Lady Obscure: Today we have Alpha Boötis with us.
Alpha Boötis: Thank you for having us, I’m Ozymandias, leader of the band Alpha Boötis.
Lady Obscure: Hello Ozymandias, pleasure to have you here. Thanks for taking the time. Can you give a little biographical and historical info; who is involved in the band, and how did you guys meet up?
Alpha Boötis: We are a synthwave/heavy metal band from Montreal, Canada. I’ll be speaking on behalf of the band. Here’s the series of fortunate events that led us to the band as it is today.
Our band started in 2016, as a studio synthwave project involving Frak and myself. Frak had written songs, but knew little about sound design and electronic production, so he published them using barebones MIDI sounds. I had started producing electronic music a year earlier, after I had to almost quit playing guitar due to chronic tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. What started as a single song, Jump to Alpha Boötis, became 5 songs, which we released with little promotion on bandcamp in June 2017. We were content to leave it at that, maybe writing a few other songs for a video game a friend was putting together.
That’s when we got an email from a Californian band. They were planning a tour, and needed an opener for a date in Montreal, 3 months from then. We said yes… and then realized we were going to need help if we were going to play our layered arrangements live! So we recruited keyboardist Harakoa and drummer Jotunbot, rehearsed our 5 songs and a few covers frantically over the next two months, and managed to put out a pretty decent show. The reception from the crowd convinced us we had something special, and we kept at it. Since then, we released a full length album, Space Vikings & Other Stories, wrote two album’s worth of material and recruited two other members, bassist Votson and saxophonist Krøgorlön.
LOMM: Pandemic has taken an emotional toll on everyone yet the arts have been hit especially hard. The musicians are vulnerable to financial upheaval. How have you guys been holding up?
Alpha Boötis: The pandemic derailed all our plans for this year. We had a handful of shows planned throughout eastern Canada for the summer, and had started recording our second album when the pandemic hit and put all those plans on hold. We are lucky that the Canadian government put together a decent aid package that allowed those of us who lost their jobs to keep their living. Emotionally, it was very hard, losing basically all our social life and seeing all our projects grind to a halt. I spent most of spring and summer playing games and talking with my friends online, unable to work with all the uncertainty.
LOMM: On the other hand you seem to have had a productive time. Is that right?
Alpha Boötis: Eventually we bounced back. We were already recording at my home studio, so I made sure the others could record their contributions in their homes, and we resumed production. The pandemic waned a bit during summer, and the restrictions were eased. Thanks to that, we managed to reschedule one of the shows, following public health guidelines, and we played a sold-out show… in front of 40 people in a venue that, pre-pandemic, would’ve hosted 200. During the lockdown, I tried to learn as much as I could about online marketing and music promotion. Overall, this has still been our best year to date, and I’m confident we will emerge from the pandemic stronger than we would’ve been without that challenge.
LOMM: What does your genre means to you, why did you choose this genre?
Alpha Boötis: Our music is a blend of different genres, the most prominent being synthwave, heavy metal, progressive rock, french touch and post-punk. Each of these genres have a tradition of reflecting on humanity’s future, which is the core of our artistic mission. We draw from these genres because we love them, but also because they are efficient at conjuring the imagery and emotions we want to evoke. We sometimes jokingly call our music Space Disco Synth Metal, but I think that’s a good summary of what it sounds like. Of course, the synthwave elements do come from bathing in this weird era of 80s nostalgia we live in, but instead of dwelling in nostalgia, we take these sounds from the past and use them to propel ourselves forward in time, to tell stories of the future.
LOMM: How did the initial musical and thematic elements evolve?
Alpha Boötis: We have a saying in French that translates roughly to “If you chase away instinct, it comes back like a galloping horse”. That saying definitely applies to Alpha Boötis’ thematic and musical evolution over the past 4 years. We’re all from a heavy/prog metal background, and listen to a wide variety of music, so it wasn’t a surprise to anyone when, after releasing an instrumental synthwave EP, we added metal guitar riffs, progressive song structures and powerful clean vocals to our first album. Our synthwave aesthetic is still firmly established in our music, but the music we are writing now is influenced by Iron Maiden, Symphony X and Blind Guardian as it is by Tangerine Dream, Pertubator or Daft Punk.
The themes of science-fiction, futurism, transhumanism and space exploration have stayed constant, but we are now exploring these more deeply, through our lyrics, short stories, poems and interactive storytelling.
LOMM: Are you happy with your product? I mean, what aspects of it do you think you guys nailed, and what parts do you think you could improve upon?
Alpha Boötis: We’re proud of our first two releases, but we learned so much by producing and releasing them that there are a lot of things that, looking back, we could’ve done better. The production and sound design on the first EP was still amateurish, and on Space Vikings, we had to finish everything in a rush so some vocal parts are not as polished as I would’ve liked them to be.
LOMM: How has the overall reception been?
Alpha Boötis: The reception of both our releases has been very good. We make music that resonates with nerds, geeks and metalheads, and it’s been great to hear and read the positive comments from our community and peers. Those first two releases mostly touched our friends and people in our local scene, so growth has been slow, but steady. At first, I was insecure, because I had that nagging feeling that our friends were saying they liked it only to avoid hurting our feelings, but people kept coming back, asking about the band or telling their friends, so I now know that these anxieties weren’t grounded in reality. Seeing people come back show after show is truly heartwarming.
