“Battling the Buzz”
Sylvia Plath named them, England groomed them and America is ready for them…
“It’s utterly embarrassing” answers Sam Forrest, vocalist/guitarist for Manchester, England’s Nine Black Alps, when I ask him how he feels about premier British hype factory/music magazine New Music Express (NME) claiming them to be “the band most likely to save rock music forever.” “It’s bulls***, I don’t think anyone takes it seriously.” Serious or not, it’s continuous buzz like this that has put the four members of Nine Black Alps near the front of the latest invasion from across the pond.
While many of the latest bands from Britain to infiltrate the U.S. work under the normal British hip paradigm, i.e. painted on jeans, cooler-than-thou attitude and Joy Division derived hooks and mood, Nine Black Alps (their name is taken from a Sylvia Plath poem) operate with so little pretension and lack of concern over being cool that they have somehow managed to stand out. When I met with the group at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland on the first of two sold out nights as openers for punk icons Social Distortion, Forrest is intently pouring a glass of coke over ice and when asked how he’s doing, a simple “horrible” comes out followed by details from the night before that resulted in his present hangover. An ailment he plans to remedy by making a trip to Whole Foods later for “supplies.” Recounting more events of the previous night would reveal that Forrest was accosted by a “mentally ill” elderly Chinese woman. He explains, “you know when it gets to the point where it stops being funny and is just scary?” Quiet and polite Forrest is wearing normal looking jeans and a loose fitting plain t-shirt. His seemingly anti-fashion statements like this and the fact that he fronts a no-frills pretense-free rock band keeps the comparisons to the flannel hey days of the early 90’s flowing. Rounded out by David Jones (guitar/bass), Martin Cohen (bass/guitar) and James Galley (drums) the quartet have been playing together since they all met in a Manchester bar three years ago. After playing almost anywhere that would have them- including bars, basements and house parties, the group generated a local word of mouth and soon enough had the hounds of the major labels nipping at their heels.
“Cocaine, all the clichés” tells Forrest when talking about the many labels’ attempts to suede them before deciding to go with Island, “they just seemed straightforward, they didn’t have any baggage and were more like normal people.” When it came time to record their full length debut Everything Is, the group immediately thought they would see what a major label’s weight was worth and requested their first choice for producer, Rob Schnapf (Elliot Smith, Beck) and to their surprise found themselves in his Los Angeles studio shortly after. “I never would have expected that, he’s somebody way up there. It was beyond my wildest dreams,” remembers Forrest.
Everything Is is a blunt and direct, yet melodic album full of rock songs that don’t hold back including the heavy opener “Get Your Guns” and the equally hard closer “Southern Cross.” Balanced by two acoustic numbers, “Behind Your Eyes” and the politically fueled “Intermissions,” the undeniable standout is the infectious “Unsatisfied” whose irresistible lead guitar line and driving bass make it one of the year’s most notable singles. Another impressive track is the socio-political “Cosmopolitan” (named after the eating disorder-causing magazine), “you’re not pretty enough, you’re not skinny enough.” The loud, distorted guitars and fierce vocals keep the critics yelling “grunge.” “Those bands around the early nineties; Pixies, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr. they had a real good noise about them; physical but at the same time, good, strong melodies. So I think comparisons like those are fine.”
Though their album has been out for less than a year, the band plans on releasing another album in conjunction with esteemed producer Dave Sardy (Oasis and Jet). By spring’s end there should be another Nine Black Alps album out on Island and with all hope invested, more Americans will pick up a copy of Everything Is to put an honest band at the top.