Hot Press - "States Of The Art" July 14 2003

Phil Udell catches up with Alphastates

The succession of young Irish bands opening up proceedings across the board may not be facing such a torrid time as last year, yet they are still battling to keep the attention of the masses. Alphastates’ atmospheric stylings should suffer more than most, but they manage to pull off a small triumph. Catherine Dowling’s vocals still remain their most unique selling point, but they refuse to let themselves become dwarfed by the expanse of the space and even manage a stab at dry-ice-assisted dramatics.

Phil Udell


Hot Press - "State Of The Nation" April 20 2004

Alphastates step out of their self-imposed isolation with a subtle, sexy and self-confident debut.

You’re always supposed to remember your first time, or so they say. That idea is definitely born out by three quarters of Alphastates – Catherine Dowling, Gerry Horan and Stevie Kavanagh (drummer Mick O’Dowd makes up the picture) – five days, as they are, away from the release of their debut album Made From Sand. How do they feel?

“Excited basically”, says Catherine. “Anxious at the same time. You don’t know which way it’s going to go, you may as well flip a coin. We’ve gone through the post-natal depression when you first get it back, so now it’s just bring it on. We’ve done our bit now and, I don’t mean to sound hippy or anything, but the album will go where it’s meant to go and that’s what we’d like”. She laughs. “And we’d like it to be massive”.

Gerry agrees. “After waiting so long, to have it out and get touring is a relief. It feels like its all official”.

It’s certainly the kind of album that people are talking about even before it’s been released – especially other musicians. Something, it transpires, that the band themselves have no concept of.

“You feel completely isolated, it’s like we’re the only people who are aware of our existence except from the three or four people who we hear from regularly,” says Catherine. “It’s just us and them, now we need a few more. It’s odd, although we’ve played around the country four or five times and had a great time, until you have an album out you still feel cut off. It’s like the acid test for any band. EPs are short bodies of work but people want to know if you can hold their attention for fifty minutes of music”.

The band possibly enhanced that feeling of isolation by recording the album not in either Dublin studios or at home but with producer Karl Odlum in France. According to Catherine, it was one of the key factors in the process.

“I know the first time we went to France was one of the highlights of my life. One, we were making an album but we were also in this amazing studio. It was a week away from reality, there was no pressure because we were doing it ourselves. We kept pinching ourselves. It was slightly more exotic than Temple Bar, shall we say. The second time we felt slightly more pressure because we were aware of our budget and deadlines. There’s something really magical about the studio. One of Tina Turner’s songs was mixed on the desk, there are amps that were played by various people. There’s lots of history and it’s in the middle of nowhere”.

“Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move On Up’ was done on the tape machine”, Stevie interjects, before pausing for effect… “so was ‘Eye Of The Tiger’”.

The good news is that the band have come up with their own small masterpiece. It’s the kind of record that frequently takes your breath away. Best of all, it doesn’t sound anything like anybody else knocking around either the city or the country. Like The Tycho Brahe, 8Ball and The Jimmy Cake, Alphastates are operating within their own little universe. Has that been a gradual development?

“I think it’s a little bit over time”, says Catherine. “We all have big musical baskets that we’ll dip in to, we’re into making something that’s not just your kind of rasher and two eggs. We wouldn’t be too pretentious about it but we wouldn’t get up on stage if we didn’t believe in what we do. But we wouldn’t claim to have invented anything. Maybe we’ve just tried to make it interesting”.

Given that Made From Sand has such an overwhelming feel of technology about it, I decide to throw the term ‘electro pop’ into the conversation to see what happens. Gerry ponders it for a moment. “It’s strange because there are songs that you could definitely say are pop songs and have an electronic influence, but then things like ‘Good Stuff’ and ‘Kiss Me’ definitely aren’t. There are occasions though”.

Catherine picks up the thread.

“We’ve gone from the whole dance scene to bands with two guitars and bass. There’s nothing wrong with that but I suppose it’s nice to do something different. It’s refreshing for us to do different kinds of music”.

Phil Udell

Read the rest of the review here...