Friday, January 9, 2009

Silent Alliance Interview

Alexandra contacted me about mailing a single from her band, Silent Alliance, in for review but ended up in NYC for the ATP festival curated by My Bloody Valentine. We met for a drink at the only dive bar left on St. Marks to talk next to a giant ice machine (there went the podcast interview) about her latest single on Fastcut records in Japan, NY, LA, Germany and England ... and of course the Silent Alliance 7" single.
The band has existed in its present incarnation since September 2007, and consists of lead singer and songwriter, Philip Ybring, Tom Kirkham and younger brother Lewis Kirkham, both on guitars and backing vocals, bassist Alexandra Brettel, and Giles Taylor on drums.

7 - So tell me a little bit about Silent Alliance... 

A – Well, we've been around for 2 years now, and we've been gigging quite a lot in London. Our debut single will be released in September and our album in November, both on the Japanese label Fastcut Records, and we've been starting to get some positive reviews. So we're currently approaching UK labels as well as trying to find management.

7 - What about this picture on the sleeve?

A - This is taken in London, from Primrose Hill. It's a pretty view of central London, especially around dusk which is when the picture was taken... the girl pictured in front of the city lights is a friend of a friend actually.

7 - Why did you choose the format of the 7"?

A – Well, we are an indiepop band, some people say that we sound twee in particular, so releasing 7"s seemed like an appropriate format for our musical genre. We think that 7”s have charm, and the Japanese label also supported the idea, so we just went for it. I personally am a proper fan of 7"s. I'm really sad that I had to leave all my seven inches back in Germany though when I moved to London... mainly Sarah Records singles... I couldn't move them with me - I miss them!

7 - Are both of these tracks on the single going to be on the full length?

A - They will... We had a few combinations of songs for potential first single releases and these songs – Cities On Fire and The Edge Of Town - were in discussion anyway. We originally had suggested a different track for the debut A-side but our record label advised that Cities on Fire would promise very good reception through our Japanese audience. Further singles will follow anyway, so more songs will also become a chance to be presented this way sometime soon...

7 - When does the full length album come out?

A - In November. It’ll be called The Spirit Of An Age To Come.

7 - Have you toured outside of England? 

A - Not outside of England, no. Although we would love to! The thing is... most of us are in full-time jobs right now, so it is difficult to organize a tour ourselves. We’d hope that we will find band management soon who could take on this task ...approaching venues ourselves and planning the travel and all, it's just a lot of work and requires plenty of free time which we actually don’t have at hand, to be able to deal with all sorts of organisational things. So far we only played in London, and in Oxford, which isn't THAT far away from London and pretty much within England... (laughs)

7 - Did you guys produce this yourselves?

A - Everything, yes.... we produced everything ourselves... basically Philip, the singer, is the main songwriter, while guitarist Tom supports him in writing the parts... We all have and/or had our solo projects... we're all writing and recording here and there, but for Silent Alliance it is mainly Philip, supported by Tom, who writes the songs. Tom also mixed and mastered all the songs on the single and album. He did an amazing job, considering he's never done sound technician jobs professionally before. . One wouldn’t believe that the songs were all recorded, mixed and mastered in a bedroom!

7 - It seems like that must be nice to have someone from within the band producing and mixing, knowing exactly what you want.

A - I really admire him for this skill. Every band member certainly chipped in his/her opinion and commentary on the details for the perfect final mix. Those were many late working nights, especially for Philip and Tom. A great advantage of producing the album yourself certainly lies in the creative control that you have. You know what you want it to sound like... if you then manage to get there yourself that’s a great success. Having discussions within the band helped, and possibly partly made things more complicated for the mixing process I suppose. But now we are all totally proud of, and very happy about the end-product!

7 - Have you always played bass? 

A - No..... I actually played the classical piano as a child and teenager. I came to the bass a bit later. At uni in Munich, I met my then boyfriend and I started to play keyboards in his band. I enjoyed playing in a band but playing the keyboards was not my favourite idea... I always preferred the classical piano if it had to be instruments with keys. So I picked up the guitar, just taught myself the basic chords and started singing and writing songs, some of which we played with the band. After a little break due to uni commitments, I felt like joining in a band again and started taking bass guitar lessons from a friend. So I played in a couple of bands in Munich before I moved to London. There, joining Silent Alliance just happened... I wasn't looking for a band at the time. They were actually called Mica then. We met through mypace about 2 years ago and I loved their songs instantly. So I went to a gig and was surprisingly invited to rehearse with them, since their bass player happened to move away. It’s been great fun ever since, although we did have to change our name because there was another artist - Mika - appearing in the UK top charts, which was a bit annoying really... well, so now we are Silent Alliance, which was originally the name of Philip’s side project.

