Alphabeat released their new album, Express Non-Stop, last week and it couldn’t be more appropriately titled. Over the course of ten tracks running a mite longer than 36 minutes, the Danish band’s brand of upbeat pop doesn’t let up.
The Express Non-Stop party gets started with “The Beat Don’t Stop,” making Alphabeat’s intentions for their third full-length absolutely clear. (The confetti storm on the album’s cover is also a tip-off to the party vibe they’re after.) If any other group were to sound so enthusiastic on record, such relentless cheeriness would earn a skeptical side eye, but Alphabeat’s unique charm is a unironic approach to pop music. There’s never any doubt that the sextet is really, truly having this much fun.
On “Love Sea,” the album’s second track and also its second single, Andres SG and Stine Bramsen sing, ”In the echoes of long ago, stays a feeling I wanna know,” which could serve as a mission statement for Express Non-Stop. References to pop music’s past abound on the album, ranging from Motown, Madonna, and Prince to The Human League, Thompson Twins, and even Grease and The Who. Express Non-Stop is the soundtrack to a super-fun house party, with Alphabeat serving as the hosts and hostess with the most.
I put some questions about Express Non-Stop to one of those hosts, drummer Troels Hansen (pictured on the far right on the album cover). Hear how the guy who literally keeps the beat going feels their new album relates to the previous two (setting the record straight on The Beat Is), what Alphabeat’s musical inspirations were this time around, and how they still think of every album as a vinyl record even in the digital age.
POPSERVATIONS: Over 5 years have passed since the release of your debut LP, This Is Alphabeat, in 2007, and your new, third set, Express Non-Stop. How has the band grown or changed during that time, including your sophomore album, 2009′s The Beat Is (aka The Spell), and how does Express Non-Stop reflect those changes or progression?
TROELS HANSEN: “We’ve learned so much over the last five or six years. We basically started out as a band who didn’t know much beside the four walls of our rehearsal space to suddenly be recording our debut album. We were young, fresh, and naive. The move [from Denmark] to the UK definitely made a difference to us. It was no longer just something we had fun doing on our own but something that was part of big business and would go out to more people than we could imagine. We learned everything we know during those three years in the UK, from taking control over the making of videos, how we want our live shows to be, why we should trust ourselves more often. Basically, we just got a foot inside the world of music.
The new album is, just like The Beat Is, written, recorded, and produced by us. So many people thought a major label had dragged down the new sound on The Beat Is but that was not the actual truth. It was our own idea to do something completely different and try something new and that’s also what we have done this time with Express Non-Stop. We’ve taken all the things we learned from being in a studio together on [our debut] This Is Alphabeat to the more track-based and slick production we aimed for on The Beat Is, and combined the ways of recording and producing an album. It’s a combination of the naive, carefree, and fun vibe from the debut and the perfection and well-shaped productions we did on the last album.
At the end of the day, Express Non-Stop is a result of what we want to do right now and where we are finding ourselves musically. Some might say it sounds a bit more like the debut than The Beat Is, but it’s sort of the result of sweet harmony between the two. To us, doing the same thing twice wouldn’t be fun. We want to develop all the time, and as we are six individual people with different needs but the same lust in making good music, we trust ourselves and believe that what we do is the right thing to do.”
On Express Non-Stop, I hear nods to Motown, Madonna, The Who (the intro to “Love Sea”), Maxine Nightingale (“Since I Met You”), Thompson Twins (“Express Non-Stop”), even Grease (“Mad About You”). Do such pop influences just innately come out in the recording process or is it ever a case of “Let’s do a bass line (synth bit, breakdown, etc.) like this one over here that we like”?
“On this album we’ve worked a lot on getting the right vibe into the track. It’s no secret that we listen to and get inspired by a lot of music. It’s always been like that. “Fascination,” “The Spell,” “10,000 Nights,” they’re all inspired by songs we love and we’ve always been very honest about this.
