I'd better come up with some good questions, as you've been doing the blogspot and fanzine Brain Bulletin for so long, how do you like being interviewed as opposed to being interviewed?
It's okay, it's pretty fun.
What are you doing at the moment?
Writing new songs, and playing, I've got shows coming up and a tour in Germany with a friend from Omaha, which should be fun. Mostly just playing shows.
It's not someone from Bright Eyes, but he performed on the record (Notes From The Treehouse), and his name is Jake Bellows. He's in a band called Neva Dinova, and they've been around for about fifteen years, but we became friends when I was in Nebraska and he's the fellow that sings on 'The Horse' and does all the harmonies and backing vocals for that record and he's a fantastic singer in his own right, and I thought it would be fun to play some solo stuff together in December, both here and in Germany. It will be the first time either of us have played in Germany, so it will be good to share it with a friend.
How did it come about that you played in Nebraska?
I've been a fan of music coming out from Saddle Creek for a while, and whilst writing Brain Bulletin when I was about 14, I did it throughout school, and the music I would go on and on about was music that had been either graced by his presence, or produced by Mike Mogis.
But like most people that like records, you don't always think that you are going to meet the people that make them, and when I signed to the label, they asked who would be the ultimate producer, and I said Mike would be, but it was a long shot. And the stars aligned, and he was actually in town, so the label started to sort things out in the summer of '07. Then I met up with him because he was on tour, and I gave him some Brain Bulletins with some music, and it didn't look for a while as though he would find any time because he's such a busy fellow. He takes on quite a lot of other projects as well, he's in Monsters Of Folk at the moment. But, he did manage to find a window of time in September two summers ago, and we just got to work.
It was a bit like a song, you don't think you're going to get to work with the people that in your bedroom you are admiring.
So, it's the first time in Germany, and you've been to Nebraska, have you been anywhere else exotic?
I've just done some shows around the country. I've just got back from doing a few dates with a really nice singer from Iceland, Emiliana Torrini. But in terms of playing abroad, I played last winter with some friends from California, Nevada City, a wonderful couple who have been married for a while, and play really gorgeous music, we played in Paris, and that was wonderful. Apart from playing in The States and France, I haven't really been anywhere else, but there's word I might be doing a tour in Ireland in the new year, so that will be fun as well.
Do you get a chance to look around when you're playing places on tour?
Not always, I've been playing around the country pretty much consecutively since school, actually no it was the summer before that. There usually isn't very much time, you usually have to roll up, get something to eat, as none of these venues give meals, then go the venue and then you have to leave. You don't always get to see very much of where you are playing, but you generally get a feel for the town just from the audience. I think Glasgow has been fun, I've only played there three times. but it's always been wonderful. They're always and really warm, and they tell you like it is which is good.
You also have your debut 'Handmade' art exhibition on at Riverside studios in Hammersmith, West London at the moment, how has that been received?
It was going to be on for a month but it's been extended by another couple of weeks. It's been up since the beginning of august, and I take it down at the end of this week. It's been a lot of fun, and is something else that I couldn't have known I was going to do. I used to draw for the fanzine as well, and it wasn't like I didn't take it seriously but I didn't know how I was going to show the drawings. So that's another new path, which is fun. Everybody has been really kind about it, even the local paper wrote a little thing about it, I'm kind of astounded.
I did most of the drawings in a really wobbly van last November. My very first tour, which was with a lovely guy called Derek Means, and another band called Peggy Sue, and I thought to pass time nicely it would be fun to have a little project, So, as I went along on the tour, as people signed up to the main email, I'd take down their address, and then post them drawings as we went along. Actually most of the drawings that are there at the Riverside, are just the drawings that I've kept track of. A lot of them are just floating about, which is quite a fun thought really.
I really enjoy drawing, I might be doing a little project with an illustrator called Ben Phillips.
I saw you at Camp Bestival perform that amazingly short set, and realised you had two members of Blackbud in the band, are they regular members?
