Life's a motorway according to Alphastone. It's the title of their recent album for Enraptured and the bitter observation of Pete Bassman, founding member and initially recalcitrant interviewee. Having drunk a bottle of wine before his last interview ("it was shit") he tried this one straight and after a couple of false starts it worked out well enough. Pete was previously in Spaceman 3 and The Darkside. He left Spaceman for various reasons ("Spaceman were terrible at sorting out money and making sure that everyone had a fair split and that was one of the reasons I left") but seems pretty well at peace with the band. The Darkside is a different story; the Alphastone history at their web site (www.alphastone.co.uk) starts with The Darkside, and doesn't pull any punches:
The Darkside was not really me, sure I was a member of the band and wrote all the lyrics and a large proportion of the music, but I felt little empathy with the other members. I felt like my direction as a musician was compromised. That band taught me some hard lessons. It was the first and last time I was signed to a major label, a great opportunity thrown away. Every member was guilty in their own way of dragging it down; egos, squabbles and fragmentation until the band didn't so much split up as fade away. When I telephoned the label to tell them the group had finished and maybe they would want to do a press release I was told it was not worth it, nobody was interested.
Life's a motorway. Particularly when you're in the slow lane..
Why does the band's history start with The Darkside and not Spaceman 3?
I don't know why it starts with The Darkside. I wanted to take that stuff off the web site, to be honest. Once you start scratching away there's so much about The Darkside that before you know it you're unloading all your baggage.. I felt that The Darkside was traumatic, it was everybody's failings that it never worked out for us whereas Spaceman was for me a very uncomplicated band and I enjoyed it.
The Darkside was a terrible mistake and I've got to live that down. It's a skeleton in the closet and I thought I'd better drag it out and make people aware of it. I basically felt let down by a lot of people and the whole thing was very ugly. Alphastone was a reaction that.
That's what I thought - it seems like you want to say "This is everything Alphastone aren't."
Yeah, we've always been pretty happy. We started as a 3-piece, grew to a 5-piece and cut it back down again. We've had to fire people but we've managed to stay friends with them and they always feel a part of Alphastone. I always said that I was going to enjoy this band and that's the way that it works.
Is it easier this time around ? You've made all your mistakes already.
I've made some incredible blunders but I don't ever think we're going to get the chance to do anything again so.. [sighs] I don't think bands like Alphastone are going to be able to survive for much longer. I think its very tough for any band to survive these days unless they're sponsored by a major label. The best we can do is play a few gigs each year and put out one album that sells around 1500-2000 copies. It doesn't earn us a living and it's not really worth us making these records, financially, because it takes so long to do and you get so little return that if you average it out you're working for less than 50p an hour.
You go to the trouble of making a record and you want people to listen to it, but also you want to get some returns from it. As yet, we've never really had any decent returns once we've paid our expenses off. We'll never give up, we'll just carry on with our strategy - enjoy the music.
What level of success would you be happy with?
It would be nice to be able to avoid playing the really terrible gigs where the PA's dubious and there's water pouring through the ceiling. Sometimes you have to play them when you're on tour because if you don't play then you don't have anywhere to sleep.
You feel like you've been through that once already?
Absolutely. When I was younger I could sleep on couches but in Italy in 1998. I found it really hard. I got a flu bug, developed bronchitis and nearly died so basically I just felt like I was being tortured for two weeks. It would have been okay if we'd had nice hotel rooms, but that's what you have to do.
Life's a motorway?
Ha Ha. If you've got a fast car and you're in the fast lane then you're going to get somewhere quicker than the chap in the slow lane in a slow car. If you're in the middle lane, well, you're going to get there anyway, you're not putting too much stress on yourself. It always seems to work out as a metaphor for life. You must know people who live life a little bit faster than you do, who've got a more hedonistic lifestyle, and who're going to burn out before you do.
When we named the album, Alphastone felt like it was slipping into the slow lane. It felt like it had broken down, basically, and we were just watching life go by. That's the effect of living in Rugby. This town is not a particularly good town to be a band in. It's very insular, it's no more connected with the world than it was 20 years ago. In fact, it was probably bigger in relation to the rest of the country then than it is now. There's an overall decline of industry and loads of new warehouses that have gone up. Everybody who comes to Rugby is not from here, they just work here and then fuck off somewhere else.
Why did the album take so long to come out?
The album was a ridiculous failure. It was supposed to be a quick representation of how the band started many years ago but it was a torturous affair because the engineer wouldn't do it until he was quite ready and it took months to get him in the studio. Eventually our tape machine broke down and we had no opportunity to mix the tracks any further, it was a nightmarish setback after setback and months went by.
Then Jack [at Enraptured] got very slow and wasn't committing himself to releasing it. Twice we told him we were going to release the thing ourselves. Not that we wanted to release it ourselves, we love Jack and it would take a lot for us to part company with him. It wasn't anybody individually it was just a lot of people dragging their heels. But I just wonder what the point of this album is now, it's just totally irrelevant and it should have been out two years ago. In the meantime, I haven't written any songs. We kept shelving stuff because we had to get this album out before we could deliver the next album. It' s had a really bad effect on the band. In the last two years we've felt like we're getting old.
Have you considered doing really radically different stuff?
I've been building a small collection of stuff to release on my own because I dont want to release any ambient stuff under the Alphastone name, I want that to be kept for the heavier, song-based stuff.
We're definitely still trying to progress, and to steer clear of the Spiritualised/Spaceman thing, trying to develop a little bit of independence from that. But we do enjoy being an uncomplicated and unsophisticated band. We haven't got the shiny veneer of Spiritualised and that's what's kept our feet on the ground.
I find the whole Spaceman 3 framework a little bit narrow at times, people always expect you to do certain things. Also, I think that Alphastone shouldn't be side-by-side with the other bands on Enraptured, like AMP and Flowchart, cos they're quite stylised and we think of ourselves as a more mainstream band. We're just as happy playing to a boozy pub crowd as a student crowd. We've got no pretensions about what we do and who we play it to, as long as people are appreciative and enjoy our music. I'm totally against all that highbrow attitude.
What's next for the band?
We've got a song that we think'll make a reasonably good mainstream track. It's a dance track, programmed on the drum machine with Steve, and I've added lots of little bits to it. It's pretty straight-ahead dance music, sort of Primal Screamish. We wanna do it like we did the last single, just four variations of the same track. I really hope that after this album we can get a little bit further because it is really frustrating being a band that stands still. It doesn't matter about the money that you get back, you just have to get something back. Somebody along the line has to say that they think it's great otherwise you've got no way to value it.
Well, for what it's worth, I think the album's excellent.
Well, I wouldn't be talking to you if I hated your records.
The great thing about being on Enraptured is that it's been relatively bullshit free. Going back to Glass records [with Spaceman 3], that was an indie label, but at that time the indie labels hadn't developed to the extent that it has now where there's a decent level of support. It's a good thing to start again from that point of view, better than having a major label pick us up and take us off to the shops to get brand new amps and then try to make great music. The bass player just bought a new guitar for the first time in years and he was so chuffed with it. It's only a £200 bass but we stand around it admiring it.
We haven't been spoilt at all. We surprise people by just being regular guys. Compared to how things were with The Darkside and Spaceman, I'm so much happier. It means much more to me to have band members that are liked and get on with people. I think that's what we're about, really.We've gone past the point of expecting fame and fortune, we just have this strategy of keeping the band together.
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