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Friends Of Alice Ivy - Interview

Interview with: Amps, Kylie
Conducted by: T.V.

The intriguing, otherworldly and mesmerizing ethereal neoclassical darkwave with a fairy tale esque from Melbourne (Australia), Friends Of Alice Ivy, recently released a haunting and dreamy new album, The Last Days Of Fenwyck. Absolutely a band that shouldn't be missed out by those who like great acts and artists like are Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush, Portishead, The Cure, Arcana, Massive Attack and similar, was born out of the ashes of one of the Australia's best loved ethereal bands from the 90s, Ostia. The two artists behind Friends Of Alice Ivy, Amps and Kylie are on a mission to create haunting, elegant and beautiful music featuring electronics, cellos, harps, strings and Kylie's ethereal voice. The two released the debut album named In The Gloaming in 2011, then the immersively haunting album named The Golden Cage And Its Mirrored Maze came out in 2014, and now they offer a new masterpiece. Friends Of Alice Ivy combine well arranged minimalistic song structures with almost epic, slowly building ambiances, but yet they managed to make something even more unique and absolutely deep. Friends of Alice Ivy's disarming and deceptively simple musical maze offers an alluring kaleidoscope of flitting shadow-selves. Reminiscent of the finest of sequels, like Alice stepping through the looking-glass, the first swell of seraphic vocals beckons us to leave the ordinary world behind and journey into a strange and beautiful realm far beyond the aether. Both, Amps and Kylie were kind enough to answer some of the questions regarding their latest album, about music they create, certain hidden things, future plans and much more.

T.V.: For starting this interview, can you explain me the meaning of the bands name, or better asked who are those friends of Alice Ivy?
: It’s funny, we get this question a lot, and strangely enough, there is no such identity as Alice Ivy or her friends! The name came from a clothing store in Melbourne that was called “Alice Euphemia”; Kylie was on their mailing list and once received an e-mail to “Friends of Alice Euphemia…” and Ivy was used as a feature around the logo. At the time, we were looking for a name for our musical project (post-Ostia) and Kylie said “wouldn’t this be a great name?”. Obviously we couldn’t use Alice Euphemia, so she came up with Alice Ivy as an alternative... and that’s where it started.
T.V.: I would never have guessed that, haha. But still a lot of things surrounding Friends Of Alice Ivy have kind of a fairy tale flavour, as well the bands name...
: That’s definitely something we try to capture in our music, that sense of fairy tales and whimsy. In fact, that’s something that’s possibly lacking in our most recent work and something we want to revisit.
Kylie: I do believe that Amps and I live/exist in a fairytale kind of world, our lives and music are  inspired by either mythology, old tales, literature, stars, nature and poetry. Our house is filled with old antiques, paintings and bits of nature and our garden is all overgrown, filled with trailing rosebushes, ivy, jasmine and birds nests. A perfect setting for our music really. We rarely venture out of our space, living a rather beautiful and “bohemian” existence. The “brand” Friends Of Alice Ivy is very much our way of expressing our viewpoint on life, our existence and what we really love.
T.V.: Tell me how it started with Friends Of Alice Ivy and when. I know that it was born out of the ashes of the ethereal/goth act called Ostia...
Amps: Yes, that’s right. Ostia had really gone to sleep because our collaborator (and the brains of Ostia), Justin, had lost interest or his focus was elsewhere. We really wanted to continue doing Ostia but Justin didn’t. We considered doing Ostia ourselves but it didn’t seem right, so we decided to start a new project and take it in a rather different direction. We still consider doing work with Justin but I think Ostia has really taken a “back seat” now. Friends Of Alice Ivy is our focus.
Kylie: We still talk to Justin a lot about maybe doing more Ostia music, but it’s hard as we live in different cities and everyone just gets so busy. Recently, Justin has been quite keen to work on new Ostia material, so perhaps there will be more Ostia music created in the future.
