Incendiary talks to the Interlocutor, Alex White

It just felt like the right thing and the right time to do it, even though it was a bit rushed.

Alex White - Interlocutor

http://www.facebook.com/electricsoftparade

Thomas and Alex White have featured in the pages of Incendiary on many occasions. Regular readers and clever music lovers will be familiar with Electric Soft Parade, Brakes, Thomas’ solo stuff and many of their other bit parts and acquaintances but a few weeks ago a little bird told us something that got us all excited. It turns out that dear old Alex had decided to go down the ‘solo’ route and, well, we just had to find out what they heckers was going on. A few emails, phone calls and the occasional social network interface allowed us to track Alex down, a few mere hours before his first ever solo gig, supporting the wonderful Matthew E. White in Brighton. Ladies, gentlemen and other animals, let us introduce you to the world of Interlocutor and Alex White.

 

AW: Chief! Thank you very much for giving me a forum to talk about this stuff.

IN: No problem Alex. We had to get in touch and find out what exactly it is you’re up to. So, how does it feel to be presenting something as 'your own' for once?

AW: It's interesting. I don't really write that much, yet I am seen as a 'writer' so I always carry around this sort of guilt that I don't do more, yet I call myself a songwriter. Actually I usually find it very hard settling on ideas or being happy with anything, and throw most of what I do in the bin! Occasionally there'll be a nice pop song that I keep hold of, but most stuff just gets chucked out. For me the most honest stuff comes from just letting it come to you, not trying to write at all, trying to force ideas. That's how all good songs are written, in my opinion, I'm sure there's a Bob Dylan quote somewhere about all songs being written already and sort of hanging about in the ether before they bestow themselves on a particular writer that day, and that's Mr Tambourine Man or whatever. Maybe that was in his God phase though so who can tell?! So, to actually answer the question, it feels good to be presenting my own work entirely for a change! It's 'my' band and my ideas made real, so I'm proud of myself for having got it together.

IN: So considering you throw most of your stuff away (are you mad?) What was the song/event that first scratched the itch and couldn’t be discarded?

AW: Well really it was the death of my mother in 2009 that started all of this. Obviously the feelings that accompany an event in one's life like that are very strong and hard to shake, and certainly hard to convert into inspiration for songs. The emotions are so raw that writing about it often isn't an option at all. One protects one's self from the bad stuff. So in working through these feeling over many years now, I guess the lyrics to the songs were gradually forming, or rather the general sense of how I remember my mum was developing, which allowed me to eventually get some lyrics out. It really is like therapy, from what I understand. But as usual, I've just had to let those feelings and thoughts percolate for a long time before anything actually focussed and usable turns up.

IN: Being honest with yourself is probably the best foundation for any project and I know of a number of great albums/projects that have been born from similar situations. It’s a brave thing to do but one that can only be commendable, whatever the result.In regards to the ‘project’ itself, what appeared first?

AW: I'm living in my father's house at the moment, and he was going on a trip away for a week. I took him to the airport, got back home, sat down at the computer, started thinking about stuff, played around on a guitar. I decided to downtune the whole thing (which I never normally do), still in regular open tuning but all down a half-step. The result of this is that normal basic chords take on a totally different tonality and therefore some simple old sequences can feel quite special just because they're speaking slightly lower and lesser heard frequencies. I liked this effect and just started jamming some chords, then realised I had a thing that could be a nice starting track on an album. Then I just kept going; demoed that idea, moved on to the next, moved on, moved on; by the end of the evening I had seven ideas down. I then spent the rest of the week 'writing up' those demo ideas into proper actual demos with full arrangements. I was massively into that Matthew E White record at that time and I decided on seven tunes as a nod to his album, as I felt like it had inspired me and given me the impetus to do something of my own. Very quickly I realised that these songs all felt quite introspective and almost funereal at times, and I figured why not make the whole thing about my mum. Rather than just a single song dedicated to her or whatever, this would be a whole record based on my feelings of loss, the celebration of her life, how the rest of my family have been affected, etc etc. It all started to springboard and suddenly I had a load of backing tracks done and people that heard it seemed to like where it was headed. So when MEW's Brighton show was announced I thought sod it, I've got to get this stuff together in time, and I badgered the promoters to let me have the gig without even having a band - all credit to One Inch Badge for letting me onto the gig without having heard anything or knowing what it would be. It just felt like the right thing and the right time to do it, even though it was a bit rushed.

IN: Wow, that seems to have come together very quickly. A true outpouring of stuff that must have created its own momentum. What was it about these ideas that made you want to develop them for yourself, as opposed to saving them for ESP or some other collaboration? Was it simply the personal, emotional pull of them?

AW: I think frankly it's something I needed to do. I'm not a very happy person at the best of times, and I've had a lot of problems dealing with losing my mum, and other various things with relationships etc, personal things that just upset me or caused me to withdraw from life slightly. There's nothing like sharing your innermost thoughts and honesty with an audience of your peers for getting over yourself! And that's what I'm going to do tonight. The last time I was onstage playing any of my songs was about a year ago; I lost my head, I threw my toys out of the pram, and 'quit music'. Hardly my finest hour, but I was internally melting at that point, and I immediately stopped and questioned everything, took some time away from it, and the second I started doing stuff again it felt great. As I said before I'm not the most prolific writer and I'm not the biggest fan of my own output, but right now with this stuff, because it's so honest and true to my feelings and my mum's memory, that feels like ammunition; I don't care if people hate it, not in a petulant way, but because that's their right. I know I've made a true statement about my life and about my experiences and it's liberating because it doesn't matter what anyone could say about it, it's real to me. Confidence is not something I automatically feel, so it's nice to finally feel confident I'm doing something worthwhile and actually good.

