Louder Than War Interview: Serena from Svalbard and Alex from Pariso who’ve just recorded a brilliant split album together
Pariso and Svalbard are two bands Louder Than War have been banging on about for years now (well, two years at least anyway.) So news that they’d been collaborating on a split release went down particularly well in these parts when we heard about iy. We wanted to get the low-down on the release so shot some questions off to Alex from Pariso and Serena from Svalbard. Their answers can be found below.
Titled Svalbard / Pariso and released through various labels (Tangled Talk / Holy Ground / Swarm Of Nails / Through Love / Smithsfoodgroup) the album is due out on 7th July 2014. Unlike most split releases this one has a twist – it’s bookended by two truly collaborative tracks with both tracks featuring three vocalists.
From Friday the bands will be heading out on tour together with a special launch show at The Gryphon in Bristol next Saturday. Full details of the tour can be found at the foot of the page.
There are a couple of tracks from the split embedded in this piece, but if you want to hear the whole album while reading the interview we recommend hitting up Rock Sound who, from today, are streaming the whole thing. (Obviously we’re only providing this link on the understanding you come straight back here immediately after clicking “play”. OK? Cool.)
But enough from me … after the break you can find out what Serana and Alex have to say about the album…
So, to kick off can you let us know who you are and what role you take in which band please?
I’m Alex, I play rhythm guitar in Pariso. I write 80-90% of the basic riffs and song structures that make up Pariso songs. I generally guide the artwork / merch / overall aesthetic and organise the manufacturing. I also book some of our gigs too. No one is ever specific enough about their roles in bands for my liking, even with my favourite bands I often feel it takes ages and a good chunk of research / reading articles to find out who does exactly what in bands. Playing an instrument is only really one part of it. I find it interesting!
I’m Serena, I play the delay pedal in Svalbard. I also play the reverb unit and a bit of lead guitar. I shout until I turn into a horse, draw all of our artwork (apart from Daniel P. Carter’s masterpiece for our new split) and pick out the best lines from my teenage diaries for our lyrics. When loading equipment, I carry the least heavy things. I am also the proud inventor of most of the van games we play on long drives.
You’ve known each other for a while now right, how and where did you first meet?
Alex: Sunday 17th March 2013. Svalbard asked us to play with them and Direwolves in Cardiff. It actually weirdly feels like way longer ago. I was blown away by Svalbard that night, and we stayed in touch and started playing more shows together. It sort of just went from there really….
Serena: Yeah, we had been fans of Pariso for a while and really wanted them to play one of the Direwolves shows with us. Their set in Cardiff that night was crushing. The first member of Pariso I spoke to at the gig was their other Alex; Alex Heffernan. He was wearing a Community t-shirt, so we chatted about TV shows for the rest of the night. It’s not often that you meet people you instantly click with, but we definitely found that with Pariso that evening.
And the obvious follow up question is when did the idea to collaborate on a split release come together? Also, how did the nature of the collaboration evolve?
Alex: The idea came out of a conversation between me and Liam (Svalbard) at Gelupo, an amazing ice-cream place in Soho, last summer. He said that they wanted to do a release ‘a bit longer’ than a 7”, and Pariso wanted to do something a bit different / fun having just done an album (Consanguinity). I feel all the elements, such as the collaboration songs, the recording method and such all grew organically via conversation back and forth over months and months, and a good deal of organisation!
Serena: The two collaboration songs each happened quite differently. The one that Liam and Heff wrote together was a result of meticulously writing and recording their own ideas and emailing them back and forth over a period of months. The one that Alex and I wrote was less preconceived; more the result of us having riff battles for a couple of hours in Pariso’s practise room.
Did you learn much about each other through working together on this release – stuff that you didn’t know already – either personally or musically?
