‘We love Morricone and melancholy’

My Sweet Movida, the new album from Staffordshire four-piece Alfa 9, is one of my favourite records of the year so far – I love its retro rock, cosmic-psych-country road trips, Spaghetti Western soundtracks and ’60s-inspired jangle-pop. 

Produced, written and arranged by the band, it was recorded at Tremolo Studios, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and The Room, Stoke-on-Trent. I spoke to guitarist Leon Jones to find out why it’s taken five years to come out.

While we were chatting, the subjects of love, sex, betrayal, coincidence and chance also came up in conversation, which was nice…

Q & A

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Alfa 9

Hi Leon. Alfa 9 have been on my interview hit list for a while and now we’ve finally found the time to sit down and have a chat… How do you feel about it?

Leon Jones: I feel that you’re a perceptive man, Sean, and one of more than good taste. I know you’re a Byrds, Bond and Morricone fan. Do we need to get deeper?

Ha! Let’s see how things go… Do you feel that Alfa 9 are part of a UK scene? There are quite a few current bands doing the rounds whose influences include The Beatles, The Byrds, Big Star, ’60s psych and soundtracks, aren’t there? I’m thinking of  The Hanging Stars, Dreaming Spires, El Goodo, The Raving Beauties, Kontiki Suite, The Carousels... to name but a few.

LJ: It’s flattering to be talked about in the same circles as those bands. It’s got to be encouraging hearing others who are aiming at something similar and making it sound relevant. It does feel like there’s a momentum building. Our album’s out, The Hanging Stars and El Goodo have new records out… I really like The Carousels as well…We’re playing with The Hanging Stars in Leicester on June 30 [at The Firebug].

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Your new album, My Sweet Movida, is one of my favourite records of the year so far. How does it feel to have it out there? Are you pleased with it?

LJ: It’s been a long process to write, record and do everything to release the album, but that’s kind of how we work…we like to let songs meld and develop, so it takes time. Maybe for our next record we’ll do the whole thing in one take…

It’s your third album – the follow-up to 2013’s Gone To Ground. Why has it taken five years to come out? 

LJ: We were doing a lot of gigs following the release of Gone To Ground and then there were babies and cats and stuff like that happening…We’ve got 15 songs written already for the next album, so we’re aiming to be a bit quicker next time

How did you approach this album? 

LJ: Well, I think we felt really comfortable with things – we’ve found a great mix in the band and really play off each other, plus we had moved on as songwriters, so it was exciting. After we got a couple of songs going, the album started to get a character of its own. We weren’t afraid of allowing our influences to come through, but we were also confident that it still sounds like us.

We’ve got 15 songs written already for the next album, so we’re aiming to be a bit quicker next time’

You wrote, produced and arranged the album yourselves. How was the experience of making this record? Was it an enjoyable one?

LJ: Yes – we love being in control of the process and we’ve always had our own recording set up, starting with a four-track Portastudio. Technology gives us a lot of flexibility that 20 years years ago would not have been possible.

We’re lucky that there’s a studio about a mile from my house with a great old 16-track tape machine. We’ve recorded there on and off for years, so it’s a very comfortable environment for us. We did the basic tracks there, then recorded guitars and other stuff at our place – The Room – then went back there and did vocals.

What can you tell me about the first single, Smile Dog? It’s very psychedelic… 

LJ: That was kind of the start of the new album – a jam that took on a life of its own. Those kind of songs are the purest expressions of the band – they just happen.

What influences shaped the songwriting and the sound of the new album?

LJ: It’s pretty clear who we like – The Byrds, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Paisley Underground, Neil Young, Ennio Morricone, Nuggets, Pink Floyd, Stone Roses, Creation Records – that hasn’t really changed since we’ve been together. That stuff’s the bedrock. I think with this album, we felt confident with the songs and getting them to sound how we wanted them to.

The second single, Movida, continues Alfa 9’s penchant for Ennio Morricone-esque soundtracks, doesn’t it? It has a Spaghetti Western feel…

LJ: Yes – definitely. We love Morricone and that kind of melancholy there is in a lot of his work. I’m fascinated by the Mojave desert in California and the Joshua Tree, particularly. For someone from the Midlands, it’s a very strange environment

The song Darkest Sea has a country feel. How did that track come about?

LJ: I wrote an opening theme for an imaginary western soundtrack-type thing that we wrote ages ago and then we eventually added words. We tried a few different arrangements. I think we were listening to a lot of the Handsome Family at the time we recorded it.

I love the song Different Corner – it’s gorgeous jangle-pop and very Byrdsy. What can you tell me about that song?

LJ: It’s about love, sex, betrayal, coincidence and chance…the dark end of the street.

‘I’m fascinated by the Mojave desert in California and the Joshua Tree. For someone from the Midlands, it’s a very strange environment’

Fly – the final track on the album – is an epic closer. Were you aiming for a ’70s Pink Floyd-style, psych anthem? It certainly sounds like it… 

LJ: That was another song that wrote itself – we were aiming for nothing, but it just kind of appeared in the room. We’re massive Floyd fans, but I think there’s also a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young thing happening on it as well.

You have a few gigs coming up this year. What can we expect?

LJ: It sounds like a cliché, because it is, but I think we sound better now than we ever have done. We’ve got a lot of songs worked up – we could do about four hours!

What’s on the Alfa 9 hi-fi at the moment? Any musical recommendations – new and old?

LJ: Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band, The Hanging Stars, Gene Clark, El Goodo, Cowboy, Rain Parade, The Gosdin Brothers, The Easybeats, Spindrift, New Riders of The Purple Sage…

Finally, will we have to wait another five years for your next album?

LJ: Nope – life’s starting to feel very short…

My Sweet Movida by Alpha 9 is out now on Blow Up. It’s available on heavyweight vinyl, CD and download.

The band play The Troubadour in London, 263-267 Old Brompton Road, SW5 9JA on April 7, supported by Usselman.