They may take their name from a Mexican Mafiosi but right now Sheffield’s sons Alvarez Kings have more in common with rangy Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Pineda.
The four piece’s hallucinatory, self described ‘progressive pop’ is going to be taking the good Alvarez name all the way back to the Americas of their namesake when the band head off to the USA for an exhaustive 40-date tour from July as part of official ‘biggest touring music fest in the world’, Vans Warped .
For those of us left behind, the good news is Alvarez Kings make the kind of music it’s difficult to forget – and when they take the floor at wood-panelled Marmadukes Café on Norfolk Row for the first of their two live tracks they’re soon leaving their mark on what might just be the cosiest – and curiously, most expansive – In Session yet.
Fresh from performing carefully selected tracks ‘Cold Conscience’ and ‘No Resolve’, we caught up with Paul (Bass Guitar), Richard (Drums), Simon (Vocals and Rhythm Guitar) and Sean (Lead Guitar) for an up-close chat about tours, caged animals and being buried alive.
EXPOSED: How was that?
Paul: Well at first we thought it was gonna be a tight squeeze.
And then it turned out to be a tight squeeze!
Si: We’ve played smaller spaces, stage-wise!
Paul: There was that tiny one we did for CMJ – in New York.
Ah, you had my sympathy up to ‘New York’…
Richard: The one I was thinking about was Hamburg at Astra Strube. The one under the train bridge.
Si: You could fit about twenty people in there. They had a resident dog though.
Paul: It’s seen as a really cool place for up and coming bands to play though. Editors played there before us.
Let’s dig a little deeper here. Which Alvarez Kings would struggle with being a Kill Bill-like buried alive situation?
Sean: Not me. (Shaun motions breaking the roof of an imaginary coffin with an unnervingly convincing Uma Thurman style flat palm punch)
Paul: I’ve never had a problem with being in tight spots. Are any of us claustrophobic?
(Everyone shakes their heads apart from Si, who is noticeably quiet.)
Si: I… Can be.
Sean: You get weirded out with personal space, Si.
Si: I’m a bit of a fidgeter as well. I like a bit of room to do my stuff!
Richard: You do go absolutely nuts on stage.
Si: Thing is I think we perform better on smaller stages for some reason.
Paul: I compare it to a caged animal. We wanna break out!
Si: (To Paul) I’m always hitting you in the face with my guitar aren’t I? It’s the only chance I get to have a cheap shot at him and get away with it.
You were all pretty relaxed about my ‘buried alive’ quizzing…
Paul: It’d be practice for the tour (Alvarez Kings are sharing a bus with another band for their Warped Vans tour)! We’ve got fifteen bunks.
Richard: I think it’s twelve actually.
It’s going down all the time isn’t it? I reckon you’ll turn up and there’ll just be a single heart-shaped waterbed.
Si: Ah I could go for that as long as there’s plenty of duvet.
How’s planning going for the tour?
Si: Okay. I’m hoping we’ll play early in the day so we can have a walk round all the places we’re going.
You should have a word with our sponsors (In Session is sponsored by Sheffield Scooter chums Via this month) and see if they can lend you something!
Paul: We’ll be manning the mech stall and doing acoustic sets all afternoon though. And we’ve lots of press commitments to do at each date.
They won’t ask you any amazing questions about being buried alive I bet…
Paul: We want to stay down to earth though. We have discussions where we talk about what it’d be like if we were famous but that’s not really in us nature. Me and Simon grew up in Rotherham so we’ve got our feet on ground.
Soooo… Yacht or powerboat – what do you reckon?
Si: Pedalo every time!
Richard: Swan one please.
I wanted to talk about your song ‘The Other Side of Sadness’. Everyone else was sticking their oar in about what songs they wanted you to do for your In Session and this would have been my shout…
Paul: Ah well we were gonna do that when we had three tracks on the slate.
Si: The Other Side of Sadness is about – Growing up at school, when we were in a band before Alvarez Kings, our drummer was a lad called Alan Beck. And a couple of years ago he took his own life. When we were at school he was this amazing drummer –
Paul: And one of the most popular guys at school. He was just such a lovely guy.
Si: So we started a band and we were like ‘Shall we ask Alan?’ And we asked him, and he was, ‘Yeah, I’ll be in your band…’ He was the guy that got me into music, playing music and stuff. So we became friends and it’s a song about him.
If I wrote a song that was that personal I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to tell people what it was about.
Si: Well The Other Side of Sadness is my way of saying thank you and you shouldn’t be afraid of doing that. When I was at school our school was really big on brass and he was the drummer in the brass band. Me and Paul both played brass instruments.
Can you still play?
Paul: I can play a basic C scale on a tuba.
I love the way you use your vocals as a band. On ‘Other Side’ they come in and there’s only four lines or so but they just stick with you through the rest of the song. It’s like you hear echoes of them and they’re still there…
Paul: As songwriters we always put massive emphasis on the vocal melody. It’s took us a few years to realise how important that is. I think when we took that on board that’s when we started to call ourselves pop.
Well you call yourselves ‘progressive pop’ which is a great tag. Who’s Alvarez King’s progressive pop hero?
Sean: David Bowie.
Paul: It’s not like we wanna create a whole Progressive Pop scene or anything tho!
But if you’re gonna be labelled you might as well have one you’ve picked yourself, right?
Sean: You can be really daring with pop too. We’re really enjoying rejigging some of the older Alvarez material. I’m a complete dweeb when it comes to this kind of stuff. I spend so much time trying to write and arrange for orchestral music as well. We can’t do fifteen brass players on stage right now but I’d love to do that at some point.
Si: We really wanted to do Postcards from Berlin. We’ve recorded it and we can listen to it – it’s like a little caged beast but we need to save it for when we next release something.
Another caged beast. Although while you were describing that song you marked out a shape that was almost the exact dimensions of a small bunny…