Alex: Not really, I already knew they were all freaks in various differing ways! In all seriousness though – I was just generally very impressed with Svalbards level of musicianship. I was also really happy that both collaboration songs (each song has a totally different instrumental personnel) seemed to come together so easily and gel really well. They felt like unique ‘mini-bands’ almost, and it was, personally, awesome to hear Serena (Svalbard) put her distinctive lead guitar lines over my riffs. Oh – I did learn that Liam had an even more alarming capacity and passion for ice cream than I previously realised (see: Sprinkles, Southampton Ice Cream Parlour). Bit of an ice-cream theme going on isn’t there?
Serena: Whilst writing the collaboration song, I was really impressed by Alex’s natural ability to churn out tons of bludgeoning riffs in a short space of time without dwelling too long on one idea. It was a very different creative process compared to the lengthy, scrutinous process of writing new Svalbard songs. I found jamming with Alex and Kurt very refreshing.
Recording split releases is quite a common occurrence in the world of “hardcore” – why do you think that is?
Alex: The corny, but true, answer is because it is quite often (especially with bands like us) a genre built upon friendships, helping each other out, looking after each and doing it for the love of musical expression and having a release. The more this extends to ‘split’ releases and collaboration, the better. It also, obviously, gives fans of one band an open opportunity to hear another band they may not have previously.
Serena: I agree 100% with Alex’s answer. The prevalence of split releases in hardcore is a testament to the strong sense of community and friendship that underpins the music. It also helps that a recording cost shared is a recording cost halved, too ;)
Although recording splits is reasonably common in hardcore, writing tracks together for them is less so. How was the seed sown to do that? And how did you find that process?
Alex: I sort of half answered this before – we did it so each song had different instrumental personnel, half and half from each band, on each of these tracks. We tried to match up the people we thought might work best together – for example Liam (Svalbard) and Alex H. (Pariso) getting to live out some thrashy dreams on ‘Faceless’, that they might not be able to do in their own respective bands. We did all get together in the same room though – we did it properly, with proper songs, rather than have half-arses jams / drones, which I felt would have been pointless. We sent each other ideas via email first, then we wrote the bare bones / structures in London in the middle of a tour in October, then continued refining them in Bristol in January (I believe), then practiced them again before / during recording itself. It was obviously a challenge due to geography, but it was worth it I think.
Serena: I also feel that I have answered this question already in questions 3 + 4.
Do you think working together on this affected your respective styles at all? And if so is it stuff that you think’ll carry on into your future work?
Alex: To be honest, not really. It was a unique experience, and I wouldn’t want to try and replicate it or use it as a reference point going forward. I would like to keep it as something somewhat unique in our discography / catalogue. It did teach me how to play with a new set of people, which was nice in terms of bringing that back to my own band. But nothing consciously, musically.
Serena: The ability that Pariso have to not overthink a song or a riff, is an attitude I’ve adopted more since writing this split. I try to scrutinise my playing less and just concentrate on what feels right when writing new stuff.
Was there much input between you all on the tracks you didn’t collaborate on? Either before or after. Or did you just go away, do your separate not quite halves and come back.
Alex: Entirely separate. We certainly played bits and pieces to each other, but I didn’t feel that either band tried to influence or offer opinion on the other’s material (other than say ‘That’s awesome!’ in the case of Pariso listening to new Svalbard songs). Pariso write pretty fast, so we wrote six songs (I think), and whittled it down to what was best / worked most cohesively. I remember me jokingly berating Liam telling them to hurry up and write more!
Serena: Yeah, the non collaborative tracks were just written separately between each band. I think that was the best way to do it because it meant we were both really looking forward to hearing each other’s new songs when we recorded it. We didn’t want the concept of the collaborative split to dominate everything we put on the record, we needed to keep some parts that were just pure Pariso and pure Svalbard too!
So Daniel P. Carter ended up doing the artwork right? How come? You think his finished work nails the spirit of the album?
