Who Goes There?
Getting to Know the Sian Alice Group
Photos by Ben Rayner
Sian Alice Group are a cute gang of friends from all over Britain who naturally gravitated to London because it’s a safe haven for weirdos.
Mentored by Jason Pierce of Spiritualized and including Jesus and Mary Chain founding member Douglas Hart on bass, SAG sound like the spooky laughter of a thousand big fluffy rain clouds made of angel tears. Yup, that is EXACTLY what they sound like.
They’re about to tour America for the first time to promote their new album, 59:59, so we thought we would introduce you to them, one by one, because they’re our new favorite British band. Get to know ’em!
Photos by Ben Rayner
Vice: What is your worst fear?
Sian Alice (vocals): I am scared of live crustaceans, particularly crabs. I think it’s because as a child I used to read these weird books in the local library about giant man-eating crabs. I think they were adult books, not like erotic fiction, but in some bits they got quite sexy. Now I’m actually terrified of crabs. Lobsters are a BIT scary, but nothing like crabs.
What is your favorite possession?
It’s a red 1981 Mercedes. I don’t know what model it is but it has a really long bonnet, a really long back bit, and it’s a complete bugger to park. It’s the most comfy car in the world and I feel protected in it. I wear red leather gloves to match the body color. The interior is black and it’s an automatic. You’ve got to have automatic, always.
What is your most recent happiest moment?
Coming offstage after our first show. We played to a full house, supporting Spiritualized, at this theater in Leeds. They were applauding when we walked on and applauding and whooping when we walked off! When I got backstage I saw Jason and he said: “That’s it. You’ve got the bug now.” He bought us a bottle of champagne and we drank it in the van on the way back to London.
Do you get nervous before you perform?
I was very nervous before the first show. I’m still in the early stages of my public performing career and it’s quite hard to get used to. Before I go onstage I have a bit of whiskey and some Rescue Remedy. I go around to the rest of the group and give them some Rescue Remedy too. It’s like a ritual every time we play a show. I say: “It’s Rescue Remedy time!” and then I spray it in everybody’s mouth!
Vice: What was your early childhood like?
Douglas Hart (electric bass): I remember things like being with my mum in a pram on a picket line. I was probably two and a half. It was outside the BSR record-pressing factory in East Kilbride and there were all these loud, brassy women shouting pure filth at the people who were going to work. These guys looked terrified because I guess the women were all humiliating them sexually. I can remember the hubbub, the noise and the violence, and this huge bonfire.
Who is your worst enemy?
Where I grew up, there were three or four people that, if they saw me, they would regularly kick the fuck out of me. I’d steal their girlfriends and stuff. The one that really wanted to kill me half-killed somebody at his school, then got expelled and got sent to my school! Being in a group was a way of escaping these cunts. With music you create your own world, your own little gang.
Where do you buy your shoes from?
There’s a shop in Walworth Road, just before it goes into Camberwell, and it’s called something like Old-Fashioned English Shoes. They sell brogues from old shoe factories that are still hanging on by a thread. Church’s brogues are OK but they’re like £250. This shop sells shoes for £80 that will last you for 20 years. It’s got little glass counters and tons of beautiful boxes and there’s a little old guy there. It’s a gem of a place.
Do you believe in God?
I was brought up in a Communist, Worker’s Revolutionary Party background so God was drummed out of us. I used to get excused from religion classes and that’s where I started reading and how I fell in love with the librarian. I used to be so convinced that there wasn’t a God, but now I’m not so sure. I guess it’s because the older I get, I’m thinking: “There’s got to be something that’s pure.”
Vice: Where do you live?
Rupert Clervaux (multi-instrumentalist): I don’t have a home. I fear supermarkets and shopping trolleys. I just don’t ever want to end up living that kind of life of domesticity. I live in the studio and Ben and Sian bought me a foldout mattress from Muji to sleep on. I stay at various people’s houses when they’re away. It’s great and I’ve never ever been happier in my whole life. I had the choice of making noise 24 hours a day or having creature comforts and I chose the noise. We recorded the whole album there, in my “home.”
What is the saddest moment of your life?
When I was a kid I was really into music but then I got disenchanted about music so I got really into riding motorbikes. I was obsessed with racing bikes. I used to go riding around tracks. It culminated in seeing one of my friends get killed in front of me while we were riding together. Seeing that was very sad, but good came out of it because I got back into music again.
What motivates you to make the music you make?
We wanted to cosset ourselves away from doing anything for the wrong reasons. The aim was to make a record that was not aware of the context of current things. I write the lyrics and Sian sings them but we keep all the references to girls and things the same. Singing “girl” sounds better than singing “boy.” [“And I don’t want to be singing about boys!” says Sian. “I also want to make it clear that I come up with a lot of the vocal melodies. I’m not a puppet.”]
Do you like cats or dogs?
Cats. I like the way they’re nonchalant. When cats like you they make you feel really good about yourself.
Vice: Who is your best friend?
Sasha Vine (vocals, violin, piano): She’s called Nancy. She’s my niece but I didn’t find that out until I was ten. We used to hang out but I only found out we were related later on. [“Sasha’s from Norwich,” chimes in Douglas.]
When did you move to London?
My family moved to London when I was four. We lived in squats in Hampstead. They were amazing houses with jacuzzis. Back then, it was a lot easier to squat than it is now. My parents were broke and they couldn’t afford to rent. My mum’s a painter and my dad’s a musician.
What is something you could never part with?
It’s a silver ring in the shape of a crown. My dad gave it me for my eighth birthday. The first one he gave me was engraved but I lost it so he had to get me another one. It means I’m his little princess.
Do you have any pets?
Not anymore. I used to have a little dog called Ping that died of old age. I’d had her since she was four. She died in my mum’s bedroom in London and my mum really wanted to bury her in the old house in Norfolk but after a few days the body began to smell a little bit. I said: “Mum, we’ve got to do something about the dog,” so my brother took the body down to Norfolk in a plastic bag. He put the dog in my freezer and at Christmastime we buried her.
But we found out that along the way my brother and his friends would play with the frozen dog, putting sunglasses on her and putting cigarettes in her mouth. I’ve never actually found out all the horrible details but I know they dropped her a few times. It was so mean! Before she was frozen she was curled up and her tongue was hanging out and when we buried her my mum was kissing her. I had to say: “Mum, stop kissing the frozen dog.”
Vice: What’s your earliest memory?
Ben Crook (multi-instrumentalist): My first memory was of my dad setting fire to a chicken hut. We’d moved to the country outside of Reading and my dad thought he’d raise some chickens but a fox killed them all within a week. My dad moved us to London because there was more opportunity there, plus there was more chance of being beaten up in Reading.
What’s Reading like?
It’s horrible. It’s rubbish. It’s a provincial town and those places are violent. The place where my friend Juliette [Larth, filmmaker] is from is a coastal town and they used to superglue kids’ eyelids together. Somebody once glued a kid in a pushchair’s eyes together!
Weren’t you an altar boy at one stage?
Yes, and I got caught drinking the Communion wine onstage, or whatever you call the stage. I wondered why everybody was looking at me. I wanted to see if it actually tasted like blood. But it just tasted like sugar.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. It’s a modern Russian book. This guy gets a pet penguin and feels sorry for it and keeps it in his bath and feeds it with frozen fish.
And finally, what are Sian Alice Group’s plans for the next year?
We’re doing something with label mates like Growing and Mike Bones. We’re going to do a little tour with Blood on the Wall and Psychic Ills and there’s talk of doing something with Deerhunter too. It could be good!
Sian Alice’s debut album, 59:59, is out now on The Social Registry.