| Band: Alaska Highway|
Interviewer: Kyle Kucate & Julie Johnson
Alaska Highway, combining serious attitude and dark songwriting, are an arresting blend of gothica & pop, utilizing contemporary sounds found in both industrial and electronic dance music. aggressively layered percussion and heavy dance bass lines from moose support anthony's classically compelling melodies and demonstrate the diverse influences of early electronic pioneers gary numan and john foxx, as well as depeche mode, nine inch nails and more recently arrived bands such as covenant, wumpscut and v.n.v.nation. Recently we got to talk with "Moose" from the band. We are happy to have this opportunity to talk with him on Grave Concerns E-zine.Moose - Alaska Highway
Where did the name Alaska Highway come from?
I remember watching a television show back in London on the making of the alcan highway, what is now called the alaska highway. For some reason the name lodged in my mind and later I was very fortunate to be able to get hold of the .com name, after a short battle with a web development company.
How long has AH been making music?
I 've been dabbling in music for some time now, probably since the early '80s, learning all the technology involved and gradually getting better and better at what i was trying to do, mostly through experimentation.
With the investment from the day job I am a now a completely self-contained production area where I can write, edit, produce and even master cds in my private studio... not having to watch the studio watch is a god send, meaning that we can spend extra time experimenting with sounds, ideas, grooves or whatever, often letting tracks evolve through several iterations before deciding on the correct direction or mood for a particular track.
What lead to the formation of AH?
I don't have the confidence to sing much, even though i do provide the voice on a couple of tracks on the debut album, i definitely consider myself a non-singer. I therefore needed a vocalist as a front-man for the band when we went live, and through one of the many southern californian wild fires I met up with a neighbour who actually had an interest in the same styles of music as myself. We got talking and after several months decided to work on some tracks together and see what might happen. the result is the debut album 'attitudes of a difficult mind'.
Who is involved in AH?
Presently there are 2 members of alaska highway : Anthony on vocals & me doing everything else. writing duties are usually shared with a lot of the core ideas coming from anthony and his musically educated background. Its then my role to take these ideas and morph them in to full blown tracks...
Live we've added Rich on guitar & keyboards. having 3 people moving on stage is obviously more fun to watch than 2, and rich's live guitar adds a lot of aggression to the shows.
-Anthony from Alaska Highway
What influences does AH take inspiration from?
Quite a varied bunch really - obviously early pioneers such as gary numan, kraftwerk through depeche mode and to the more recently arrived bands such as covenant, vnvnation etc. Throw in to the pot bands like dead can dance, david gray and the blue nile and you get quite a diverse pool of inspiration!
What would you consider AH music style to be? Industrial/ EBM/ Electro or do you feel there is no reason to label yourself to any specific genre?
This is probably the biggest part of the band people have a problem with as we're not easily pigeon-holed in to one these predefined categories. we have 100% euro-dance tracks like 'aesthetic' and 'deceiver' followed by dark dance tracks like 'darkness in my eyes' and heavier stuff like 'breaking the broken' and 'intelligence war' - we cover a multitude of styles which does keep things interesting. If the album or live set flows easily from one track to the next I can't see the problem and we've certainly not received any complaints so far!
How did AH get in contact with Negative Gain Productions and how long did it take to get some label attention?
The previous owner of -ngp+ was in the process of compiling a cd for release in the u.s. and asked musicians on a few mailing lists if they'd like to submit tracks. I'd literally just started to write in a much harder style so sent in 'dream industry' for consideration, not really expecting a reply, and to my surprise tony immediately loved it and asked if I'd consider releasing more material through his new underground label. My first attempt at sending in a track had actually worked!
I thought joining -ngp+ was a great idea but unfortunately several major events got in the way (including getting married & moving to los angeles) so there was quite a delay until the album was finally released in late 2003. this actually meant that tony was no longer in charge of the label but I felt an obligation to follow through with my promise (an englishman's word & all that!) and, thankfully, the new owners still felt alaska highway would fit in with the label's revised plan.
-ngp+ now have a good quota of bands producing top quality material - quality over quantity any day!!
Does AH perform live or is the band strictly a studio project?
