SIAN ALICE GROUP: THE WORLD’S MOST GLAMOROUS HOBO
Sian Alice Group come from England where they listen to Big Star’s Third in an assortment of borrowed mansions. Their excellent 59:59 is out now on Social Registry and they play tomorrow night at the Troubadour. This expensive transatlantic interview by Chris Ziegler.
What is the most Russian quality of your music?
Ben Crook (guitar): Vodka. I’ve been to Russia before perestroika. A school trip in 1990. I went wearing a Stone Roses t-shirt and it was really weird. I got drunk as a fifteen-year-old in Russia watching tanks on the street. Sixty-year-old men come up to you like, ‘Can I be your pen-pal? Take me back to London!’
Sian Ahern (vocals): I went to Moscow in maybe the year 2000. A car blew up in the middle of the road. Like a car bomb? No one really explained what was going on, and I couldn’t figure out why the car had just blown up.
What was the most insistent request you received abroad?
BC: To get laid?
Are they that insistent?
SA: Yes, where was that, Ben?
Rupert Clervaux (drums/piano): In Latvia, a Russian guy pointed a gun at me and my friend’s faces when we said we didn’t wanna come back to his house and drink vodka, and the guy who owned the bar had to call the police. We went there days after they’d been accepted into the EU so there were a lot of Russian-Latvian aggressions—sort of crackling aggression from every Russian you met. We went into this bar—pretty drunk, like four or five in the morning, and my friend sat down and started making friends with these people who looked pretty tough.
Did he specially pick them out?
RC: Yes, he’s stupid like that. On the third or fourth round of vodka shots—it’s like dawn—my friend says, ‘Oh, no, we can’t have any more.’ And the guy starts getting really aggressive: ‘You turned down a shot! We are all leaving!’ And he pulls up his shirt—the handle of a pistol—and the bar owner is straight on the phone, and within five minutes these two policemen come in and just sit in the corner. And when the Russian people leave, the policemen start shouting at us.
Could you understand any of it?
RC: I could see two of everything but I couldn’t hear anything. And my first night in Latvia is a really good story. We were in this place called the Hotel Victoria, and we went out the first night and took a cab ride that was forty lats—maybe forty or fifty dollars?
Did it come with a foot massage?
RC: And we went up at a Latvian strip club. It wasn’t a particularly nice experience. But they serve alcohol, and I in my drunken state demanded to be left there. My last memory is stroking a cat on the opposite side of the street from the club. The next thing I know, I’m woken up on the pavement from a girl from the club. ‘You can’t sleep here! It’s dangerous! What hotel? I’ll take you there!’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, you’re so nice—but it cost fifty lats to get here!’ And she walks me… literally around the corner.
Was that the best way you’d ever been ripped off?
RC: It was awesome. I was like, ‘Wanna come upstairs?’ And she’s like, ‘…no.’
Is ‘Dusk Line’ a reference to a Ballard short story?
RC: You’ve been talking to Kelsey Aloise! It’s from a short story—‘The Day Of Forever.’ I remember reading it when I was really really young. It’s about how the world has stopped turning and every city is named after the time of day when the world has stopped turning. It’s set in Columbine Center in French Africa on the dusk line. I remember really being attracted to that idea. But it’s not a song about that. It’s about something else. It treats the dusk line as a powerful thing if you’re on it—it’s a source which you don’t understand. There’s another book in that song—The Fountainhead.
That’s a strange combination.
RC: It’s not pre-planned.
Rupert, you said you felt the band is at a point where you can incorporate all the good music you’ve ever listened to—what did you mean?
RC: It means you get old enough to realize you can give up all the crap that sometimes goes with making music or being in a band and enjoy making music for what it us. There’s a really good quote from Ben, if you want to get into quotes—‘1% of everything is good.’
BC: Should we go lower?
RC: Into decimals like Pitchfork. They have that pinpoint view on things.
It’s an unfeeling machine.
RC: We should have been 7.8 instead of 7.7.
BC: I’m still angry about that point-one.
RC: One thing we all agree we really dislike—this idea that there’s some black art of making music. Bullshit! Do what you do—make an album a year to at least document what you do. Someone said to me, ‘Rupert, you do everything yourselves—produce yourselves—but if you got someone else, maybe you could unlock something?’ No—fuck you! There’s nothing to unlock! We wake up in the morning and make music and that’s what we do. Our age ranges, but I’m 32 and I’ve been listening to music for so long—there’s so many things I love and so many things I know why I don’t love, and I wanna take all those things in.
BC: As soon as you say you’re something, you’re out of date—you’re history! Create, don’t destroy—don’t define, just enjoy!
Did you prepare that especially so it rhymed?
BC: Always. That’s the #14 answer. I’ve got 22 answers. I hope you’ve got 22 questions.
Rupert, do you still live in the studio?
RC: Kind of but right now—
BC: —we’re all in a riverside mansion.
RC: I haven’t lived anywhere for so long. I develop great habits like not cleaning my teeth! General lack of hygiene—stuff like that! But if you have a studio, you spend most of your time in it anyway…
SA: Rupert always lands on his feet—he’s the world’s most glamorous hobo!
RC: Thanks, Sian—that’s great! But right now we’re in a house you wouldn’t believe.
BC: A Jacobean mansion on the Thames.