T.V.: A couple of months ago the beautiful new album was released, The Last Days Of Fenwyck. It has quite a meaningful context about a connection with nature. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Kylie: Yes, that’s right. We used a “character” to convey that message. Fenwyck is a stag deer. He’s very much a symbolic creation and we used him as the lens through which to view a changing world. He represents a being who has been changed by the decay of the old and the emergence of the new. The old being the nature-worshipping pagan world; the new being the industrialised and dogmatic world. He’s also a symbol of cycles. The stag represents, death and renewal. This album is our way of saying that those means of understanding change, and our connection with nature is dying. We are not hippies, but that disconnect is not a good thing. Our connection to nature is more distant than it has ever been. I think the world would be a nicer place if we were all a bit more connected with nature.
T.V.: And from where does the inspiration to write such lyrics came from?
Kylie: Generally speaking, our lyrics are often reflections of things that we have picked up along the way... stories, mythology, references to films, books, plays... all sorts of things. The lyrics on the Fenwyck album were a bit more concentrated as we were trying to do a bit more of a “concept” album, so all of the lyrics on that album connect together to reflect an ancient world under a siege of change. We had to think a little harder to make sure all of those lyrics were in the same vein, rather than on our earlier albums where one song was about Carl Sagan and his pursuit of comprehending the universe, then the next song might be about Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. We’ve generally drawn on all manner of things and Fenwyck was the first time that we did something so focused.
T.V.: So, if we speak about the almost lost connection with nature, which is also a concept of your album, tell me, how much are you connected with it in a real life. Do you for example take a lot of time outside, maybe in the woods or something? How do you feel by yourself this changes that humanity faces?
Amps: For the most part, we’re definitely city dwellers, so unfortunately we don’t get to spend as much time as we would like in the countryside! But the rare opportunities we get to go away, we like to be near the sea, particularly in winter. There is something very romantic about being near the sea in winter! 
Kylie: We do like living in the city, but it’s really a double-edged sword. On the one hand you get to experience all of the things a city has to offer, but on the other hand you do see first-hand how disconnected we have become from nature. I’m not sure exactly how I “feel” those changes that humanity faces, but you do get a sense in a big city that people are distracted from what really matters. The disconnect doesn’t make us feel that happy or brilliant about our species’ future on this beautiful planet, but I suppose our reaction is really just to get on with things and respond by writing the music that we do! Given we spend so much time in the city, we try and escape back to nature as often as time allows us. As Amps mentioned, we spend a lot of time by the sea in winter which is generally when no-one else is around. I love exploring rock pools and looking at all the birds and other sea life. We also spend time in the mountains outside of Melbourne, with lots of woodlands and birds to look at. I hope that one day, when we are older, that we will end up living somewhere outside of the city, probably in England rather than Australia though.
T.V.: On this album if compared to your debut, The Golden Cage And Its Mirrored Maze, you added kind of a more minimalistic approach to compositions, but it's still sounding so very rich and diverse, mystical so to say. Where do you see the main differences between these two albums?
Amps: We consciously tried to take a left-turn in terms of musical style with Fenwyck. The Golden Cage was fairly disparate in its moods and atmospheres, there are some rock songs on there and some neoclassical pieces... it’s quite diverse. On the whole we stuck to a fairly tried and tested approach to the songs, but tried to do them better than we had done before. Fenwyck was very much more serious, perhaps less whimsical. The music is probably darker in some respects, and a bit more clinical and less ethereal. We also used a lot of grittier, urban sounds to reflect that sense of unease and discomfort that we were writing about.
Kylie: I also tend to think of Fenwyck as being a very “masculine” album; whilst I would describe most of our music as “feminine”. I’m not sure exactly how that manifests itself, but it’s certainly the response I feel. I find Fenwyck is a little more aggressive both musically and lyrically... it isn’t as “soft” as some of our earlier work.
T.V.: The songs on the album seem pretty much connected between each other, but still I wonder which one means the most to you and why?
