where you all came from to find yourselves working together as Alunah.
Yeah I suppose we are still quite new compared to some bands. Dave and I have known each other for years and we used to write and play music together. His old band were playing a gig in Birmingham, and we met our drummer Jake at the gig. We had seen Jake and his girlfriend Liv at various gigs, and were always there supporting Dave’s band. I drunkenly went over to them for a chat and we ended up arranging a jam session for Dave and Jake. I went along to watch and ended up singing.
The usual label the band is given is “stoner” metal, but you yourselves prefer to be less specific – psych, traditional metal, doom… what sort of influences have you had which have led to this mixture of sounds?
We listen to a wide range of music, and I don’t personally confine myself to being a fan of any particular genre. I’m personally influenced by anyone from The Doors, Big Brother and The Holding Company, BB King and Led Zeppelin to Ahab, Jex Thoth, Rose Kemp and Hexvessel.
Whatever pigeonhole you put the band in, female vocals in any of these genres are not as common as in others (symphonic in particular). Does having yourself as lead singer influence the way the music is written at all?
I write all of the vocal melodies, can cover between 3 and 4 octaves, and can hit both really high and really low notes. So I don’t feel that changes have to be made in order to accommodate my vocals; the riffs come first anyway, so I actually write the vocal melodies around the riffs.
Your track lengths are, on average, a little longer than the traditional average. Do you set out to write longer songs or do they just suit the mood and pace of each piece?
Both really, long songs do suit the nature of our music but we also like long songs. It sounds a bit wanky, but I think of each song as a journey, we want people to close their eyes and get lost in it. Our song writing is quite considered, and we always think about the structure of a song, rather than freely jamming it out. Of course, we¹ll jam things out occasionally, but we always like to have an idea of where it’s going. Sometimes we’ll have a song that comes in at 4 minutes, and we may feel that’s too short, so we’ll think about the structure some more and add new sections. We spend months writing one song, and most of our tracks have been re-written 2 or 3 times due to us being our own worst critics. It¹s great having a 16 track album, but the danger is that half of those tracks will be fillers and people will get bored.
Do you find it more challenging to learn these longer songs for live performances?
Not really, we practice a lot and we never go a week without having at least one big practice, regardless of whether we have a gig or not. I’m actually better at learning the longer songs, as I can break them down better in my mind.
How much of the lyrical themes come from your own personal interests? Are you guys particularly into the mythical scene outside of Alunah?
I write all of the lyrics, so anything I sing about is as a result of my own personal interest in it. Nature has always been my biggest inspiration, but I also sing about English pagan history and folk stories on the new album. In the past I have sung about paganism and Wicca in general, as well as general myth and magic. It all interests me, but I have written more of a personal album this time due to me losing three close members of my family whilst writing it.
Three albums in five years – how do you feel your sound has evolved since Call of Avernus?
I still love Call of Avernus as it achieved a personal goal for me, to release an album; I never thought I’d have released three. However, there’s no denying that our sound has evolved since then. We have each improved our playing and singing styles, we think more about the equipment we use and the quality of our production. We also have a different bass player on this album, and he has bought a completely different bass sound and style to Alunah. A combination of all this has changed our sound considerably.
You’ve shared the stage with some very well-known names in recent years. Could you pick a favourite? Or one which made you stand there and think “I cannot believe we’re here…”?
We’ve played with and been humbled by some great bands such as Trouble, Paradise Lost, High on Fire, Saint Vitus, Fu Manchu and Spirit Caravan, and all of them were lovely people. However, bands such as Jex Thoth and Mars Red Sky, who may not be as well known as those guys, were some of the nicest bands we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and playing with. I think our gig at DesertFest Berlin 2013 was a “I cannot believe we’re here…” moment, it was our first time in Germany, second ever gig outside of England, we had a huge crowd who knew all of the words to White Hoarhound, and I kept thinking about the 2006 Sophie whose only ambition was to release an album.
Your live reviews are very positive. How would you describe your show?
It’s pretty basic really, no bells and whistles, we just get up there and aim to put on the best gig we can for people. No gimmicks, it’s just about the music.
With the album just out, what are your plans? You’ve just had a quick jaunt around Europe and I spot the one date confirmed for early next year. Anything else you want to leak?
Yeah, we’ve just spent two weeks in Europe, and came back to some great gig offers which have now been confirmed. One of which is an overseas festival, however we can’t announce what it is yet. Our plan for next year is more touring, a re-release of our previous two albums on PRC Music, and writing for our fourth album.