It comes and goes from the ether of the mental jukebox, but the chorus of the title-track to Alunah‘s White Hoarhound is never far off. Its resonant melody, rich tones and ethereal subject matter stand the band’s PsycheDOOMelic label debut — second album overall behind 2010’s Call of Avernus — in line with rich traditions within British rock, from late ’60s psychedelic pop to thunderous modern doom and massively fuzzed riffing. White Hoarhound (review here) and Call of Avernus (review here) are both strikingly cohesive outings from a still relatively nascent four-piece, but the newer record sets itself apart in an atmosphere and thematic geared toward pre-Christian nature-worship and particularly the rich pagan history of the British Isles.
Songs like “The Offering,” “Belial’s Fjord,” and “Chester Midsummer Watch Parade” hone in on these ideas — as, I suppose, do the title-cut, opener “Demeter’s Grief” and the closing duo of “Oak Ritual I” and “Oak Ritual II” — but more to the point in terms of listening to the album, they do so with a clear-headed musicality, subtle psychedelic essence and gorgeous songwriting. Guitarist/vocalist Sophie Day (more often shortened just to Soph), fellow guitarist Dave Day, bassist Gaz Imber and drummer Jake Mason execute a tonal thickness that’s second to few whose entire schtick isn’t tonal thickness, but do so without sacrificing choruses that are memorable for more than just being heavy. As much as the riff of “Demeter’s Grief” launches the album in lumbering form, and as much as Imber‘s bass earns high marks across the board, it’s the songs themselves that stand out. Even the acoustic-led “Oak Ritual I” — on which Tony Reed, who mixed and mastered the Greg Chandler production, donates guest organ — leaves a lasting impression.
As Soph says herself on “Oak Ritual II,” “The connection to the earth feels electric this time.” Alunah have set themselves a path with White Hoarhound, and should they choose to walk it and develop their sound from what they present on these seven tracks, there’s little to limit whatever their contribution might become. It’s a special moment for the band, and given that, I wanted to hit the band up to get some idea of what went into making the songs and the album, their origins and plans going forward.
Soph was kind enough to accommodate. For those in the UK, Alunah are playing Nov. 10 at The Gas Works in Bradford and Nov. 16 in Birmingham at Asylum Birmingham with Gentlemens Pistols. More info on that at the links below. Please enjoy the following Six Dumb Questions:
We gigged and toured Call of Avernus for quite a while, and all of our practices were taken up with us playing the songs off Avernus so we were itching to start coming up with new ideas. We probably started seriously thinking about the second album around the beginning of 2011. The first song we wrote was “Chester Midsummer Watch Parade,” we had a strong idea of how we wanted the album to sound and “CMWP” embodied that perfectly. Dave wrote the riff for it and it was just perfectly dark and moody whilst at the same time being uplifting and groovy. We’re not a dark, depressing band by any means but we do have that side to us, and “CMWP” captures that side to us whilst at the same time celebrating the Midsummer in typical Alunah style. As soon as we wrote it we started playing it live — the rest of the songs didn’t get a live airing until the middle of 2012.
2. In terms of putting the record together and structuring the songs one into the next, was “Oak Ritual II” always going to be the album closer? Did that song come first or the acoustic part before it?
Once we finished the songs it was a tossup between “Belial’s Fjord” or “Oak Ritual II” for the album closer and I think we made a good choice. “Oak Ritual” originally sounded quite different, and we only titled it in the studio. We moved the structure of the song around quite a lot, Dave and I had a jam at home and came up with the idea for “Oak Ritual I.” We went to rehearsal and played it to Gaz and Jake, from there we based the final “Oak Ritual II” on it so they kind of fed off each other in terms of which came first. The final “Oak Ritual I” wasn’t developed until we recorded it — the most of what you hear on the recording is Dave jamming on the acoustic. Same with all the backing vocals, they were las- minute studio additions, I’m so glad we did them too.