The Ark line-up moves around, it's more like a gang than a set line-up, but I hope I can retain them for a while. I don't remember it being a short set, ah I remember we showed up late because we'd been stuck in traffic for hours. I hope you enjoyed it though, maybe you'll have to come to another show. I don't know what their position is with Blackbud, they're really lovely guys, I think they are not quite sure what to do next with their own music. I never want any of the guys to feel so bound down to The Ark that they can't carry on their own thing. I've seen them play before, they're astounding, like a really young Cream. They bring a nice style to the music.
Which festivals did you enjoy most this year?
Camp Bestival was one of my favourites, and I also liked much smaller festivals, Nozstock, Lounge On The Farm were fun. Glastonbury was fun in a crazy kind of way. I really enjoyed playing in Hyde Park, at the Bandstand on the same night as Neil Young. It was actually my birthday that weekend, what a perfect birthday present he's probably my absolute favourite, enough to never want another birthday present again.
Have you got any festival appearances confirmed for next year?
I'm not sure, you just got over one lot of dates, and have to start thinking about the next one. I'm going to be playing a show in New York on the 24th October, and I think that's part of a festival called CMJ. Other than that, dates just trickle in and trickle out, and there's no big structure planned, and the furthest date is those dates in December with Jake Bellows.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
I listen to quite a lot of oldies but that doesn't really change. Of the newer music I've been listening to some friends called Treetop Flyers, and Magic Magic, they're a fun band. Of the older Karen Dalton, Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young, and this guy called Rodriguez. Derek Means introduced me to a record of his called 'Cold Fact' when it first came out nobody really took much attention of the record, he's been doing a tour, I missed his shows, but his music is fantastic. Another band I really like is called Heartless Bastards, their singer Erika (Wennerstrom) she's fantastic. I don't like comparing people, I think it's unfair, but if I was to point you in a direction to give you an idea, they're quite a bluesy rock band but led by a singer that channels Karen Dalton's voice in a way, she's got an amazing pair of lungs. But it changes, the other week I went to see Alela Diane and she's something else, she's something special too, there's a lot of good music.
You studied music at school, what was the most unexpected and interesting thing you learnt?
In the course, just moving on to the guitar, and for the first time playing around with my voice, because all throughout school I'd been playing the drums in school bands, I never ever thought about meeting a band, or writing songs for a band, I was just too interested in other artists, and writing the zine and just talking about stuff that I liked. Doing music, and just taking it seriously towards the end of secondary school, learning that actually - maybe I'll start singing a bit more or writing my own lyrics, and playing guitar rather than just playing the drums.
Do you still play drums now?
Yeah, but not so often, I've actually packed away my drum kit into my cupboard, but they probably will come out again at some point. It would quite nice to be another band too, it would be fun to not always be singing, there are so many other people around who write nice songs, it would be nice to drum for someone else.
Who would you most like to collaborate with on drums?
Probably a friend, perhaps with Jake, maybe do some recording, we've played around with a few ideas. Actually, on Tuesday I'm playing a song with the Treetop Flyers and I think we're going to cover a Lynyrd Skynyrd song together so that should be fun.
Do you like touring?
I do, it's fun, I like it, it's nice to meet people, I like to talking to people, and I've seen so much more of the UK than I had previously, and all these festivals, like going to the seaside every weekend, it's been really good, and we've been blessed with some pretty good weather as well, so it's been great.
What's your favourite comfort food when you are on tour?
Man, I like puddings, so if I can get an apple crumble anywhere then that's where I'll be.
Upcoming UK Alessi's Ark shows:
27 Sep 2009 Hunga Munga @ Bethnal Green Working Men's Club, London
29 Sep 2009 The Lexington with Treetop Flyers, London
02 Oct 2009 Union Chapel with Au Revoir Simone, London
21 Oct 2009 Union Chapel with Cerys Matthews, London
27 Oct 2009 Cube with Johnny Flynn, Bristol
28 Oct 2009 Hanbury Ballroom with Johnny Flynn, Brighton
29 Oct 2009 Hamptons with Johnny Flynn, Southampton
02 Nov 2009 Oxjam show at The Ginglik, London
14 Nov 2009 Morecambe Library, Morecambe