It would have been easy for me to phone in the effort on this interview and ask a bunch of standard band interview questions of one of the more engaging personalities in doom metal today, but that's not what I did. There are any number of existing interviews with Soph that one can read to find the answers to questions about the writing process, what it's like to work in a band with a spouse, being a woman in a metal band, etc. and a whole host of other interesting subjects like the origins of the "White Hoarhound" song among others. There's nothing wrong with those questions, indeed I probably would have asked some of the same kinds of questions if I had "gotten there first", so to speak. But those other interviewers have already covered that ground. I will provide links to those other interviews at the end of the post. What I did have however, because the groundwork had been laid, was an interesting opportunity to go a little off script and hopefully come at her with some questions she'd never been asked of in an interview before. Sure there are quite a few "normal" questions but I kept those to what I hadn't read before. I don't want to spoil anything here, but I got into some darker subject matter in the first half of the interview in keeping with the tone of the 'White Hoarhound' album (which faithful readers and Alunah fans will know is being released on white vinyl on January 25 by Napalm records - shameless plug). There's no rhyme or reason as to why I asked the kind of questions I did. I thought long and hard about the kinds of questions I wanted to ask and this is what came out of me. And in the end, it appears she enjoyed them as much as I did her responses. Win.
So without further ado, and through the magic of the internet, here's my conversation with Sophie Day of Alunah. Enjoy ...
1. Hello Soph, it's nice to meet you, what’s new?
Hey! Thanks for having me! Can I just thank you for your recent review, a great review and very humbling.
2. Well, you're very, very welcome! This is a really, really stupid question, bordering on insultingly ignorant, but I think if I’m going to make an ass of myself I might as well do it right off the bat. Here goes ... Living near Birmingham have you ever gone on a Black Sabbath tour or pilgrimage? Because that’s the first thing that I would do … (you know, “this is the community centre where they used to jam! This is where they used to slam back the pints after rehearsal!” Etc. ... and just try to soak it in. Smoke what they were smoking, if you will)
Haha brilliant start to the interview, you've actually got me thinking and I feel a bit ashamed as I've never gone on a Sabbath pilgrimage. I roughly know the areas where they lived, worked, gigged, practiced but I personally live about 30 minutes away and I've just never done it, maybe I should! I actually live closer to where Ozzy's parents live, and even closer to Rob Halford... but I'm not really a Judas Priest fan myself so that's kinda boring haha. We also have Led Zeppelin, Slade and Moody Blues so a very rich musical heritage around here.
3. Right, my favorite Brummies (aside from Sabbath) were always The Move. But now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started … what does the name Alunah mean to you?
It means a lot of saved legal bills hahaha! Seriously though, originally it was Aluna which had numerous connections to sun gods, natural sun clocks and ancient civilisations - it was also the title of a Mindfunk song. Due to another UK band with the same name threatening legal action once we released the "Fall to Earth" EP, we had to change the name. They agreed on us using the name Alunah, which I actually much prefer.
4. In a lot of ways, I think White Hoarhound is a darker album than Call of Avernus. Do you agree?
Yes definitely. I read up on a lot of pagan and occult subject matters whilst writing Hoarhound, and the music reflects those lyrical subject matters. I also was going through some horrible things with my Dad being very ill, and the title track is directly inspired by my Dad. He passed away in October, and it was a pleasure to have the song played at his funeral. Saying all that though, I find the album very uplifting and full of hope. You need the darkness to see the beauty.
5. What non-musical influences went into the creation of White Hoarhound?
Cider, beer, wine, whiskey, ancient English history, the beauty of nature, wicked women, mystery, myth and magic - the usual things really...
6. I found the lyrics to “Chester Midsummer Watch Parade” particularly interesting. I hear them as being darkly disturbed but I don’t think that was the intent. What is this song all about? (If you’d like I could give you my interpretation)
I'd love to hear your interpretation, I don't tend to go into too much details about the lyrics as I love people to attach their own meanings about the lyrics. CMWP has a very uplifting subject matter. It is about the ancient parade held in Chester to celebrate the Midsummer, the words were written in my garden, in the summer, after a bottle of good wine. My garden backs onto fields and I could hear nature's song, the words came to me whilst listening and thinking about the parade. I suppose they do sound quite dark, but it wasn't the intention for them to be disturbing. Darkness can be beautiful.
LK - Well, I don't know if you've ever heard of Gef, the Talking Mongoose who was a talking mongoose / ghost / demon (?) living with a family on the Isle of Man in the 1930s. It's all a bit silly, but I was quite disturbed when I first heard of this story. The line "they speak to me within the hedgerow" just set off those memories of reading about Gef and how he would follow the girls to market and talk to them, hiding behind the hedgerows (shudders). So with that in mind, the rest of the song becomes about embracing darkness, maybe to the point of letting it in too much and becoming possessed by something.
7. I guess we all know the famous story of Geezer Butler’s demonic visitation that was one of the seminal moments of Black Sabbath. I think a lot of people have had ‘supernatural experiences’, has Alunah had their share? If so, what do you ‘put it down to’?
I don't think any of us have had any stand out experiences, my Mother-in-Law is a Tarot card reader, and my Sister has many strong supernatural experiences so I am always exposed to that side of things, I strongly believe in the strange and unexplained. it is ignorant to dismiss something just because it can't be explained. Since my Dad died there have been some unexplained occurrences which I put down to him walking alongside me, including a recent event where my first ever guitar which he bought me cropped up in my local junk shop, about 14 years since I sold it. Pagans believe in the Summerland which is where I believe he is. Many people dismiss it all as mumbo jumbo, but in times of darkness these beliefs can really help.
