Alpine’s Phoebe Baker and Lou James harmonise so smoothly that they sound like sisters – more than sisters, they sound like twins. Their voices are almost too similar – by the last couple of songs on their debut album from last year, A is for Alpine,you find yourself wanting to hear a slip-up, an imperfection. But while the album’s two-part introduction ‘Lovers’ has the fingers of guitarist Christian O’Brien squeaking along the strings, you never hear the vocal equivalent. It’s all smooth.
The vocal interplay of Baker and James makes you want to reach for the Bible in search of synonyms for heavenly or angelic. Alpine isn’t made up of angels though, just a group of regular people, who Baker says spend their time in the tour van “annoying each other,” “sleeping uncomfortably” and having “absurd conversations about nothing in particular,” as pretty much every band does. They also challenge each other to playlist competitions, like enthusiastic mixtape kids.
While their studio recordings are mannered, neat and delicate, their enthusiasm comes across in their live show, which is messier and more jumpy. “Live, it is different because it carries a different energy,” Baker says. “Though we play true to the album we also like to crank it up here and there. I think the live sound is a bit more raucous and rock’n’roll, as clichéd as that may sound.”
The other thing they do to keep themselves occupied in the mystery van is coming up with music that suits the theme they’ve picked for the trip. It might be the music of a particular decade, or a specific genre. “I think the last one was ‘music from Martin Scorsese films’,” says Baker. “Very nice!” Although Alpine’s songs wouldn’t make a great fit for one of Scorsese’s crime sagas, their music is very soundtrack-able. It’s more likely to be heard providing the backdrop to a love scene involving bicycles in an indie romantic comedy.
Their music videos have been a diverse bunch, as they’ve let different directors go their own way with each, which will make for good viewing when they get played back-to-back if Alpine are ever asked to guest program Rage. But what would they play if they were? “We’d have to get nerdy for a month in preparation to find all the good ones. But if it were right now, I feel like Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’. It reminds me of growing up being glued to Video Hits or Rage dreaming of pop life. Classic walking and singing video.”
Alpine will be on the road again this year. As well as their show with Haim, they’re supporting Foals on the British band’s Australian tour. Baker says they were amazed to be asked, are huge fans of the band, and “can’t wait to see them live and drink tea with them. Counting the days.” Of course, before that Alpine are on the bill for Splendour in the Grass, which will provide them with a few more opportunities to meet musicians they’re fans of…“most of all, probably, Mr James Blake. Maybe we too could have a cup of tea!”
Right now Baker is working on several things before all that begins: her driver’s licence; a new recipe for guacamole (“more garlic!”); and some new songs. She calls the Alpine writing process a game of “pass the parcel”, saying that the workload is distributed “fairly evenly. Though it more often than not begins in the palms of Christian and then is handed to us ladies and then to the lads and then it’s taken to rehearsal and jammed on.” Presumably that’s the point where they get the divine beings in to plan out the harmonies.
BY JODY MACGREGOR