IN: Taking away the subject matter, does the new material feel different to what you've done before? Has it formed its own identity yet?

AW: I guess ultimately it sounds the same as ever.. I don't try and reinvent the wheel. My stuff mainly sounds like Matt Eaton's Greatest Hits (i.e. a mix of early Fanclub, mid/late Fanclub, Big Star, 'Be Here Now' era Oasis and Dexy's 'reaching-for-the-stars-but-not-quite-making-it' vocals). But there's probably slightly more refined writing, certainly better lyrics than normal, and a sense of purpose I haven't felt before. Perhaps just being in my 30s now makes a difference, it's hard to know really, and actually the stuff is still at level one right now, nowhere near releasable! It has an identity though, definitely. The demos have a certain sound and then the group I have assembled is breathing a whole new life into the songs.

IN: I know we're classing tonight’s gig as your first 'solo' show, but that's not entirely true is it. You never do things by half do you? Am I right in thinking you've got an 8 piece band for tonight?

AW: I don't think I'll ever be that comfy stood on a stage on me tod doing numbers on an acoustic. I can't play guitar very well for a start! Plus it's just not how I communicate musically. I'm a musician because I can't help it, and a lyricist because it's required. I like having a band, it's what I'm used to and it just sounds better right?! Actually some of my favourite performers and writers are able to do the solo performance thing beautifully... Nina, Randy Newman, Todd. But these guys also know how to deliver a big band sound and how to play with those dynamics. Yes indeed I have a large band, 9 actually, and that's only because it's a support slot. The headline shows will be more like 12 people. Compared to an orchestra that's not actually that big. Alright the Cribs manage with three.. they are bigger men than I! The point is it's not about blind numbers and knocking people over with a 'wall-o-sound' (although that can be fun), there are genuine dynamics in this new group, sections in the songs where everything boils down to just three people playing, then gradually building up and up. It's not just Be Here Now walls of fizz.

IN: Well we’ve had many conversations about music in the past, often over a whisky or two and I know you're a big lover of 'big' sounding rock and soul stuff aren't you. Is this the kind of stuff you're finding yourself moving towards now, big arrangements etc?

AW: I do like a nice 'big' sound, but for me it's about harmony. It's not the amount of things, it's the effect of those things blending and when and how to blend them. An orchestra has sets of strings playing the same melody swooping around together like starlings over the pier, counterpointed with punchy horn lines, timpani or whatever the palette. But it's no good having all these things at one's disposal if the harmonic sense of things is out of whack. For me the beauty and truth and individuality of all music is based on harmonic interplay and that is what I mine constantly. (Incidentally that's why x-factor-style homogenised auto-tuning is musically bankrupt in my view - not to pass comment culturally or judge that stuff - but musically it's offensive because it removes the inconsistent and random harmonic voicings that give all music character.)

IN: I think it's interesting and, indeed after listening to what you just said about his album being an inspiration, quite fitting that you're supporting Matthew E. White because a) how good is that fucking album Big Inner? and b) when I heard it I thought it would be right up your alley. Such a calm and beautiful soulful record. I’m so jealous I can't be there tonight.

AW: Indeed. I first saw his album on the iTunes new releases back in September I think, and I fell in love with it straight away. In fact I have never listened to the record without going all the way through; it's like an unspoken agreement I made the first time I heard it, I just knew. It's incredibly special and a massive achievement, and is now starting to get the reputation and respect it deserves. And it's clearly a massive privilege personally to be allowed to open the show, given how much I love the guy's work, and how it has directly inspired the show we're opening with! Perfect. You'll make it over to the next one I'm sure!

IN: It is fabulous and I can’t wait for him to come to the flat lands for a show. Finally, two things. The major Incendiary question - what's your favourite biscuit? and 2nd, your collection isn't complete until you own this! (Incendiary knows Alex is a big Millie Jackson fan – again, it goes back to those late night whisky fuelled conversations and so sends over a picture of her album Back To The Shit. It’s a truly memorable cover.)  

AW: Right, the nitty gritty now, the business end, as they say. The real stuff. So, biscuits biscuits. I'm going to need to give this some thought. I still love a classic Custard Cream. The cheaper the better! Actually there is a biscuit a friend of my folks used to get on 'special occasions' called Cafe Noir or something like that, sort of an attempted coffee flavour. The were the height of sophistication when I were a lad! And one can hardly go far wrong with a Maryland double choc chip cookie or six. But actually I think the old classic sneaks in at the eleventh hour to steal it ... yes here he is coming up the inside .... it's neck and neck, the Digestive and the Rich Tea .... here they are now .... it's a photo finish .... yes it's the Rich Tea. What a performance! Yes I think the simplicity and the perfection of a Rich Tea wins every time for me.

And as for Millie, you know I'm a fan! Back to the S**t is not her best record in my view (although patently the best sleeve.... by anyone ever!!). My favourite stuff is her earlier mid-70s stuff, Got To Try It One More Time, Gospel Truth, and the live album where she starts off going on about 'Logs and Thangs' ('gonna get me one a them outside fires') ... no-one else can touch Millie; frank, sexy, amazing and terrifying.

IN: Not sure if you’ve ever heard her duets album with Isaac Hayes? It’s porn on vinyl basically.

AW: Right, I've got to head off to soundcheck. Thanks for allowing me to ramble on about my tunes.

IN: No problem Alex. Best of luck for tonight, let us know how you get on and as soon as you’ve got something to share with us, send it over.

 

By all accounts the night was tremendous, and Interlocutor play their first headline show in a couple of weeks. Incendiary thinks we may be hearing a lot more from this project in the coming months, and that can only be a good thing.