Sonic Bandwagon: It’s been a year since you recorded ‘Awakening The Forest’. Terrorizer called it ‘your most mature release to date’. How does the album feel looking from the vantage point of a year on and playing the material live.
Sophie: When we started writing it we didn’t know how people would receive it. We hoped we’d enjoy it ourselves. We have to play it every night, so if you don’t enjoy it, there’s no real point in putting it out there. We liked it from the start, and enjoyed playing the songs live. We recorded it last May but it doesn’t seem like a year. We’re still not bored with the songs. It’s quite nice now as we’re re-releasing some of our older albums, so we are putting some of the old stuff in the set as well. It’s quite nice picking the old songs that we think will match, just so the styles aren’t too different. For example ‘Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’ is quite doomy, so we put that in as an old song, and we have ‘White Hoarhound’ in. It’s quite nice to see how it all mixes in and we just enjoy it.
Dan: You do notice that it all fits together, though each album sounds very different.
Sophie: We have already started writing for the fourth album. You can tell its Alunah but it’s still different again. I think I mentioned when you interviewed me before, we don’t just write a song and say that’s it done, we listen back and play it, and if we don’t think it’s right we will just scrap it and start again. I think because we do that we don’t get bored with songs because we have gone through so many processes with them.
Sonic Bandwagon: That takes us nicely into our second question. How is the writing for your fourth album going?
Sophie: I am quite enjoying the writing.
Dan: It’s really organic. If someone has got an idea we start jamming on it. It’s really chilled out.
Sophie: I have written the lyrics for four of the songs and I have an idea of what I want the theme of the album to be. That could obviously all change. When I write songs I don’t start them very doomy, it’s like a singer songwriter style almost. Then I email it to these guys and say have a go at this. Once they add their bits it becomes quite heavy and it’s cool to see how it progresses. We played Cardiff and had a room to ourselves so we had a bit of a jam beforehand and said these songs work really well acoustically. It would be quite nice to do something acoustically. We have probably written three songs for the fourth album, but not completed them yet. We have all the riffs and structures.
Dan: What’s different is with the third album, with signing to Napalm, we were writing to a deadline. With this one we are starting really organic, jamming on stuff.
Sophie: We haven’t been given a deadline. At the end of the day Napalm Records could turn around and say we’re not releasing this album, and if they do we just carry on and look elsewhere. It’s quite nice, they haven’t told us they are and haven’t told us they are not, so we are just writing for ourselves and then whatever comes along we will just go for it. With ‘Awakening the Forest’ we started writing it relaxed and when we knew Napalm wanted to release it we started to panic a little. It’s quite nice having the freedom. After tonight we haven’t got a gig until the summer so it will be loads of writing.
Sonic Bandwagon: I hope we pronounce this right. We’ve been having arguments about it the whole day. Your debut album ‘Call Of Avernus’.
Sophie: It’s an Italian lake so we are probably pronouncing it completely wrong. Like in America they pronounce it that way, and to be fair it’s probably pronounced that way and I have got it wrong (shared laughter).
Sonic Bandwagon: Now that it’s come out on vinyl, how does it sound to you, and how does it look seeing the artwork on a 12 inch sleeve?
Sophie: Its brand new artwork, put together especially for the re-release. When we got the CDs through we thought it looked really nice. For the vinyl we have the test pressing, so we have heard it, but we haven’t had the physical copies yet. We are getting them next week. From the photos the vinyl sleeve looks really nice. It’s just nice because for years people have been asking, are you releasing ‘Call Of Avernus’ on vinyl? We never had any plans too as we originally released the album ourselves. Then our friend, Jay from HeviSike Records, he loves the album, and he asked if he could release it. So it was quite cool to see it out. It’s also been remastered for vinyl. Our friend Tony Reid, who has mastered our last two albums, he remastered it. It sounds really nice. A lot of people think it’s our new album. Obviously the songwriting has progressed since then. I try and get it into people’s heads that it was our debut album. We were a young band when we wrote it. It’s nice to see it out on vinyl.
Sonic Bandwagon: You are a graphic designer, and your design and layout for the Oct Doom tour poster is just stunning.
Sophie: Thank you. I didn’t do the illustration. It was a Russian guy. I’m not going to even try and pronounce his name.
Sonic Bandwagon: I’m going to be doing it in a little bit.
