There are a few things you should know immediately about Manchester’s Nine Black Alps. The first, and possibly most important, is that they have probably played in more basements than you would ever imagine, and started a band because it was the most logical exit out of the mundane that surrounded them – a way to forget about meaningless jobs, a scene full of people with whom they did not identify, being on the dole. The second is that they write rock songs with the catchiest choruses imaginable, and that’s just because they have a deep love the songs that hit hardest – whether they’re written by Elliott Smith or Sonic Youth. The third is that they are a world apart from their British contemporaries, ploughing their own furrow instead of relying on retro revivalism. Indeed, Nine Black Alps make a truly startling noise.
Nine Black Alps are a seriously intense experience, one where the howl of an overblown amp trying to deal with another superheavyweight riff is always more likely to appear than a cheeky (read: horrible) saxophone solo. Put simply, Nine Black Alps are not likely to appear on a lite-FM playlist any time soon. At least, not until that audience recognizes the power of a guitar played so hard you can hear the strings warp.
As intense as Pixies at their most vicious and as brutal and melodic as Nirvana, Nine Black Alps are the perfect midpoint between the abattoir-blues of early Black Sabbath and the fried atmospherics of Ride. “I like things that are vaguely crap and ramshackle,” says vocalist/guitarist Sam Forrest who was raised in northern England, and ended up in Manchester working at an asbestos removal office. Relying on a shared love of tape hiss, vinyl crackle and a good chorus, the band came together through firm friends, dirty pubs and good luck in the summer of 2003, rehearsing on the evenings drummer James Galley had off from his job at the supermarket. Using borrowed equipment, the foursome arrived at Nine Black Alps’ sound by simply going full-throttle: Sam screaming himself into migraines in order to be heard through the shoddy PA system, tiny practice amps overheating, any notions of subtlety lost in favor of impact and volume. Their name – decided because they had booked a show and needed something fast – was taken from a line of a Sylvia Plath poem, and according to Sam, “seemed to sound scary and bleak and unlike any other normal band names around.” Therefore: it fit perfectly.
Like all good things, word spread quickly about the new band through Manchester and down to London, eventually resulting in a record deal. “Being cluelessly optimistic Elliott Smith and Beck fans,” says Sam, “we asked if Rob Schnapf could produce us. And the next thing we know, we’re in Sunset Sounds recording studio in Los Angeles with him.” The result is the band’s debut full-length, Everything Is, an album that rests somewhere between a clenched fist and a shot of adrenaline. But let’s just let the lads explain their creation, shall we?
NINE BLACK ALPS, EVERYTHING IS - TRACK BY TRACK
Get Your Guns
Sam: “The riff is so stupid, I love it. It’s from a dream about being at a bus stop one morning in the summer. It’s about two people too, but it’s really about moods. That sleepy, summer, sickly feel when you’re too lethargic to really function.”
James: “It’s one of our later songs. It’s really, really heavy.”
Sam: “I wrote this after my girlfriend left a copy of the mag on her kitchen table. I read it over lunch and immediately felt old, undersexed, poor, ugly and stupid. It’s also about moving from York to Manchester. Seeing people with money and clothes and their own sense of cool. Everyone was stylized and it made me feel shit. The music is a Sleater-Kinney riff that went wrong and it turned into a Pixies shouting match.”
Sam: “This is one of the first songs where we really learned how to bend guitar strings properly. It started off as an idea of putting a backwards knack drumbeat with some Sonic Youth guitar dissonance and ended up somewhere else. The words are pretty much a ‘fuck you’ to bullies.”
Sam: “It’s the oldest song on the record. I brought this with me when I moved from Manchester to York.”
David: “Sam handed me an 8 track, really lo-fi demo version when I first met him, he thought nothing of the song, but we worked on it a lot, and it suddenly changed into a completely different song."
Sam: “We’re cutting it down to zero again. I hate flowery, poetic stuff, I like hard and stark and horrible and stinging.”
Sam: “It started off as an acoustic waltz. I wrote it when I was really jealous of this old girlfriend who’d always be going out with her friends while I sat at home."
David: “It’s like The Buzzcocks. No dynamics, no quiet bit loud bit, just loud bit, louder bit.”
Behind Your Eyes
David: “We recorded that in Air Studios, George Martin’s place. It’s a little acoustic song.”
Sam: “It’s dreamy and trippy. It started from an unconscious thought that developed into a song. There’s no message. This and ‘Intermission’ are the only two mellow songs on the album.”
Sam: “From my summer of poverty. It’s full of envy and jealousy towards people with money and cars who didn’t have to get a bus everywhere. It’s the first song we wrote with Martin, so this marks when we really felt like things were really happening.”
David: “It could be about a friend of ours who couldn’t keep a relationship going as he was only interested for the first few weeks. A bit like Motorhead’s ‘The Chase Is Better Than The Catch’.”
Sam: “And it could be an apology to my girlfriend for being a shit boyfriend. She still thinks it’s horrible, but I’m getting used to being misunderstood.”
David: “It started off as the stupidest riff ever. A great place to start.”
Sam: “I almost feel like I need to apologize before we play it.”
Martin: “It’s monster heavy, then it goes sweet and beautiful. I imagine Sunday supplement readers would hate it and that’s got to be good.”
David: “A lot of A&R men thought it was about them which goes to show the level of self-absorption we were dealing with.”
Sam: “It is really stupid.”
Sam: “I wrote and recorded that in about three hours in my flat the day they pulled Saddam Hussein’s statue down. I was just watching telly and what I saw bled into the song.”
David: “This is Sam’s demo, almost untouched. We ran the 8 track cassette version through the desk and it was perfect.”
Sam: “Acoustic songs generally veer towards the tasteful but we have managed to avoid all that.”
James: “Not the Crosby, Stills and Nash song. Obviously.”
Sam: “It was written in a hotel room in London. The words are totally freeform, they mean nothing. Or maybe they do. Actually, yes, it’s about flowers and finance. And culture.”
Martin: “We can never play it right either.”