There’s not like a dead man in a tuxedo cooling on the driveway, is there?
BC: A dead butler just inches away.
RC: More like an old guy in a tuxedo sitting next to me—and I’m just taking one for the team.
BC: But we appreciate it!
RC: It actually is tied into our musical career. The amazing people at Social Registry—a wonderful label—this guy Jimmy C.—the first time I met Jim I was six months old, and I was taken to visit him in the maternity unit. And I was like, ‘Look, this 2008 release date—‘
RC: ‘I need to learn how to play a few instruments here!’ But his parents have this really beautiful house, and I’ve known his parents as long as I’ve known him, and so I look after their house when they’re away, and it’s a big house, so I need Ben and Sian’s help. So we have a lovely place to hang out in.
I hope you aren’t having wild parties.
RC: Never. You have to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Plus I’m a lonely kind of person.
How far into the new record are you?
BC: We’ve actually got songs we’re holding back for the one after. The plan is to get quite far ahead—get to the stage where we can track away and concentrate on melodies and final touches on tour. That’s one of the benefits of being self-sufficient.
RC: If you have two hours spare in the day, you can record for two hours. Two weeks spare, record for two weeks. You’re not watching the clock. We really mean it. We see our role as musicians—not a pompous thing—but we think we’re good at what we do and we want to get better, so we exercise it!
BC: This is a blessing—we’re pretty thankful we can wake up and make a racket—that’s pretty good! And slip a beer on the way, and see friends, and travel to other countries—that’s pretty fucking good! So we’re well advanced.
Have you named the record or the songs?
SA: None as such.
RC: Working title—‘Album Two.’
I think that’s taken.
RC: We might call it Third, but that would be stupid.
BC: Songs in E&A.
Oh yes—the British press said you’re protégés of Jason Pierce.
BC: I think friends.
What is the Jason Pierce Music Academy like?
RC: Not much music happening!
BC: Lots of people getting fired! There are the people that got the honor roll for it and their tuition fees are paid, and then there are those who are paying.
Where is Sian Alice in this?
BC: Lecturing, hopefully.
What is your current land-speed record on tour?
SA: That’s my question.
RC: The flurry of policemen who collared Sian—ask them.
SA: In Pennsylvania, we got pulled over for 84 in a 65. Not bad.
Were the cops impressed?
BC: That state trooper got confused because it was an English girl driving a huge van with a bunch of dudes in sunglasses in the background. He said, ‘If I book you are you gonna turn up to get a ticket?’ We were like, ‘We don’t know—we’re English.’ But our bass player was American and the cop said, ‘Yankees or Mets?’ ‘Actually, I’m from Massachusetts so I’m going to say Red Sox.’ And the guy gets a Red Sox pen out of his pocket and says, ‘This is what I used to sign tickets for Yankees fans.’ So as he lets us go he pounds on the top of the car and says, ‘You guys are English? Go to church. English people don’t go to church enough.’
RC: And we jumped out of the car and signed on the ticket—‘You and your people are responsible for the largest number of deaths since the world began!’
BC: That’s a little hard on Pennsylvania state!
You’ve said there’s no rock drums on 59:59—is that like how the Monks threw away all their cymbals?
BC: The Monks for me are a huge influence. I heard them for the first time when I was 15—over half my life ago!—and I started writing a movie about Vietnam through like the music of the Monks.
What was the first scene?
BC: Them shaving their heads in the jungle. It was pretty flawed. But ‘Higgledy Piggledy’ been a huge car song.
You named your song ‘Way Down To Heaven’ after that.
RC: It was a sudden choice to call that song that—it used to be called ‘I’m On My Way,’ and that was the most boring song title ever. We were just listening in the car and were like ‘Just call the song this—it’s way better!’
Why weren’t the Germans the first to land on the moon? They had the Monks on their side.
BC: Things happen faster in Germany.
The birthplace of amphetamines.
BC: ‘This banjo—let’s plug it into this amplifier—what’s next?’
What’s the next big thing you can’t wait to work on?
BC: There’s lots! This album is underway, and I think it’s gonna be big. But the third album I got some thoughts.
RC: Actually, me and Sian were talking and sadly we’ve decided to fire you before the third album.
BC: But we’ll reform—the third album in 2028! Like Futurama—with our heads in glass bottles. Can I tell you a really secret thing? I heard from a friend of Liam Gallagher’s old drug dealer—when he was going out with Patsy Kensit, they were doing a ouija board trying to talk to John Lennon. ‘Can you hear me? Can you hear me John? Would you like a line, John?’ And they tap out a line on the ouija—then he goes to the bathroom, and he comes back and it’s gone. ‘No way! John Lennon did a line off our ouija board!’ Meanwhile Patsy is like wiping her nose. But to this day, he still believes.
THE SIAN ALICE GROUP WITH A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS AND IN WAVES ON SAT., OCT. 4, AT THE TROUBADOUR, 9081 SANTA MONICA BLVD., WEST HOLLYWOOD. 8 PM / $12 / ALL AGES. TROUBADOUR.COM. SIAN ALICE GROUP’S THE DUSK LINE IS OUT NOW ON SOCIAL REGISTRY. VISIT SIAN ALICE GROUP AT SIANALICEGROUP.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/SIANALICEGROUP.