Alone Ranger: the LostAlone interview
After the huge critical acclaim for their last album, 2012’s adventurous and arresting I’m A UFO In This City, LostAlone did what any self-respecting rock band would do: they played their backsides off. They played solo shows, festivals and supported some of the biggest names on the circuit. With their fanbase and reputation growing, they took time out from the road (about a month in total, truth be told) and set about recording album number three earlier this year.
With recording and mixing completed, and with just mastering left to do, main man Steven Battelle sat down with Gary Kaill to talk about one of the year’s most anticipated rock releases.
Last time we spoke, you said a friend of yours had heard some of the new album and just looked at you and called you a wanker.
Well, yeah! That’s what my friend said and my exact response to him was, 'Well it’s just what I hear in my head!' I didn’t think it was that radically different. And he’s been around us for a long time. He’s heard the demos and heard the songs develop so for him to say that was like, Whoah…
Well, that’s key in itself, isn’t it? You’ve actually managed to get out what you hear in your head.
I’ve tried to do that on every record and I’m sure that when we talk in another year or whatever, I’ll say that about the next record but where I am right now, this is the best I’ve done. It was like this when we recorded the second album. I listened back to it some time later and I thought I would have liked to have done this, or I would have liked this chorus to have this amount of vocal…
Our first album was demos and it was, well, turned into a record, you know? With the second we went to America and it was done properly but with the new album I felt like I had the experience and the confidence to really get what I wanted. Plus, this time we had a producer who believed in us. He didn’t feel that he had to really do anything. He thought the demos were great; he didn’t need to really arrange anything. In some places on this record it’s the closest we’ve come to sounding like I’ve always wanted us to sound. But I’d end the band today if I thought that this was far as it was ever going to go. There’s still so much to explore. The newest songs on the record are the closest to what I want LostALone to one day become.
You recorded it really quickly, or so it seemed.
We did this time. But studio time is expensive, you know? You really have to be ready when you go in. And we were. I know you’ll be interested in this: I often think, when do you make an album? If I had the luxury of being hugely popular and I could record when I wanted, when would I actually do it? Because there are songs on this album that have been around us for a while, some from just after our last album, some from very recently.
I would love to do an album where all 12 songs are from that one month period just before we go into record. Because I’ll write a song the day after we finish recording that feels part of that record.
So the question becomes: is that new song part of that record?
Yeah. It’s a weird thing. And it’s all about money and stability, really. I wrote seven of the eleven songs in the month before we recorded.
It puts it into perspective when you look at a band like, say, Franz Ferdinand who release a new album after four years. They’re a band. Bands play music, don’t they? What the hell have they been up to?
That’s really interesting. Franz Ferdinand are a good example of that. But you look at a band like Muse or Biffy Clyro, and these are huge, huge bands and yet they don’t stop. They choose to keep recording, keep playing. They could take years off and come back and play stadiums. That’s my dream scenario. When you’re not touring, you're making music, writing.
You could be a great band, get a lot of acclaim, but it can all be about what you have around you, a great management team and structure. If you don’t have that you can have the acclaim but no one to help you capitalise on it. Now I’ve been there and hopefully I’m not there now because I do have a great team around me. I don’t know… Perhaps that’s not great interview content?!
It’s interesting - go on.
This time, there’s high expectations all round. If the band doesn’t sell records, and I know we’ve done everything right, played everywhere etc, and still it’s not moving forward, then I’ll have to question whether we’re just a band who doesn’t connect.
Sure, but don’t get me wrong. I’m very relaxed about things these days – relaxed about what I think is going to happen. I can actually go to the shop these days without my phone - and the shop’s two minutes away - without worrying about what’s going on. I trust the people we’re working with. So I can now get on with my part of it, which is the music, which is writing songs.
Forgive me for sounding like an old bugger, but there’s just too many bands. Every two bit outfit gets a shot at Wembley Arena months after they start out. Perhaps I should ditch the rose-tinted spectacles but didn’t bands have to really work up to that sort of status? Really earn it?
