chloe alper

Interview: Chloe Alper of Tiny Giant/Ex-Pure Reason Revolution

Chloe Alper is half of the British rock band Tiny Giant, and former singer, bassist, and keyboardist for progressive rock band Pure Reason Revolution. Tiny Giant will be releasing their debut album later this year. I had the chance to sit down with her and discuss her new band, influences, and future plans.

When you write music, do you tend to surround yourself with other people, or close off and think introspectively?

I do the opposite of surround myself with people. Aside from being with my writing partner Mat Collis, I become a total recluse. It’s necessary for me, I don’t know why. I shut everything out so that I can drill inside. I enjoy the process but it can be difficult sometimes. My friends and family are thankfully very patient because I have a habit of disappearing into my work and being pretty socially misaligned when I re-emerge.

I have some questions for you that span your whole career. I wanted to start off by asking who inspired you to write music? Are there any specific musicians that have influenced your style?

Definitely. I love Cocteau Twins. I could site them as my favourite band but having a ‘favourite band’ requires me to make something of a Sophie’s Choice between them and Kate Bush and I can’t do that. When writing the Tiny Giant album (which will come out later this year) I found that I could only listen to a handful of artists – Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush, Talk Talk, Genesis, Sade, St. Vincent and Roxy Music – aside from them and a tiny handful of others, I couldn’t listen to anything else. Sometimes the music pool is so big that it’s frightening, and especially because now you can have anything whenever you want it. So, during the writing process, I made my pool smaller. Not in an un-inquisitive way, rather just so that I knew where I was. There’s something scary about listening to what other new bands are doing when you’re writing, just in case they’re brilliant, and it casts pointlessness on everything you’re doing. My writing partner on this project has very different influences, and I think that’s why we make for such an interesting pairing.

What are some of the trials you’ve experienced over your career, and how have you overcome them?

It’s difficult writing sometimes, because to be genuine about what you’re writing requires self-excavation. Art is a self-referential mirror, and sometimes it’s difficult to reference it with total honesty. Then there’s the more obvious cliché things like… it’s sad but true; it’s not always easy being a woman in the music industry. Fortunately I work with Mat who is brilliant. I have a wonderful relationship with him and I’ve never felt my gender around him. But in the past I’ve noticed that often music bigwigs will gravitate towards making more eye contact with the guys in the band as opposed to the girls, even if the girls are the songwriters or whatever. That’s a gender thing, I know it is. So I find that difficult sometimes, and depressing that it’s still an issue. It’s a male dominated industry, it still is, and you still have to consider it as a woman. Also, the money thing can be tough. When I started out as a musician, massive record deals still existed and people still bought music, they didn’t expect to have it for free. I suppose they were a lot more respectful in that way, it was the norm to go to HMV to spend $15.99 on an album. Now people just expect to have music for free.

You’re a very creative person. I know besides making music, you’re also an artist, and have contributed artwork for several different projects. Are you currently working on other artistic projects, and do you see yourself pursuing that passion further?

Unfortunately I haven’t had much time to do much by way of visual art lately because I’ve been so busy writing the Tiny Giant record. I did a lot of the artwork for Pure Reason Revolution because I had time then to fill the visual gap. But for Tiny Giant we’re looking forward to commissioning artists we love to come up with their own visual interpretations based on our direction. I’m excited to do things differently this time, to see how different artists will collaborate with us and translate what we give them.

Before we do discuss Tiny Giant, I do have a couple questions relating to Pure Reason Revolution. You not only have supported amazing progressive rock acts like Mew, Porcupine Tree, Secret Machines, but you’ve also headlined your own concerts as Pure Reason. What was your favorite concert performing as them?

My favorite? That’s so difficult. We played some awesome shows. I really love supporting other bands, especially on a good bill. Mew are one of my favorite bands, so supporting them was amazing because I got to watch them every night. It was a good match, their fans were responsive to us. I used to squint and fool myself that their crowds were there to see us (laughs). We did some amazing festivals and some pretty weird prog festivals. We played an outdoor arena; I forget where but it was damn hot. It might have been in Italy. It was beautiful, one of those moments where you can pinch yourself. One of the best shows for me was the last PRR show we did, at Heaven, London. We sold it out and it was our last ever show. I don’t want to be too self-congratulatory because we had been going for a long time, but it was a packed room, and we played most of our repertoire. I think we were on stage for almost two hours, and it was just a really nice, civil way to say “this is the end of this project, and here’s everything we’ve done, and thank you.” It was an elegant alternative to fumbling off and falling out; a graceful way to draw a line under it. As morbid as it sounds, the last concert we did was probably my favorite. Without meaning to sound ungrateful to Pure Reason Revolution, because I’m not, I loved that band, and I loved being in it. But I was definitely ready to go, so the last show to me represented a new beginning for me.

Have you learned anything about yourself or your musical ability being a part of Pure Reason Revolution?

