Wednesday 1 October 2014

Re-awakening ALUNAH - An Interview with Soph Day

A lot has happened to the hugely talented and ballsy lead vocalist of ALUNAH since I last interviewed Soph Day. ALUNAH have been signed to NAPALM RECORDS who are about to release their stunning 3rd album – Awakening The Forest – which is currently kicking up a mini-tidal wave within the Doom/Stoner Metal community.

We love it here at Sludgelord HQ as well. Hakan recently said this about their brilliant new album:

Having always focused on nature and the mysteries that the old mother emanates, Alunah has also brought in other inspirations. This time around though, the band has really embraced Mother Nature and steered their creative forces towards her. Tales of withcraft and magic are still present which is only natural since especially witchcraft has strong ties with nature.

What can I say? Alunah is one of England's best bands and although it's been a long wait - well, two years can be a long time for a fan and everything is relative - for 'Awakening The Forest' to be released, they are now dead set for greatness and the exposure they truly deserve. They have a true gem in their hands and the sky is the limit for them.”

Soph has kindly agreed to do another interview with me. If you want to hear how the band started please read my previous interview from Sept 2012. That will cover all the basics. This interview is about the new album and other stuff going on with Alunah.

So lets get started.

Q1 – Hi Soph. How are things with you all today.

I’m good thanks, off on tour in a couple of days so really busy getting last minute things sorted.

Q2 – It's been a very long time since we last spoke. So what have you all been upto since Sept 2012 apart from recording the new album.

I’ve gone through so much since then, a lot of lovely things have happened such as our Napalm signing and our new bassist, and also some horrible things such as the loss of my father, and grandparents. Last year we toured Europe for the first time, and had the opportunity to play with some of our favourite bands, as well as writing for our new album for Napalm Records, so “White Hoarhound” had a very positive effect and opened a lot of doors for us.

Q3 – We are here to discuss your excellent new album – Awakening The Forest. Fantastic album. Can you tell our readers what the album is all about.

Thank you for your kind words. It’s not about one thing in particular, I quite like listeners to be able to gather their own meanings but it’s a positive album about death, rebirth, the power and beauty of nature, and comes from a pagan perspective most of the time. The song “Awakening the Forest” came before the album title, but I think it sums up the overall vibe of the album perfectly. It was written after a walk with my husband Dave and my dog Olive, we’d been to a forest near us and it suddenly struck me in the middle of the forest that this could be the last time I saw such beauty, I could die that day, that week and I was none the wiser. It made me have a new appreciation of sights, sounds and smells and everything appeared in a new light. 

It made me wonder what the last thing of beauty my dad saw before he passed away, and because he had a terminal illness, did he know when he saw it that it could be his last time? I went home and wrote that song, and we decided a few weeks later to use it as the album title. This is why the pagan/occult bandwagon that people think we have jumped on, offends me somewhat. I’ve used certain texts and beliefs to help me through a difficult time, and would rather write about that than sex, drugs, booze, war, hatred or whatever everyone else is writing about… don’t get me wrong, I like some of those things hahaha but they just don’t inspire me to write.

Q4 – Congrats on signing to Napalm Records. How did that come about. One of the best labels currently out there.

Thanks, yeah I agree, they’re one of the best and we’re honoured to be part of their family. They received our last album and contacted us about releasing it on vinyl which they did in January 2013, we spoke again later in the year and they were interested in releasing our 3rd album, it was as simple as that and we signed last December. They have some great people working there, you ask them a question or ask their advice on something and you get an answer almost immediately which we like in Alunah, we’re a very efficient band hahaha. We don’t get pushed to the back due to us being one of the lesser known bands on the label, which we were concerned about. Everyone gets their equal time.

Q5 – Did you have offers from any other labels to release your new album. Or did Napalm make ALUNAH feel most wanted.

Secretly we wanted Napalm, so when they contacted us about it we were really happy. There were a couple of other labels that we may have considered, but felt like Napalm had offered us the best deal and could do the most for us.

