Ave Noctum: Firstly many thanks for taking the time to do this interview for Ave Noctum; it really is appreciated as I’m sure you are busy with the build up to the release of the new album, the supporting tour, as well as the day to day business of keeping up with the modern world. Congratulations on the new album ‘Solennial’ which is an absolute stunner, and bound to ride high in many best of year lists. It is your fourth album, so how the creative process evolved over the years, and was there a new element to this album, or was it just a natural evolution?
Sophie Day: Thanks Spenny. We wrote this album a little differently to how we wrote the others, for example, I already knew what each song was going to be about, what order they should be on the album and a rough idea of how each should sound. I went a bit control freak with this one. When we came together, the songs changed a little when everyone’s ideas came together, but for the most part it was very similar to what I heard in my head. I also wanted cello and male vocals for the first time somewhere on the album, so we asked Charlotte Nicholls and Rich Harris to work with us. As for any new elements, there are quite a few. One of the major differences is that we worked with Chris Fielding on the recording and mixing, all of our other albums have been recorded by Greg Chandler, but we felt we needed to do something different this time. We still wanted to work with Greg though, as he’s such a big part of our recorded sound, so he handled the mastering. We recorded at Skyhammer, which is a residential studio, so for 10 days we were immersed in the recording 24 hours, which I believe helped us creatively. It is also the first time we have done a cover version. We decided to do a cover around the time of writing our third album ‘Awakening The Forest’, it was either going to be ‘A Forest’ by The Cure or ‘Willow’s Song’ by Paul Giovanni which appeared on ‘The Wicker Man’ soundtrack. We felt that ‘A Forest’ was going to be less expected of us, so we decided on that. We played it so much during the promotion of our last album, that we felt it was part of us and thus decided to include it on ‘Solennial’.
AN: Since it is inevitable that people like adding labels to music which can sometimes be limiting, Alunah are often pigeon holed as a Doom band. Are you comfortable with that, or is there another way you would like to be known by?
SD: I think we probably started calling ourselves a doom band anyway, it’s hard to decide what we are and we don’t actually care what we are. Whatever descriptive word people want to use, we’re happy with. As long as it’s not ‘shit’, of course.
AN: This is your first album with Svart Records, a label that is building quite a reputation, stable of acts, and a cult following, as well as being one of the favourite labels amongst Ave Noctum’s writers. How did you link up with them, and what made you decide to go with them as opposed to another one?
SD: Svart are one of my favourite labels, I love their bands and they seem to have a great reputation amongst their bands and those who buy their records. We were on Napalm Records and when that didn’t work out, we felt we needed to go to a label for our fourth album that were going to let us be free to do exactly what we wanted to do, and support us in doing it. We actually spoke to a few which we would have been over the moon with, but as soon as Svart showed interest in the ‘Solennial’ demos I think we all knew they were going to be the one.
AN: Solennial, as well as your previous albums, draw heavily on the rich history of native British mysticism and pagan culture. What is it that draws you to that as a subject matter for your music, and for that matter, for a way of life?
SD: I’ve probably talked about this before, but it’s something I’ve been interested in for as long as I can remember. My parents used to take us on holiday to places such as Tintagel and Boscastle; places which are steeped in mysticism, and it just ignited this interest for me. My favourite poets and artists are those who are inspired by nature, so it’s just part of me I guess. My husband Dave was bought up in a rural area where there was a big importance placed on respecting your surroundings, his mom read tarot cards and she actually lent me my first book about paganism when I was about 15. Dan also has a big interest in medieval history and mysticism, so we’re always going to focus on those kind of subject matters. We got lumped in with the female fronted occult band thing a couple of years ago, we were quite keen to distance ourselves from that tag, so there’s not much witchcraft on this album as a result haha!
AN: On some tracks, such as in the opening bars of ‘Feast of Torches’ and ‘A Forest’, I thought there were some Gothic sounds that I remember from my youth, for example bands like All About Eve; would that be fair to say there is some of that influence, or am I way off the mark?
