Experimental rock duo Alpine Decline will be playing four gigs in South Korea over the next several days. Hailing from Los Angeles originally, band members Jonathan Zeitlin and Pauline Mu previously played together in the band Mezzanine Owls, before forming Alpine Decline. Based out of China since fall 2011, their upcoming concerts in Seoul (9/29), Daejeon (9/30), Daegu (10/5), and Busan (10/6) will be their first shows in South Korea.
Ahead of Alpine Decline’s tour, guitarist Jonathan Zeitlin answered some questions for Korea Gig Guide. Check out his answers below.
What can people in Korea expect from your live performances?
We’re two people, so every live show is an effort to build our dense tower of sound without it collapsing into chaos. We project Super 8 film footage from our trips into the mountains and deserts, which I’ve altered to maximize brain burn, while we play. We try to make each show an experience that ejects you from the outside world for about 30 to 40 minutes. We’re feeling pretty loose at the moment and will probably plan sets that keep us out of our comfort zone, but you can expect some heavy blows.
What do you want to do in South Korea when not playing?
We’re playing the first two shows of the tour and then taking to the mountains. We’ve heard endless stories about the beauty of the Korean wilderness and we’re going to dive in as deeply as we can before coming out and playing the last two shows. Hopefully while we’re in the cities we’ll be able to explore the local scenes and soak up as much as our little bodies can absorb.
How did you and Pauline first meet? What made you want to create music together?
This is going to sound crazy, but we met through the newspapers, pre-Internet, totally analog. We’re not subscribers to cosmic concepts, but somehow among Los Angeles’s crushing bloat of artists we may have been the last to connect through the medium of print. What’s more, after four years of touring and recording together in bands with somewhat radial relationships, we suddenly and unexpectedly collided and scattered everyone else away.
We were on a slow schedule with our other band, and had a mutual desire to make a record that defied the practices of that band, and started to record an album together. It was made with one cheap microphone, one layer at a time – literally. We’d put the mic over the snare and record it. Then we’d put the mic under the snare and record it. Then we’d put the mic on the tom and record it. We did this over and over. We were in a total psychoactive blur for 20-hour stretches broken up by fitful sleep on the floor of my dilapidated apartment. Looking at pictures from then, there is an insane look in our eyes. It looks like we had lost control over our facial muscles and our expressions, like we were babbling possessed mystical lunatics. By day four or five we were inextricably locked into each other’s orbit, permanently. We made two full length records, which are currently unreleased, this way before the meltdown of our other band, which at that point had become inevitable.
Since Alpine Decline formed in 2010, you’ve released four albums. What was your motivation for issuing so many recordings over the course of only two years?
After our last band broke up, we had a long stretch where we chose to be completely absent from music entirely. We didn’t make music. We didn’t go see bands. I only left the house to go shelve books for minimum wage. We started to create Alpine Decline in our minds, in conversation, and the conversation was not about what kind of sound we’d have or what kind of image we’d have or anything – it was about what kind of a daily life, what kind of rituals we would need to build and what choices we would need to enable us to create music as our life’s work, from now into the black. Not to approach making music as just being in a band, but to approach it as our craft which we could depend on and live our lives through.
When you’re in a rock band, you end up spending most of your time and energy trying to expand things – you want to play better shows, get more people in your crowd, and make the next step forward. We made a very direct decision to abandon the rituals of rock bands and embrace the lives of writers. When you spend your day-to-day life writing, and when you think about albums as something tangible you are crafting rather than as the content to support your band, you end up slipping out of the traditional timeline. We made the first three records in about a year, but it wasn’t part of some “fuck you” drive to be prolific, it was a direct result of embracing a creative process that immediately erased the boundary between our daily lives and as a rock band.
Please tell us about your new album, “Night of the Long Knives.” When was it written and recorded?
“Night of the Long Knives” was written in late 2011 and early 2012 in the Beijing Culture Factory, our practice space on the outskirts of east Beijing. It was recorded in spring 2012 at the Beijing Culture Factory (which has since, inexplicably, been demolished) and at Psychic Kong Studios with Yang Haisong. It’s going to be released in Europe and the US later this year. We’re currently sorting out the Chinese release.
What are some of your best memories from making “Night of the Long Knives”?
For two months we woke up and met up with Yang Haisong. The Beijing Culture Factory was literally in the shadow of a nuclear power plant, nestled in some crumbling brick buildings that had been taken over by squatting migrant workers. Psychic Kong is in a cold, wet basement parking garage in a neighborhood where a guy with a guitar on his back, let alone one with a white face, might as well be an alien touching down. As our first record in China, and our first record with a Chinese producer, it took on the vibe of some weird mythical trial for us, through which we would either pass through the fire or be consumed by it. With Yang Haisong and Liu Yi Ke, who helped engineer the record, two of our closest friends since moving to Beijing, we dove in and made an album that captures the wild highs and crushed lows of our experience moving to China, both real and imagined.
Why did you decide that China was a better place for the band to be based out of than LA?
We had this idea that living on the outskirts of Beijing would help us escape the framework of being a musician that’s been codified in the US. There are some really insane musicians in LA, but no matter how far out there you are, you are subject to 60 years of history playing this kind of music in the States and we had the fantasy that we’d move to the furthest place possible, into a dystopian chaos where we would etch our ideas in the rubble and disappear. Of course that fantasy is totally not real, and that’s a good thing, and our lives here are made meaningful through the friendships we’ve made with other musicians and people passionate about building a great music culture in China. We get the best of both worlds now – we can live away from the craziness of the Beijing city center, but we can participate in the most free and vibrant scene we’ve ever seen and give whatever we can to help it as it evolves.
Would things be any different for Alpine Decline if you were still living in LA now?
Staying in LA was not an option – years and years of just living in Echo Park and playing in a band exhausts your experience and your ability to move forward. Our lives in China are completely different, operating a band here has a wildly different range of choices and possible outcomes that I’m not sure how to characterize. The people playing music here, booking shows here, and writing about music in China are giving themselves entirely to building this world with really no chance of traditional commercial success – the rewards are essentially experiential and personal in nature. We have no money, we breathe micro-particles, we have fantasies about western food and greedily drink coffee that looks and tastes like shoe scrapings, but we have never been more inspired or happy in our lives. And from Beijing, we’ve been lucky enough to explore scenes and meet people living through music all around Asia, now including Korea.
Alpine Decline play tonight (September 29) at Powwow in Seoul with Apollo 18 and Sighborg. Tickets are 15,000 won and the show starts at 7:30 pm. Alpine Decline will also play tomorrow (September 30) at Daejeon Cantina. The show is free and will start at 10 pm. Next week, Alpine Decline will play in Daegu (October 5) at Horus Music Garage and in Busan (October 6) at Realize. The Daegu concert will be with Mr. Headbutt. It will start at 11:00 pm and tickets are 6,000 won. The Busan gig will start at 7 pm and costs 10,000 won. For more information about Alpine Decline’s South Korea tour, visit here.