Kylie: For me it’s definitely “Brambling”. Mainly because that’s where the Fenwyck album started. One night Amps was playing a piano piece that he had been playing with, and for some reason I suddenly had this strong vision of a stag near a road and the words “run away” started coming to me very clearly. We started talking about what this meant and the whole concept of the album came to life that night. It was just amazing. It remains my favourite song from the album by a long way.
Amps: I can’t really decide which one means the most to me as I often think of them as a whole work and the songs I relate to most strongly seem to change from day to day. At the moment I think my favourite is “Rooks” because I quite like the intensity of it, but on many occasions I seem to feel that “Albion” means the most to me because it captures more of what Friends Of Alice Ivy is all about than the rest of the songs, which are somewhat outside of our regular ethos. I love them all and they all mean a lot to me... but something tells me that the whole album is something a little different to what we normally do and I’m looking forward to returning to the “real” Friends Of Alice Ivy.
T.V.: Now Friends Of Alice Ivy act as a duo, why did your cellist Zora left the band after the previous album was released?
Amps: We tried to broaden our palette by incorporating Zora as a permanent member of the band but I think we sort of forgot about what that entails. At the end of the day, we write everything and having another person in the band who is more or less a session musician, it just didn’t make any sense to have an extra hand on the tiller and it wouldn’t have been satisfying for Zora creatively (or anyone else for that matter). The more people you add to a band, the more difficult everything becomes in terms of making decisions and getting everyone in the right place at the right time. We love Zora but I think it was a decision we made based on our artistic vision and the need to be totally uncompromising in that. We have always used “guest” musicians to flesh out our ideas and I think it’s better for us that way. It gives us more flexibility to ask people to do what we need them to do on a one-off basis rather than having someone in the band who we need to find a role for.
T.V.: On The Last Days Of Fenwyck, you had a guest musician Ellie Walker who played the cello in some of the songs. Tell me how this collaboration started and how were you satisfied with her contribution?
Amps: We found Ellie via our producer, Adam. He had worked with her years ago on a classical recording that he did. We were looking for a cellist for a performance that we did in Melbourne before the album came out and he suggested that we give her a call... so I did! We caught up at a cafe in Melbourne to talk about what we wanted and we just connected with her instantly. So she has played with us on a kind of “part time” basis for quite a long time now. I’m incredibly happy with what she did on the album, she’s an amazingly talented musician and I love the sound of real cello versus a synthetic one!

T.V.: Still, I suppose that you must be pretty satisfied with The Last Days Of Fenwyck, or would you do something in a different way now?
Amps: Yes, strangely, we love Fenwyck, but we won’t traverse that path again. The next work we do will be a return to that neoclassical sound. We’ll still incorporate the elements that worked on Fenwyck, but I would like to see Friends Of Alice Ivy return to the whimsical and otherworldly realm that we came from! 
Kylie: We’ve actually gone back to work on a follow-up far more quickly than we normally do. It seems as though we have worked something out of our systems with Fenwyck; the new demos we are working on are very much more in line with our earlier work, even before The Golden Cage. There is something very classical and very beautiful about them already, and they are really just ideas at the moment. We’re very excited about working on a follow-up, not because there is anything we don’t like about Fenwyck, more because we truly know what Friends Of Alice Ivy is all about now and we want to do something that returns to its heart.
T.V.: That's really cool to hear that you are working on new stuff, can't wait for it! Can you reveal some more details about the new songs already, maybe a provisional release date? Will there be again any special concept behind the lyrics?
Kylie: I think that it’s more about the ethos and style of the music rather than any lyrical departure. We both feel that Fenwyck was a bit of an experiment of sorts. We really tried to capture a tension and unease that we don’t normally explore. I think we did a good job of it and the album is great, but we both dearly want to return to what we started doing Friends Of Alice Ivy for in the first place which is the more fairy-tale music which you referred to earlier. In terms of themes for the next album, it’s still in early days, but musically, we’re getting a real sense of the sea in the new songs... there is something very oceanic about them and we will definitely be exploring that as we progress.