Sophie: (Sophie laughs) Rather you than me. I’ve never professed to be an illustrator, but that’s my job, graphic design. The ‘Awakening the Forest’ cover was all Michael Cowell. Where possible I do try and do our design work, it saves us money, and we all know each other so well. It’s nice to not sit down with a graphic designer and illustrator and have to say this is what we want.
Dan: It’s very handy to have someone that can do that.
Sophie: We just do it, it’s easy.
Sonic Bandwagon: You already know what you want.
Sophie: That’s it. And we needed it in like 2 hours to put out there, so I just did it. Whereas if we had to use someone else it would take weeks and we would be paying for them.
Sonic Bandwagon: Can you say a bit about how you created that, and also about Slava Gerj’s illustration?
Sophie: Very good (referring to the pronunciation). It’s a sneak preview as we are re-releasing ‘White Hoarhound’ on CD, and we are in talks to put a re-release of that out on vinyl with new artwork as I believe the copies of that have now sold out. We are not doing it trying to get money out of people as we make no money from it. It’s just people ask for it. We have a licensing deal with Napalm and they are happy for us to use another label to do the re-release, and again we are talking to someone about doing that, which is cool. I had to put some artwork together for the CD release and I used his illustration as it just seemed to fit. I wanted something feminine. Once you see the ‘White Hoarhound’ artwork you will know what I mean. The hand illustration on that poster is from the booklet. ‘White Hoarhound’ is nothing to do with a woman, but I quite like the possible double perspective. I didn’t want to be obvious and put like a leaf on the front. When I saw his illustration I thought that’s perfect and I like the style, and it was quite cheap. Sorry (all laugh).
Sonic Bandwagon: You posted on Facebook about the sad loss recently of both BB King and Terry Jones of Pagan Altar, and how both had inspired the band. Can you say a little more about what inspired you about both of them?
Dave: With BB King it’s the blues isn’t it.
Sophie: Tonight’s dedicated to BB.
Dave: We are all huge blues fans.
Sophie: BB, Robert Johnson, and it was always Janis for me. Reading into what inspired Janis Joplin she used to talk about the greats. I didn’t have a clue about the blues, and she mentioned something about Robert Johnson, so I looked him up and listened to him. Then you move on to BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, you go through them all don’t you. BB was like the one that really stuck out for me and Dave. Our guitarist is a massive Eric Clapton fan, and of course Eric Clapton and BB were great friends and they worked together a lot. Dave and I went to Memphis on our honeymoon, and of course he spent a lot of his career there, and the Rock and Soul Museum has got all the BB memorabilia. Everywhere you look its BB King. I just love him. For me it’s the soul he puts into his singing. He’s obviously a great guitarist, but it’s the way he sings, the raw passion.
Terry Jones….I haven’t been into Pagan Alter that long. Dave is a big fan and he’s got me into them. It’s the legacy in the whole doom scene. They’re seen as legends; their career, the places they have played, the things they have done, they are just legendary. We played with them in Copenhagen and actually met Terry. He thought I was one of the band’s girlfriends. When I told him I was in the band he said well done, sort of very old school, but a really really nice man. And everyone you speak to says what a lovely man he was. We spent some time with Dino who is the drummer and his stepson. Just a really nice family unit. It’s been a sad couple of days really.
Sonic Bandwagon: You recently signed with Loud Noise Productions, and with becoming part of the Napalm family too, these seem important milestones on the band’s journey. What direction are your aspirations as a band going in?
Sophie: We just want to get out there and play to as many people as possible. If you had said to me when we started, what do you want to do? All I wanted to do was release an album and put a vinyl out. That was all I wanted to do really.
Dan: To carry on doing things like this gig, that’s all we really ask for. It’s hard to be in a band these days.
Sophie: Well that’s it. I think I have always said I would like to quit my job and do this full time, but I think the older I get I don’t really want to do that. I think it’s nice to have normality because if this becomes the norm you start to resent it. I think you need a day job, you need something normal. You can’t be just doing this all the time. It would just drive you mad. I think people who do this all the time are in a little bit more of a luxurious position than we are (Sophie laughs)…with six of us crammed in the back of a van. We really enjoy each other’s company though, and we get to have a real good laugh. Some of us have never been to Edinburgh before and it’s such a beautiful city.
Sound of Liberation have been very good to us and we wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of what we have done without them. I think Loud Noise have different contacts, sometimes you just need to mix things up a bit. They are less busy with the number of bands on their roster so they can maybe concentrate a little more time on us. We have a festival coming up. We’ve been confirmed for it for months and are just waiting for them to announce it, but the festival we are playing is something we have wanted to do for years. So it’s just that kind of direction really, getting to play places we have always wanted too.
