Music that you can get lost in, hear something new each time you listen… that’s what it’s all about. Especially now that we have ample time to do so. That’s what Pêtr Aleksänder deliver in buckets.
Divinely charged with cinematic layers of strings and piano, the band comprised of Tom Hobden (Noah & The Whale, Gang Of Youths) and producer Eliot James (Two Door Cinema Club) have most recently released the second track to be taken from the EP, Copy, Echo, Mirage. A soothing, subdued piece; take a listen below…
In anticipation of their EP Another World out next month, Pêtr Aleksänder evolve from their purely instrumental tracks with the subtle addition Hobden’s haunting vocals in Copy, Echo, Mirage. A continuation of their unique and freeing exploration into the fusion of classical and contemporary, the duo will release the full four-track EP on May 22, available for pre-save here.
As well as their own musings, Hoben and James have been releasing ‘re-imagined’ versions of other artists’ songs, their latest collaboration being with RIDE. We got chatting to the pair behind Pêtr Aleksänder to learn more about their latest releases and upcoming EP, their “re-imaginings” project, how Pêtr Aleksänder came to be, and got some tunes for you to listen to in lock-down. Sit back, and learn more about Tom and Eliot…
Hey guys! What strange times we’re living in. How’re you filling your time in lock-down?
Tom: Strange times indeed! We’re spending the time with our respective families, but stealing moments here and there to keep writing and thinking. As it happens, we’d actually been preparing for a few different releases during this period so enjoying releasing them into the world.
Eliot: Yes, strange times they are. I have to admit I’m rather distracted with homeschooling right now as I’ve got an 8-year-old to keep an eye on so writing music is mostly on the back burner for a moment. It really is quite an unusual change for me as I don’t think I’ve taken a proper break from making music for about 20 years!
Over here we’ve been chilling to your latest release Copy, Echo, Mirage. A unique segue into the ongoing fusions we have been seeing between classical and modern, singer-songwriter and electronic production. How did you find your sound?
T: Eliot and I come from musical careers that have spanned many different bands and projects, shaping the music we make now as Pêtr Aleksänder. Our desire, from the start of this band, has always been to approach the writing, and the music we choose to make, with a certain freedom: whatever form a piece takes, so long as it’s beautiful and sets a mood, we don’t mind whether it’s an unfolding and dramatic journey as in the piece (Closer, Still), something tender and nostalgic (Sans Souci) or exploratory in sound (Copy, Echo, Mirage)
E: Our sound is something we’ve hit on after approaching both contemporary and classical music together over the years and happily finding a little island somewhere in between the two. As Tom says, we both have quite a lot of experience in the music business and this project really started as a release for us both, to do something slightly different to the day jobs. I’ve spent a lot of the last 10 year recording noisy guitar bands or blasting my ears all day mixing music & I’ve always fallen back on classical and modern classical music as my go-to end of the day ‘wind down’ music so what we’re doing now is a very natural reflection of my experiences and abilities to be honest.
And what’s the writing and production process like?
T: Varied! We meet and write together, sometimes come in with ideas, there’s no method in particular. Quite often I like scoring things up in my own time and space, Eliot writes more instinctively and is so well equipped on the production side that he is able to be very spontaneous.
E: Yeah it’s pretty random and varies enormously. Our skillsets are quite different in that Tom is a bit of a whizz with written music and has a more classical training, whereas my musical education was a bit more DIY, so we tend to approach initial ideas in a slightly different way. A big part of how we do things is that we’ve got all the string bases covered in varying quality – I’m a (pretty awful) cellist, Tom’s viola playing is pretty good and he’s a phenomenal violinist – so we can muddle our way to draft string recordings quite quickly which is very handy and allows us to get ideas to a relatively high standard.
Once songs enter the big wide world, everyone can take them to mean something personal to them (which is what we love!), but we’d like to know what meaning the latest release held for you whilst creating it?
T: We used a famous quote from C.S Lewis as a star-ng point when writing the EP, and phrases from it serve as the track names. Copy, Echo, Mirage came together very quickly, both lyrically and musically: the song is about searching for that moment of lucidness, in the whirlwind of new love, where you can honestly say to yourself – yes, this is where I want to be and the way I want to go. Something I enjoy a lot about the origins of the music is that we took a piece from our 1st album, called A Walk On The Seabed, which to me is as lyrical in its melodic phrasing as any song – if you listen closely you can hear lots of echoes of that piano part in the vocal of Copy, Echo, Mirage.
E: Yes we’ve been working with a text that has given the whole thing an initial literal meaning as a starting point, although it’s then launched off into all sorts of directions. One of the things we have both really enjoyed about making instrumental music is that you lose all the baggage that a lyrical vocal can imbue – you really can cut to the core emotion that the music inspires…happy chords, sad chords, mysterious chords etc etc, so we’ve been very conscious not to overplay the vocal and lyrical element here. The text we have used is a very existential musing and whilst each of the tracks have a different spin on it, for me they come together to form an overall inquisitive & searching sentiment.
Prior to Copy, Echo, Mirage, you released The Something Else, both of which are singles from your upcoming EP Another World. How do you go about creating an EP? Do you write for the EP specifically, or have lots of songs in the mix and narrow down to a body of work?
T: Again, we encapsulated what we’d digested from the C.S Lewis quote in 4 tracks, so it made sense to set these pieces apart as their own EP. Many people use an EP as a sort of testing ground for what may later become an album, but in this instance the message we were trying to convey fitted together quite succinctly, which is always a good thing! That said, since this is the first time in this band we’ve released actual songs, including some instrumental music, which is what people who may know us are familiar with, seemed wise!