We performed live last summer in los angeles & san francisco to check out the crowd's reaction to the new songs and have been trying to go live again this year, but due to a severe lack of enthusiasm by a lot of promoters & fans we've not had the opportunity. We have several fingers in a few pies so hopefully will be live before too long.
Its actually quite interesting speaking to other bands around the u.s. As quite a few of them are not stopping in los angeles these days. Seemingly this is because the turnout for bands around here is fairly low, even for some 'major' electronic artists!
I am working on a few other projects which are definitely studio based, but I definitely want to get out live again. There's something about playing to a large room full of dancing feet that can't be beaten by anything!
Is there anyone in particular that AH would like to work with in the future?
Personally I'd love to write a track and have someone like gary numan or john foxx providing vocals! I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to work with frank m.spinath from german band seabound on album 1 and have already lined up a few guests for album 2, but no-one really 'famous'...
Aside from making music, is there anything else that AH would like to pursue?
Being a freelance computer programmer before I moved to the u.s. I have a sort of fascination with computers and programming, whether that be for accessing large databases for law firms, mortgage data anaylsis or churning out bass drums! its all data processing really and i keep my hand in programming web sites for a few people.
My wife owns a hot air balloon but, unfortunately, we don't get the opportunity to get out flying too much.
I'm currently spending most of my time writing music for alaska highway & my tv/film licensing company pigpen digital, but if all else fails I'll probably head back in to the world of programming. I used to find programming very rewarding and having quite large computer systems working flawlessly is quite an achievement. I kinda miss that instant buzz of no help desk calls!
I first heard of AH from a cd compilation from Industrial Nation Magazine, how did AH manage to appear on that cd?
I saw an advert that IndustrialnatioN were accepting entries for their second cd so decided that, as they are a well respected magazine in the alternative music world, it'd probably be a good investment. Its certainly turned out that way with a lot of feedback from people around the world.
We also have our music featured on blcmusic's interbreeding series of compilation discs. xenophobic featured the first track to be heard from our follow-up album and the next release in the series - dangerous - will feature another new track and, hopefully, a remix of 'who can you...?' originally featured on our debut.
How will the new album "Butterfly in China" connect with the present album as I did hear something about Butterflies mentioned within the lyrics?
That'd be the track called 'butterfly in a glass jar'... the second album was actually named quite a while ago as I have a little black book containing lyrics with possible song and album titles. I'm sorted up until album number 8 so I'd better start thinking of some new ideas!
The debut, 'attitudes of a difficult mind', sums up quite a lot of thoughts and ideas I've had over the years, and with anthony contributing his song ideas enforced the concept that we aren't fitting in to the usual pigeon holes - our music is standing out from the crowd. I'm not saying that we've set out to be different but we're tagged as another ebm/industrial-dance band as its an easy fit, and listening to some of the tracks i can understand the label, but then other attributes of our music run a full 180 degrees from the norm. I mean, how many dance bands have a concert grade pianist playing half way through?
Where does the album title come from and what does the meaning have in common with the lyrics?
The title 'butterfly in china' relates to the generally accepted concept of the chaos theory where any action occurring anywhere in the world will have a reaction somewhere else. the example here is that a butterfly flapping its wings in china has the effect of helping to create a tornado in america. in a similar way, something you say or do today may have a drastic effect on someone else's life tomorrow, or even your own life.
In this way I like to think that if we treat others the way we'd like to be treated the world would be a better place, but thats probably a dream too far!
You have a very interesting way of layering your drum programming, can you tell us more about your special technique?
Theres no real secret or special technique to it. I like to layer sounds together so a track can be chattering away with a typical drum machine set of sounds then be enforced by a custom drum sample (usually heavily processed to within a inch of its life!) to be totally overtaken by the heavier 'real' sounding drums. the contrast between a thin & mechanical drum machine to deep, heavy & aggressive sounding drum kit adds a huge amount of depth to the track. the new album has me experimenting the same way with bass lines too, layered (of course) over the trademark drums.
I'm sure I was a drummer in a previous life!
What kind of sounds have you been experimenting with for 'Butterfly in China'?
I've spent quite a bit of time trawling through my keyboards finding weird and bizarre sounds that i've not used before - some of the data cards are being used for the first time in probably 10 years! I've also spent a lot of time creating brand new sounds on my huge array of keyboards i've amassed over the years... its quite fun having the time to delve deep in to a quite familiar synth and finding a lot more functionality buried down there.