LOMM: Have you ever been on a tour? Given live performances? Is it tough for you not to be able to do so now?
Alpha Boötis: Our first small tour project got shelved because of the pandemic, although we play three to five shows in Montréal each year. Shows are my favourite part of being a musician after composing, so I miss them dearly. I think the rest of the band feels the same. We have such dedicated and enthusiastic fans who congregate at our shows, and since many of them share interests outside of our music, every show feels like a big party. There’s really nothing like it. We are trying to set up live streamed performances for 2021, but i wouldn’t call those shows, since they don’t have that electric feeling.
LOMM: What do you see for your future? How is it looking?
Alpha Boötis: The future is looking very busy and exciting for us. We have an EP coming out this December, and a full length album planned and written for 2021! I’m also happy that we are branching out and integrating poetry, literature and visual arts more and more to our art.
LOMM: Could you tell us about the lyrics / themes /concepts you focus on or plan to focus on? How did the ideas come about, and how do they influence the writing process? Who is writing the lyrics?
Alpha Boötis: Our songs are all tied together in a sprawling science-fiction saga that explores most of the grand questions of existence, but with an over-the-top and high-colour treatment. Our stories take place in a distant future, with space vikings, giant killer robots, omniscient AIs and massive colony ships floating about the galaxy, which brings much needed levity to the heavier topics we often explore in our lyrics. I write lyrics with our keyboardist and singer Harakoa. Usually, we start from a song that’s mostly written, and build lyrics based on the song’s place in our narrative and it’s emotional flow and then either adapt the song’s melodies or write new melodies to the lyrics.
It’s hard to convey very complex or nuanced messages in lyrics, since you can only have so many words, and there are constraints of prosody, rhyming schemes or melodic contour that limit which words you can use. This is why for our next album, we are also writing short stories and additional poems to expand on the songs and create a multimedia storytelling experience. For this, we are collaborating with a dear friend of mine, author Fannie Jubinville.
LOMM: Which is more exciting? Being on the road or studio?
Alpha Boötis: I think the studio is a much more exciting place, since it’s where I realize my artistic vision and also a place to experiment with cool sounds.
LOMM: Who is composing the songs?
Alpha Boötis: Frak and myself. Our process is quite long, but it can be summarized this way. Frak will send me a song, in Guitar Pro, and I’ll arrange it. After arranging, I start sound design in Ableton, and after a while, Harakoa joins me to write lyrics. We’ll often modify a song’s structure and arrangement after finishing the lyrics. I also write some songs all on my own, especially when I feel there’s a hole in the narrative or that the album is lacking something.
LOMM: What bands do you draw your inspiration from?
Alpha Boötis: On the electronic side, Carpenter Brut, Daft Punk, Tangerine Dream and Dynatron are our main influences. We also all grew up listening to prog and heavy metal bands like Rush, Iron Maiden, Queensrÿche, Nightwish and Blind Guardian, and this shows in our songwriting. I’m also drawing a lot from Coheed & Cambria, Pink Floyd and Between The Buried & Me, especially on the conceptual aspect, but also musically. Lately I’ve been listening to hyperpop a lot; I love how Poppy, Dorian Electra or Charlie XCX use production like a songwriting tool and jump from one genre and mood to the next frantically. I’ll probably be infusing a bit of those production techniques in future songs.
LOMM: What’s more important to you? Catering to the audience or music for its own sake?
Alpha Boötis: I’m a storyteller by nature, so I try to craft my music in a way that is both appealing and powerful. I don’t think there’s an inherent contradiction between writing music that’s accessible and that is artistic. Some stories and emotions need harsh and dense music to be conveyed, others are best told through catchy songs. All in all, I write music so that other nerds like me can enjoy the stories and composition I love creating.
LOMM: When you look back at your music career, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
Alpha Boötis: Our first album, Space Vikings, is the work I’m most proud of. I produced, recorded and mixed it all myself, and that was my first time working on such a big project. I took many months of work, and left me exhausted, but I think it was worth it. I learned so much! I don’t think we have reached any significant achievements so far, we’ve only begun making our mark on the music scene.
LOMM: Anything else you think your fans should know?
Alpha Boötis: The next chapter in our story, the Stowaway Ants EP, is set to release on December 11 2020. It’s our first release to feature our saxophonist Krøgorlön and we’re so eager to release it into the world! That EP also includes a dark cover of Every Breath You Take by The Police. We’ve always found that song ultra-creepy, and so we transposed it in a minor key to highlight the narrator’s unhealthy stalking obsession. The preorder is up on our bandcamp.
Thank you so much for having us.
Ozymandias and the Alpha Boötis crew
Lady Obscure: Entirely a pleasure. Good luck!
OzymandiasDecember 9, 2020 at 4:54 pm
Thank you so much for having me. This was such a fun interview. Keep shining a light on the musical underground!
Lady ObscureJanuary 6, 2021 at 8:04 am
We definitely will, good Sir 🙂 Thanks as well, for taking the time 🙂