E: We actually wrote and recorded this together with a much larger body of work and put these tracks together as they are each inspired by the same piece of text. There is lots more material from the same session, but not inspired by the same lyrical content – that will be released differently. In the past we haven’t tended to overwrite and narrow material down, in that most things we’ve written and recorded have been released. But since we have been experimenting with vocals it’s a slightly different process and I’m sure there will be things that fall by the wayside from what we have worked on.
In addition to releasing Copy, Echo, Mirage, you’re also releasing re-imagined tracks from the latest RIDE album This Is Not A Safe Place, something you’ve previously done with other artists and bands. How did you start this project of “re-imagining” these works in the Pêtr Aleksänder style?
T: This release is one that’s been in the pipeline for a while! As you allude to, we’ve been “reimagining” other artists’ music for a few years now. Our method is to take a song and strip it of all discerning features apart from the lead vocal and completely reinterpret the music around it. You can have loads of fun transposing the song into new keys, changing the time signature, tempo, all sorts. And what you’re left with, if it’s done well, can be a very uniquely rewarding listen, especially given that our “sound” is imbued with strings and creaky pianos, and can often be very different instrumentation from the songs we’re reworking. It’s different from doing a cover, because we’re trying to take the song into a completely unique space. RIDE, as far as I know, had heard some of our “reimaginings” of artists such as Interpol, Mumford and Sons and Geowulf, and asked us to give the entirety of their album This Is Not A Safe Place our modern-classical touch! They sent us the songs, which we purposely didn’t listen to (!) so as not to influence our creativity, and set about writing new music, beavering away for a couple of weeks. We then invited them down to the studio for our first string session, both camps nervously excited about the others reaction! The grin on Andy Bell’s face as we started recording Future Love soon allayed any fears on our part!
E: The re-imaginings are something that happened naturally. I think the first one we did was the Banfi track, and this was shortly after I had been producing an EP for the band. It was an idea that popped up in conversation with them. Then one thing led to another and next thing we’re doing Interpol and Mumford and Sons. The Ride album experience was really amazing for us as it really allowed to us to explore the process and find a unique way of doing things. The really interesting thing about it is that we consciously avoided listening to the original songs before we did our versions, we just got the vocals and set to work. So the result really is out there on its own as this weird love child between their fantastic lyrics and melody, and our music.
Taking it back a step, how did Pêtr Aleksänder form? You both have plenty of experience, so what led you to this project?
T: Eliot and I met many years ago when Eliot produced my band at the time Noah and the Whale’s first album, Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down. That record instantly propelled the band into a very successful 8-year career, and we were indebted to Eliot for his part in making that so. What with our own busy schedules, we didn’t see or work with each other again for a little while, but a few years back Eliot asked if I’d be interested in making an orchestral instrumental record. I didn’t need asking twice and we released the pastoral, romantic ROAM under our own names on Village Green Records, recorded with the Budapest Film Orchestra in Budapest! It was a great experience and from there, we decided to carry on but boiling that orchestral excess down to something more achievable as the two of us. That’s how Pêtr Aleksänder was born.
E: I guess it was one of those time and place things combined with a longstanding mutual respect and friendship between us both. Tom actually happened to rent my studio for a month or two whilst I was elsewhere and somewhere in amongst that happening I got talking to Village Green recordings about doing something for them. Next thing we’re doing an orchestral album together (ROAM) and shortly after that we peeled things back a bit (we did ROAM with a 40 piece orchestra!) and Pêtr Aleksänder happened.
Who (or what) are your biggest influences and inspirations in the music you create as Pêtr Aleksänder?
E: Between us we have a very wide palette of influence from very classical to very modern to everything in between. When I as a kid I was mad about guitars so I was nuts about Jimi Hendrix but at the same time I was getting fed a diet of really early music from my mum (Tallis, Monteverdi stuff like that) and I also got really into Bach through the Cello thing. Add to that a bit of 90’s rave culture and I’ve got a pretty mixed bag of taste. I’d like to think that what we’re doing with Pêtr draws on all that and lots more. We both really love modern & neo classical music from Glass & Nyman through to the likes of Max Richter and Olafur Arnalds etc, but we’re also quite careful not to try to imitate and I’d like to think we’ve landed on something that sits apart from all that somehow. But I’d say my biggest influence right now is Tom Hobden!
Any words of wisdom to leave our readers with?
E: Never dish out advice. It could backfire and make you look like a plonker
Touché! So, we would love if you could give our readers a couple of songs each to chill out to whilst in lockdown! What are you listening to right now?
T: The new Dirty Projectors EP Windows Open is fantastic. Been a huge fan since Bitte Orca. It may come as a surprise but I’ve been listening to quite a lot of LA Priest recently! I remember Sam’s band Late of the Pier supporting Noah and the Whale on a European tour once, and was always impressed with his work. What Moves is a tune.
E: Well last night I was watching Narcos on Netflix and they used Sarabande from Handel’s suite in D minor, so right now I’m playing that and waffling on at my 8 year old son about it. It’s a belter. Super dark, emotive stuff. He seems to like it too. If you want something super chilled I’m really enjoying Jonsi’s & Alex Somers’ album Lost and Found right now. Wonderful textured soundscapes.
Well, thank you both for taking the time for this e-interview, and for giving us all some respite from these weird times. Keep well and speak soon!
Pêtr Aleksänder: Thank you!
Keep up with Pêtr Aleksänder below: