Interviews

06

Alias EmpireBy now you’ve probably heard the news that Choice-nominated indie-electro merchants Dry County have changed their name to something more distinctive and less country-rock. Ahead of the band’s upcoming shows around Ireland, Alias Empire’s Kevin Littlewood tells CLUAS about recording the new album, getting the new name known and making music in the recession-plus-Internet era.
 
You're currently working on your second album. What can you tell us about writing and recording it so far? When (and how) do you expect to release it?
Very soon after the 1st album was finished we were writing again. It's a constant process. The whole idea of making albums for us is that each one sums up a particular time and mood with obvious progression from the last. You need to always push yourself to make better records. Some bands find a formula and just stick to it, but I think we'd get very bored putting out the same stuff.
 
The new material we’re working on at the moment will be for an E.P. in the summer and the 2nd album towards the end of the year - that's the plan anyway, but you'd never know with us... 3 years making the 1st album, but when it’s right its right.
 
The new album will be a bigger, more aggressive album. This comes from playing live and seeing the 'Unexpected Falls' tracks become something different. People would come up to us and say, “I love the album but seeing you live is a totally different experience.” It's about trying to capture that feeling and putting it to record while still having the foundations of songwriting and melody.
 
We all have some form of recording set-up in our houses. We work on tracks then rent houses in the middle of the country and gut them out. It's great to just pack up and go away with the sole intention of recording – no distractions, no part-time jobs, just us in the middle of nowhere making music.
 
'Unexpected Falls' is being released in the UK this year so we plan to do a simultaneous release with the 2nd album. It will be distributed in the shops and available to buy from the website and i-Tunes.

'Unexpected Falls' gained a lot of praise and was nominated for the Choice prize. Does this put pressure on you when you're making the follow-up?
We worked really hard on 'Unexpected Falls' and when you’re that close to something you just can’t see it anymore. It's like you can’t even hear the songs after spending so much time obsessing over them. So when the album came out and the reviews started coming in we really got a sense that people got it, that 3 years had been well spent getting it right. We don't think reviews are everything but it definitely helps you after putting so much in that people took the time to sit with your record.
 
I think from each new record we want progression: in sound, in songwriting and production. We would always put pressure on ourselves to do better. If you don't feel you can progress you should probably just stop and do something else.

With a touch of revisionism, you've rechristened your past releases: 'Unexpected Falls' by Dry County has now become 'Unexpected Falls' by Alias Empire. This suggests continuity rather than a new departure. Is there any difference between Dry County and Alias Empire, other than no longer being perceived as a country-rock band?
When we had decided to change the name we wanted to take a break, come up with a new name and new songs, but we were never thinking of ourselves as a new band. This is definitely just a continuity under a new name. The name change was more practical move than some kind of reinvention. Re-invention comes naturally to us and would have happened in the same way if we kept the old name. We are the kind of band that is always changing and developing our style and what we do, as we always stress we don't want to be one of those bands that just does the same thing again and again.

Has the change of band name caused any problems with promotion, booking gigs, disgruntled fans?
It's funny, because it was only when we announced we were changing the name that some of the fans were like “Aww, I actually really like that name” - even the ones who gave out about it! People hate change.
As for bookings, it did cause a few problems. Some venues treat you like a new band and put you right back to the start. It's frustrating because we’re the same band and making the same music but they don't see it that way, for some reason. Very strange altogether. We've tried our best to let people know of the change and we have a tour coming up which is mainly to promote it. We figured it was best to do it now before the UK release of the album, so it was mainly just Ireland we had to convert.

Your new name is similar to that of German industrial rocker Alec Empire, leader of Atari Teenage Riot. Coincidence or influence?
We struggled very hard to find a name. So many things had to be considered. From a practical  point of view it had to be original, the dot com/MySpace etc. had to be available. There were also other aspects, like avoiding possible mistakes with the name (see Dry County) and a name that didn't draw any immediate associations with genre (see Dry County). The list was massive and we nearly went mad trying to find it.
 
The Alec Empire thing did occur to us but I think because he is a solo artist and we do different styles of music it shouldn't cause many problems. Myself and Derek [Cosgrave, Alien Empire bandmate] do like some of his stuff, though.

What are your views on the business and operational side of making music? How are you getting on yourselves?
I think it’s a difficult time for music at the moment. Obviously, with the recession, people are spending less on going to gigs and buying records. Also, the fact that the Internet and downloading has become so easy for even the basic Internet user means less and less physical copies are being sold, which in turn is putting labels and distributors out of business. The traditional idea of a record deal is dead. The Internet is a very powerful tool in music promotion. The likes of MySpace and Last FM are great ways of getting your music heard on a global level.
 
The problem is, like everything, it's pushed to the extreme. I really think that when people get albums for nothing they don't have the same appreciation for them. I personally like to have something to hold in my hands as opposed to a folder on my hard drive. There’s something quite cold about it. Even 10 years ago the excitement of going into a record shop and rooting through the shelves and finding something you'd been looking for. Now it's “I'll just download it”. I don’t know - I think there has to be a happy medium.
 
Bands like Radiohead and NIN can afford to go “Here, pay what you want for the album!” or “Have it for free!” because they know the limited edition of the release will still sell loads. Their profile is that big; most bands aren't in a position to do that. I do agree you have to give some stuff away. I don't think you should ignore what is going on. For the launch of the website we gave a free remix E.P. with artwork – it was a good way to announce to people the name change and new site.

What are you listening to these days?
Bat For Lashes, Songs Of Green Pheasant, Black Dog, Adebsi Shank, Wolf Parade, Deerhunter, Pantha Du Prince, Patrick Wolf, RSAG, Colder, The Fall, Harmonic 313, M.I.A., Si Schroeder, Saul Williams, Chromeo, Ladytron, Tiga, God Is An Astronaut… to name a few.


Alias Empire are playing Crawdaddy in Dublin on 15 April; The Pavilion and de Barras in Cork on 23-24 April respectively; the Sibin festival in Dublin on 2 May; the Clarence in Sligo on 15 May; the Roisin Dubh in Galway on 16 May and Whelans in Dublin on 26 June 2009. For further live dates, new material and definitely no country-rock, head for www.myspace.com/aliasempireofficial and www.aliasempire.com.

 

Aidan Curran


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