NEW ALASKA are a post hardcore band based in the Midlands, UK. The band formed in May 2012 after a series of chance happenings. In April 2012, vocalist Pete Stanley, (former guitarist and songwriter in HISTORY OF THE HAWK), exhausted yet exhilarated from his former bands European tour suddenly quit the band. Having ‘put in his shift’ into the band’s success and contributing some choice songs to their LP, he decided to side step and create something new. Barely a month later he’s back in the studio forging a new set with Rory Beckett and Tim Hackett after meeting them at a HARVEY MILK show. A week later after some awesome rehearsals, they decide to ask Dan Watts (longtime friend & collaborator) of Stanley to join the band to make NEW ALASKA a more dynamic and dimensional band.
I did a series of features for HISTORY OF THE HAWK and OPIUM LORD (bands associated with members of NEW ALASKA), so it would be stupid to miss a talk with these fellows. Read up the rest of the official press release and scroll down to learn more from my interview with the NEW ALASKA!
Having grown tired of the Hardcore scene and pretty much the music industry as a whole, N/A holed themselves away for 10 months writing their EP ‘Finer Lines of Tomorrow’. No outside pressure or cares about returning.
Sticking to their DIY ethics and an effort to drive down the ridiculous costs of being in a modern band, Pete Stanley recorded and mixed their EP himself in bedrooms, bathrooms and rehearsal spaces during November/December 2012 for a staggering £70. The resulting EP captures the bands fierce energy and focus, without the shiny veneer of modern punk.
Drawing influence from history, modern day testing times to science fiction, ‘Finer Lines of Tomorrow’s deals with subject matter such as the Hungarian Arrowcross militia (who shot innocent Jews into the Danube during WW2), the faking of the Mars Landings in the film ‘Capricorn One’ and inherent evil in people, wrapping the words around fast, finger bloodied punk rock. Their musical influences range from bands like BLUETIP, CABLE, AT THE DRIVE-IN, SHINER, KEROSENE 454 and JAWBOX.
N/A are staring 2013 in the eyes and looking for shows around the UK and beyond, with an EP on Speedowax Records already planned and also a split with an awesome French punk band they are truly ready to reinitiate into the frenzied chaos which is punk rock.
Welcome! [smiles] How are you, fellows?
We are currently battling illness and terrible weather in the UK, but in fine spirits!
What’s the new Alaska?
I had loads of ideas for band names. I think at first it could have been New Canada, was trying to forge this idea in my head that this new band was a newly formed territory. A kind of country of it’s own. I think I was consciously trying to break away from all that macho bullshit that goes with punk and Hardcore these days and just create something neutral, pure I suppose. In the way bands like Wire did in the late 70’s with a really direct but different sound. New Alaska in an essence, is a clean slate. Fresh white canvas to throw paint at. The name doesn’t really conjure up images other than open white expanses and snow I guess. Job done.
What inspired you to start this band? What was your original vision for NEW ALASKA?
Having put 100% of my time, effort and money into HISTORY OF THE HAWK (my former band) I’d just had enough and decided to call it a day. We’d had an amazing time, doing what some bands never do in a lifetime (but in short period of time) with some of my best friends. We’d toured Europe and put out some releases on some amazing labels but gearing up for the album I wasn’t feeling it anymore. Also I was skint and jobless coming home, having to go sign on. I’d kind of started out with Drive Like Jehu in mind and were ebbing towards CONVERGE, I just didn’t want to play that kind of stuff. It’s awesome don’t get me wrong, it’s just personal preference. I actually wanted the new band to be less heavy than it is now, but as it turns out it sounds great, or least people tell me so. Which is humbling.
Who’s in the band? Tell me about your other bands and side projects.
I met these two guys (Rory & Tim) at a Harvey Milk show, who wanted to play with me as they heard I’d left the band and was looking to make music. Our mutual friend Rich from Speedowax had recommended we all did something. So I went and got drunk and met them. Turns out they are massive fans of loads of bands I love and put me onto other amazing stuff as well and most importantly really nice guys. No egos or anything, but also have strong ideas they get across. They had both played in another band years before so it was like recruiting a fully formed backline to play with. We had a jam and instantly were excited about it, didn’t gel straight away as I was not sure what direction to take but I knew if it was to work we needed another guitar. My friend Dan who I was in a band with years before was available and we just tune into each others guitar playing and come up with mental melodies, hooks and stuff. As soon as he turned up it felt complete. He introduced himself to the other two at his first practice as I was late, strong verbal communicator as they say. Nothing phases him.
What caused your split with HISTORY OF THE HAWK?