SD: I’ve never even heard of them, but I’ll look them up. “A Forest” is by The Cure so we can’t lay claim to that one, although we did try to make it our own as much as possible, maybe they were influenced by them though. I really wanted these songs to be more dynamic than we’ve done before, so I tried to get a quiet section in as many times as possible, I think it got to the point where I was being quite irritating about it. I remember using Ahab and Paradise Lost as reference points when trying to explain some of the ideas, they do dynamic really really well!
AN: As well as the obvious one like Tony Iommi that can be heard in the heavy riffs, are there any bands or other influences to your music that might surprise the dyed in the wool metal fans? If you’re at all embarrassed let me start you off by saying my all time favourite guitar solo is from The Commodores’ ‘Easy’, which is anything but metal.
SD: I’m never embarrassed by the music I listen to, my favourite bands are The Doors and The Manic Street Preachers. Dave and I are loving Rag ‘n’ Bone man at the moment, I love Bruno Mars, Elliot Smith, Bill Withers, Paolo Nutini… Jake loves Belinda Carlisle. We like what we like. The Commodores are great by the way.
AN: You have a short tour coming up to coincide with the album release, and I am working on who I have to bribe or kidnap at work to ensure I get to the Edinburgh show; are there any more dates in the pipeline? Also, you played an excellent set to a packed out S.O.P.H.I.E. Tent at Bloodstock, so do you have any hopes or plans to play some more festivals?
SD: We have no more UK dates, but we are working on a European tour at the moment. We have a few dates confirmed, but are waiting for a few more before announcing it. Festivals are always great yes, but at the moment we’re just concentrating on sorting out our own dates. If offers come in, then cool.
AN: One half of Alunah are a married couple (Sophie and David Day, Vocals/rhythm guitar and lead guitar respectively); does that ever create a particular tension or dynamic in the band, especially with the peculiar cramped pressures that occur on tour, or in the creative process?
SD: I obviously act differently towards Dave than I do towards Jake and Dan, but we don’t let our relationship impact on the band. We very rarely fall out; there are a few occasions where we’ve pissed each other off, but it soon passes. Dave and I work amazingly well together, we have a studio at home where we demo a lot of our ideas for Dan and Jake, and I absolutely love that process. I’ve been in a band with Jake for 11 years, so it’s like having a brother as well as a husband there.
AN: A sound I was surprised to hear in the album was that of a cello in ‘Petrichor’; how did you choose to add that element, and what was it like writing for that instrument which is not part of the normal bass, drums, and guitar arsenal of a metal band?
SD: Yeah the cello appears in ‘Petrichor’, ‘Lugh’s Assembly’ and ‘A Forest’. We’ve known Charlotte for years, and I’ve wanted to work with her since hearing her work with Crippled Black Phoenix and then Portishead. We felt that the cello would work perfectly on this album and we’re so happy so have her on there. We didn’t actually write for the cello, we sent her the demos for the 3 tracks and she wrote the parts herself. Chris Fielding basically emailed her producer Joe the unfinished tracks halfway through our session, she recorded her parts and Joe emailed them back to Chris. I knew what she was going to be playing on some of the parts, but the others were the first time we were hearing them. It could have gone so wrong, but I was confident she was going to be amazing, and she was.
AN: Finally, you must have to plough through a pile of interviews and the same old questions. Is there a question you would like to be asked, what is it, and what is the answer?
SD: I know what I don’t want to be asked, and you haven’t asked it, so thank you! I don’t think I’ve ever been asked what my favourite film is. It’s Trainspotting; I first saw it aged 13 and decided I fancied Ewen McGregor (still do), will never do heroin (still haven’t) and will be wary of Scottish toilets (they’re absolutely fine).
AN: Many thanks again for taking the time to do this, for producing another excellent album, and here’s to your continuing success.
SD: Thanks Spenny, it’s a pleasure as always.