Alex: I’ve known Dan a few years now through me running Holy Roar Records. He has always been supportive and vice versa, I’ve got a lot of time for him. When I found out he was responsible for the artwork for the Lumbar album (which is awesome musically and in terms of artwork), I asked if he would be up for doing the art for this record and he said yes. I like the fact that the art isn’t like anything either band have done before. With Pariso – I pretty much wanted to do a record that didn’t have a photo on the cover because we’ve done plenty of those. Ha.
Serena: Daniel’s work is far darker, and more abstract than the artwork I usually do for Svalbard. I really admire his ability to incorporate skulls without making a piece look like the next Motorhead album cover. Skulls are hard to do subtly, but Dan has given them an air of mystery that removes them far from their usual tacky metal associations. I think the fact that it is quite different from the artwork both us and Pariso usually use, helps commemorate the split as a special, one-off thing.
You have a tour lined up together – what can people expect from that? Apart from a pretty crowded stage for at least a couple of the songs? Have you decided where you’re going to play the collaborations yet? They bookend the album but my vote would be for them to be in the middle, linking your respective sets…
Alex: They will happen I’m sure, but it hasn’t been explicitly discussed beyond ‘yes, let’s play them’. That’s all I know! You’re probably right….I could imagine Svalbard finishing their set with ‘Faceless’ (which is in their tuning) and our set starting with ‘Floating Anchors’, which is in our tuning. Clever that.
Serena: We may be playing the collaboration songs differently, as I have forgotten all my guitar parts for Floating Anchors. I’ll probably just do vocals, which will be weird as I’m used to having a guitar to hide behind. We tried playing ‘Faceless’ together in Southampton as both our bands were playing at What The Fest. That was the first time I’ve just done vocals on stage. I overcompensated with lots of windmilling, which made me so dizzy I came in with the vocals in the wrong place.
Considering we haven’t practised together since then, and won’t be doing so until we go on tour; you can easily expect the collaboration songs to be the tightest, more proficient parts of our respective sets!
I notice from the press release you’re working with a lot of labels getting this out across the world. Tangled Talk in the UK (of course), Holy Ground in the USA, Swarm of Nails in France and Through Love in Germany. Have you already got an established fanbase in those countries? And are there any plans to extend the tour to cover mainland Yurp and / or even the states?
Alex: We have played shows in France, Germany and the Netherlands (Smithsfoodgroup, from the Netherlands, are doing a cassette version of this release). It’s pretty much wanting to get the record out there a bit more to people entrenched in their local scenes, to various countries and to want to work with people who do good labels there! If that has any knock-on effect of opening doors for us to play more shows there or play with other bands there, that’s great, but it isn’t the prerogative. We are heading back to France (just us) in August to play Yell Fest, and we are hopeful of doing some other far-flung shows in the following months. I would love to play shows in America, but I would also love to play shows in S.E. Asia, Australia, Iceland and Scandinavia.
Serena: We have a fair amount of online orders from people across Europe, and we’ve played some brilliant shows over there in the past, so it looks like we are gradually gathering a fanbase there. We are playing some shows in Europe with Employed To Serve in August. Hopefully the release of this split on Through Love and Swarm of Nails might mean a few more people come and see us then.
I would love to play the States, but logistically that’s not going to happen until at least next year. Day jobs with minimal holiday get in the way of such things, unfortunately!
“Scene’s” are funny things – do you consider yourselves to be part of one? Either on a small scale – like bands you relate to / enjoy playing with (RIP #UKSwell) – or on a large scale – like the “UKHC” scene say. And if so how healthy would you consider that scene / those scenes to be right now.
