Interview: ALPACA

October 17, 2013

Former Baroness drummer Allen Blickle opens up about moving on musically after the bus crash that changed his life.

About a year ago, Atlanta, Georgia progressive metal titans Baroness were at the top of their game. With a critically adored new album, Yellow & Green, and a European tour supporting Metallica slotted neatly into their resume, it seemed there was nowhere left for these mild-mannered Southern gents to go but up. Life has a funny way of disrupting even the best-laid plans, though. In August 2012, the members of the group had their lives turned quite literally upside down when their tour bus took a nosedive off the side of a viaduct in England. Thankfully, everyone on board survived, but the accident continues to haunt all of the lives that it touched. Several members ended up leaving the band, and though Baroness has forged ahead with a few new faces, former drummer Allen Blickle has refocused his energies elsewhere, far outside the metal realm. As ALPACA, he and his brother Justin have just released Demimonde, a collection of light-fingered synth-pop with a dash of moody trip-hop, on Robotic Empire. It may be a far cry from Baroness’ cerebral guitar riffs and thunderous percussion, but Blickle’s new baby comes from a place even darker than his heavy metal roots might suggest.

How are you feeling now? I still have physical pain from day to day. Sitting is hard for more than 20 minutes at a time. Staying in motion is key—being active in the right way. I've re-injured my back a number of times already and have had to go back to physical therapy to get back on track. The accident was much more to me than just a near-death experience. It made me rethink a lot in my life and has been the most difficult time I’ve been through thus far. It was a horrible memory, but I’m trying not to let it define me or stop me from doing what I love. Let it be and keep moving.

ALPACA has a very light, almost joyous feel to it; it’s a celebration, rather than a dirge. Do you think it was a natural response to the ordeal you underwent that you’d want to surround yourself with more positive sounds? I go through pretty heavy depression cycles. Sometimes making a song that lifts you up in a different way can change your attitude almost immediately. Being creative gives you the ability to be cathartic and respond to those emotions in a way that keeps you moving. Whether that’s in a positive or a negative way, you have to keep the drive alive. I have just as many darker songs written that didn't make the album, mostly because this is what felt right for our first release as ALPACA.

How much contact do you have with the other Baroness guys? Are you still on good terms? I speak with John [Baizley] and Pete [Adams] every so often. To be honest, I'm not great at keeping in close contact with many people that are out of sight/out of mind. After the accident, there was space put between us that I regret to say was mostly my fault. I was in some way pushing myself in another direction. I didn't know how to handle the horrible situation we all went through, but who does? It's not easy and continues to be somewhat difficult. I do miss playing with them and I have relayed to them that when the time is right, I would like to be on the road again. It’s not up to me at this point. I just don't want any resentment to build between any of us. We are old friends and have worked really hard together for years. Friends first—that's the most important thing to remember.

Baroness had evolved into a much more melodic, complex being before you left, and ALPACA seems like it could be a roundabout continuation of your work there, in essence if not necessarily in arrangement. Have you always had a soft spot for this kind of music? I have a continuing fascination with well-crafted songs. I love the art of composing and writing; I’ve always had a place in my heart for pop songcraft and the production that makes those songs great. It’s the same kind of process of writing with Baroness as it is ALPACA. You start with one piece, then mold it and add until it sounds like a song you wont hate 10 years from now. We wrote a lot of the ALPACA songs years ago, when all I had were keyboards to record with. More and more of the new material I write now is less synth-heavy and utilizes many different instruments.

How did you know you could pull it off? I’ve been working in electronic music for some years now, but I'm nowhere near where I want to be as a producer or composer. It’s all a learning process. At some point, you just have to say, "This is as good as it will get right now." I feel like I have already improved my sense of production since we finished the record last year. I am stoked to keep working on new sounds and improving my palette.

Halina Larsson sings on the album single, "Republic." Can you tell me about her involvement? Halina is a old friend of mine. We have worked on a number of projects in the past. I was excited that the track with her made it onto the record. We teamed up with a number of guest vocalists for the record, and all of them were wonderful to work with. I had done some remixes in the past for the band Eternal Summers; I loved Nicole's voice from those stems and asked her to try out a song for ALPACA. Erika Spring from Au Revoir Simone was a really cool addition that happened later in the album recording process. We were introduced by a mutual friend at one of her solo shows. She's a really great talent and amazing to work with.

What has the response to ALPACA been like thus far? I feel like the response has been really positive. I know that this is not the kind of music I am known for, and there will be a lot of people that are not into this project, but I’m glad that we were finally able to release these songs. I just hope people enjoy them and the music we continue to produce in the future.

What are your continuing plans for the project? Justin and I are always recording and working on new tracks. I would like to think that the material we are working on at the moment will be the next ALPACA record. I’m also in the midst of producing a couple more music videos that will be released in the coming months. At the moment, it’s hard for us to play out live since we both live on separate coasts, but the plan is to start playing these songs live next year and hopefully have another record fleshed out.

Do you have any plans to return to metal or otherwise heavy music? If the right opportunity came to me, I would be completely willing. I want to start playing more frequently, and I think that will take me touring again. If it’s in a metal band or not, I always play heavy and hit the shit out of the drums.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your ordeal? Follow your gut. Take chances. Make sure to keep your friends close, even if things come between you. The music business is not an easy industry and people turn their backs on you really fast.

Interview: ALPACA