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Alpha Male Tea Party – Health: Exclusive Album Stream

The self-proclaimed ‘f**king loud instrumental band’ stream the darkest and most personal album of their career to date 3 days before its official release, exclusively with The Independent 

Remfry Dedman
Tuesday 20 June 2017 11:17 BST
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Alpha Male Tea Party, from left to right, Greg Chapman
Alpha Male Tea Party, from left to right, Greg Chapman (Michelle Roberts)

“We never originally intended to be an instrumental band; when we started, we auditioned a load of singers and some of them were f**king awful! We wrote some demos in order to entice a vocalist into the band and stuck them up on the Internet and got offered a support with ...And so I Watch you from Afar and Adebisi Shank on the strength of some instrumental demos that were never actually intended to be instrumental. When we got slots like that, we figured there might be something in this and it’s spiralled out of control into the fiery ball of hell that it is now!”

Founding member and guitarist of Alpha Male Tea Party Tom Peters there on how his band, one of the most beloved and respected to come out of the instrumental ‘just-don’t-call-us-post-rock’ wave that has been fiercely bubbling away in the underground in the past decade. The band have firmly established themselves as one of the country’s premier instrumental math rock acts in a nascent yet hysterically dedicated scene. Their third album Health is due to be released via Big Scary Monsters on Friday 23rd June, but you can stream the record in full 3 days beforehand, exclusively with The Independent.

Alpha Male Tea Party originally began as an escape from the drudgery of full-time employment for Tom. He ‘started putting demos of s**tty songs together on Logic’ and posted a Gumtree advert to find like-mined individuals to help produce seismic tectonic-plate-shifting math rock riffs. The band took a short while to cement its line-up but solidified with drummer Greg Chapman and bassist Ben Griffiths, a person Peters asked to join the band despite never seeing him play bass on the strength that he was "a funny man".

Humour has been an essential thread through Alpha Male Tea Party’s career to date; whether it be the outrageous Devo-inspired outfits or their acerbic on-stage wit. It’s tended to be a characteristic that has marked them out from a scene that produces a lot of great bands with little to distinguish between them but it’s also been used as a noose for clueless critics to hang the band from.

“I guess Health is a bit more lofty in theme than where we've been before” says Tom. “For all our jocular silliness and stupid humour, I think the core of what we're doing is a lot more serious than people think it is. I know we always have stupid song titles and we have a silly band name, but when it actually boils down to what we do creatively and artistically, we take it incredibly seriously. There’s a bit of a misconception about the humorous aspect of Alpha Male Tea Party; it isn't merely a pointless element. It's a very important and intrinsic part of who the three of us are as individuals and if that doesn't come across in what we do artistically, then we are f**king lying. I'm the sort of person who'll be cracking jokes in any situation; I was cracking jokes at my Grandad's funeral because that's how I cope with stuff, I have to do it like that. I'm not an insensitive person and I care very deeply about people and the world, but there comes a point where you actually have to find a way to reconcile yourself with the many s**tty things that happen and humour, for me, is pretty much the only way I can do that. If there's ever any level of criticism about us, it's always relating to the humour, as if there were a pre-scribed idea that humour and music should never cross paths.”

But all music is a product of the circumstances in which it was created and Alpha Male Tea Party’s third album is no different. The jubilant, major-key melodies are still scattered all over the record with abundance, and the band still show a fondness for naming some of their songs with absurd track titles, such as "Carpet Diem", "Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?" and "Nobody Had the Heart To Tell Him He Was on Fire". But the badinage is soaked in an altogether more sombre tone than what we’ve come to expect from the three-piece.

“If we did have an agenda going into this album it was we wanted to do something a little bit darker” says Tom. “I think that was just a natural reaction to the personal circumstances that we were all going through. I was struggling to come up with up-beat major sounding riffs and it wasn’t feeling natural either. I don't want to churn out 10 songs of buoyant, cheery riffs because that's what people think we do. As f**king pompous as this sounds, music to me is all about capturing how you are actually relating to the world individually as a person. For me, I need to be able to take those emotional things and translate them into something on my instrument; if I can't do that then nothing happens. It took us a while to get going with this album; we've had a pretty tough couple of years individually in between Droids and Health so getting creative juices flowing when you're dealing with complicated personal issues can be pretty difficult. But as we got towards the end of the writing process, I feel like we probably could have written s**t-loads more; we were feeling really good about it.”