Definitely. I spent almost ten years in that band. It wasn’t my first ever band, but it certainly formed my musical upbringing. I was in a punk band when I was a kid. That was my first interaction with music. Jon Peel decided we were brilliant so we did sessions for him, and released singles, but I was 13 so I didn’t really understand what was going on. It wasn’t till I was in Pure Reason Revolution that I learned what it meant to share a tour bus, to play my instrument properly, to understand band politics. I learned how to be, how not to be. I saw how being a in a band can be exhilarating, challenging, grueling, and wonderful.

On to Tiny Giant. I recently started listening to the two singles you have. Listening to “Seeing Everything As Though It Was Real,” I really enjoyed that song because it has the light, airiness to it, but also that really deep rhythm. I was wondering how you would describe your new project.

I’m really bad – famously bad – at describing our music. I’m so emotionally invested, so my descriptions always turn into emotive ramblings (laughs) or bizarre anti-statements. I would much rather people listen to it and formed their own descriptions. I’m also against the principle of ‘the big introduction’ because descriptions can inhibit other people’s reactions to things. Music is communication, it shouldn’t exclude anyone.

How are the duties split between you and Mat Collis in the band?

Everything Mat and I do is half and half. It’s the most democratic way to work. We’ve never even questioned it. It’s obvious to both of us that I wouldn’t be doing this without him and he wouldn’t be doing this without me. It’s a really healthy duo in that respect. On the recordings, Mat is the multi-instrumentalist. He plays the instrumentation you hear. I write the vocal melodies and the lyrics. We often work on the song structures together. We have three brilliant musicians who join us on stage to deliver the live sound. They are: Paul Glover on drums (he used to be in Pure Reason Revolution too), Nick Willes on guitar and Luke Burnett-Smith on bass. I feel very lucky we have them in the live show.

chloe alper tiny giant
Photo by Mari Sarai

How long have you known Mat? Is he someone you’ve known for a long time?

I met Mat over ten years ago. We had a mutual friend and Mat would often be there when I went to hang out at her house. He would usually just be in the corner working away on music while everyone else drank cheap vodka and talked crap. I remember the day someone played me something he’d written once and it literally made me stop what I was doing, like stop dead. It was extraordinary. At that point I knew I wanted to work with him some day. But then Pure Reason took off and I was busy for almost a decade. As soon as I knew Pure Reason was coming to an end I got in touch with Mat and we started writing. The first song we wrote together surprised us. We were pinching ourselves, wondering whether it was a fluke. So we tried another, and now here we are, an album in and still going strong. I’ve never felt more creatively satisfied.

That basically answers my next question, because I was going to ask how the writing process is in Tiny Giant compared to anything you’ve ever done in prior projects. It just seems like you have more freedom with this band compared to prior bands you’ve been in.

With Pure Reason our first album received a lot of critical acclaim. It can be difficult when your first release receives critical acclaim, because it’s then hard to change the infrastructure of how you work. It wasn’t Pure Reason’s fault that I didn’t have much space to write within that project. But Tiny Giant is a creative exploration for me and that’s such a joy. Having the ability to make something that resonates with other people is such an incredible feeling and I’ll never tire of it.

I’m really looking forward to this album. I don’t know if you’ll ever hit the United States or not, but if you ever come I’d love to see you guys live.

Yeah, I love touring in America. It’s just so much more exciting (laughs). Brits are constantly spoon-feeding themselves American culture, so just being there feels movie-like, surreal and exciting. I have a feeling we’ll be playing in the US soon.

Do you think there’s a different atmosphere or vibe coming from an American audience compared to a British crowd, or a German crowd, or wherever else?

Forgive the generalization, but I find that Americans are more expressive and therefore more fun to play to. They’re not afraid to be complimentary. Whether those compliments are more genuine I don’t know, but frankly I don’t really care, because when you’re on stage all you feed off is the crowd’s optimism and you don’t have time to get all contemplative about whether that’s entirely genuine. Again, it’s a cliché but London crowds by comparison aren’t always forthcoming. Some of the best crowds are the Latin crowds. Some of my favourite shows were in Spain where people are patently unafraid to show that they’re having a good time. As a performer that’s what you feed off, a crowd’s buoyancy is your lifeblood on stage.

What are some of your inspirations for the themes or concepts or meanings behind Tiny Giant and their upcoming album?

I was about to say there isn’t a concept, but that’s arguably untrue because there’s always some sort of theme in your writing. Every artist has a theme running through them at any given time whether they’re aware of it or not. I find the beginning of the writing process chaotic, there are ideas everywhere but the outcome isn’t chaotic because there’s symmetry in it. I suppose this record is a record about how beautiful and painful things happen, and how we keep revisiting the same lessons. Every song is about something a little different, but there is an overarching symmetry to the whole thing. So maybe there is a loose theme in there somewhere.

I have one last question. What’s next for Tiny Giant? You said the album is coming out early next year?

We’re releasing a video, then singles and then an album in 2016. Oh and we’ll be playing lots of live shows. We hope to be playing in Europe as soon as we can. And, like I said, the states. And we’ll be writing a lot. We have a lot of exciting song ideas up our sleeve so we want to explore those and see where they take us.

Thanks to Chloe for taking some time to speak with Crash And Ride!

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