I think Melbourne musician Ali E is AMAZING! She plays in post-punk band Damn Terran, psych-rock band Heavy Beach and does solo work (she reminds me a little of Adalita from Magic Dirt). If all that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Ali also works at her local record store Thornbury Records and runs zine, Death Of A Scenester. I recently interviewed her about all this and more!
You started out as a solo artist and over the past decade since have been in bands Little Athletics, Ferry Tails/Heavy Beach and Damn Terran. Now once again, you’re back to partially focusing on a solo project; what’s a) the best thing about writing music by yourself and b) the most challenging thing about writing music by yourself?
ALI E: The best thing is being able to imagine various different collaborations by other artists with other instruments, or other vocal lines. In a band it’s a little bit more rigid – don’t get me wrong, we can still have collaborators for recording and maybe the odd song here and there, but with writing for solo stuff, you can either write a simple single guitar line and single vocal line song, or you can arrange something with keys, drums, strings etc. The most challenging thing is setting aside song writing and rehearsal time, oh and money is a pretty challenging concept!
I know that you use a loop pedal in the song writing process that helps you in imagining the possibilities of the direction of a song; how did you first come to using a loop pedal?
AE: I first started using it when Heavy beach first started. The band used to be called Ferry Tails and we were just a two piece – guitar and drums – and I would loop the rhythm guitar and play lead over the top. We came up with some pretty interesting structures and grooves. That’s the thing, with a loop pedal you can have a whole song purely as one riff, and then just keep adding layers and dynamics over the top. That concept started wearing a bit thin when we ran out of ideas on how to use it, so we got a bass player!
I’ve read you comment in previous interviews that usually you’ll write music and then lyrics follow, yet lately, I understand you’ve been trying the opposite approach – lyrics first, music second; how’s that going for you?
AE: Pretty good actually! I’ve been making myself read more lately which helps with formulating a basic starting point for the lyrics and I’m trying to simplify the guitar parts so the lyrics stand out a bit more.
What’s the most recent song you’ve written and what does it mean to you?
AE: The latest one is a call and response song between a female voice and a male voice. The song itself does not have a specific meaning to me, it’s more the song writing itself has a meaning – i.e. it reflects my attempt at a new way of writing songs. Also I really love collaborating with other singers/musicians so any excuse to get another voice in there is great! The story is about a relationship that is affected by outside influences in both good and bad ways.
Was writing your most recent solo release, Landless, a cathartic experience for you?
AE: Hmmm, I haven’t really thought of it as specifically cathartic, but in retrospect perhaps it was. I guess it was a culmination of songs written over a period of 3-4 years (one I actually wrote about 6 years ago!) that I felt I was ready to release and perform in front of people. It wasn’t really purging as such, but more that I was ready to do it. Or something like that…
Mess+Noise called you ‘prolific’ when writing about Heavy Beach recently; what are your thoughts on that comment? Do you feel like you have a high creative output?
AE: If having a high creative output means that I can’t actually stop writing music then yes! I’ve tried not writing music before and I went slightly insane so I figure I’ll keep doing it till it kills me. I also work in book design so I’ve always surrounded myself with creative pursuits and creative people. In terms of being prolific, there’s a whole bunch of people doing what I’m doing, and I guess I’m just playing in several bands that are all doing stuff at the moment…
What does each of your bands – Heavy Beach and Damn Terran – mean to you?
AE: They’re both pretty different bands – Damn Terran is post-punk with lots of heavy guitar and drums and it’s the only band I’ve played bass in, and it’s also the first band where I haven’t been the principle song writer. I write most of the songs (or frame the ideas for the songs) for Heavy Beach, and the sound is a bit more psychedelic/poppy. Guitar has always been my main instrument so I guess Heavy Beach is a band that I started and is what I’m used to doing, so it is my ‘thing’. Damn Terran is a band I joined where I am not the main song writer. Both the bands mean I can fulfill my love for the two types of music and get to play it live!
What’s been one of your favourite moments from creating the Damn Terran debut album so far?
