Their debut album, Everything Is has been critically acclaimed across the board. With a recent American tour, up-and-coming European tour and an album due for release this year, Nine Black Alps are growing in size and stature. Their songs are laden with distorted guitar, sludgy bass lines and ranty vocals - ’neo grunge’ according to critics. Dubbed the ‘new Nirvana’, the Manchester four-piece have an even bigger task: to dispel the gushing ‘neo grunge’ analogies. Front man Sam Forrest speaks about his despising of NBA’s constant comparisons to Nirvana and his love of classic pop song writing.
The sound of roadies dragging equipment is echoed throughout the corridor. “Is this OK?” asks Sam Forrest, Nine Black Alps’ front man and guitarist, as he gestures me towards the dimly-lit space where we will conduct the interview. Sitting on a wooden palette and speaking in a soft, clear Yorkshire accent, Sam Forrest does not exude the typical qualities associated with, as the press refer, and as he resents, a typical ‘neo grunge’ front man. “[We’re] sick of being likened to bands like Nirvana and the Pixies. The [press] expect us to be like these suicidal people addicted to crack. I think that’s really gross”. Forrest describes NBA’s music as pop: “Probably old pop, you know, The Beatles, Motown, stuff like that, rather than what’s ‘cool’ and tasteful… I despise Indie music. Indie music is always trying to be clever.”
Forrest (self consciously) distances NBA from Manchester’s “Indie” music legacy. Asked whether there are any Manchester bands with whom NBA identify, Forrest replies, “Probably the Buzzcocks [because] they have really short, angry pop songs. I don’t think we have much in common with bands like Oasis and the Stone Roses.”
Forrest’s desire to increase NBA’s proximity to pop, and distance NBA from Indie and more specifically, ‘neo grunge’, becomes more pronounced throughout the interview: “I hate it when journalists ask stupid questions like ‘are you the new Nirvana?’ and we’re like ‘yes we are, pleased to meet you.”
Forrest maintains that NBA are more spontaneous pop than contrived grunge: “We just want to go straight ahead and not be this whole ‘thought out’ band”, maintaining that the song writing process is a case “of being hung over with an acoustic guitar… stumbling across [something] by accident that sounds cool and just following that, wherever it goes… the words come out at the same time”. Asked what inspires the lyrics, Forrest replies: “It’s kind of stream-of-consciousness stuff, but they do actually mean something later. I prefer abstract lyrics rather than to pin it down to a certain thing. There are some things that bleed into the songs, like the Iraq War. I’m not going to say ‘the Iraq War is bad’ because people have to think for themselves, but you [can] say it in a certain way that makes people think”. Forrest then takes the lyrics to the band and they “strip it apart, throw it back together again and make it loud. Then it’s a balanced song”. “Balanced” being “the kind of classic song writing like [that of] the Beatles with a build-up to a chorus that just kills you every time.”
Whether self-conscious or not, there is a sense of nostalgic pop purity with NBA, furnished with the rawness of distortion, pounding drums and coarse singing/shouting - a spontaneous energy that blasts through each of the three-minute songs. Perhaps this is due to the fact that NBA “started off playing the wrong instruments” with rehearsals consisting of “amps being turned up as loud as possible so they’d distort that much it would sound like the loudest, most shouty thing ever.” This was never their intention “But that’s how it ended up”. As to their next project Forrest prophesizes: “We’ll increase the pop, decrease the layers, and magnify the fun. I want it to sound frazzled and frayed but in a really alive, but dismal kind of way.”
Contrived spontaneity or not, Nine Black Alps are as instantaneous and organic as you can expect from any “puritanical” rock ‘n roll band. Who was it that said crack addictions were necessary anyway? ###