Alpine discuss Yuck, managing their image and awkward dates

In the dim lighting of Shady Pines and with a refreshing cocktail in hand, Phoebe Barker and Lou James from Alpine discuss Yuck and the evolution of their sound, challenging pop, figuring out their identity, and awkward first dates.

Alpine IV piano

Photos by Liam Cameron.

HAPPY: I was reading about Yuck and that it was about navigating these first world problems, and one of those was awkward dates. 

LOU: Oh, I’ve been on far too many of those.

PHOEBE: She is the awkward date queen.

LOU: They’re all attracted to me, all the awkward situations. I’ve had an awkward date but I don’t think I can explain it here. I’ll say a little bit. No I can’t! It’s too awkward! And it’s too rude and it has to be my awkward secret.

PHOEBE: I’m trying to think if I’ve been on an awkward date, but I don’t think I’ve had one. Mine have all been successful. Wait, maybe not.

LOU: I’ve been on a date where I didn’t even know what I did, the person just said “I gotta go” and just left. I was like “What happened? What did I do?”.

PHOEBE: That’s just a shit date. 

LOU: That’s just a shit, awkward date. Even just like awkward situations when you start to date someone where you start to realise that they’re really weird. You’re like “Oh God. Is this out of a sitcom?” I feel like it’s something of of Extras where it has that real cringe feeling. You can definitely have awkward hookups as well.

PHOEBE: Definitely awkward hookups. Shit kisses, when you realise “Oh, we do not kiss well together”. 

HAPPY: But the album isn’t just rooted in awkwardness. 

LOU: No no. I think it’s the deep rooted feeling of when things are just not going right, it’s almost like a sad frustration. Sometimes it’s a glad frustrations as well but you’re glad you’re releasing something isn’t right. Sometimes we write songs that are negative but have a positive spin on it. 

PHOEBE: And sometimes you have that yucky feeling, it’s kinda funny when you reflect upon it. Yuck is a funny word. So it was a tongue and cheek thing to call the album Yuck. It’s funny but it reflects a lot of what you’re singing about. 

LOU: When you say ‘yuck’ it’s just this instinctual reaction to something. Once you say it you know it’s an experience you never want to happen again.

PHOEBE: There was a guy I was dating, we broke up and we kept hooking up after. We knew it wasn’t right. It was a bit yuck. 

LOU: I was doing long distance and it was a bit yuck.

PHOEBE: I had a really shit cocktail and it was a bit yuck.

LOU: Getting frustrated with being the music industry where you’re always under this pressure. One of our songs called Jellyfish Which is kind of about that reaction. You want to create art but then people are like “You have to dress like this”. So much of the time you want to get rid of the shit.

PHOEBE: It can be so focused on image. When you’re in a band a lot of it is about selling your music and who you are. We’re just getting used to that, having fun and being glam but also just being ourselves. We’re not like, cool dudes. We’re so daggy (laughs).

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HAPPY: Jellyfish, as well as Come On really struck out to me from this album. When it comes to image, especially when I think of Alpine you two are the first people I think of being front and centre of the band. How do you balance representing yourselves, the band, professionally, personally?

LOU: I think Phoebe and I, and I know I’m gonna sound really lame saying this, but we’re very honest and very humble. Everyone who knows us, all our friends, knows that we have normal lives. We both work in pubs, we’re both studying and we both write music and we both like to have a laugh. I think it’s just having a sense of knowing your identity. But knowing that you still have a lot to learn and not having these crazy expectations that you must be a certain way straight away.

HAPPY: Were crazy expectations something you used to have? 

LOU: Yes, for sure. I definitely had a sense of insecurity because I found being in stage and having to expose yourself, and when you feel like shit, is really confronting. And I found that really hard. It was that mix of excitement being really into glam and costumes, wanting it to be this amazing visual experience for the live show. So it was putting a lot of pressure on myself. But then since touring as much as we have and around the States, and having a few extra years, we’ve gained a bit of perspective. I had my heartbroken last year and it’s the first time I’ve ever felt that really raw heartbreak. You hear about it in songs and you see it in movies, I never really understood it. It wasn’t until last year that it hit me, it’s probably the closest emotion you can have to losing someone who has died. So that woke me up a lot, and it helped writing material for the album. It’s a really full on feeling. I was three years older in a month. 

I feel like Come On, when I was really at my low point, Phoebe and our producer Dan Hume was working on Come On. And I came into the studio and they asked “Do you want to hear what we’ve done?” It just hit me so hard in the chest. It was everything that I was feeling, the stillness when it drops away and the big boom. It just had to be the first track on the album. But I’m glad you like those. Come On and Jellyfish

PHOEBE: They’re two of our faves.  