AE: Well, I love going into the studio to record anything, and it feels as if this whole year has been part of the creation – with the release of Rebels and now Pills – I think my favourite moments are touring – it’s a hard slog, but it’s a good change from the day-to-day in Melbourne. Now we can spend summer recording and finishing it off!!
Shane Parsons from DZ Deathrays features on songs Pills; what do you love most about his music? How do you feel about his contribution to your song?
AE: I love collaborations on recordings! They add so much more creatively, aurally and it’s really a great experience working with other musicians in that capacity. His music is great – it reflects a lot of what is unique about two-piece bands – but their sound is massive! it shakes the walls, which I love!
You work at Melbourne music store Thornbury Records; what’s some of your favourite records/artists you’ve heard lately and what makes them so ace?
AE: Yeah, well we get a lot, half the time I can’t keep up! Are you talking bands that I have come across since working there? Well there’s heaps of those: at the moment the Allah-Las, Alt-J, King Tuff, Screaming Females, Pujol, Turbo Fruits; and some local bands The Ocean Party, Money For Rope, Total Control – they’re all ace, they have a unique and original sounds.
How big is your music collection? What is your most prized item and what’s its significance to you?
AE: Well, my record collection is getting rather big now. I have about 100 records, many songs on iTunes and I’ve kept some good CDs – mainly those in digipacks – I need something to play in my car, even though the speakers keep cutting in and out and I have to hit the door to make them work again. Half the time I can’t even hear the lead guitar line cause it’s stereo but it’s coming out mono but it thinks it’s stereo. Anyway, I have an old car – it’s called Pierre, pale yellow, with a coathanger antenna. Total dreamboat car. It’ll turn heads. I’ve got Marillion ‘The Theiving Magpie’ on vinyl that I found in a second-hand store. Marillion was one of my favorite bands as a kid (my older brother got me into them), so I was pretty happy when I found it on vinyl.
You’re also involved with zine Death Of A Scenester; what was your first introduction to zines?
AE: Um, well I write quite a bit and was always interested in independent and underground publishing, which inevitably lead me into discovering the world of zines. I still think they’re a great form of creativity and publishing and writing covering all sorts of subject matter but I have separated myself from them a bit as even though the definition of zines had no real set agenda, I found it to be too confining, even though it’s meant to be a liberal thing. Anyway, I may have just overdone it – I wrote a thesis on underground and online publishing, which included a lot of zines, so maybe I now just associate them with a lot of hard uni work!
What are some of your favourite zines?
AE: Stitches in My Head is probably the one I’ve been reading lately. It has interviews of great bands like Bits of Shit, Bad Aches and labels such as Bedroom Suck Records.
Death of a Scenester has decided to take a short break for the rest of 2012 and Issue Six is no longer being published in October as initially planned. I’ve read there’s exciting plans for it next year; what insight can you give us about this?
AE: Well, we’re looking to do more collaborations and more digital/online publishing.That’s all I can say of now!
A week or so ago you posted on your Twitter that you want to start a book club; what books have you been getting into lately?
AE: At the moment I am reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman – I’m only about 80 pages in but I can tell that I’m really going to like it. It’s a good mix of realism and fantasy – but not fantasy in the typical way – more like the Haruki Murakami way, where he encounters talking cats and the like.
Is there any book that you can think on that’s had a really big impact on you or that’s really important to you?
AE: A friend of mine suggested I read The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. It was more interesting rather than important, but it’s the first one that popped into my head. Its main theme is post-colonialism, which I’m interested in – how the effect of colonialism changes human behaviour.
What’s next for you?
AE: I’m writing songs for the next Ali E album which will be recorded over summer and released in the first half of 2013. Heavy Beach are releasing a 10″ vinyl EP in late November, then we are going to hit the road for a lil’ tour, and Damn Terran are recording and going to release an album next year. I have plans on travelling next year also – I was either going to go to the States (I’ve never been before), but lately I’ve been thinking of going to Cambodia or going somewhere in the centre of Australia. We’ll see.
Be sure to catch Damn Terran live at their November residency at the B.East. It’s their last headline shows for 2012 before they bunker down in studio with Ben Ely (read my interview with Ben) to record their debut album.