Annabel Alpers, aka Bachelorette, discusses with BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM making the transition from the brilliant and solitary Isolation Loops, to her more collaborative and technophilic second album, My Electric Family.

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MUSIC is perhaps unrivalled as an art form through its ability to work via little moments. They can come out of nowhere, melting what you had heard into something new. Such a moment happens 1:53 into ‘Dream Sequence’, when the Kinks-esque riff gets blown apart by the Royal New Zealand Air Force Band. For such simplicity, it carried such an aching sense of beauty, and from then on, I was trapped within Bachelorette’s (aka Annabel Alpers) world. It’s more open than her début album, the painfully introverted but frankly brilliant Isolation Loops. It’s also more diverse in its sound, jumping from a track composed entirely of HDU samples (from HDU’s ‘The National Grid’) to astro-funk. It is a little clunkier lyrically than Isolation Loops, and not as tightly coiled, but it’s another wonderful piece of work by one of New Zealand’s finest artists. Having just signed to iconic label Drag City, and toured the U.S. with fans of hers Will Oldham and Bill Callahan, Alpers will hopefully gain some wider attention too.

Isolation Loops gained critical acclaim and word-of-mouth coverage for Bachelorette for its unique and singular vision, and built on the promise she had shown in The End of Things EP. However, she wasn’t aware of any raised expectations for the follow-up. Alpers says “I guess I never really had any expectations for how people would react to Isolation Loops. My general approach to making music is that as long as I’ve challenged or surprised myself in some way during the process, then I’m happy enough with the result. And if other people like it, then that’s a total bonus, but I’ve never been able to approach it from the standpoint of trying to aim the music at a particular audience. Any expectations I had to battle with while making My Electric Family were my own. I didn’t see any point in thinking about what other people might expect.”

Isolation Loops was famous for the way it was created – Alpers locked herself away in a remote hut by the mouth of the Raikaia River in Canterbury, and emerged with a piece of brilliance. For My Electric Family however, Alpers says “I started out thinking that the process would be the same as with recording Isolation Loops, but I actually needed to take a different approach to recording My Electric Family in order to keep interested. I mean, the equipment I used and the way I constructed and mixed the songs on the computer wasn’t dissimilar to when I worked on Isolation Loops, but I found I needed more time and space and interaction with other people while working on My Electric Family. It didn’t suit me to just squirrel myself away for months like I did with Isolation Loops. And I had more live drums on My Electric Family, so the drums were recorded with the help of my friends in Wellington.”

The name Bachelorette carries strong connotations of individuality, and given the creation of Isolation Loops, it was an interesting process to hear band-members involved in the making of My Electric Family. Alpers says “I’ve never actually been the sole musician on any of the Bachelorette albums. I perform most of the Bachelorette songs myself, but there have always been a few that involve other musicians. I brought other people in on My Electric Family because it felt like the right thing to do at the time. I don’t see the point in having some dogma that limits my options musically. Doing that would imply that I have complete control over the creative process. But of course, I don’t. It’s elusive. I just like to go along with what works at any given time.”

That said, the album wasn’t originally conceived with a band in mind at all. “It just ended up that way because I was living near Wellington while I was working on My Electric Family, and I’d had expressions of interest from musicians who lived there (Dino Karlis, Craig Terris, Tom Watson and Andrew Bain) who’d said that they’d like to play on my songs, and quite a few of the songs leant themselves to their style of playing, so it made sense to include them on the recordings rather than trying to do it all myself, because they’re much better at playing their respective instruments than I am, plus I kind of discovered that I needed some outside input in order to make it working on the album more interesting for me. When it came to performing the album live, I realised that I couldn’t do all the songs justice if I played them completely solo. That said, after the U.S. tour, I’m going back to playing solo for a while again.” Alpers admits that she found directing other musicians difficult. “I don’t feel comfortable directing other people musically. When I’ve included other performers on my recordings, we’ve had an understanding that they can play what they like and then I can go away and use what I want and edit it as I see fit.”

While Isolation Loops was about failed romance and relationships, My Electric Family explores technophobia and technophilia, science-fiction and modern day dystopias. Her technological concerns are carried through to the way she constructs the music, and she manages to wring emotion through ‘unemotional’ technology. Alpers says “I guess it’s just subjective. I get an emotional response from listening to electronic sounds, but not everyone does. I think there is some real beauty to be found in clinical, pure sounds and clockwork rhythms, but they would leave some people cold for sure.” This extends to using loops in her music, and over the two albums, she manages to create intricate ballets out of simple loops. There’s a compelling tension in Alpers’s work between the robotic precision of her loops, and the emotional and warm lyrics. Alpers suggests there isn’t too much mystery behind this. “I just like the way certain loops sound. The decisions I make musically are based on what combinations of things sound right to me, and it’s not necessarily a conscious thing.”

Science-fiction has been a constant in her music, and is something picked up on by a lot of writers in regards to her music. Alpers says “I grew up in the 80s, where the coolest things were the latest technological marvels – the space shuttle, space invaders, hand held electronic toys and of course, computers. The best TV shows were things like Buck Rogers, Knight Rider and Metal Mickey. Star Wars was the movie. I guess I’ve just taken that feel-good association with me. Although as an adult, I’m more interested in reading science fact than science fiction.”

Alpers has signed to iconic American indie label Drag City (Pavement, Will Oldham, Joanna Newsom) and has just toured the States with the legendary Will Oldham and Bill Callahan. Drag City “saw me play in Chicago in 2008, because my manager Xan Hamilton invited them to the show. After that, they kept contact with Xan and I fed them little snippets of My Electric Family as I was recording it. When it was pretty much finished, they said they would like to release it. I was really chuffed that they were willing to take a punt on Bachelorette, so I guess I feel some pressure to do right by them, and make the most of this opportunity they’ve presented.” She says the tour was memorable too. “It was great to be able to see them do what they do. They’re such professionals. All of Will Oldham’s band were such accomplished musicians and the symbiosis they struck up on stage was awe inspiring. It was definitely live music at its unrepeatable ideal.”

My Electric Family is an excellent follow-up to Isolation Loops. Her idiosyncratic voice finds its feet a bit more on the album, and the diversity of the album hangs together through Alpers’ expert sense of melody and emotion. Her dense, challenging music is intricately constructed and edited together, but never loses its warmth or human touch or unpredictability in its musical outlook. Further proof, if more was needed, of the singular joys of hearing Bachelorette’s work.