ALTA show us the infallible power of being sincere

14 September 2017 | 9:41 am | Freya Dinesen

As our love for Melbourne electronic duo ALTA continues to burn bright, we felt pretty darn stoked to chat with them at BIGSOUND last week.

As our love for Melbourne electronic duo ALTA continues to burn bright, we were pretty darn stoked to see them in the flesh at this year's BIGSOUND Festival in sunny ol' Brisbane last week.

ALTA initially started as a fun cross-genre collaboration between producer Julius Dowson and vocalist Hannah Lesser, but quickly developed into a pukka new project packed full of potential.

After relocating to Melbourne from Tasmania in pursuit of it's greener pastures, the pair bored themselves into the city's thriving electronic scene and staked their claim as one of its most promising acts.

Since signing with Soothsayer and releasing their Sincere EP last year, ALTA have continued to explore the boundaries of their sound to slingshot their creativity into new domains, branding themselves a unique cut of soul-fuelled electronic pop. Their most recent and irrefutably addictive single offering, 'Fix It', unveiled new finesse and percipience in the duo's music and granted them a new trajectory for their aspirations and reputation alike.

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We were lucky enough to sit down with ALTA in amongst the shenanigans BIGSOUND and chat about the virtue behind the hype and what their future has in store.

How’s BIGSOUND been for you [so far]? There are a lot of great artists on this year’s line-up, is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing?

Hannah: It’s been absolutely amazing so far! We are lucky that we are able to play every night, so we played last night and then we went and saw NYCK and GOLDEN VESSEL. We’re playing tonight for a Red Bull Music Academy event with MANU CROOK$ and JONTI which we’re super excited to see… And then WILLARIS. K and Mansionair after that.

Jules: Yeah, it is amazing! There is no way you can see everything, but it’s great though. It’s just full, packed days.

Hannah: Even walking around there’s such a cool community vibe!

Yeah there are so many clashes, and you guys are playing a lot of shows as well! Now, you’re currently slaying it in the Melbourne scene and have been causing quite a hype up here in the Sunshine State as well, but you guys are originally from Tassie... Can you tell us about ALTA and how you came to be?

J: So we met in Tassie and we were both doing really different things. Hannah was playing with bands doing vocals and I was doing more DJing stuff and then we met and decided to do something together.

H: Yeah we met and collab'd on one track to begin with.

J: And yeah, we did that for about six months or something and then we decided, “Let’s have a proper crack at it,” so we moved up to Melbourne to start doing [ALTA] more seriously.

The electronic music scene is a pretty competitive market, no doubt in a culture capital like Melbourne, yet you’ve been able to carve a distinct edge to your music and give off this awesome unique sound and style. Was it challenging to find your voice and stand out amongst the masses?

H: In a way… Initially when we first moved from Tassie we began following a lot of bands and artists in Melbourne that we liked and started going to their shows and meeting them. I can see why there’s a competitive aspect, but we’re so lucky that we have the support of our peers. We prop each other up and are supportive of each other, and Jules and I can call a lot of the other artists who are in the same realm as us in Melbourne our good friends. That’s something special and we don’t really feel the competitive aspect, we feel, “Oh look at what they’re doing, that’s awesome! Let’s go to their show, let’s be bumping up their release.” It’s got this community vibe that’s really, really special.

J: It really is a scene. It is people supporting each other and going to each other’s shows and being there.

H: With the Melbourne music scene, we can genuinely say that some our favourite artists are in that scene. One of our favourite, favourite producers, Christopher Port, is from Melbourne and he is our mate, we really are so inspired by those around us.

How do you feel about your position now compared to when you were starting out a few years ago?

J: We’ve built up a bit of a team now, we have a manager and booking manager and all that stuff now, so it’s easier in that way. When we first moved over, we didn’t have that so it was a little more…

H: I know what you’re saying, Jules. Initially when we first moved over, we didn’t have that network. We were really into Ills and Oscar + Martin and we used to go to all of their shows, and that’s how we made friendships and networked with other artists. Our sound has developed from that point, so we hope we stick out in a way and are in the forefront of people’s minds, and when people think of Melbourne electronic music that they think of our music.