Dan: For me, all the dreams to play music in Europe, we did that. So we want to go on doing things like that.
Sophie: I still really want to tour Scandinavia. We played in Denmark, but Sweden, Norway, Finland, we haven’t. We have a lot of friends who have played there, so I would like to do that. America would be really nice to do. Just visiting new places.
Sonic Bandwagon: My sense of what you’re saying is that part of the future direction is connecting with new audiences.
Sophie: It’s the experience. When we first started you would get hit with a lot of blank faces at gigs, and that was never nice. You have to do it for the experience. As people have got to know our music more, it’s nice to play to fans who are there to see you. It’s nice to have people who know the songs.
Dan: There’s a lovely couple from Dundee who come to see us and bring us a gift each time. They come all this way to see us.
Sophie: It’s really nice, I didn’t share the last bottle of wine with anyone though.
Dan: No she drank the lot. I don’t think she should get any of it this time (all laugh).
Sonic Bandwagon: Metal Insider recently published its Top 10 Female musicians to watch at upcoming festivals and featured you within that, and referred to there not being enough female representation in festival bookings – feeling it was worth discussing and calling attention to. What were your reflections on reading that?
Sophie: It was nice because normally when I am mentioned in female things, I am like oh God, do we have to talk about the fact that I am a female again. But that was written from a slightly different angle, which I quite liked. And I have got a friend who is a feminist and she hates why it is necessary to point out you are a woman, but she liked the angle of it. It was this is the theme, there is a woman in the band, it’s not necessarily fronted by a woman, it might be the drummer or whatever. And I think it was responding to an article in the NME which I think showed the line up for Reading and Leeds festival, and they took out all the bands that just had males in them, and out of the whole festival there was only about three bands with women in, and there was a whole debate about it. I think that article was written purely as a response to that. It was also nice to be mentioned alongside Electric Wizard and Halestorm. There is no reason for women not to be in bands.
Dan: I have been in two bands previously, with women in the line up.
Sophie: We know tons of women in bands, but it’s if they are breaking through though, because it’s seen as a bit of a novelty by some people. Sometimes it seems the only women breaking through are the ones that put their corsets on and have a team of make up artists before they can set foot on the stage. The women that are not drawing attention to the fact that they are women and just getting on and doing it, maybe they are not coming to the forefront as much. I really don’t know what it is, but I liked that article as it was written more like this has been pointed out as a problem and let’s discuss who you should go and see.
Sonic Bandwagon: You shared on Facebook a very moving picture of all the band at the memorial bench for your Dad at Llandudno Pier. In that picture you get a real sense of the closeness in the band, that they were there with you. How important is that closeness to the band and its musical journey?
Sophie: Yeah. When you spend so much time with each other you have to understand that real life happens. Dave was telling me a story about one of his friends whose band got offered a spot on a big tour a few years ago, and turned it down because his dog was dying. So he basically said I am not doing it as my dog is dying, and he stayed with his dog. You have to be close to understand that. I have got a dog, and I treat her like she is my child.
Dan: We are a unit and if for any reason one can’t make it, that’s it. There are no qualms in it as you are all in it together.
Sophie: You have to cover for each other. We are a family, and as Jake our drummer says, you see each other at the worst times. We see each other at 9pm on a Thursday night when you have been at work all day, and you are messing the songs up because you are absolutely knackered. You travel a long way to a gig and you are loading the gear in to the venue in the rain. You have got to be close and you have to have humour about it, because most normal people would not do it, and that’s why so many bands don’t last. We are still together in a band so we must be doing something right. I remember when we were writing ‘Awakening the Forest’ and I said to Jake, this song is about how I felt about my Dad, and he just got it and started playing the drums differently, where as I think if you weren’t close that might not have happened. We try and put that into the songs, the emotion.
Sonic Bandwagon: When we saw you at Audio there was a real emotional charge to the music.
Sophie: I’m glad about that, thank you.
As a postscript to the interview. In response to reports of the Download Festival Promoter saying about women ‘They just haven’t felt inspired enough to pick up a guitar or be the singer of a rock band’, Alunah recently replied on their Facebook page ‘We’ll quite happily play Download 2016 and show Mr Copping how inspired us ladies are’. That reply tells you all you need to know about the wonderful heart at the core of Alunah. This band represents all that is good about metal, and we can’t wait to hear what they have in store for us with the new album they are writing.
Interview by Gareth Allen and Lewis Allen