Hello dear UK doomsters! How are you doing? To relish the CD review from your excellent third album ‘Awakening The Forest’, we like to have an interview with you. It is your debut for Napalm Records, so I guess the expectations are high?
Hi Vera, we’re very well, thank you. Yeah, our last album ‘White Hoarhound’ was really well received, so we were always going to feel pressure releasing our third album, but the fact that it is on Napalm Records raises the pressure a little.
I think your music is heavily influenced by the hippy few that came up with ponderous snoring and echoing guitar sounds in the sixties and seventies. Can you tell anything about your affinity with the music from those eras?
I am really happy that you can hear that influence, as some of my favourite bands are from those decades. I love The Doors, Blue Cheer, Big Brother And The Holding Company, Black Widow, Coven, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The 13th Floor Elevators, Mountain, Pink Floyd, ELO, Deep Purple, Heart, 10 Years After, The Mamas And The Papas, Nick Drake, Cream, Neil Young, Jefferson Airplane, Steppenwolf, Joni Mitchell… I could go on. These bands were dark, they had the blues, were at times psychedelic, fuzzy, folky; and had amazing vocal melodies. They embody everything I love about music.
You hail from the surroundings of Birmingham where godfathers Black Sabbath reign(ed). What was the closest you get to Black Sabbath? Anyone of your family or friends that had a close encounter in the past?
We’ve seen them in concert a few times, and have met Tony Iommi. When our guitarist Dave shook his hand he claimed to have “touched the hand of god” haha. Back in the early seventies, they came to my little town which is twelve miles north of Birmingham, so a lot of my family remember them from then. One of our friend’s brothers actually did some work at Tony’s house, and planted a demo of his band in his CD collection. Whether Tony has found it or not, I don’t know!
But let us dive into your own proper history now. Alunah spent two years being Aluna (2006-2008), then changed its name to Alunah. Can you tell a bit about the foundation of the band and the early years?
Yeah, we had just released our first EP on Catacomb Records, and it started to appear in some record shops. The label received a letter from another band called Aluna, stating that they owned the copyright for Aluna to be used in a musical capacity, which after researching we found out they did. They offered to sell us the name for a silly amount of money, which we turned down. They did however let us add the “h” so that the pronunciation stayed the same. It meant us recalling all of the CDs back from the shops, buying new domain names and setting up new social network accounts, but we actually prefer Alunah.
First proper album ‘Call Of Avernus’ came out in December 2010. How do you look back at it and what was the response?
I look back at the album with fondness, all I wanted to do when we started Alunah was to release an album. I never dreamt that we would release three, and have a recording contract. We released it on Catacomb Records which is our own label, and did it with hardly any money. We were so happy with it at the time, and most of the press it received was positive. PRC Music, who are a Canadian label, contacted us recently about re-releasing it in 2015 which we agreed to, as it is now sold out. We mentioned getting it re-mastered but PRC want it to be true to the original, it is getting new artwork though. So I guess we’ll see if people still enjoy listening to it.
Second album ‘White Hoarhound’ was launched at the world in 2012. Can you tell a bit more about that album (in comparison with the new one) and the next steps to more recognition?
Those two years were spent working on our playing/singing style, live sound, and song-writing abilities. When we started writing ‘White Hoarhound’ we didn’t have a clue if any label were interested in us, we just wrote songs that we wanted to listen to, and that we would enjoy playing live. ‘Call Of Avernus’ was very sporadic with regards to song style and lyrical themes, ‘White Hoarhound’ is a lot more considered and sounds like a band who know who they are. It had a massive amount of good press, and we realised that the thing people disliked about us when we first began (big choruses, traditional song structures and melodic female vocals, mixed with heavy riffs), was now the thing that people liked about us. We’ve never changed for anyone, and it was cool that people started to enjoy listening to us. We hope that we’ve progressed again on the new album, as we’ve been working really hard at it since 2012. We also have a different bass player on this album and he’s brought a completely new bass sound.
Now you are signed by Napalm Records. How did you get into contact with them and how came this deal around?