Loads of factors go into bands splitting up. If things are rolling for you, you all instantly put pressure on each other to keep the momentum going, there’s no time to actually sit back and enjoy it. Pressures starts to write songs, to email promoters, to organize releases, tours etc. and it builds up. We were (and still are) all really close friends and as it went on I think it got less and less fun to do. We stopped having band meetings because it felt to business like but it could have been the place we got things straight maybe. Ended up more of a failing business model than an artistic pursuit. But I’m very proud of what we did, OCEAN is an amazing piece of vinyl. Those songs are great, it pushed my playing, playing with some great dudes.
As you can see from post HOTH stuff, we’ve side-stepped to do different things. I know Beckley & Nay (and Luke) were really into NEUROSIS and stuff like that so they have pursued that. I’ve seen them in OPIUM LORD, it’s brutal stuff. Really clever music though too. Makes HOTH look like a COLDPLAY.
Personally, how do you feel about the eventual split of the band? Are you still in touch with the rest of the guys?
When I left I kind of switched off for a while and got some headspace, but I never really felt like I left as I was still hanging out with them and Luke, my replacement is my mate anyway. When the call came that they were ending it, I was there with Nathan in the pub. I thought it was a good time for them to call it a day and enjoy some rest time. I was a bit sad I never played on all the songs I wrote for the LP but glad I didn’t too. I have the demos backed up ready to be mixed at some point in the future I was working on.
They all felt a bit drained I guess but eager to do other things. They are a creative bunch my friends. I still see most of them every week. We still go out together, talk music, check each others mixes and stuff. The town where we are from is bigger than any band we could form, our friendship group is pretty vast so we are always heading out together drinking the finest Ales the Black Country has to offer.
How would you describe Speedowax Records and its roster for someone that has never heard of it before?
Speedowax is a label that’s been going for like 15 years by a guy called Rich. He used to work in loads of great record shops when we were growing up. His ethics to releasing music aren’t too dissimilar to that of Independent labels of the 70’s punk era and 80’s indie pop. He just puts out bands he loves, no cloak and dagger operations. He’s a lovely bloke with a heart of gold. Daft as a brush, liable for terrible spelling & messages that make no sense but that’s Rich. He’s just got a vision of committing as many bands that he respects to wax as he can and you can’t knock that. I don’t really know anyone who runs a label like he does. He’s just a good guy to have around, what he doesn’t know about music, you don’t need to know.
Ok, your debut EP is out now and available for free, right? What feedback have you got so far?
Yeah our debut EP is called ‘Finer Lines of Tomorrow’, it’s been online about a week as a free download from bandcamp. People were saying leading up to it “put it out on a label” etc. but I didn’t think anyone would care enough so I just did it all myself. I wasn’t sure what people would make of it to be honest, I’m not a screamo type of singer like Nathan in Hawk, I prefer people like Guy Picciotto (FUGAZI) and Jason Farrell (BLUETIP/RETISONIC) and their range of voice, so i was expecting people to be indifferent to it but we’ve had so much positive feedback on the EP it’s amazing. My friend Simon from the band THE FALL THE RISE messaged me to ask if he could join the band [laughs]. Don’t tell his bandmates! [laughs]
Are there certain songs on the EP you want to mention or tell something about? Or are you precious about your lyrics?
In my previous bands I’ve just written about things which made me angry or people who make your life a living hell. It’s hard to approach a blank canvas sometimes so I just wrote about experiences and things which I had etched into my mind to begin with. ‘Prom Shoes’ is about the ‘Promenade of Shoes’ monument on the Danube in Budapest. Standing amongst the brass shoes by the waters edge, where the Jews who were murdered, shot into the water there really struck a chord with me. It’s chilling to think people could do that to their fellow countrymen. I’m really interested in World War II and history in general. White Walls was written about unity in difficult situations and people who are so psychotic they want to control all aspects of your life. I’m pretty ernest to be honest, I need to lighten up!
The second one is coming up this year! Any timetable for the second release?
Not entirely sure. There’s talk of May, we are nearly there with the songs too. We need to just finish it and then sort out schedules to record. Only really got to finalize the lyrics, musically we have worked as a unit more on these and fleshed them out. Sometimes I’d come in with all the parts and say let’s jam this, the newer ones Dan’s coming in with weird rhythmic arpeggio guitars and we are all losing count. Sometimes we are just jamming something and you can see in everyone’s eyes that we’ve hit on something really interesting. One of the new ones starts out like a pink LP SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE song and ends up some big punk ending, we were getting worried we were turning into APPLESEED CAST at one point but we’ve put that sound on a backburner for now.
We update Facebook daily so people will know soon enough when we have talked about it. We will definitely be gigging the songs. We are looking for gigs….
When do you plan on touring mainland Europe?
