We interviewed Sophie before the band went on stage at Glasgow Audio. Despite your interviewer and Sophie getting accidentally locked into the tour van, and having to bang on the windows to get out after the interview, Sophie gave a captivatingly, wide ranging and knowledgeable interview, that also had its poignant moments. Sophie and Alunah are musicians with a real vision and ambition, creating great music, and Room Thirteen recommends you catch them on their UK tour dates in May in Cardiff on the 2nd, and Edinburgh on the 16th.
R13: Welcome to Glasgow. How does it feel playing your first gig in Glasgow?
SD: Its lovely. I’ve never been to Glasgow with the band or personally. I have been to Edinburgh, and that’s about it. We have never played Scotland before; it's our first time. We have been everywhere but Scotland. We are doing Ireland later in the year and then Wales as well, so it’s quite nice to do all four corners.
R13: The new album ‘Awakening the Forest’ is just stunning, and we think is doing new things with doom. There is a really inventive song construction, with changes of pace, instrumental breaks, progressive and post rock elements, and in places a real groove feel. Could you say a bit about the process of developing the songs for the album?
SD: Thank you. I think initially I came up with the lyrics, and my husband's in the band and he knew the things I was writing about, and he’s always coming up with new things. We were listening to a lot of neo-folk bands like Hexvessel and then bands like Imperium, and Ahab, that sort of doom/death thing, which we never really listened to before. I was listening to a lot of artists like Rose Kemp so a lot of folky dark stuff, and I am also a massive fan of Portishead, bands like that. So we definitely wanted to give it a dark feel. Especially as the first album was more stoner rock, and we wanted to move away from that. So it was trying new things; and we had got a new bass player, and he had an idea of where he wanted to go, and it was the same kind of thing. So it was just a case of going in, and having a jam, and saying this is what we want to do. Dave and Dan just fed off each other with the riffs, and then I had the book of lyrics, and I could go that riff will suit this bit, and that became the song. As easy as that really.
R13: Really organic.
SD: Yeah, once we have got the basic structure of the song then we try and think about it a little bit more. With a few of the songs….for example Scourge and the Kiss, that’s had four different song versions. Each time we have gone this isn’t how we want this to sound, lets start again. It can be frustrating, but we are a really close band. I think that any other band would fall out. Because it was our first album for Napalm and it was going out to people who weren’t necessarily into doom, we didn’t want to categorise ourselves too much. So we were trying to be influenced by other sorts of things.
R13: That definitely comes across.
SD: Thank you. I had gone through some horrible things, losing family members, and I think I started thinking about things a little bit more, and appreciating nature, of what’s around me. Being here in Scotland is consequently incredible, the landscape is so lovely.
R13: The vocals on the album have this amazing emotional depth, and seem to convey a sense of searching and yearning for something. Do your vocals on the album reflect your feelings and mood, at the time the album was being recorded?
SD: I basically lost my Dad, and then I lost my Nan and my Granddad, all within a few months of each other. This was all while we were writing the album. So for me while it was a sad thing losing parents and grandparents, for me it was almost like I can't let it get to me. I had almost to change my view on life. This may sound pretentious but it is actually what happened. Me and my husband have got a dog and we were walking through the forest one day, and I suddenly had this thought that the last place I was with my Dad was this place in Wales, and I thought that was the last thing of beauty that he saw before he got ill, and couldn't go out to see things. What if I went home now and just died, this forest would be the last thing of beauty, and have I really appreciated it. So I went home and wrote Awakening the Forest. Then that became the theme, about birth and death and rebirth, but not being depressed about it. Appreciating what you have got. Because so many people moan, when they are healthy, they have a family, they have got children, they have got a job, they have got a nice social life, they are well off; and they are just on Facebook moaning about things, when they are so lucky.
R13: It sounds like you began to see things through a different lens.
SD: Yes definitely. You still get caught up in day-to-day moans, but generally yes. We were taking the mickey out of our drummer. We have just been to Europe and we are driving through the Swiss Alps and in awe of these beautiful mountains, and our drummer is sitting watching an AC/DC DVD! (shared laughter). A lot of people don’t see what's around them and are focused on one thing, and that’s cool, but losing my Dad made me realise that I have to start opening my eyes a little bit.
R13: Thanks for sharing that.
SD: Its all good.
R13: The lyrical themes on the album, of nature, ancient magic and mystery, and loss, create a very atmospheric feel on the album. Could you say something about the process of writing lyrics for this album? From what you said earlier it sounds like you brought a book of lyrics to the recording?
SD: Yes I did. I am always writing things down and scribbling things out. I am quite fascinated with English paganism. I don’t practice paganism. I do though appreciate nature, and I would love to go back to a time when you lived your life through the seasons, by the harvest, with fruit and vegetables only available at a certain times of year. I don’t call myself a pagan, but it does fascinate me. A lot of Bricket Wood Coven is an English pagan story and some of the themes are about things that have happened in history. Scourge and the Kiss is based on a ritual that happened with the coven, that were part of Bricket Wood. Just through reading things and thinking that’s quite a cool story, and using bits of it.
R13: That’s fabulous, and gives a real insight into the lyrics.
