Photo by Peter Tarasiuk
Getting signed to a label like Ivy League within months of getting your first Triple J airplay, which happens hours after your songs are uploaded to their Unearthed website is a dream most Australian bands would be thrilled to realise. Phoebe Baker from Melbourne band Alpine is one of them. “It’s been a very fast year in terms of momentum,” she says laughing. “Lou[isa James, other vocalist] and the other guys only joined the band last year - since the first gig. Then we got signed to Ivy League and since then there have been so many gigs…it’s been intense.”
With a sound that prompts some to liken their music to Phoenix or Electrelane, what creatively sets Alpine apart is an obsession with time and place, as seen in a band like Je Suis Animal. The sound, the songs and the overarching aesthetic of the group shares very little in common with other similarly lauded bands. Once called Swiss and with a debut EP Zurich, there is clearly something of a Central Europe fixation going on here. “I suppose there is,” says Baker as if it had just occurred to her. “When I think of Alpine I think of this kind of fresh clean beauty which kind of reminds me of…not fresh like zesty…more like how you feel as if you have just had a nice swim.”
This really doesn’t sound like a band that would arrest the attention of the Triple J management within minutes, but, as Baker explains, “it wouldn’t have happened so fast without them. Ivy League heard us from that and it’s so flattering, so surreal when it happens so fast like that. The label is lovely, and they seem to be looking after us really well." She pauses, contemplating. "It’s such a new thing, it’s just been really good to have a really approachable label, they can identify all sorts of issues before they become problems, and as a band we’ve been learning about the music industry world too.”
With all this rush of media hyperbole and attention, any creative individual thrust into the spotlight could expect to shrink a little, but not Baker. “No, I don’t feel pressured,” she says matter-of-factly. “I think it’s important not to take any notice of that - proceed as normal as a group of friends making music and releasing an EP and performing. We’re trying to just take it in our stride, each day feels like another day of fun.”
These changes have meant a sharp upswing in the speed of songwriting for the band. “When we stated writing songs it was just me and Christian [O'Brien, guitarist],” she continues keenly, “but now we work in a different dynamic, because we’re in the band and performing, the writing process is faster and more varied as well. We have six opinions, and six musical minds put to work so it’s different and faster because of that.” For a band with such a simple and distinctive sound – dry chugging guitars, reverb-laden vocal harmonies, crunchy basslines, washes of synths and compressed beats – it’s surprising that everyone has a roughly equal input in both writing and production. “It’s sort of changed over the last year, Christian usually starts a song with a basic guitar riff and we’ll all come up with ideas and pick and choose. We know what sound we want and if you hear something good, your ears perk up; it’s kind of improvisation really.”
Due to this sonic specificity, playing live has presented sound issues in some places for Alpine, but overcoming this potential setback is a more enthusiastic live performance which has seen them amass more fans with each show. “We do get overexcited,” she says with another laugh. “It changes everywhere you play because of the mix, but for the launch everything will be in order! We have lots of surprises in store for the but…mum’s the word!” Some crafty cajoling (aka asking politely) elicits further laughter and, intriguingly, a mention of the TV show Father Ted, anymore than that your intrepid Inpress reporter could not discern.