Alex: UKSwell, as dumb as the name is, never died. I don’t really understand why people think that, although I imagine Kerouac and The Long Haul splitting, and Vales going on hiatus contributed. It has evolved and doesn’t have the hype it had, but the same mentality exists with these sort of bands producing better music than ever – Bastions are the stalwarts and what they achieve is exceptional, but I’m excited by Svalbard, Employed To Serve, We Never Learned To Live, Human Future, Old Skin, Stallone, Artemis, Ohhms, and many more that I’ve forgotten right now. There’s also of course Goodtime Boys, Grappler and Ithaca who have the same mentality for sure and are great also. I certainly consider Pariso to be active friends with a bunch of these bands (because we have played shows with them etc), and if that constitutes any kind of scene then so be it – but we are all quite different musically I think! It could be healthier overall in terms of turnouts at shows – it’s weird for me noticing people from literally a couple of years ago having dropped out / faded away. There are new people of course, but fadism and hype are detrimental to building an audience overall seemingly – even when a band’s output gets stronger and stronger. I blame the internet. Also – most American bands don’t take our sort of bands out with them because we aren’t hype and worth tickets like softgrunge / crowdkilling snapchat shit. So yeah – it’s pretty niche at the moment, but the music being produced by many of my friends is incredible and that’s all that matters to me, and I will support that relentlessly and not be a flakey fad tit.
Serena: I’ve never looked upon the word ‘scene’ as a good thing. It has never represented how I play music or how I listen to music; as scenes tend to lump bands together based upon their similarities, rather than appreciating their differences and what makes them unique. My music taste has always been far too eclectic to ever derive any sense of belonging from one genre, and I could never sit down and force myself to write a riff in a particular way to fit one certain style. (Mostly because I’m not good enough to be able to play tech / grindcore / thrash / death / whatever!)
I’m always suspicious of bands who are extroverted about belonging to a particular scene, as they tend to substitute content for ‘coolness’ and seem frankly too concerned with fitting in as a band, rather than writing interesting music.
As Alex said, there are some bands who we have played lots of shows with, in that respect they have become our friends and there is a sense of community among them; but I struggle to put an umbrella term over all of those bands that would define it a scene. We have really enjoyed gigging with the likes of Mine, Goodtime Boys, Human Future, We Never Learned To Live, Let It Die, Stallone, Vales, Grappler, Notebooks, Culver, Employed To Serve etc; but to me: they’re all just great individual bands who all sound quite different from each other.
To me, it’s healthy that we know so many fellow bands who are eager to play shows and make kick ass records; and it’s brilliant that other people take an interest and come see them, put them on, and buy their records. But I feel people are doing this because they appreciate each band for what they are individually, rather than acting on behalf of a ‘scene’.
Have you thought past this release yet? If so what’s on the cards next for both bands?
Alex: Of course. I always have five release ideas in my head. If you aren’t thinking creatively, actively with your musical endeavour and passion, then what’s the point? It’s supposed to be fun and exciting, and it is to me! In all seriousness though we are slowly writing again, we have a new song and a bunch more ideas, and we are learning a bunch of new covers too, because we enjoy doing them. There are no concrete plans though – I think we will let the material – and simply what we fancy doing – dictate where we go next. I would like to record our third album in Thailand though at some point in the future.
Serena: Yeah, we’re in the process of writing our first full-length at the moment. We’re all booked in to record it at The Ranch early next year, I’m already really excited about it! We are also in the process of trying to organise some gigs in countries we haven’t played in before, for next year. Hopefully 2015 will be another busy year for us in Svalbard, which is always how we want it to be!
Let’s end with this one – name some of your favourite all time split releases.
Alex: I really really like the Thou / The Body full collaboration 12” that was recently put out if that counts. The Agoraphobic Nosebleed / Despise You 12” ripped. Lords / Coliseum split 7” (inc Lords doing ‘The Beautiful People’ by Marilyn Manson!).
Serena: For me, it still doesn’t get much better than the split that Nortt / Xasthur released in 2004. It’s so dark and brooding, and really pushed the boundaries of black metal at the time. The From Ashes Rise / Victims split is an absolute riff stomper as well.
Upcoming live dates can be found on the poster above.
Interview words by Guy Manchester. More writing by Guy on Louder Than War can be found at his Louder Than War author’s archive.