• Norton Robey

Alex Pester on "Seasons" and Lockdown Productivity

Alex Pester is a modern Folk artist studying in Bath, whose new album ‘Seasons’ functions perfectly as easy listening dinner-table music and yet contains intricacy and superb lyricism to rival the likes of Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson.

Pester combines influences from as far apart as The Beatles and Psychedelic-Folk to create his unique sound and delivery, and has showcased his impressive adaptability to different writing philosophies in his two most recent albums. His newest release comes within months of his last full length album, so we sat down to chat with Alex about his writing process and productivity under lockdown.

Norton - “Hi Alex, thanks for agreeing to have a chat with us - and congratulations on your latest album release, I’ve really been enjoying it!”

Alex - “Hello! And thank you, yeah, it’s been a little while coming for my kind of record, normally I’ll take about 4 months if I’m really concentrating hard on a record, but I think I’ve benefited from this whole lockdown craziness because I’ve sort of been forced to spend more time on things!”

"Seasons" cover art

Norton - “Yeah, absolutely! We’ll touch again on that in a minute or so, but first could you tell us a little bit about where you are currently and who you’re with?”

Alex - “So currently I’m in lockdown with my girlfriend Maisie and her family, sort of holed up in her room as a sort of escapee kind of thing! If I went home I’d be at risk because my mum works for the NHS, and as I’m asthmatic there’s a risk there.”

Norton - “-which wouldn’t be good news!”

Alex - “Yeah, not the best situation.”

Norton - “And I understand you’ve been utilising your company’s skills on this album?”

Alex - “Oh yeah definitely! On ‘Seasons’ I include every member of Maisie’s immediate family. They’ve all been enlisted: so I’ve got Maisie’s mum Jo on Cello and Recorder (or ‘corder, as she put it); Maisie’s Dad Andy on upright bass and all manner of bass-y things; and Maisie herself singing and on piano, she’s very prominent on the record.”

Alex (centre standing) with Maisie, Jo and Andy

Norton - “The album, as you just mentioned, is called ‘Seasons’, and it was released on Bandcamp on June 5th - your previous album, ‘Devotion’, was released as recently as December 5th. Would you say that the lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic has quickened the pace of your writing, or are you usually this prolific?”

Alex - “Well I’ve been used to recording things a lot faster I think because I’m used to recording in bedrooms, and this album has been recorded over the course of a very turbulent time - and in lots of bedrooms as well! Mine, Maisie’s, our rooms at university, and we’ve even been branching out into new rooms, new sounds! *laughs* I think the situation has elicited a faster way of recording because I’ve got everyone at my disposal - if I want Cello parts I don’t have to send them to South America like I had to do before, with my collaborator Will from Brazil. I had to send everything over to Brazil and it would take about a week for him to reply and see it and then come back to me another week, which always used to slow things down.”

Norton - “Even without that handicap, however, two full length albums released in the space of 6 months is impressive. Do you usually have multiple songs on the go at once or do you write more linearly?”

Alex - “I think I’m quite linear in a weird way, there’s no real thought of sequencing when I’m recording songs. If I have any spare time I’ll sit and map out the basics of a song chordally and then the melody comes from the guitar chords, it always comes from the chords for me. Never anywhere else - every song I’ve ever written has started off on guitar! - oh, except for ‘Seasons’, which started off on a ukelele. I sort of just force myself to come up with something, and it’s a bit of a war of attrition I have to say! *laughs* forcing things out of yourself, but then sometimes I’ll find I just tap into a rich vein of form and from there it’ll either take 2 months to write the rest of the album in quick succession or you’ll be stuck missing a few songs of the end of the record.”

Norton - “Which can be pretty frustrating I imagine?”

Alex - “Yeah! Haha, it’s like “yay I’ve got 8 fully written and orchestrated songs for an album and now my mind’s gone completely blank!”

Norton - “How would you say ‘Seasons’ compares to ‘Devotion’, in terms of subject matter and musical style?”

Alex - “‘Seasons’ is a lot milder, I’d say. With ‘Devotion’ I hadn’t done any of the orchestral aspect before because I hadn’t been able to living in the rural South West, I didn’t know any violin players or brass players, so it was really refreshing when I moved to Bath and I had people like Annie (Tiso, violin player and friend of Alex’s) at my disposal, who was just so lovely and did everything for free - knackered her wrists!- recording just hundreds of violin takes for ‘Devotion’ which was really amazing. I had to think in a more regimented way for seasons because I was working with Maisie’s mum - and it’s a very different situation! It’s not quite ‘oh we’re just mates and we’ll pop down the SU after this for a few pints’, you’ve actually gotta really map it out.”

Norton - “I guess it’s suddenly a lot more professional when you’re working with a professional Cellist!”

Alex - “Yeah she demands dots (musical notation, for us not in the classically trained ‘know’), as well, so it’s taught me to arrange to some degree - I still got Maisie to help me out with that - but I had to be a lot more methodical with ‘Seasons’ and I think you can hear that.”

Norton - “You’ve clearly been able to channel your experiences and feelings during this potentially distressing time into something beautiful and impressive - what advice would you give to other musicians and creative people who have perhaps been struggling with writer’s block or creative drought under lockdown?”

Alex - “Thank you! I’d say if it’s safe to do so go on plenty of walks - even if it’s raining. If you’re holed up in a house like we are then I find it’s very important not to stay in one room too long. If I stay up here in the bedroom recording I can get lost a bit and sometimes you need to go downstairs and see everyone for a bit of perspective. As a creative, it’s very easy to get holed up in your own miniature existence, and getting out every now and then can really help.”

Alex's lockdown stimulation

Norton - “So you’re saying provide yourself with as much stimulation as you safely can?”

Alex - “Yeah, and it doesn’t have to be high art as well, anything can inspire music. I’ve been going downstairs lately and just playing on the Nintendo Wii. Just something as simple as getting a Repetitive Strain Injury in your arm from playing too much Wii baseball can really relieve stress and become a conduit for creative activity!” *laughs*

Norton - “Absolutely! And do you think we may start to see Wii music filter into your style?”

Alex - *laughs* “Um…no. Not really, I don’t think I’ve really got the virtuosity quite yet!”

Norton - “You’ll get there man! For musicians like us, not knowing how long it will be until we can perform live again is a hell of a downer. Have you got any plans to perform live with your solo project? and which other projects are you looking forward to getting back to most?”

Alex - “It is a downer, yeah. But yeah I’ve got a project with Ben Faulkner, Joe Thomas and Josh Byfield called Vignettes, which is nice for me because I don’t have the pressure of being the main songwriter all the time, the lead singer OR the drummer as in my previous band She Knows, with Louis (Hayes) and company. And yeah it takes a bit of pressure off, especially in these times when you’re thinking about going live as a solo artist you’ve gotta think about taking everything with you and performing in a space where people are going to be gathered very intimately, because let’s face it, it’s not arena rock! It’s very much enclosed space [music] and I think it will be a while before people are really trusting enough of venues to go back in there and have those intimate gigs again, so I think I’ll be back to work again with the Vignettes stuff a lot quicker than I will with my own music in a live setting.”

Norton - “Alex, thank you so much for your time, your productivity and positivity are truly inspiring during this tricky period. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you!”

Alex - “And to you, Thank you!”

Alex Pester’s new album ‘Seasons’ is now available on Spotify.

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