Alpha release their much anticipated Eleventh album aptly named Eleventh Trip. The album has been a work in progress since 2007 mostly due to all the band members unable to commit full time to music as everything that is Alpha is self funded. The recordings have taken place in many locations from the Mendip Hills in South West England, one day recording vocals in Bristol and finally in the bedroom of founder member Corin Dingley in the Midi Pyrenees, France.
It was a very Brian Wilson moment for Corin during the summer of 2011. He was able to dedicate three months of his to life mixing and producing the album all in the confides of his bedroom studio and primarily in his bed. A very different recording experience compared to the lavish surroundings of Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios that Alpha used to record Come From Heaven, their much acclaimed debut album back in 1997. The new album draws, feels and sounds so much like Come From Heaven, but not totally like it. The drama is there, the elegance, the fragility, the mood, and now added to all that there’s a gritty edge in there, a forcefulness that comes from confidence and experience of what Alpha are. Wendy Stubbs, long time collaborator with Alpha again lends her beautiful voice to the album alongside new vocalists Hannah Collins and Duncan Attwood. Corin first met Hannah when they were both in the band The Heavy , who’s debut album Great Vengeance and Furious Fire Corin co produced and Hannah provided vocals for. Duncan was a fan Alpha and asked Corin to produce Scars of The Midwest the debut album of Duncan’s music project Blueneck and they also went to the same pub in Priddy, England where a great friendship began over pints of Black Rat and Mendip magic notorious rough ciders the colour of seville oranges that only the locals can handle.
Corin Dingley talks to Avalanche about Alpha
Cover’s Been Blown
Q. What are you up to right now?
Building a house, creating new music, trying to bring up 3 kids, running a holiday home and even occasional DJ’ing here in Luchon. My head is often in a mess which makes it hard to find space to create music but the urge is still there.
Q. What are you listening to at the moment?
Because of DJ’ing I have been buying a lot of Northen Soul, but the other night our street had its Summer party and there was a very loud disco which shook our windows to the tunes of Boney M and worse, it went on for two days, it was hell.
Q. Does your day to day listening influence your writing?
Yes, if I hear a track that excites me I want to go and write something like that. The reality is that when this happens it comes out completely different and rubbish, often a disappointment. It never works, the best tunes seem to come when you not worrying about trying to make a particular tune.
Q. What do you enjoy doing that isn’t directly related to music?
I love hiking, climbing mountains and skiing the reasons why I live in the Pyrenees.
Q. Was there music in your home when you were growing up? Did you participate?
Very much, my mum was a singer in a choir and she practised at home, my dad played clarinet mostly jazz and by brother played guitar in bands that I use to record on 4 tracks and my other brother got me into early sequencing and keyboards on the BBC acorn computers. Creating music has been with me forever. An early memory was a reel to reel recorder that my dad brought back from America in 1967, they lived in California in 66 and 67 so the reel to reel was full of the tunes recorded from the radio there. I used to play with the machine a lot until I finally broke it, but I learnt to repair it too because electronics became a hobby building my own recorders and mixers and EQ’s.
Q. If I went through your record collection, name one album or artist I might be really surprised to find.
The Weather Prophets, may not be a big surprise but I if your looking for Duran Duran then there is one but it belongs to Sam, she had a crush on them but hates the music now. I do not own anything like this, at school I was referred to as the boy who liked weird music which as my friends grew up became cool music.
Q. What’s your working process? How has this changed since Andy left?
Working process has not changed except now I mostly work on my own so sometimes it hard to get a second opinion like ‘thats crap what are you doing!’ Tracks often start from a sample like a sound or even a loop of instrumental music. I have also wrote songs in a traditional way with chords etc like ‘Elvis’.
Q. How do you find samples? Do you endlessly watch old films in search of the right soundbyte?
No most samples come from vinyl, I do not use film or DVD but I have used youtube for some spoken word. You can spot an Alpha song containing a sample if there is hiss and crackle on it. I have found a few great vinyl shops here in Luchon and Toulouse selling old records and I never spend more than a few euros buying them.
Q. Tell me about your influences. Who do you consider great? Are you influenced by writers or films as well as music?
I consider Jimmy Webb, Ferrat, Rod Mckuen, to name a couple that influence Alpha but there are so many writers I consider great.
Q. Do you enjoy playing live?
Yes, I wish I could play again but it very hard to put together a band and tour without losing loads of money.
Q. What’s “Lisbon” about? Are you influenced by places?
Lisbon is a track featuring Wendy, they are her words so I cannot comment and even if I did name it that I can’t remember why. We played a few gigs in Lisbon, it is a beautiful place and we have many fans from there.
Q. The new vocalist fits in very well to the Alpha aesthetic. Were did you find him?
Duncan is the singer in the band Blueneck that I have produced many times and I am going on tour with them in October. He does fit in well and hope to do more with him in the future. I found him in my local pub drinking an evil drink called Black Rat cider in Priddy which is in the south west of england. It turned out that he liked Alpha and I found out that he was also in a band and he asked me if I liked Cider. I tried some Black rat which after the 3rd pint my vision was going. He still to this day awaits a 5 pint challenge which is why I moved to France.
Hannah Collins is the other new vocalist in Alpha. She also fits in really well, I meet Hannah working with ‘The Heavy’ We were both in the band for a number of years and after co-producing their first album asked if Hannah would like to try singing to an Alpha track. There was very little preparation, I remember her coming over for a session where I played lots of new ideas to her and some that she had already heard. She started singing straight away on them, I couldn’t believe how she just instantly put a vocal down, writing the words there. Some of the vocals on the Album are the first and only ever takes. I think that day Hannah created vocals for 5 songs, amazing.
Q. How do you go about Sequencing an album?
I don’t. By the time you have spent ages mixing and writing an album you hate it so I think of an order really quickly, I think ‘Oh thats a nice start and then I can’t follow the next track with the same vocalist so the rest just seems to fall in place. I don’t know how it ends up OK but I think I have only changed an order a little just once or twice. Sometimes tracks can be forgotten and left out. For example I left out 2 tracks on the Eleventh trip which I only discovered weeks after the masters had been sent for manufacture. They will come out on another release.
Q. “Don’t Stop It’s War” feels like a film, not in a soundtrack type way but in the way it creates images in the minds eye – it’s very emotive and reaches quite a finale unheard of on an Alpha tune before – your range seems to have widened.
There was a comment once by a producer from Bristol called Tim Norfork who has produced many Massive Attack tunes and he said ‘You should let Alpha rip sometimes’ so I have. There is more grime an edge in this album than normal. I guess also because Life is now more busy than it used to be and there is less time for music so less time to chill that this influences the tunes. There was an effort with this album to bring some of the Alpha sound back in which has not been pro-dominant in the last two Albums.
Q. Your last recording with Horace Andy album surprised a few people – your rhythms were more than adequate for Horace and were a serious departure and one that I’m pleased to see retained on this new recording. Do you see yourself experimenting further in the future?
The Horace album was an experiment with reggae and Alpha, I am not a reggae writer so I did not want to write a straight reggae album because it would probably turned out rubbish, Alpha after all is an experimental group. I have noticed that many people that like more middle of the road music or pop music like this album a lot but when I play them Alpha they don’t get it.
I hope to experiment a lot more in the future as this is what I am and how Alpha started but I am worried that time will not allow this. I cannot spend the time I need on Alpha because it does not make enough money and my equipment is getting old and needs repairing and updating so I don’t know the future for Alpha.