8. I’ve read that you are interested in Paganism. How big a role does this play in the overall concept of Alunah?
The rest of the guys don't really share my interest, it is very personal to me and I veer more towards the neo-pagan side of things. Paganism plays a big part in the lyrics, but apart from that it doesn't really affect the band. Dave is my husband, and my Mother-in-Law is also strongly into Paganism, even though he's surrounded by it he's still not very interested.
9. As an outsider, it seems to me that subjects like magic and witchcraft are taken more seriously in England. Do you agree? If so, why do you think that is?
Definitely. England has a rich history of witchcraft, druidism, paganism and we still celebrate some of the ancient traditions that our ancestors celebrated. There are not many places in England not linked to some kind of legend. In Cornwall, Witchcraft is even part of the tourist industry with families (including my own as a child) taking their kids to The Museum of Witchcraft, and visiting Pendle Hill in Yorkshire where the famous witch trials were held. In the 17th century, English folk used the skills of cunning men and wise women to help them with ailments etc through the use of what we now know as white magic, they believed that such ailments were brought on by black magic. These men and women were the doctors of the time. Such beliefs were held for a long period of time and the idea of witchcraft forms a huge part of our culture, with perhaps our most famous son being Matthew Hopkins of Manningtree.
10. I don’t know whether you’ve ever read The Witch Cult in Western Europe by Margaret Murray, but the main thesis of the book seems to be that ‘witchcraft’ was really just the remnants of the old religion of Europe, which would be the pagan tradition misunderstood as Witchcraft or demonic possession, etc.
I've never read it no (but definitely will). The way I see it, Wicca is the religion based on neo or contemporary paganism. Witchcraft is the practice that it centres on. However, Wicca is a very modern English word and I would definitely agree that the old European religions are strongly linked to the craft. I'd be interested in reading her book, it's a subject that really interests me.
11. Okay, changing gears, how did the collaboration with Tony Reed (Mos Generator, Stone Axe, producer) come about?
We first became acquainted when Dave's and my label Catacomb Records included Mos Generator on a compilation album we released. We then met when we played a couple of gigs with Stone Axe. We'd wanted to work together for a while, his mixing and mastering work (and recent vinyl re-mastering) on Hoarhound surpassed our expectations. He also featured on a couple of songs, most notably Hammond Organ on Oak Ritual I. He's a top bloke, and we're talking about continuing our collaboration in the future.
12. How did you hook up with Napalm Records?
They received a copy of Hoarhound and contacted us about re-releasing it on vinyl, it went from there really as we obviously jumped at the chance to work with such a prestigious label.
13. What musical format do you prefer? Are you a vinyl lover, a diehard CD head or a quick and dirty mp3 kind of person?
Apart from my phone, I don't own a mp3 player and wouldn't have the first clue about downloading mp3s, so definitely not that. I have hundreds of CDs and nowhere near as many vinyl, but I do prefer listening to vinyl - if the record player wasn't hidden away in Dave's studio I'd listen to more vinyl.
14. Has the band begun work on some new stuff? I’ve heard there’s one new song (with a dubious title).
We have a couple of half finished songs yeah, I do have an amazing long title for one but the guys aren't keen... just think along the lines of Chester Midsummer Watch Parade, but on acid!
15. Why do you think Alunah has been so successful in terms of getting signed, getting recognition in blogs and print magazines, etc?
We do a hell of a lot of work, and are constantly on the case with it. We've had a hard slog of it, and until I give up my day job I would never say we're successful. We print our own shirts, design our own site and release artwork, book our own gigs, up until recently did our own PR (the awesome Platinum PR handle it now) and even released our debut album and debut EP on our own label. So many bands bitch and moan about being unsigned and not getting gigs, but you can't wait for it to come to you life's too short and there are too many bands out there willing to take your place. We've overcome a lot of shit and negative press to get to a stage where people admit to liking us. If we didn't love it so much, we'd have quit by now.
16. How have you dealt with the pressure of being called ‘the future of doom’?
I don't think we feel any pressure, it was lovely of them to say so and great to be finally recognised by a magazine where we'd had less than positive reviews from previously. However, the only pressure we put on ourselves is from ourselves. There will always be people ready to disagree whether you're called the future of doom or the best band in the world, why let it overwhelm you? Just do it for yourself and your band, no-one else.
17. What advice would you give to up and coming bands / musicians?
Again, do it for yourself and don't let anyone tell you what you're doing is wrong / shit. If people give you a positive response, that's a bonus! Don't give up if opportunities don't automatically drop into your lap, it takes time for most bands.
18. So, what’s on tap for Alunah in 2013?
We've just played our first gig of the year with The Sword which was amazing, and then it's our vinyl release on Jan 25th, a show with Black Moth in Feb and a European tour in April and May. We'll be playing Heavy Days in Doom Town Festival in Copenhagen in May also, as well as some other great things in between which are not quite ready to be announced yet.
19. Do you have any other immediate hopes or aspirations for the band moving forward?
We want to get the bulk of the album written this year, stop off at a few more festivals over in Europe and just push ourselves in general. 2012 was our biggest year, and we hope to go even bigger this year.
20. Thanks for answering my weird questions, it’s been a pleasure. Finally, do you have any parting words for the Alunah-heads out there?
Thanks so much, I've really enjoyed the interview and love the fact that you haven't felt the need to discuss my gender! We've got some very cool things to announce in the coming months so please check out http://www.alunah.co.uk or http://www.facebook.com/alunah.doom.