Amps: At the moment, we don’t have any idea as to when it will come out, but we like to record in winter, which we didn’t do with Fenwyck, and given the rate we’re currently working at, we’re very confident that we will record next June for an August 2018 release. It’s hard to commit to that so early obviously, but we both know we want to follow Fenwyck up more quickly than we normally would. There’s something really urging us this time and we both know that you can’t treat the muse with disrespect... if she says “get on with it”, then you just have to get on with it and she’s really pushing us this time.
T.V.: Beside the music, I was amazed by the mesmerizing artwork on the album. Who did it and tell me how does it connect with songs on the album?
Amps: The artwork was done by a designer from Wiltshire Creative. The image was an attempt to connect the songs with the “character” of Fenwyck…so we felt it was important to actually show the guy! Stylistically we were trying to echo the feeling that you would get from children’s literature of the seventies (e.g. Stag Boy by William Rayner). We wanted an image that was proud and strong, but vulnerable and otherworldly too. I think the artwork is absolutely beautiful; I really love it.
T.V.: I described your musical style in a review I did for the album as dark-ethereal-neoclassical-gaze. Was I close enough in your opinion, or still better, tell me how would you categorize it?
Amps: Ha ha, it’s the perennial problem with music isn’t it? How do you actually “describe” something as multi-dimensional, emotive and complex as music! It’s very hard to put in a box! And I don’t mean our music... I mean any music really. I must admit that I don’t really mind how people describe our music as long as they find something that they love, enjoy and respond to in there. I feel that we have moved sideways from time to time, from neoclassical, to ethereal, to progressive rock, even incorporating some aspects of folk and pop in there too. I think your description was excellent but I don’t really mind how it’s described to be honest... everyone hears something different in there. 
Kylie: It’s interesting actually, whenever I read a review of our music, other people tend to hear things that I don’t and they often describe what they hear in terms that I wouldn’t use at all. And that’s rarely a bad thing, it makes you think about what you’ve done in very different terms and in many cases, you perhaps hear something about your own work that you hadn’t heard before, so that’s quite a nice thing. Everyone hears something different and interprets what they’re hearing in a way that makes it meaningful to them. I love that about music!
T.V.: You are right about that! In your music I can find some obvious influences, for example Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Arcana, even Massive Attack or Portishead and sometimes also The Cure can come in mind. Still you managed to achieve kind of your own sound. Tell me, are the bands that I've mentioned your real influences or did I miss something?
Amps: Wow, it’s interesting, you really ticked all of the right boxes in terms of our influences. They are all bands that we have listened to, enjoyed and probably drawn something from, either consciously or unconsciously. I don’t know Arcana’s work well, but I know where you’re coming from. 
Kylie: Having said that, I don’t think we’ve ever sought to replicate any of those bands, we like to think that we’ve carved out a unique niche, even though it’s quite natural to take some of those influences on board. In some ways I have been more influenced by classical and wyrd folk music than anything contemporary, but I definitely enjoy those bands that you mentioned. I don’t really know Arcana though.
T.V.: Hmm, you should really check out Arcana and also other projects and solo work of its mastermind Peter Bjärgö, it's a must hear stuff! But while talking about influences, are there any bands/musicians that are out of this box that you are listening to?
Kylie: We really don’t have any specific genres that we favour. One minute I might listen to Dead Can Dance, the next minute I’ll put on A-ha, then perhaps a Donovan album! We listen to all sorts of stuff really. When we are in the “song-writing” mode, I find I need to listen to music that is completely different. If I didn’t, our music would keep me up at night - we are both insane insomniacs, mostly during the song-writing process — it’s almost maddening when your melodies whirl around in your head at 2am in the morning - it’s like water torture. A way to escape is to listen to stuff that is a complete departure from your own style, so currently I am listening to a lot of post-punk, from The Damned’s first album to the Reptile House EP by The Sisters Of Mercy! I will take up your recommendation and listen to some Arcana work - I believe we may even have an album lurking about in our library which I am yet to listen to.