I believe that they received the ‘White Hoarhound’ album, possibly via the distribution department of PsycheDOOMelic Records who were our label at the time, and have now closed. They contacted us about whether we would be interested in them releasing it on vinyl, which we agreed to and our relationship began there. We released the vinyl in January 2013, and we spoke again later in the year with regards to our third album, the deal was signed in December 2013.
You have quite a lot live experience. What were the highlights or important gigs until now? Which band(s) did you prefer to tour/play with and have fine memories on?
In my eyes, one of the most important gigs was our third gig which we played with the legendary band Trouble. It was important because we were not ready for it, and we learnt some pretty hard lessons because of it. In our naïve eyes, we accepted the gig because they are one of our favourite bands, not really thinking about whether we should be putting ourselves out there to such a big crowd so early on in the bands career. After a lot of practice, but not so long after the Trouble gig, we played with Paradise Lost and had a much better reception, it was one of our biggest crowds to date and after playing back rooms in pubs, it was amazing for us to play on such a big stage with such a big sound. Other highlights were gigs with Fu Manchu, Acid King, Saint Vitus, Spirit Caravan, High On Fire, Jex Thoth; festivals such as Heavy Days in Doomtown in Copenhagen, and DersertFest Berlin; and my personal favourite which was in a small club called Morion in Szcezcin, Poland where the crowd sang every word back to me.
Please tell us about the writing process of ‘Awakening The Forest’. How come these lengthy compositions into being? Are there pivotal song writers or is it a result of jamming?
We’re all involved in the song writing process, but it usually begins with a solitary riff which we build everything around, especially the vocal melodies. I know if we’ve written a good riff, because I can come up with a melody straight away. Sometimes we jam things out, and sometimes we sit down and try and put a structure to something we’ve got in our heads - it totally depends on the song. With these songs, most of them have been reworked a few times, if we’re not happy with the way something is going we will start again. We’d rather spend time perfecting a few songs that we think have potential, than write thirty throwaway songs that everyone else is writing and pick the best from them.
What also struck me was that the recording process was led by Greg Chandler of Esoteric fame. Please tell us how you made contact with him and your experiences about working with him?
Greg has recorded all three Alunah albums, and this time we had various offers to record elsewhere but we love Greg and his work so much, that we wanted to keep working with him. He goes above and beyond what is expected, and always gets great results. He had a real hands-on approach with this album by suggesting changes and additions to songs, and spent valuable time getting our sound just right. He’s patient, works long hours to get things right, keeps us laughing and also has given us some great business advice from his experience with the amazing Esoteric.
What were the roles of Tony Reed and George Sanderon?
We worked with Tony on ‘White Hoarhound’, and worked with him again to mix and master the album. George was our actor in the ‘Heavy Bough’ video, and plays in the awesome bands Slow Worm and Prophets Of Saturn.
The album is called ‘Awakening The Forest’. All adepts from the green party hehe? Well, tell me about your bond with nature… Sophie you are vegetarian? What does it mean in your life?
Nature is a big influence on my lyrical themes; I’m surrounded by beautiful countryside and spend a lot of my time with my husband and dog on forest walks. Since the last album I have lost three very close members of my family, and nature based teachings have helped me through the grief. A lot of what I have read about and learnt is reflected in the new album. When people hear the title track I’d like them to make their own minds up about what ‘Awakening The Forest’ means to them, but for me it’s very personal. I’ve not eaten meat or fish for seventeen years, I don’t mind cooking a fat steak for my husband, it’s just a choice that I have made and would never push it onto anyone else. I’m just unable to separate the beautiful animals I see in the fields where I live, from the meat on my plate haha. I don’t preach about it, in fact people who eat meat seem to have more of a problem with my choice.
But you also like a good whisk(e)y… what brand do you like and tell me about your preference in food and drinks…
I LOVE a whiskey, and I’m quite cheap in my tastes haha! I get through far too many bottles of Grants Sherry Cask Edition. However, if people want to bring me bottles of Talisker to gigs, I’ll happily take it off their hands!
Lyrics are always important in the global feel of an album. Can you go deeper into the lyrical contents of ‘Awakening The Forest’?