Q6 – I have to say that Awakening The Forest is your best album yet. It's darker and more spiritual compared to your previous albums. Did you do anything different when recording this album compared to your other albums.

We wrote and recorded it in roughly the same time as “White Hoarhound”, so there was nothing different in that respect but we did spend a lot longer on the sound. I was using the writing process to help me with my grief so the spiritual perspective probably comes from that. I was searching for things to help me come to terms with what had happened to my family, and the best way for me to do this was to write lyrics. We always make sure the music compliments the lyrics and vice versa, so the darkness was probably reflected in the music. Between us we were also listening to a lot of dark and more melancholic bands and artists such as Ahab, Rose Kemp, Hexvessel, Esoteric, Jex Thoth, Dax Riggs and lots of dark blues. We also had a new bassist in Dan, so he bought a new sound to the album.

Q7 – Looking back on your first two albums. Would you change anything about them or leave them as they are.

There are always things you want to do with an album, that you never have time to do. You could spend 10 years recording an album swapping and changing things but we prefer to write, record and release while it’s still fresh for us. We need to enjoy playing it as much as people enjoy listening to it. Overall, we’re happy with both of the albums, they gave us the step up we needed to get to the next album. We were pretty brutal with this album though, we scrapped a lot of material and started the songs from scratch as we weren’t happy with them.

Q8 – What is your fave track off the new album and why.

I love singing and playing “Scourge and the Kiss” live the most; but if it is purely to listen, my favourite is “Awakening the Forest”. If I do say so myself I think it is just a beautifully dark song, and the lyrics have helped me on a personal level just like the “White Hoarhound” lyrics did on the last album.

Q9 – Will you be doing more UK/European Tours for this album. Please say you will come upto Newcastle Upon Tyne at one point. But that's me being very selfish. HA HA.

We would definitely like to yes, it just depends on whether we get the offers haha. We have confirmed some great gigs already for next year, both in England and abroad, but we will make a special note for Newcastle. We played there years back, and had a blast.

Q10 – I feel on your new album you now have your own style of music that goes across a lot of different genres but with a heavy progressive feel. How would you describe your own music.

When Napalm heard it for the first time their response was that it was “darker and heavier, with a progressive feel” and yeah I think that is a good description. “Beautifully dark” would probably be mine.

Q11 – Has the early reviews to your albums surprised you in anyway. As I have seen some brilliant reviews for the album already.

I always get massive album review nerves around this time, I try to tell myself that I don’t care what other people think, but deep down I think we all care. I haven’t read any negative reviews so far which is lovely, there have been elements in certain reviews that aren’t wonderful, but overall people have liked it. We’ve been compared to everyone from Adele and Jex Thoth to The Obsessed and Santana, so a real mixed bag. I think we’re doing something quite different to everyone else, yeah the music may not be re-writing any music books but couple it with the vocal style and you have something new. 

Some of our reviews have criticised us for not swaying far from the doom scene, but if we had have done that, we would have been criticised for not writing a doom album. Some say we’re original, some say we’re not. You can’t win, so we concentrate on making sure that our fans enjoy it, we enjoy playing it and the label are happy. If the press pick up on it also, that’s a massive bonus. Our amazing press ladies at Napalm do a great job in getting us reviews and interviews, and this upcoming tour is going to be the busiest yet for us, in terms of press.

Q12 – Apart from Alunah – you have your record label – Catacomb Records – which has released two excellent albums so far- General's – Where Are Your God's Now and Gringo's – The Cold Burn. How is that label going. Any further releases from that in the future.

We also released our debut album “Call of Avernus”, and the sole reason for the label was to help Alunah back when no one was interested in us. Since then we have helped our friend’s bands release their debut albums, and those two albums you mention there are up there with my favourite albums, they’re massively underrated. Clutch loved General enough to take them out on tour last year though. We don’t have anything planned at the moment as we’re so busy with Alunah, it wouldn’t be fair on the bands to do it half-arsed, it hasn’t closed down though, just having a rest.

Q13 – How does running the label impact your time with Alunah and also your personal life. It must take a lot of time as I know your other passion in your life is your lovely dog Olive.