On Express Non-Stop, it’s been more of getting a feeling, vibe, and expression out of a melody, a synth line, or a bass line. “Mad About You” has definitely got that old-school, almost ’50s girl/boy vibe you know from a movie like Grease or Footloose. We’ve been inspired by old movies, actually. Mostly the ones with a massive party in someone’s parents’ house or an apartment where everything could go wrong, and at the end does. It’s the old feeling of getting back to a point in time or in your own life that brings back memories of the first love, first kiss, first party. [First] anything. The longing for that long-lost summer.
“Since I Met You” has got a mix of old-school disco and Motown. “Express Non-Stop” is inspired by Talking Heads, Paul McCartney, Madness, Prince — a lot of amazing party music. “Show Me What Love Is” was a song where we wanted to get the sort of warm ’80s Miami vibe you hear in a song like [DeBarge's] “The Rhythm Of The Night” combined with The Jets and The Pointer Sisters. We like to combine genres and decades in music. There’s a lot of ’60s girl groups in some of the tunes too. Inspiration is a good thing and we’ve always used music to inspire the music we make.”
Express Non-Stop is a pretty happy ride from start to finish. How do you all remain so impossibly upbeat?
“We didn’t want a singler downer on this album! It’s just upbeat, fun, vibrant, and catchy pop from start to finish, as you say. You know the feeling when you listen to an album and everything’s amazing except two boring tracks breaking down the beat? We didn’t want that to happen. We think this is an album of 10 great songs.
When we sit down and put a tracklist together, a process that’s very important to us, we see the album as a vinyl record with a Side A and a Side B. The first five songs have to go perfectly together and it has to finish on a high on the fifth song. Song number six should be seen as the start to Side B and opens up a new chapter of the album. It’s a fun way to see the album but it works and we’ve always put our albums together that way. Think about it the next time you put on an Alphabeat album. Haha!”
Does Alphabeat ever write or record sad songs? Can we expect that someday you’ll come out with some some sort of downer odds-and-sods collection?
Well, “Q&A” [from The Beat Is] and “What Is Happening” [from This Is Alphabeat] are sort of sad songs with dark themes. As I pointed out, there’s some sort of feeling of longing for something on Express Non-Stop and the lyrics are actually kinda melancholic on a lot of the songs. “Love On The Line” is about being away from the one you love. “Younger Than Yesterday” is about the urge to go out and see the world because you’re growing old and stuck in a trivial life. “Love Sea” is the high point of melancholy on the new album, really longing for that beach where you fell in love under the moon. They’re not “slash your wrist” lyrics, but it’s deeper than you’d think.”
Now that Express Non-Stop is out for public consumption, what about the album makes you most proud?
“That we haven’t just done what we’ve done before. It’s a win/lose thing. We’re always gaining new fans when we release new singles and albums but we have lost fans too. We lost a lot on The Beat Is, and also got more. And this time around we might lose some of those who dug the dance vibe on “Hole In My Heart” and “Heart Failure” from The Beat Is. But that’s how it is with six creative minds working together. To us, it wouldn’t be satisfying to sit down and go: “So, we’re just gonna do what we did yesterday, right?” That’s probably also why it has been a long ride to get to the Express Non-Stop finish line as we’ve been extremely keen on the production and getting the right vibe. We’re hard to satisfy. Well, at least to ourselves. We think it can always be better.
We aim to make long-lasting pop songs and not just songs that jump on a wave of what is hot at the moment. We want our songs to be relevant in 10 and maybe even 20 years from now, and not just cool and fun now and then forgotten in six months. To us, the album is packed with great songs and though they sound simple, it’s layered pop music with tricky chord changes, great bass lines, funky choir arrangements, and fun modulations. That’s probably also why the album has been getting such great reviews in Denmark. It’s not often a pop album only scores 4- and 5-star reviews but that has happened to Express Non-Stop. We have dared to do something different than what everybody else is doing right now and we’re proud that it shines through on the album.”
Purchase Alphabeat – Express-Non Stop via the band’s website. I’m nominating “Younger Than Yesterday” and “Show Me What Love Is” as the album’s next singles.