Yes, folks the moment we’ve all been waiting to celebrate is here – Al-Pha-X releases his fantastic new album Envelope today! Available here now. He is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, producer and DJ and even if you think you haven’t heard of him, you actually have. He has been featured on far too many compilations to politely mention and his music has been used in Smallville, Orange Is The Only Black and the motion picture Paris Manhattan. TCF founder Eugenie Arrowsmith checked in with Al-Pha-X to see how he was feeling about releasing an album of beautifully crafted covers.
Eugenie: So why is the album called Envelope?
Al-Pha-X: It’s based on the idea of taking something that already exists and pushing it little bit further, as in pushing the envelope. There’s also the double meaning of the word cover, as in a cover of some kind and a cover version. In addition there are envelopes on synthesisers which control sounds (I’m a producer so I like control). So its a trinity of meanings. I like things in threes.
E: Whats your favourite envelope on a synth?
A: There are envelopes on all synthesisers and they effect sound over time. It’s a similar analogy, so like a cover you are tweaking its envelope, dynamics, pitch, colour and timbre. All synths have envelopes so I can’t pick a favourite, although I do have two favourite synths :- my Novation Super Nova II and my Moog Sub Phatty.
E: Why a covers album and why now?
A: I wanted to pay homage to all the songs that have been the soundtrack of my life thus far. Here Comes The Sun˛ came out the year I was born and I listened to that and many other Beatles songs throughout my childhood.
I felt it would be an interesting thing to take the songs that I love and put a different slant on them. It was something that evolved as I got older, I was often asked to play something familiar at live shows, as a way of bringing the audience in and I enjoyed doing it differently and this was a key part of the albums evolution.
E: Are any of the songs part of your musical coming of age?
A: Yes, Simple Minds (Don’t You Forget About Me) and Tears For Fears (Head Over Heels). I discovered Bowie in my teens too, as all the bands I loved were heavily influenced by him hence the cover of (The Man Who Sold The World). I went to see Tears For Fears at The Hammersmith Odeon when I was 14 (complete with insane hair) and they were fabulous and really inspired me to make music my career. I loved The Hurting album, the lyrics were really interesting, particularly tracks like Pale Shelter and they were angst ridden teenagers which I related to. Then Songs From The Big Chair came out and I started to have an awakening in terms of my understanding of music production I began listening to the way that records were made and that album sounded like nothing else I had ever heard. The detailed instrumentation and sonic layering, it was almost orchestrated, they made very intelligent pop, which was a light bulb moment for me.
E: What made you decide to work with all the different singers on the album?
A: With exception of Sebastien who is my nephew (and the son of chill out guitarist Christoph Goze) everyone else I had worked with before on other Al-Pha-X projects. I went to see Sebastien sing in North London and was so impressed I asked him if he would like to be involved and he was a joy to work with. When putting the songs together I had all the other vocalists in my mind and knew whom I wanted for each track.
Eva Abraham I met through the Big Chill, when I remixed one of her songs and she appeared on Slowdown. My wife Doral sings a few tracks and we regularly work together and obviously I know her voice well, she sung on a track that was used in the US TV series Smallville. I met you (Eugenie Arrowsmith) through the Kundalini Dub Lounge, Buddha Bar and Big Chill, you also appeared on Slowdown.
I was introduced to Shabnam Khan via the One Nation record label and we worked on An Indian Summer (which went on to be licensed by Buddha Bar), A Plea For Sanity and Sahara. We are currently compiling an EP of our work together to support and fundraise for her ongoing breast cancer treatment. Shabnam is one of my longest standing vocal collaborators, who I really want to support at this difficult time.
My sister Michelle had sang on my first album Gravity˛ and when I was producing Dylan’s Tambourine Man˛ I could hear her voice working really well with the trippy synth textures. I also sang a few of my favourite songs, Nick Drake’s Riverman and Here Comes The Sun.
E: Have you abandoned instrumental music forever?
A: No, there is an instrumental on the album just to keep my public happy! Actually its a very moving one for me, Children by Robert Miles. I had made an arrangement of it quite a long time ago and people had suggested I record it. As I am known as a pianist, it was an obvious choice, made all the more poignant by Robert’s untimely passing. DJ Pathaan has been in touch to say how much he loves this track so although there is only one instrumental on this album its a really special one, which I am glad is being so well received.