Lyrics are massively important to me, it’s always the first thing I listen for in other bands, and awful lyrics can really turn me off a band. I think I gave too much away with telling people about what songs meant with press I did for ‘White Hoarhound’, and this time I would really like people to tell me what they mean to them. Some of the songs such as ‘Bricket Wood Coven’, ‘Scourge And The Kiss’ and ‘Mask Of Herne’ deal with English Wiccan and Pagan stories, others are more personal.
The psychedelic artwork is another thing that leaps to the eye. Can you tell a bit more about the artwork, its creator and its possible symbolism?
This album has been illustrated by Michael Cowell, an old friend of Alunah and one of the most talented illustrators in England. There is a video on Napalm Records’ YouTube channel featuring Michael and I, where we discuss the meaning behind the artwork, but it is mainly based on some of my lyrical themes. The video for ‘Heavy Bough’ was based on the artwork, so the visual side of things is massively important to us. Other albums have been designed by me, and again we base the artwork on the lyrics as we believe the music should compliment the artwork and vice versa.
Shooting a video clip is another experience you faced now, so please tell us about the making of ‘Heavy Bough’. Grand clip by the way…
Thank you. We worked with Rhodri Thomas to film, direct and edit the video for ‘Heavy Bough’. We were lucky enough to have access to Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire, and the room we are in is also where Oliver Reed and Alan Bates filmed their naked fight in ‘Women In Love’, so we were pretty excited haha. The video is inspired by the album cover, and we were really conscious to not make a video where it is just us playing - we wanted another dimension to is, and George is amazing as our antlered man. It was a hot May day, and we had lots of people watching us through the windows, which was slightly off putting, but we kept topping our wine glasses up and tried to forget they were there haha!
What about the popularity of doom/stoner metal in the UK scène these days? Is there a kind of boom as in Europe or do English people are not convinced yet and stick to their poppy hypes?
I’m not sure if there is a boom or not, but it is definitely popular yeah. We seem to like our stoner and sludge bands a lot over here, but bands such as The Wounded Kings, Serpent Venom, Monolith Cult, Iron Void, Slow Worm, Black Moth and Esoteric are all flying the doom flag in one form or another.
What music do you like to listen to these days? Are there newcomers in the scène that really blew you away or do you stick with the ‘classics’, thinking that everything has been done earlier?
I listen to many different types of music. At the moment I’m listening to Hexvessel, Orne, Blues Pills, BB King, Ahab, Wolf People and Carcass. I’m not really aware of who is new to the scene because I’m so behind on it all, I’ve only just got into Hexvessel and they’ve been around for a while. Our friends’ bands Ki, Pigwitch and also Monolith Cult are fairly new, and they all blew me away first time I heard them.
Desertfest in Berlin and London must have been special events. How do you look back at these happenings?
Berlin was a massive crowd for us and was also the first time we met guys from Napalm Records and Sound of Liberation (our booking agent), who it is organised by, so a pretty special gig for us. We’re playing another Sound of Liberation festival in October - Up In Smoke in Switzerland, so we’re really looking forward to that. The London DesertFest festival is organised by our friends Desert Scene, and yeah we played the first event and had a great time.
Early October you will hit the road. Tell us about this twelve days trip? Any bands that will accompany you?
We’re doing three dates with Lonely Kamel and The Order Of Israfel, and then three with Mars Red Sky. We’re also playing dates with Conan, Brain Police and Valley Of The Sun, and will visit France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy and also a couple of English dates. The first date (first of October) will be our album launch party in Birmingham with Lonely Kamel and The Order Of Israfel, so that will be good fun.
What are the plans for the near future?
We’ve started booking gigs for 2015, and will be re-releasing ‘Call Of Avernus’ also. We’re not sure where this album will take us, and as yet have not read any reviews so don’t know how it will be received. One thing’s for sure, we will keep writing music we love to play, and hope that it continues to take us to new corners of the world, and introduce us to new and amazing people.
If there is anything you want to share with us, feel free to add it here…
Thank you for taking the time to interview us, and to everyone for their continued support. We hope to meet some of you on the road, keep watching www.alunah.co.uk and www.facebook.com/alunah.doom for updates.