I've also invested in some drum machine sample cds. Some of the sounds are taken from 1970's machines so sound really bad by themselves but heavy processing, and with the additional layering, really brings them back to life.
I believe I have recently heard some guitar into the mix of songs, have you always had this or is this something new?
This is new. To make the live shows more aggressive we've got a guitarist on board. rich is an accomplished guitarist and has recorded many albums, and adding his aggression to our identifiable style has been great fun.
Has Anthony been working on his vocals differently with the new album to stretch them more as a singer?
Not really, though we have been spending more time working with the vocals to react more with the music we've written.
Did Anthony have any prior singing experience?
Is it easier to have no guidelines when recording, especially for 'Butterfly in China'?
I've never written using guideline as I've had no musical training so work a lot with my ears. that might sound like an odd thing to say but I work by the thought that if something sounds good then it probably is. I know a lot of people who restrict themselves to certain chord progressions or whatever but I think that is like caging themselves in to a box. I literally make things up as I go along, then often fine-tune the demo songs at a later date. a few times though the song is written in literally a few hours - Odeceiver¹ was conceived & born in about 90 minutes.
Would you say at this time Alaska Highway is a studio- based project?
At this time yes, simply because getting electronic gigs in los angeles is so damned difficult! if the band is not punk or rap then most clubs don't want to know... we were actually told this a few days ago by a large LA club so its not just my imagination! other areas of the country are very receptive to our style of music so, hopefully later this year, we'll be heading further afield. I¹d love to link up with our label mates in the north east - having cruciform injection, filament 38 and alaska highway on the same bill would be a show not to be missed!
Why do people have such a lack of enthusiasm for this type of music?
The reaction we have received from people who have heard our debut album has been huge, so saying that there is a lack of enthusiasm isn't quite right. I know some people have become disillusioned with certain aspects of this genre, which is probably why alaska highway actually stands out. as you've noticed, mixing heavy dance electronics with a pure vocal really can work. also, playing the debut you hear several styles of music - euro club followed by industrial-dance - so there is nothing boring about the same sounding tracks one after the other.
If the new CD takes off like the first CD, will there be a more of Alaska Highway?Definitely yes. For the follow-up album I am working with a few guest vocalists (including ash from label mates Ofilament 38¹) and already have some plans for side projects Sand some interesting twists! It grows from the sounds on the debut and even though there are some similar sounds used there is much more depth. This has not been a defined step we thought we should take, its just that we've been working together to a lot longer now and can react to each other's ideas better.
Do you have any remix ideas in mind for any of the new songs?
I've recently remixed a couple of the new tracks just to see how they'd work in a club environment and the beta testers have all given a thumbs up! I'm not sure that we'll have extra club tracks at the end of the album as we did on the debut, but i am considering that the second album may consist of 2 cds - disc 1 being the album and disc 2 being bizarre and dance remixes. alternatively we¹ll give away mp3 remixes on the web site.
What is your darkest influence and how far will you take any given influence in a song?
Tough question! I think if you get the opportunity to look in to your soul, and also the history of the generations before us, you can see some pretty dark areas. lust and passion can be a very dark part of people's lives, often repressed because of the fear people might have to it. what your neighbours get up to in the privacy of their own home could be alarming to some, and liberating to others.
What do you hope to achieve with AH in years to come?
I'd love to be able to spend a lot more time with alaska highway producing more and more material that people love to listen to. We're not setting ourselves any guidelines or goals, just that we have to continue to enjoy what we are currently doing.
The reaction to our debut has been very favourable with some people even commenting that we're pushing the boundaries with *clean* vocals, aggressive dance beats etc. We didn't set out with this plan in mind but can understand where these views come from.
In the evolving world of software synths and distorted vocals we definitely stand out, and will continue to do so...
Any last words to say?
If the readers are interested in getting more information about us then please head to our web site, http://alaskahighway.com , and look around. We have some mp3 snippets available for download and have albums available to purchase at metropolis mail order, cdbaby and most of the usual suspects...
Watch out for the follow-up album, entitled 'butterfly in china', scheduled for release later this year.
oh, thanks for all your continued support!
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