As the album began to emerge, the band started to notice themes converging and forming a cohesive through line that came from their personal stresses and enriched the material they were working on. “I think when we actually decided to call it Health, that was when the bigger, deeper definitions started to pop into our heads” says Tom “It was definitely harder to write this album than Droids” Greg picks up on that thread, “When we did Droids there was a theme about the monotony of life which was illustrated on the cover and through the song titles. We wanted this album to be thematic as well as opposed to merely a collection of songs. There was a multitude of things that happened along the way that gave us false starts, people who we love have been ill during this process, and it wasn’t until we got the name actually on to the record that it all started to make some kind of thematic sense.”

Whilst Health might contain darker themes than previous records, the jollity and effervescence that usually greets ones ears when they’re wrapped around a phat Alpha Male Tea Party riff still coils its way around your pleasure centres; that tension between technicality and melody that has served the band so well is still very much present and correct. “It's a very important part of what we do” says Tom “I think we wouldn't ever sacrifice melody across a song for the sake of being technical. We like to have moments where it's sounds f**king horrible, but then it will break into something that's quite beautiful. We always try and do it sonically and with a bit of individual character.”

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“The litmus test tends to be 'can we sing back?'” says Ben. “There'll be bits that are stuck in our heads for days and it sounds cliché but that’s when we know we’ve got it right. But we never try to incorporate a particular mode or scale or time signature or anything like that.” “We might try and make things more interesting if something sounds a little bit too meat and potatoes,” says Greg “but we're not really massively uber technical players. There are a lot of math bands out there that are 100% chops but with no tunes or melody and it bores the crap out of us!”

Despite this, since they formed in September 2009, Alpha Male Tea Party have very much crashed the math-rock party and are proceeding to drink everyone else’s booze. Initially christened Safe in a Shell, the band changed their nom de plume to their equally ludicrous current moniker, a name that would still cause trouble with misguided dimwits who completely misunderstood the appellation is tongue-in-cheek. When the band started, Tom admits he was naive to the size of the scene they infiltrated. “I didn't really even know math rock was a thing until I formed this band” he admits. “I'd never come across Don Caballero or American Football or any of those bigger math-y bands at that point. I've always had this leaning towards writing these sort of like proggy sounding things but I always kept them as a bit of a dirty secret.”

Tom’s dirty little secrets soon became 10 fully-flourished songs on the band’s debut release AMTP released in 2012. Though he was initially unfamiliar with the instrumental math scene, it became apparent pretty quickly to him that there was little in the way of personality injected into some of the most established and well-loved bands of the movement. He intended not to fall into the same pit-trap himself. “We're quite aware of our sound and how we want to portray ourselves musically” he says. “There are a lot of bands in this scene that are doing cool things but they’ve been covered fairly substantially already and we've always been very conscious of that. So we're really keen to always maintain an obvious sense of personal identity in our music.”

“I realised when I was putting Alpha Male Tea Party together, the only thing that was actually really important was if it had a sense of self to it. If you can convey who you are through the music you make, then you're doing something right. That was a real penny drop moment for me; there are things that I look back on in the early days of the band and I shudder a little bit; some of the things I posted on the internet, some of the things that we used to wear on stage. But in my defence, I was 21 years old, I was still trying to work out who I was as a human being. It's mad to think this band's 8 years old now and it has been an unbelievable personal journey for all of us. We’ve had moments where we’ve considered getting other people involved, like a manager or something to make use seem a more ‘professional’ band, but what this band really boils down is who we are in a creative and emotional, personal sense. If we try to dilute that or feel we need to change that, then why would we be doing it?”

Health, the third album be Alpha Male Tea Party, is released through Big Scary Monsters on Friday 23rd June.

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