HAPPY: I feel like there are so many raw themes of heartbreak, desire, isolation, love, but overall it feels like the story of a young person just trying to figure it all out.

LOU: Well that’s exactly what we’re doing.  

PHOEBE: It’s a biography. When you realise you have to get yourself out of your own funks, you have all these opportunities you can grasp or let them go. It’s not easy to get up every morning and try to do well for yourself. You kind of hold back, you can get lazy. Being good to people, being good to yourself and being safe doesn’t always make you happy. 

LOU: I feel like when you realise someone is gone from your life but knowing celebrating the fact that they’re no longer in your life is a good way to move forward. All these memories where they were a part of your life, instead of trying to completely shove it under the carpet and walk away. They taught you things and vice versa. Telling yourself that it’s okay, it’s a bloody good thing.

HAPPY: It definitely feels more mature than A is for Alpine, there is a lot of breadth to it.

LOU: And it’s the first time we used brass. We didn’t use it on the first one. After touring and seeing a lot of bands that use brass we wanted to do it. So it was really exciting to use brass on a few tracks as well. We’re always trying to challenge pop. We all kind of come together through pop, but we then try to see where we can go with it. 

HAPPY: How was it working with Dan? 

PHOEBE: We did A is for Alpine with him and he’s one of best mates. What more could you want? Working with one of your best friends. Oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine working with someone else, he’s so good! You feel so comfortable with him, he’ll let you take as much time as you need. He’s awesome. We just have a laugh. He’s also so creative and so amazing at writing music, he was in Evermore and plays in Hopium, he’s a clever musician. 

LOU: Everyone wants to work with Dan Hume. He’s becoming one of the biggest producers around. 

PHOEBE: He’s like a wizard. If you want something he’s like “Okay, done”. 

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LOU: I think there are some producers that have this persona about them we’re it’s like “You’re the band but I’m the producer”. He really works with you and helps push you The first time we were in the studio we’d throw all the lyrical melodies down. Whereas for A is for Alpine we kind of came to Dan and we stripped back a few things. Some things we never would have used , but Dan was like “Let’s just chuck everything at it and then let’s go backwards”. We’d end up with too many ideas for one song. It was great to know we had so many ideas and so much to choose from. And he would really help with trying to challenge how the structure of a melody and make us think a lot more. I feel like we were pushed a lot more but in the best possible way. We had more time to go back and forth with each song. For A is for Alpine we had three weeks, whereas with Yuck we had a year. So I think we all collectively, as it is to say when a part of art is finished because it never really is, I feel like we all feel this it is. This feels really solid. 

HAPPY: You say people were telling you what to do? 

LOU: It’s not so much being told what to do, like people not really knowing what to do with us. When we first started they’d be like “Oh maybe try this?”, and it’s not really like saying we’re annoyed at them… 

PHOEBE: It just wasn’t us.

LOU: We weren’t true. It’s like someone saying “Go wear these clothes you feel completely uncomfortable in”. So it wasn’t until after the States and having that time off that we knew what we wanted. It was around that time we started making mood boards. Putting images together and visually trying to make sense of it. 

HAPPY: Building your brand. 

PHOEBE: But building a brand that was more us. Thinking about what we actually like, what we are influenced by from fashion, video, art, which you never really analyse. But now we feel like this album, and our videos and everything is much more cohesive. It’s who we are. When we released the video for Foolish it was like “This is awesome! I don’t care what happens, this is us”. 

LOU: I think when you look at bands who have a strong image it’s because they’re comfortable in it. It’s little things like the way you do an interview to the way you banter on stage, performance, music videos, photoshoots. People connect with that and they make a thread. I didn’t think that thread was that well connected last time was because we weren’t sure. But now I feel like the songs we’re writing is just a sense of assurance. And I guess just growing up (laughs). And knowing what to expect this time round as opposed to having no fucking idea and being like “What are we doing? Oh God!” So we’ve just been more well prepared.

HAPPY: On that note I’ll ask our last question. At Happy we always write about things that make us happy, so Lou and Pheobe I want to know what makes you happy? 

LOU: Falling in love. 

PHOEBE: Mangoes. Tropical weather.

LOU: A sense of humour. The ocean. 

PHOEBE: British comedy. American comedy. All comedy (laughs) 

LOU: Adventure. 

PHOEBE: Tequila! Cows. David Attenborough.

LOU: Louis Theroux. 

PHOEBE: Accents. Dogs.

LOU: My bedroom.

PHOEBE: The versatility of eggs. The little threads in a lightbulb.

LOU: Dogs!

PHOEBE: That’s what I said before.

LOU: Do you have enough, I feel like we’ve listed everything in the world. Oh, scented candles!

PHOEBE: Spice Girls. And cheese, cheese is pretty good.