7 - How did you get involved with the label Fastcut Records?
A – I believe they approached us on myspace actually. They just really liked our songs. We seem to have quite a good amount of Japanese fans in fact.

7 - I have a love/hate relationship with myspace. That's amazing your single came out of that. 

A – I think it is a useful platform for the start. How else would people hear about a band at unsigned level? Not too much happened on our myspace page for a while...but all of a sudden, there was increased interest in our songs. It is definitely more pleasing to have an individual website, which we now do, at

7 - It's been a good experience with the label? 

A - Oh yes, Fastcut Records is a charming and friendly little label with not too many, but good bands, you should check them out! In particular a Swedish band called Sad Day for Puppets who are also on the label. I think they’re great.

7 - Do you still play piano?

A - I have no piano and no space for one right now, unfortunately. Whenever I’m at my parent’s place once in a while, I keep playing the old repertoire that I had learned in my teens. I would love to progress rather than repeat though, and be able to play the piano whenever I feel like it. As a child, whenever I was sad, or jittery, or needed some downtime, I would sit down and play. Playing soothed me, or calmed me down, or carried me away... No prompting for exercise through my parents was required. I loved playing the piano – I could completely switch off my mind.

7 - Do you write any of the songs? What's the process like? 

A - Not for Silent Alliance currently. I sometimes think that I can only write songs that I also sing myself. Well, I usually record my own songs more in DIY guerrilla style, and kind of like it that way... As for Silent Alliance, Philip is bursting with song ideas anyway so there's really no need at the moment....he’s never running out of song ideas and is humming new melodies wherever he goes it seems!

The Single

A - Side- Cities on Fire:
I'm really not just saying this....I woke up a couple days in a row humming weird moments, waiting for trains, making coffee.
This could immediately be completely at home in a John Hughes movie. The opening sequence, school is starting... it's September, the characters are introduced. A camera fast pans across mostly weirdos, skating, lighting cigarettes, sunglasses. Since they have to be here they might as well look cool. A huge chorus of keyboards, the airy doubled up guitar sound. So chipper and cheerful it's impossible.... they get overwhelmed by the chorus synth line.
Phillip's vocals can't help but bring to mind Andy McCluskey from OMD, their Sugar Tax era. Pure indie guitar dance energy, and dripping with sincerity. It's like they believe in the happy ending to that movie...something is going to work out. We'll find a way to stop that corporate radio station from taking over.
Silent Alliance is working from that earnest pop cannon of the late 80's, early 90's. A simply complex crafty pop song. Bursting with sugar ...topped off by the 'Come on let's go!' yelled in between verses. Count it off and lay into the chorus again.

The astonishing thing is in trying to pick apart the melody's all supporting each other, the layers and layers of guitar lines, it's so dense this orchestral ensemble just can't go together.
The kind of song that would be on in your car late at night after finally talking to that girl you've been avoiding all year. Anything could happen. You don't feel like such a jerk anymore.

The B side 'The Edge of Town' is a little more somber sounding at first, a bell sounding synth line and heavy chorus guitar slowly strummed but it doesn't last long until . They are filling every empty moment, packing it with total sing-a-long material. They take apart each chorus, change the breakdown. Take me to the edge of the town ...uh oh. Like the Psychedelic Furs left of center, it's that surface teen angst. You can't be that angry, that isolated anymore.

Finding out it's made by great people is just the icing on the cake It's inspiring to see the format supporting artists like this a real story of friends putting sheer joy out there into the world by way of Fastcut. Get the single from
Fastcut records, probably an import wherever you are reading this.

The podcast (Episode 38, 33:51, 31.7mb) attempts to break the Silent Alliance sound into it's pieces and put it back together again.

My Silent Alliance thesis bibliography:

The Besties, Rod N Reel, Hugpatch records, 2006
The lilys, Returns every morning, Che records, 1996

Chomp, It's Arizona, Zero hour records, 1995

The Swirlies, Sarah Sitting, Slumberland records, 1991

Future Bible Heros, Lonely Days, Setanta records, 1997

The Lilys, Nanny in Manhattan, Che records, 1996

Dog Day, Lydia, Tomlab records, 2006

Bearsuit, Stop what you're doing what your doing is wrong, Sickroom records, 2002

Silent Alliance, Cities on Fire/The Edge of Town, Fastcut records, 2008

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