R13: ‘The Summerland’, on the new album, is a beautifully atmospheric track, and has a very gentle post rock feel, and feels less heavy than the rest of the album. As a band do you feel yourselves wanting to be open to a wide range of musical influences and possibilities, and to follow your musical instincts rather than be tied down to any particular musical genre?
SD: Oh definitely. We get called doom metal and we do call ourselves doom. Sometimes you need to apply a tag to situations, but generally we are just a heavy rock band. I'm not actually a massive fan of doom bands, the type of music that I love is 1960s psychedelia, folk, and my favourite bands are the Doors and Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Janis Joplin. There are doom bands I like, and for the rest of the band, the guitarist’s two favourite players are Eric Clapton and Tony Iommi. So you have got a real mix. There are fans in the band of Iron Maiden and 13th Floor Elevators. We do tend to say this is what we like to listen too, rather than we have called ourselves a doom band, so we can only play that.
R13: That’s my sense of the music, and with the new album. Yes there is doom there, but it’s taking you in new directions with different influences.
SD: I’m glad you’ve said that, because we have read some reviews where it’s been said we are not do anything knew. We think we are doing something a little bit different to other bands. We get lumped in with the female fronted thing; there are doom bands with female singers that I love, like Witch Mountain and Windhand. However, there is no other band like Windhand, and there is no other band like Witch Mountain. I think some people assume because it’s a girl on vocals, and there are heavy guys backing her, the bands all sound the same, and its not like that. If you really listen to it, it’s really not the same.
R13: There have been some very positive reviews for the new album. I was particularly struck by the review in Zero Tolerance magazine, from a reviewer that didn't appear to be a big doom fan, but really loved your album, and gave it 4.5/5, which is not given out lightly in that magazine! (Sophie laughs) What impact have such positive reviews had collectively on the band?
SD: Yeah it’s really nice. I do the website, so when we get reviews I do all the Facebook and website links. Napalm will say you have got this review in this magazine, and I'll say to Dave look at this its really cool, and then will put it on the website. I tell the rest of the guys, and they just say “that’s good”, because with them it’s all about the music. They are also not bothered if they get a shit review. The only thing that wound them up was a review in Powerplay magazine, where first they got Dave’s name wrong, and then made a big point of me being married to Dave. I think I would be in this band if that weren’t the case, it’s just the fact that we were lucky enough to have found each other, and we are into the same thing, and we make music together. That’s a positive thing. Its not just I'm the girl that’s here because of her husband.
R13: Continuing with that theme. In the metal world women seem to be having an increasing impact as musicians, and positively shifting what perhaps in earlier times was a more male dominated musical culture. What do you observe from your own experience?
SD: We were having this conversation on the way over actually. I have never encountered any negativity. We had a time years ago when we played Newcastle and this man, not in as an eloquent way as I am going to put it, asked me which member of the band I was in relations with. You can imagine how he put it. That’s the only to my face sexist thing I have ever had. We don’t very often play with bands with women in, the bands and the guys are always welcoming though, and I don’t get any jeering comments There are things I have read where they have made comments about my appearance in live reviews, but I hope I project myself as someone who says don’t even try it with me, and I don’t make a big thing of my appearance. You get some females in bands that are very clearly the focal point, the decoration, and I try not to do that. Its as bad for me as it is for the other guys, its downplaying their role in the band, if I'm the focus. We are four equal people in the band.
R13: It’s a really thoughtful answer thank you.
R13: Where are the musical ambitions for the band looking ahead?
SD: At the moment we all still work full time. We don’t want it to become a case of this is our full time job, and we are bored of it, it’s drowning us. We would like to dedicate more time to it though, as at the moment we have to do tours around holidays. There might be a really cool tour happening for us this year with a band from America, and we are literally in the early stages of talking. Last year we got offered two amazing European tours and we had to turn them down, because one was while we were already in Europe, and the other one we got literally offered the day we got back from Europe, and of course because we work full time it wasn’t possible. You spend all this time building the band up and having to turn things down because of your job. It would be nice even if we could all go part time, that would be nice.
R13: Hope that happens for you.
SD: Really hope so.
R13: Really looking forward to the gig this evening……
There is a pause as people appear outside the tour van and Sophie tries to signal them, to no avail, that we are locked in. Much shared laughter and we continue.
R13: What makes for a great gig for you guys?
SD: For me, if I can hear myself, and if I can hear the whole band really well on stage, it gives me confidence. Where as, if everything sounds a bit dirge like, I am not confident, as in my head that’s what the audience is hearing. We have got our own sound guy and he always assures me that it’s fine out front. For me if everyone looks into it that’s great, as there is nothing worse than looking into the crowd, and just seeing people disinterested. We are not the sort of band that tries to gee the crowd up. We just do our thing. I talk to the crowd, but I am not like 'come on let's rock!'. Not that kind of thing. If we see that the crowd are into it, that’s cool.
R13: Thank you so much for a great interview.
SD: Thank you. Thank you very much.
A very thoughtful interview, which says much about the honesty, integrity and inspiration in Alunah’s music and philosophy. This is a band that symbolises all that is good about metal. Listen to the new album and catch them live, and you will be smitten by some great music.