Tuesday, 26 May 2020

INTERVIEW: Pêtr Aleksänder (May 2020)

Really excited to share this! Pêtr Aleksänder just shared their Another World EP - which I wrote about on the blog here - and I caught up with one half of the project, the overwhelmingly talented Tom Hobden, to chat about the EP, a recent collaboration with RIDE and all things Pêtr! This interview has been in the works since the end of 2018, but various things got in the way of me ever getting around to writing questions, so enjoy!!!


Hello! First and foremost for those who are new to the project, who are Pêtr Aleksänder, and where does the name come from?  

Pêtr Aleksänder is an alternative modern classical band comprising of myself (Tom Hobden) and Eliot James. The name is the combination of our middle names, and a tip of the cap toward the composer-centric world of the modern classical genre. 

Sonically, you’re unlike anything else that I write about on the blog (but you do still hold the spot as the most viewed post on the site for the Bells video premiere.) How would you describe your sound?  

We mix a conventional piano quintet lineup, so piano, a couple of violins, viola and cello with electronic elements, and more recently I’ve been singing on some tracks too. Our previous output was all instrumental, which really challenges you to make the music speak on its own terms as opposed to a mood being set by a lyrical sentiment. Our first foray into song form was a song called Copy, Echo, Mirage which actually derived from an instrumental track of ours from our debut album called A Walk On The Seabed, so the progression feels very natural.



We’re here (on the internet) primarily to discuss your brand new EP Another World, which is a delight. It’s the first PA release to feature lyrics - sung, spoken and sampled, if I’m hearing correctly - and mostly taken from a C.S. Lewis passage. What’s the story behind that? 

Yea, so I was reading a book by C.S Lewis and one particular passage jumped out and hit me for six. It was the “If I find in myself a desire…” passage, and I immediately wanted to set it to music. Eliot and I worked it into Another World and the text became a trigger for other songs. 

Where did you record the EP, and, aside from the vocals, what else can we hear on it? 

We recorded the entirety of the EP at Eastcote Studios, which is where we work from and met many years ago when Eliot produced the first Noah and the Whale album there. We have a trusty crew of string players we’ve used on all Pêtr Aleksänder releases, so they were involved, alongside our modular synth rig, which bleeps and gurgles when we need it to, and that’s about it, not forgetting our creaky muted piano of course! 

You’ve also just released Clouds In The Mirror, a reimagined version of the RIDE album This Is Not A Safe Place. The response to the record has been (deservedly) really positive! How did that come about?  

So, in tandem with our own material, we’ve been releasing what we’ve called “reimaginings” of other artists’ songs: the idea is that we take just the vocal from a song and strip away everything else of the track, and build our own arrangements around the vocal melody, completely transforming the song into something quite unexpected in many cases! We’ve released our reimagines of songs by Interpol, Mumford and Sons, Banfi and Geowulf thus far. I think that the guys from RIDE discovered that was something we were doing and they got in touch, seeing if we would be interested in turning our hand to reimagining the entirety of their acclaimed 2019 album This Is Not A Safe Place. It was an exciting prospect, not least for the fact that we hadn’t given them any indication of what we were up to until the day they joined us in the studio for the string recording sessions! The first few bars of Future Love put all our minds at rest, I’m thankful to say, and now it’s been out for a couple of weeks it’s really great to see the response.


Staying with the reimagined tracks, you’ve worked with tracks from a few different artists in the past - is there anyone in particular whose work you’d love to work on? Looking through my playlists, I’m looking at the likes of Dizzy and Martha Gunn, and thinking that something with Cosmo Sheldrake, for instance, could be completely bonkers.  

I know Eliot’s been doing some work with MarthaGunn recently so that could be a channel in to something, who knows? I’ve come across Cosmo through reading your blog actually(!) and he makes really original, exciting stuff - with bassoon in it. Could be a fit. 

Lastly, what are you listening to at the moment? Anything new that you’re really excited about, or old favourites that you’re revisiting? 

I’ve been soaking up my friend Blake Mills' new record Mutable Set. It’s next-level beautiful. Also looking forward to LA Priest’s record Gene, think that comes out pretty soon. Love What Moves and Beginning.

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