3. What is your lyric-writing process like? The lyrics on White Hoarhound seem to be coming from a quiet kind of place — they’re not really angry, sometimes sad, but still really thoughtful. Are there any rituals you have for writing the lyrics to get in the right mindset?
That’s a really nice summary of what I also feel about the lyrics. I don’t get into a ritual at all, with Avernus I remember sitting down and thinking “right, I’m going to write some lyrics,” but with Hoarhound I didn’t. The only song I really remember sitting down and writing was “Demeter’s Grief.” I’d been reading about the harvest, and the mythology attached to them, it fascinated me so I wrote that song. The rest of the songs kind of found me. I know that sounds pretentious but they did. I can’t remember ever sitting down and preparing myself to write them. I’m lucky to live amongst beautiful countryside, and I’m never short of inspiration. “White Hoarhound” was written from random thoughts which came into my head on a Welsh headland at a time when I found out my dad had lung cancer. “White Hoarhound” (normally spelt “horehound”) is actually a root the monks used to treat lung conditions with, and the headland I was standing on was where it was grown. I won’t go into massive detail on the others as I like listeners to attach their own meanings to them. I will say that this year has been a difficult one for my family, and the songs were born from a very sad and thoughtful period — they were my means of escaping into a different world. On a lighter note, I did watch a programme about flamingos and wrote a song about them… unfortunately for everyone, the rest of the band rejected it — that could have been a cracking song hahahaha!
4. Did you actually get to see the Chester Midsummer Watch? I caught some of it on YouTube and it seemed pretty psychedelic in that medieval kind of way — perfect for Alunah. That song seems to be in a tradition of British rock songwriting. Reminds me of a late ‘60s or early ‘70s psych record. Was there something in particular about the parade that inspired it?
I’m actually planning on going to see it next year — they also have a Winter Watch Parade which is smaller but has some of the characters from the Midsummer Watch Parade. The parade didn’t actually inspire the song, I’m not sure what did if I’m honest — we were just jamming and the riff came out of that. The lyrics, like the parade are celebrating the midsummer and I’m definitely interested in England’s medieval and also pagan culture. The song had a different name originally but when I read about the parade I changed the name in tribute. The parade was actually started in the 1100s and was banned for a period as it had dancing naked young boys as part of the parade — inappropriate even back then! It only recently came back to Chester and I think it’s just a beautiful, lively celebration of the Midsummer, complete with giants, jesters, dragons, devils and beasts. Thousands of people visit Chester to watch it, I’m not sure they all understand what it’s about but they all join in with the celebrations and it looks amazing, I can’t wait to visit next year.
5. How long were you in the studio recording? Did you do the album all in one shot or space it out? The tones are very warm and natural in the guitar and bass. Was there something specific about recording for White Hoarhound that you wanted to do differently from Call of Avernus?
We were in the studio recording for just five days, spaced out over weekends. We really wanted to capture the live tones on this record, we were close with Avernus but I think Greg (Chandler – who recorded it) nailed it with Hoarhound. We recorded AND mixed Avernus in four days. This time we spent more time recording and could work with our amps more to get the right sound. The other thing we did differently was to have someone else mix the record, Greg recorded and mixed Avernus, James Plotkin mastered it. This time Greg recorded, and Tony Reed mixed and mastered. Like us, Tony thrives on that ‘70s sound, so it was cool to have that meeting of different styles. He brought out the tones superbly, and we were especially pleased with the bass sound — so heavy!
6. You’re playing in November with Gentlemans Pistols and Desert Storm. Any other shows coming up, plans for the New Year you want to mention or closing words?
Yeah that’ll be an awesome gig on the 16th, we’re also in Bradford in November on the 10th with our mates Gods of Hellfire, Arkham Witch and Arke. We’ve got some big plans for 2013 which are being talked about at the moment — at least one big tour, possibly another and some other cool news which we’re discussing. Hahaha sorry to be so annoyingly vague but until they’re firm plans we don’t want to jinx things. Keep checking www.alunah.co.uk or www.facebook.com/alunah.doom for updates and thanks so much for everyone’s support in 2012.