I’ve got to admit; I was pretty blown away with your first showcase at BIGSOUND… In your releases, there is a lot of complex production and really intriguing, almost grime meets industrial kinds of sounds which is offset by this gentler voice. Somehow you’ve transposed this into a completely live rig, with some very fervent playing from Jules. Is this an adaptation from more traditional in-the-box (computer based) workflows, or is this the way you guys write your tracks as well?

J: Our writing and recording process is different and always changing. We’re kind of half in-the-box (ITB) and half out-of-the-box (OTB) at the moment, and there was a period where we were buying a lot of gear and that was one of the main parts of our production process. We wanted to play around with it and make sounds that would inspire us to make a song. So, that process of using live equipment is definitely part of our songwriting process, and then we try to recreate that live as well. It’s fun for us!

H: The transitions between songs is really important to us because we like our set to be continuous. We don’t really have any stops and it’s not the traditional structure where you play a song and then stop, it’s more like a DJ set I suppose.

J: Yeah, although we do record with live instruments when we make a track. We wanted to recreate that in a live way and bring a lot of equipment on stage with us. It’s a bit of a combination of ITB and OTB on stage too, so it is a reflection of how we write music. It’s exciting for us too! We have to work with problems and fix things on the fly if something happens around the risky parts.

Do you guys have to practice a lot to get that down pat? There are obviously a lot of complicated transitions in your live set and it sounded seamless. That must be quite hard!

J: It is! Probably about a third of our time that we spend on ALTA is rehearsing and working out the live set. We always like to bring in new tracks as well, like, we’ll write a song and then as soon as we’ve even written the demo of it we’re thinking about how we can bring it into the live show and test where it will fit in. We can analyse how it works out and gauge people’s reactions.  

‘Fix It’ was the first track of yours that I heard properly, and it still gets stuck in my head randomly all the time. I’ll be crawling into bed and just be hearing, “Nah nah nah nah nah, don’t fix it”… It is a freaking fun tune and it’s great for brushing off a bad day or bad vibes. Judging by the recent remixes from Shouse and Godmode, I daresay a lot of other folks dig it too...  It feels like this has been a bit of a turning point for you and your music that has been on the horizon for quite a while. What’s different about this track this time round?

H: That’s exactly how we feel! We released ‘Fix It’ a few months ago in June - it was the first song that we released since our EP last year and we feel that we have honed in on our writing for this newer sound. It was the first product of this sound that we wanted and is kind of the trajectory that we want to continue on.

J: We spent some time making portable studios in AirBnBs at the beginning of the year to write music and try to change our environment and mix things up. We made a lot of songs that were actually fully written that we didn’t release, and ‘Fix It’ was the end result of that process. We decided not to release anything other than that one song, but there was a whole progression there.

And how does it feel from a personal perspective hearing these reworks of the track from other artists?

H: It’s great! We’re always stoked if anyone wants to remix a track. Just even hearing that one of our songs gets stuck in your head like that is amazing to me! When we get a good response from something we’ve worked on, it means everything to us.

J: We love it! And when other artists that we like want to take some of the stuff we’ve done and then recreate it in their own way, it is so cool!

Asides from the hectic performance from Jules, your vocals are insane, Hannah. Stylistically you guys use a lot of vocal effects and delays, but you pulled back on that a bit live and damn girl… you’ve got lungs! Is this hidden ammo to bring a further “wow factor” to your live performances, or is it something you’re developing more?

H: I feel like it’s always been in a bit of the live part. I’m influenced by so many artists and there’s so many great ones out there at the moment like SZA and PRINCESS NOKIA, I kind of channel their energy. If I’m feeling a bit off when I’m on stage or feeling nervous before a gig, I will channel these really powerful women that I look up to and think, “Nah, you’ve got this!” Last night I was thinking “Oh shit, this is BIGSOUND” and I literally started channeling Amy Winehouse!

Oh wow! You seemed like you were totally owning it, I wouldn’t have guessed that at all! So, what’s next for ALTA? You’ve recently played at Splendour and supported KILTER and ABRA, is there going to be a focus on live performance? Or, you mentioned before that you have a bit of a treasure trove of tracks... are there any beats in the incubator?

H: We’ve just been writing a lot of music and we have some upcoming releases, hopefully coming out through and towards the end of the year. We hope to do our own headline tour at the end of the year maybe as well, that’s something we’re working towards.

Photo by JOSEPH CRACKETT/ONLY ODD for Purple Sneakers