Speedowax want us to do a split with a great French band, CHESTNUT ROAD so that could be a possibility at some point this year. We’ve never spoken to them but we’ve all listened to their stuff and think they are amazing. They remind me of JAWBREAKER and that sealed the deal! We are going to concentrate on some dates in the UK first and see what people make of us. I’m not in any rush or push to get to a level where the pressure creeps in again. I’m just happy to be banging out music in the model of GUIDED BY VOICES before they got signed properly. Just keep writing, recording then do gigs when we have the option to. We’ve had some gig offers already, so we will have to sort our calendars out.
What neighborhood are you living in now? How vital is it when it comes to hardcore/punk music?
I suppose to young kids who are growing up listening to hardcore and punk as their first port of call to alternative music these days it’s really important to be part of that pack mentality where you live. I’m not sure that where you live has influence over what kind of music you make, although because of the BLACK SABBATH thing in the Midlands, there’s always hoards of crap metal bands cropping up, missing the whole point. Bit like hardcore really when bands are putting more effort into putting out ten tshirt designs than actually writing songs. I don’t buy into all that, I don’t buy into FUGAZI’s ‘Merchandise’ mantra either. I’m somewhere in the middle. Justify a good range of merch with a good set of songs. The merch will help pay the fuel for the van.
What are some of your favourite bands out there nowadays?
I’ve got thousands of records at home, I’m a completist, I have a problem I think. I’m always open to new stuff, or old stuff I’ve not discovered in fact. At the moment I really like TITLE FIGHT – Floral Green, BASEMENT – colourmeinkindness (RIP), PRAWN ( all their stuff is so so good) but I spend a lot of time listening to old LP reissues of albums I already love most. BURNING AIRLINES, JAWBOX, DISMEMBERMENT PLAN, TEXAS IS THE REASON etc. love J Robbins new band OFFICE OF FUTURE PLANS too. I’m quite a diverse listener, I listen to a lot of ambient electronica too like LOSCIL & BOARDS OF CANADA. Punk is just one genre, it’s actually an ideal which comes through in other types of music. Neil Young is a massive punk!
Sure he is! [smiles]
What does it mean to stick to DIY ethics for a bands like NEW ALASKA?
I think it’s a case of having creative control over your music. If we had loads of money it would be the same, I’d just buy a studio and do it myself, only it would sound better I guess. All this time is money stuff is so true, I have so little time that I’m willing, next EP to record with a friend of ours but I know that’s a trust that will not be broken. He will get what we want. He’s a wizard, I’m a novice, all my mixing is learned along the way.
Some people use DIY as a badge of honour but this is all I’ve ever known, it’s what you get when you start a band with me. It just works for me and might not work for other peoples situations and skillsets.
You state that you “have no ambition of pretending to be full time musicians”. What side jobs do band members have?
Some people do, we’ve come across loads over the years who are pretending they are full time musicians, it’s really sad. Basically you are pretending that your band makes at least £60k+ a year so you can live. I work hard as a graphic designer, Dan’s deals with oil barons and Nigerian Princes daily, Rory & Tim give clever advice to people about their finances. They could do with giving me some advice on my own personal finances.
I’m curious about the relationship between you guys. Do you celebrate each other’s birthdays? How? [smiles]
I’ve only known Rory and Tim less than a year so it’s all pretty new for us. They live a fair few miles away but when we do all meet up for beers it’s usually a great night. Me and Dan go way back to school days. We recently went out for drinks with his partner and friends. We are pretty good drinkers. I’ve seen them all drunk, Dan is my favourite. His glazed over eyes, daft face and eternal hunt for his beloved stuffed crust Hawaiian makes me laugh. You don’t know someone until you have seen them drunk. If they don’t drink. Don’t trust em!
What would make you move to Alaska? [smiles]
It’s a beautiful place but I actually really like living in Britain. People moan about it, the weather, the tax etc. but look at our history, monuments and achievements. Built on the spilt blood of others no doubt but imagine living in Palestine or Syria today. We were born into stable situation, our wars closer to home we fought hundreds of years before. We have it pretty good. Europeans learn our language and we can’t even be arsed to learn a second tongue. Maybe we are just lazy. Perhaps if I overcame my laziness I’d move to Alaska. There’s your answer!
Thank you so much for your time! And thank you for being honest with me, guys [smiles]. Hope to hear from you soon!
p so that could be a possibility at some point this year. We’ve never spoken to them but we’ve all listened to their stuff and think they are amazing. They remind me of
( all their stuff is so so good) but I spend a lot of time listening to old LP reissues of albums I already love most. I’m curious about the relationship between you guys. Do you celebrate each other’s birthdays? How?