Alfa 9 first popped up on my musical radar a few years back with the release of their Then We Begin album. It was an album I fell in love with mainly because it has some knock out tunes on there and secondly very few bands at the time were playing out and out mind exploding psych.
Five or so years on and Alfa 9 are back with a second album, Gone To Ground, and a slightly different sound. The droney Floyd-esque guitar driven freak outs of the debut have given way to jangly guitars and harmonies. And what a great listen it is too.
So eager to discover what promoted the change in direction, as well as to find out a little more about the band’s future plans I emailed Alfa 9’s Leon Jones. Here is our virtual chat
This album seems a bit more immediate than the last, were you aiming for a slightly poppier sound? What else is different between the two?
After several years of psychedelic explorations, we started to focus more on trying to write great 3-4 minute songs. It became more about great melodies and choruses and going back to a lot of our earlier influences. We also lost the keyboards and some of the dirt from the guitars – essentially everything became secondary to the songs.
Are you happier with Gone to ground? Are you listening to Pink Floyd a bit less these days?
I wouldn’t say happier necessarily – both were the right records to make at the time – we’re massively proud of both.
Pink floyd are one of those bands alongside the Beatles, Stones, Byrds, Hendrix, Pretty Things etc who will always be part of where we come from musically – just because it’s not right there on the surface doesn’t mean it isn’t there!
The first album got such great reviews, why has it taken so long for number two?
Then We Begin was our debut and therefore the culmination of years of the bands history. We toured relentlessly for years so eventually we needed to take some time – exploring new directions and doing life stuff
There are some great harmonies on tracks like Birling Gap – how many of you sing? Does it take a lot of work to get that polished?
It’s Phil and Ali who sing and the harmonies are generally worked out during recording. It can take a while but it comes naturally so its usually a case of editing rather than “Searching for the lost harmony.” With the greatest respect we don’t want sound like Queen!
Into the light reminds me of The Cosmic Rough Riders – are they an influence
We actually played with the CRR a few years ago but I’m not sure they’re an influence – I think we share some influences and it’s always inspiring to see a like-minded band out there doing well
Do you have much of a fanbase outside the UK? Did the last album sell in the US?
There are little pockets all over the place – Scandinavia, southern Europe, USA. I think in this age, international borders are becoming less relevant in terms of the distribution of music, information, news etc. You don’t need to think, ” Ok we’ll hit the UK with this single and then take it to the States.” The Internet has dissolved national borders in terms of music distribution
The album reminds me a few 80s bands too – Long Ryders, The Church – do you like those bands?
We were first introduced to the Church and the Paisley Underground bands by our former manager Steve Harrison (The Charlatans). We particularly love The Long Ryders first EP and album. We identified with the strong melodies coupled with a robust rock n roll backing. Another big favourite is the Rain Parade’s early material – a huge influence on those great early 90s UK indie bands like Ride, Charlatans, Roses etc
In the time since your debut there have been a few other bands who have mixed Byrdsy guitar with British Indie – (The See See, El Goodo,the last Coral album) Do you like those bands? Do see them as rivals?
As I said before it’s always great to see like-minded bands out there doing it. The Coral have always been a big influence on Alfa 9 and I was involved with promoting an El Goodo show in Stoke a year or so ago
Was Old Man Blues inspired by anyone in particular – or are you fast forwarding to your 80s? Is the Castle also about a real person?
I think we all know people who those songs would apply to which is kind of the point
Do you think that album still matter in this age of Spotify playlists?
To some people yes a million per cent, to others no. Has it really been any different?
Stone Roses reunion – good or bad? Are you going?
Hmmmm that’s tricky. Not decided yet
Do you think you are more influenced by US or UK psych
Well we’ve always been a pretty powerful act and I think we have that in common with a lot of US psych acts though the Pretty Things are one of our favourite bands and they seem to have got that balance between power and beauty – that’s what we’ve always aimed at
Alfa 9’s albums are on Spotify here
They are part of my new Psych playlist which is here.