Amps: I am the same really, I don’t really feel like a “genre snob”. I am as happy listening to weird folk as I am listening to This Mortal Coil. I have been through a phase of listening to The Cure over the last few days, but I’m just as likely to listen to The Human League or Kate Bush! Ha ha. It’s whatever takes my fancy at the time really.
T.V.: Are Friends Of Alice Ivy meant to play also some live sets or is this just a studio project?
Kylie: We know that we need to get back out into the live domain, but it is so hard! We have played a few gigs here and there, but to be honest, we find it very difficult to translate our music into that context. It always requires many compromises in terms of having many of the instruments pre-recorded as backing tracks and in some ways that takes something away from the experience for an audience. A couple of years ago we tried to “re-imagine” many of the songs to suit a more classic band set up, so we changed some of the strings to live cello and had more bass and guitars. But I am not sure it really reflected what we really want to do. To truly translate our sound to a live context we would need to hire a small orchestra, including a harpist…ha ha. It’s very difficult. Having said that, we know that it’s important for us to get out there and play again, so no doubt once we get to the other side of Fenwyck we will start playing the occasional show again. We would love to play in Europe which is where our audience truly seems to be!
T.V.: But do you get requests from concert promoters to play live often. Were there any invites already to play in Europe?
Kylie: We get asked to play live quite frequently, but like I said before we find it hard to translate our music in the live context, so we really need to re-engineer everything to suit a more live set up. In an ideal world, we’d have a string quartet to perform live with, however, this comes at a cost both financially and in terms of time! Having said that, with our next work, we intend to work much harder on a live interpretation of our work. And yes, we do get asked to play in Europe fairly often, but that becomes a big question of logistics and money. We’re not a very big band and so the offers are not large. We would need to finance most of this by ourselves and so if we were to commit to such an undertaking, we would need to be confident that we would do it justice by doing it properly. Having said that, we’re perpetually selling more albums in Europe than anywhere else so we know it makes sense for us to play in Europe sooner rather than later!
Amps: We’ve played a few rare shows in the last few years and I always enjoy them, but I do always feel that sense that you’ve compromised something just to find an excuse to get up on stage. It’s like an unspoken obligation you have to entertain people with something a bit rockier than what’s on our albums. I feel that European audiences are much more interested in hearing something more nuanced and refined, and so I think we’d find our feet in a live context somewhere other than Australia.
T.V.: The album was released by your own label Meadowlands. What happened with the record deal you had with Elysium Sounds? Did you get any requests offering record deal from any bigger labels already? Somehow I can easily see your music being released by kind of label like it's Prophecy Productions...
Amps: The Elysium Sounds label was also our own, but we did it in partnership with other bands so that was a proper “umbrella” label of sorts. But we didn’t really have any distribution and it didn’t work out too well for us. We started again with Meadowlands as it gives us a degree of freedom in terms of timing and how we distribute our material digitally. We have had offers from a number of small labels but they tend to be so small that the offers don’t really bring anything to the table that we couldn’t do ourselves. Having said that, we’re talking to an American independent about releasing something with them. It’s a little early to say anything concrete but we’re quite excited about what that might mean in terms of getting our music to the US.
T.V.: Tell me about the music scene in your city, Melbourne. I know that metal and rock scene is quite strong, but how it's for a band like yours? Do you have a lot of fans there?
Kylie: Good question! It’s very hard actually. You are right, most of the venues seem to like rock bands mostly, so our kind of music is not really “big” in Australia like it is in Europe. Melbourne is a very open-minded city musically, but for the most part it defines the “alternative” as indie rock or more quintessential “electronic” acts. It’s difficult for us because our music is quite nuanced and doesn’t really suit the venues that are available to us. We have done pub and club gigs, but we’ve had to drastically alter our sound and the live set-up, and then you end up wondering if you’re actually doing the music that you want to do, or if you’ve become a bad Friends Of Alice Ivy covers band!