Yeah it can take up all of your time, and when you have full time jobs, a busy band and an energetic dog to look after, it can get pretty crazy. Olive keeps me sane though.

Q14 – Awakening The Forest – is your first album with Dan on Bass. What has Dan brought to Alunah's overall sound and how well is he fitting in.

It feels like we’ve known Dan forever, he’s been a perfect fit with the band. We’re quite a smutty lot; we love our dirty jokes and love taking the piss out of each other which I’m sure most bands do. From the off, Dan fitted right in! Our previous bassists were primarily guitarists, whereas Dan has always played bass, so he has a completely different playing style. He also has a cleaner bass sound than we have had before, so the bass lines cut through more.

Q15 – The UK Sludge/Doom/Stoner Metal scene is currently over the last few years. What have you noticed over the last few years or so. Can you see this trend continuing or do you think the bubble will burst at one point.

It seems like there are a lot more promoters and independent record labels cropping up, which would have been most helpful when we started. Catacomb Records was started for this very reason, no one locally was putting on gigs we fit in with, and smaller labels were few and far between. When you have a boom like this, you have a lot of bands playing similar music, and people criticising them for jumping on certain bandwagons but if they’re enjoying it, leave them be. We’ve been criticised for copying certain bands that started AFTER we did, it kind of bothers me but misinformation is the spice of the internet isn’t it? I don’t know if the bubble will burst, I hope it won’t as it’s lovely to see so many bands out there doing what they enjoy. I don’t like the jealousy, bitchiness and attention grabbing that I’ve seen over the past year or so within the “scene”; it only seems to be coming from certain band members though. We had some directed at us after the Napalm signing, thankfully most bands we come across are lovely humans.

Q16 – What is your musical setup when playing live or recording new material. Do you have an advanced setup or basic setup.

I suppose it depends on what people think is advanced or basic haha. We had more equipment at our disposal when we recorded due to our producer Greg Chandler letting us play through some of his Esoteric amps and pedals, and Fen who were also recording at the time, very kindly lending us theirs. So on some of the tracks we have layers of guitars played through different pedals and amps to get different tones. Live, we’re a bit more basic. I play a Washburn P2 guitar through a Mini Big Muff pedal straight into a Sound City 120 valve amp, Dave plays a Gibson SG Standard through a Russian Big Muff pedal for his main rhythm tone, and also uses a MXR MC404 Custom Audio Wah and a Tubescreamer Clone for solos. We both use a delay pedal for clean parts, and I also use a phaser. He plays through a Matamp GT120 valve amp, and will also be running through a Sound City 120 on this tour. Dan plays clean mainly, but uses a Big Muff and Mole for certain parts. Our sound guy Mez also aims to recreate our album sound as close as possible live.

Q17 – What are your verdicts on the crowd-funding scene going on within the Hard Rock/Metal scene. Are you fans of this medium and would ALUNAH ever go down this route.

It’s not something I would put money into, especially what happened with ALT Fest, nor would I particularly want to go down that route for Alunah. I’ve seen it go wrong for people, but also propel careers. We’ve always clubbed our money together to do things with the band, and have put a lot into it, so I would hope that this would continue with or without label support. However, it’s a great thing for helping creativity along.

Q18 – Last question Soph. Promise - Last thing before you go, Do you have anything else to say to your fans. Can you also tell us what’s on your personal playlist this month?

Huge thanks to everyone for sticking by us, and to the new fans for taking time to have a listen to us. We have our album launch party this week, and a lot of the people who are going were also there at the same venue two years ago at our White Hoarhound launch, so it’s great to have that support. This month I’ve mainly been listening to Hexvessel “No Holier Temple”, Blues Pills ST, Opeth “Pale Communion”, and Orne “The Tree of Life”.

Well Soph thanks for doing this interview. All the best for your new album as it's a brilliant album which we do freaking love here.

Thanks to Mona at Napalm Records for arranging this interview. Awakening The Forest will be available to buy from Napalm Records from October 3rd 2014.

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Written by Steve Howe