E: You are working with iLabel again tell us why you like working with them?
A: iLabel is run by Chet and Gravity my debut was released on Bar De Lune in the early naughties. I feel we’ve both come full circle with the industry. We’ve both grown and tried to circumvent and understand all the changes and there are many. We are in a very strange place as we don’t even have an agreed physical format. CDs are in decline less people have CD players and yes there is vinyl , but that’s a very specialist niche market. So a lot of people have music in no specific physical format and although this is convenient it can arguably diminish a sense of ownership. The way that people consume and view music has all changed dramatically. It is what it is and our relationship has endured all the changes and we both try to move with the times.
E.: This is your eighth album, what is the most valuable lesson being a recording artist has taught you?
A: Probably the most important lesson is to keep learning and keep listening, keep seeking – be an eternal student. Always enjoy what you are doing too.
E: What do you hope to achieve by releasing this record?
A: The most powerful thing that I’ve ever heard about my music was from a homeless fan who told me that the album Slowdown kept him going when he was at an all time low. That was humbling. On a lighter note a french lady told me that my music “transported her to a dream like fantasy island” which can’t be bad either. I guess what you always hope that what you are doing will be appreciated and reach people on some level.
On this evidence, I don’t think you will have any problem reaching people. Envelope is a glorious selection of beautifully curated covers, bringing to the fore Al-Pha-X’s talents as a producer and performer (notably as a pianist and singer). It’s an album that grows with every listen and unfolds poetically, it’s a masterpiece to get lost in.
ENVELOPE by Al-PHA-X: Track Facts
- Message In A Bottle (Mellow mix)-(The Police)–(Vox: Eva Abraham) – “the metaphor for loneliness in this song has always really moved me”
- Dreams- (electronic fantasy mix)-(Fleetwood Mac)-(Vox: Doral Hayes) “How to make something great out of what must have been a very awkward moment in the studio. Pure genius from Stevie Nicks”
- Don’t Look Back In Anger (Laid Back Mix)-(Oasis)-(Vox: Sebastien Flynn-Goze) “Epitomises the 90s for me, love The Beatles influence, it’s also a stunning melody”
- Riders In The Storm (Spaced Mix)-(The Doors)-(Vox: Eugenie Arrowsmith) “The last song Morrison ever recorded – ironically a track about an existential traveller.”
- Across The Universe (Dream Pop Mix)-(The Beatles)-(Vox: Shabnam Khan “Legend has it Lennon preferred other peoples covers of this song to his own version”
- Riverman- (Acoustic Electro Mix)-(Nick Drake)-(Vox: Declan Flynn)“This came out the year I was born and is in 5/4 but still flows well, like a river and is so natural to play”
- Don’t You Forget About Me – (Forthright Chill Mix)-(Simple Minds)-(Vox: Eva Abraham)- “ The only cover version Simple Minds ever recorded. Expertly written by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff”
- Run (Retro Electro Rubic Mix)-(Snow Patrol)-(Vox: Doral Hayes) “One of the best pop odes to hope ever written”
- Head Over Heels (Sci Fi Fantasy Mix)(Tears For Fears)-(Vox: Eva Abraham)“ A classic heart break pop song. Tears For Fears massively influenced my layered approach to production”
- Yellow (Slow Motion Mix)-(Coldplay)-(Vox: Declan Flynn)“ A lovely song derived from the stars”
- Children (Tranquillity Mix)-(Robert Miles)-(Piano: Declan Flynn)“ This is the only instrumental on the album. The piano part is so haunting and emotional.
- Here Comes The Sun (Relaxed & Chilled mix)-(The Beatles)-(Vox: Declan Flynn) “ My first exposure to interesting time signatures, Asian influences and Moog synthesizers. Genius”
- Hey Mr Tambourine Man (Kaleidoscope Mix)-(Bob Dylan)-(Vox: Michelle Flynn) “You can write lyrics about ‘jingle jangle mornings’ when you are Bob Dylan and that stoned”
- Make You Feel My Love (Floaty Mix)-(Bob Dylan)-(Vox: Doral Hayes) “Another great Dylan song that is romantic in the truest and deepest sense”