I’d agree with that. And that’s not rose-tinted spectacles. You can look at the facts. It’s not a big deal to, say, play Wembley Arena any more. I’ve seen this first hand. There is a structure about success. You can take a band and then this person in their organisation will do this, and then the next person will do this and you add it all together and it will equal this.
Managers know that if a record sells a certain number of copies, then a tour of certain size venues sells well, they then know that holding off playing certain venues for a certain time will, for example, allow them to book arenas. I’m knocking it. I wanna play Wembley Arena. But I’d rather get there a particular way rather use all of these false mechanics.
I was watching the Kerrang! Awards a few weeks back. You were there, right?
Oh yeah! I met Mr May and Mr Taylor.
Big moment for a lifelong Queen fan
Massive, massive moment.
I mention it because what we’ve just touched on reminded me of something I saw on that show, which was All Time Low getting some award and then thanking the guy from Blink 182 who was there. They said “Thanks for letting us rip you off for the past ten years”. That’s hardly artistic striving, is it?
Well, I didn’t hear them say that - largely because I was solely focussed on Brian May and Roger Taylor! But what I will say is that when I told Brian May that he’s the reason I do music, he was so humble and unbelievably kind. He’s heard that a million times. Both him and Taylor, two ridiculously successful musicians, carry themselves with real dignity.
So if someone says something so stupid onstage, I almost think, 'Well, good on ya!' They should really be saying, 'You know we’re shit, it’s actually ridiculous that we’re on the cover of Kerrang! in the first place!' If you’ve just fallen into a band and you don’t actually live and breathe music, but the mechanics of the industry have put you there - and I’m not accusing All Time Low of this because I don’t really know anything about that band - but, hey, fair play. I kind prefer that level of honesty.
I liked how your last album so easily switched from classic pop to more involved, exploratory works with hardly a pause for breath. It felt organic, pure. More of the same this time?
We evolve each time, but the one thing that I can never see changing is that we will do whatever we want to. Yes, I like absolute, proper three minute pop songs. I love that. I love bands like Weezer. And yet…look, our albums are always going to have huge ridiculous songs as well as pop songs.
When we did I’m A UFO In This City, the A&R guy wanted ten ‘Love Will Eat You Alive’s. He just wanted an album of them. What?! But you signed us! You know what we are and we’re not that! I could easily write that. Easy. Bang bang bang. But no. I want our albums to be different. The bands I admire made albums that had huge variation on them and that’s who we will be, will always be. The thing with interviews is people are always trying to analyse why you did certain things - not you, obviously! - but people will ask me why I’ve included this song or that. It’s very simple: that’s what I like.
I get where your friend’s coming from when he calls you a wanker.
(laughs) That’s Jim Cork from Crash of Rhinos. He’s this geeky guy, a great, great drummer and they’re a brilliant band, really talented. He heard this song called ‘The Bells, The Bells’, which is really, really out there and he just looked at me and shook his head and said “You’re such a wanker!” He just knows us, has done for years, knows what we’re about and for him to say that, it’s his special way of expressing admiration!
So the album will appear towards the end of the year if all goes to plan. You speak of it with real passion, real love. I like how you clearly believe in it but you’re not actually trumpeting about it. You’re actually being quite restrained. As if you love it so much you want people to just make up their own minds.
Yeah… It’s the torment in my mind. I’ve said to friends that it’s the best music yet heard. Joking, obviously. I don’t know. My friends love The Smiths. I don’t. I respect them but I just don’t feel it. It could be like that for our new album. It’s a personal thing, ultimately. It’s just that so many people who’ve heard it have said some really powerful things. And I’m not sure if it’s been better encapsulated than by our producer, who said that he was pretty sure there was no-one out there who was stupid enough to even try what we’ve done this time. It’s not like we’ve tried to do anything particularly ridiculous. It’s just ... well, it’s just what I hear in my head.
For updates from the LostAlone camp, visit their official website.