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Alae - Interview with Alae

22 Aug 2020 // An interview by Mike Alexander

With a Taite Music Prize nomination for their 2016 self-titled debut EP and a Spotify streaming record for their single Too Strung Up, Alae have been turning heads from the get-go. Alex Farrell-Davey and Allister Meffan met in high school, crafted a unique indie folk style as a duo and then fleshed out the band with the addition of bass player Marika Hodgson and drummer Jayden Lee. Mike Alexander from Muzic.net.nz caught up with Alex ahead of the release of their new single Please and EP Lucy’s Mix Tape.

Alae is an interesting name. What’s the alchemy behind it?

Alae seemed like an ambiguous word that we could create an idea around. I think it works for us. Initially it felt a bit forced, not quite right but time seems to help with that. It fits better now.

I gather Alex and Allister are old high school buddies. Where was that and how did the musical origins of Alae begin?

Nelson College was the stomping ground. We listened to similar music, and were actively looking for content that interested us. Eventually we started writing in the music basement. I guess it stuck.

What did the pair of you have in common that clicked with you individually?

I think it was the way we resonated with the music we were listening to. There was an uncomplicated understanding that we both shared. It was an escape that eventually turned into a dream.

There was nothing half-hearted about the release of your debut EP as a duo in 2016. It was self-funded, featured six songs, each with its own video. Are you meticulous about attention to detail?

We’ve been known to over-analyse and endlessly adjust sections of our music, for sure, especially our earlier music. Our approach to songwriting has changed and that’s altered what we focus on. There’s still a lot of second guessing and stressing the fuck out but that seems to ring true with most artists.

Two became four not long after, with the addition of Marika and Jayden. Can you tell us the back-story to that?

Marika and Jayden came into the picture one by one, over a year or so. Allister and I got to the point where we needed to work on our live sound, and a rhythm section seemed like the answer to that. We’re very lucky to have them on board.

How would you describe how your sound then developed?

Our sound has become more produced. More radio conscious and more about instant gratification. Its focus is different. It’s less about our personal issues and more about getting people up and moving. We try to cater for live environments and that kind of energy.

If you were to offer an insight into your different personalities through music, what would each of you pick as his or her favourite album of all time?

Marika: D’Angelo – Voodoo

Allister: Tom Misch – Beat Tape 1

Alex: Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Jayden: M.I.A – Not the artist, I just can’t get hold of him!

Was there ever a discussion about a name change when Marika and Jayden came on board?

Yeah, we did think about changing the name. I guess we’d already started to make that name work, so it felt right to keep it.

Your self-titled debut EP won over critics and landed you a prestigious Taite Music Prize nomination for Best Independent Release. That must have been satisfying. What was your reaction when you first heard the news?

To be honest, it’s not as though you can really feel it at all. It’s just more of a surprise, then you’re all like “What does that even mean!??”. Then you get drunk I guess.

I note that your 2017 end of year single Too Strung Up was premiered by Rolling Stone Australia and then took on a life of its own with more high profile playlist additions. Can you take us through how that all played out.

It just got some love! I’m not sure what it was that made it happen. I hope it was just because people liked the song! The playlist additions were cool and are a great angle to hit when those real condescending people say dumb shit like - “What has your band even done?” Or talk about how their cousin won the school singing comp, like they’re already doing better things than you. You know those ones, aye? Like they’re trying to ascertain whether to approve of your career choice. Like - cheers, Debbie, I’ll keep an eye out for your cuzzie when I’m working at my inevitable desk job!

2018 saw the release of your debut album Henry St. I love the interesting perspective you bring to emotional awareness in most of the songs. Do you think emotional intelligence is an under-played aspect of an individual’s overall wellbeing?

Thank you. I guess it can be? I’m not quite sure what you mean. I know a lot of people keep their thoughts locked up, out of fear of rejection and humiliation or an assumed lack of understanding from others. I’ve also seen people confidently overplay their emotional intelligence, myself included. Feeling intense emotion, isn’t an indication of what’s happening in the world around you, it’s more internal than that. Processing something that’s really hard to face, can often warp our perspective. We change it subconsciously as a way to normalize the problem. I don’t know man. People are weird!

You’ve toured a lot over the years both here and in Australia? Any personal highlights?

Shows like R&V in NZ and Big Sound AUS were pretty amazing. Good times all round. Getting on the road is an awesome feeling. The band gets super tight, and the banter flows.

Fast forward somewhat to 2020 and you have recently released a new single Please ahead of the release of a seven-track EP Lucy’s Mix Tape? Two questions. One, Please what? Two, why Lucy’s Mix Tape?

Please, EVERYTHING! It’s about wanting and trying and manifesting – the best of everything. Lucy’s Mix Tape? Because Lucy is our fave track of the mixtape.

If you were reviewing Lucy’s Mix Tape, how would you describe it?

AAAAAAHHH, what a confronting question! Due to my obvious bias, I’ll have to politely decline!

Two of the songs feature collaborations: a remake of Lucy with Nate Dousand and a Bailey Wiley vocal version of Please. What was it that you felt made both of them the perfect fit for these songs?

Nate just made such a beautiful version of Lucy that we couldn’t not include it. Bailey is just such an incredible vocalist. We were in a show together a couple years ago and Marika has worked with her before, so it felt right to ask. We are so lucky to have her say yes.

There’s also a Covid-19 lockdown song – an acoustic version of your 2019 single Hit Me Where It Hurts. Was this one of many you recorded during lockdown?

It was one of a few, there are more kicking but this was definitely my fave. It sounds like something off Henry Street, and I can’t tell you how good that feels.

Given the limitations imposed by lockdowns, how important is it to have a strong online presence and network?

It’s stupidly important. It’s become everyone’s main advertising platform, everyone’s listening platform. Everything happens online, so, you just gotta get amongst it. It’s not ideal, but it can be worthwhile.

Inspiration can often be 99 per cent perspiration rewarded by a magical moment of creative clarity. We often don’t see the relentless pursuit of excellence that goes on in the background. How would you describe the perspiration/inspiration equation that fuels Alae?

Nobody knows inspiration’s deets. It always calls first but plays mad hard to get. It happens when it happens, so don’t push, it’ll leave. Translating those thoughts in a way that is palatable for the listener is the tricky part. Quite often when we listen to the music we’ve created; we can only hear the inspiration or our thinking and what that sounds like to us. It’s about becoming more eloquent and really using music as a language. We’re always learning.

Main Photo Credit: Lucy Fench


About Alae

Alae. It’s a word that means nothing to you at the moment, and that’s a good thing. But that will change.

They’re a fresh, Kiwi duo with a unique sound that needs to be experienced to be understood. alae is what you get when you mix Alex Farrell-Davey and Allister Meffan; two old high school mates who are talented musicians in their own right, but when they come together, it’s something else entirely.

Alae aren’t the status quo, they’re not sugar-coated or created in a lab - they got together because, for them, jamming together just feels right. And you'll feel that in everything you hear.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Alae


Lucy's Mixtape
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Henry St
Year: 2018
Type: Album
Alae EP
Year: 2016
Type: EP

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