T.V.: Beside being partners in music, are you Kylie and Amps also partners in private life? Can you reveal to me some things about your private life outside the music?
Amps: Ha ha, yes, we are indeed partners in life too! It’s funny, that can be a very interesting dynamic in music. I know there are lots of examples out there of couples in bands together, and it really does make for an interesting psychological study!! For the most part it is fantastic as we really understand each other musically, we are both very passionate about what we do and so to a degree we’re always thinking about our music and working on stuff. We’re not like a band that meet every fortnight for a “jam session” or rehearsal... so in that regard it’s fun and works really well. The downside can be that we’re both very intense about it, so if we disagree about something with the work, there’s no middle-ground or compromise, so we do occasionally have disagreements about the direction things are going in and that can linger in our non-musical lives. Thankfully it’s very rare! 
Kylie: We’ve been together since the beginning of time. Well, prior to Ostia forming anyway! Amps and I have “grown up” together and music has always been central in our relationship. I don’t think either of us are any different to the people we were when we were younger and doing Ostia stuff. We’ve always been so collaborative and supportive of each other’s contribution to any of our musical projects. Interestingly though, we did have more disagreements about Fenwyck than we did about any of our earlier albums, but I think that’s because it was very tense subject matter and we were really consumed by the album. With our new music, well, so far anyway, we’ve approached the song-writing process more collaboratively again, which is great - it breeds so much more creativity and makes it more fun and enjoyable. I have to admit though, we both have an incredibly strong vision of Friends Of Alice Ivy and that can sometimes cause tension both personally and musically. It takes a lot of honesty and transparency and understanding of each other to make both our musical and personal relationship work - it can be very wearying sometimes. Humour helps! Both of us have quite a quick wit which has gotten us out of some tense scrapes from time to time.
Amps: So far as our lives outside music goes, we’re pretty ordinary really. We have day jobs, we go to the pub sometimes, we have a lovely cat who is always hungry, many nights we spend at home watching old films and weird seventies children’s TV shows. We like to travel when we can, we’ve spent a lot of time in Europe in the last couple of years on holidays. We live a very nice life really!
T.V.: You already mentioned that you are working on new stuff, and that something new might happen with your previous band Ostia, and I still wonder what are other plans right now for Friends Of Alice Ivy?
Kylie: The next album is definitely front and centre of everything. Which is very unusual... normally we take a very long break after each album, but this time we have launched straight back into composing and as I said earlier, much more collaboratively too. I think that might be because through the process of getting Fenwyck finished, we have both really discovered what Friends Of Alice Ivy really means and what it’s really about. It has spurred us to rediscover the core and we’ve both been surprised to discover how exciting that is.
Amps: It’s funny, because even with the new songs in such an embryonic state, I can already hear parts of everything we’ve done before seeping into the work. It has the innocence and whimsy of “Hereafter Moth”, they mythical and neoclassical influences of “In The Gloaming” and the diversity of “The Golden Cage”. I think Fenwyck was truly a transitional album for us. With regards to Ostia, we’re not really doing anything other than planning a remastered edition of our landmark album, From The Aether, to celebrate its 20th birthday this year! We talk to Justin (Ostia’s guitarist) from time to time about doing new Ostia stuff, but I can’t see it happening for a long time, if at all!
T.V.: I think we should finish at this point. Thank you for your time and interesting answers, but still, is there something that I forgot to ask you and you would like to add? The last words are all yours.
Amps: Gosh, I don’t know really... I would just like to thank you Tomaz! Your support means a lot to us and it is very kind of you to ask us such interesting questions!

Friends Of Alice Ivy links: Official website, Facebook, Bandcamp