The home of musical institutions from Stevie Ray Vaughn to Austin City Limits, SxSW to Stubbs BBQ and Antone’s, the central Texas town knows music. After all, they don’t call it the Live Music Capital of the World for nothing.
So when we tell you Alpha Rev is one of the most unique and important bands ever to come out of Austin, you can believe it. Last March, Alpha Rev was recognized by the Austin Chronicle as one of Austin’s best performing rock bands and in May they were named Austin’s best rock band by Rare Magazine in their annual “Rareist of them All” issue.
You can chalk up much of the acclaim to band frontman Casey McPherson. He’s well-known in these parts, having made an impression on the local scene with his previous band, Endochine. When Endochine dissolved in 2005, it had already made its bones in indie circles by sharing the stage with the likes of Pete Yorn and Bob Schneider, and national credibility by playing with more high-profile bands like Staind and Red Hot Chili Peppers. McPherson simply moved forward, assembling some of his former bandmates and mixing in some new blood and Alpha Rev was born.
McPherson’s haunting yet uplifting vocals give the band its distinctive sound, its pipeline to the soul of the band. But Alpha Rev is more than just a voice; Derek Dunivan (guitar), Tommy Roalson (drums), Dave Wiley (cello), Alex Dunlap (bass), Brian Batch (violin) and Derek Morris (keyboards) create a unique mix of catchy pop with classical undertones. Together, Alpha Rev creates a style of music that resonates with not only fans, but other musicians.
Although they released their debut album in 2007, The Greatest Thing I’ve Ever Learned, generated quite a bit of buzz locally but was ultimately never released nationwide. Despite that, the band toured constantly, refining its sound and garnering recognition many bands with dozens of albums under their belts never achieve. Most recently, the group was named VH-1’s “You Oughta Know” Artist on the Rise for April, a monthly honor that puts them in pretty esteemed company. Previous winners include GRAMMY nominees and winners including The Killers, Snow Patrol, Adele, Keane, John Legend and Amy Winehouse. Alpha Rev’s music has also been featured on several hit television shows, including Bravo’s “NYC Prep,” ABC-TV’s “Greek” and the CW’s “Melrose Place.”
Now the band stands ready to release its major label debut album – New Morning on Hollywood Records, set to drop on April 27 – and early indications are that it could very well take Alpha Rev from “Indie darling” to household name. Produced by David Kahne (Paul McCartney, The Strokes, Sublime), the album covers a lot of emotional territory. It’s one of those albums that reveals new meaning with successive plays, giving the listener greater insight into Casey and Alpha Rev’s world.
Just because the album is put to bed, doesn’t mean Casey and the band take it easy. No, now it’s important for them to keep busy and show the label, the fans and themselves they are worthy of being on a bigger literal and figurative stage. The album (with SONAR prominent on the list of software tools used in production), the fanfare and the mass exposure will come soon enough, upon the album’s release. For now they must stay sharp, while working out the new material in a live setting and laying the groundwork for growth. Casey even takes some of the material that didn’t make it onto the album and with a V-Studio 100 incorporates it into their live sets. He’s a seasoned veteran and knows this is a crucial time.
We caught up with Casey as the band was on tour in the northeast supporting Third Eye Blind. We talked about Alpha Rev’s new album, the direction of the group and becoming a “major” (getting major label contract),the record-making process in general, and his future plans.
CW: Casey, what’s the biggest difference thematically about New Morning from Greatest Thing?
CM: “The biggest difference is that it lyrically is more hopeful. Sonically it was mixed by my favorite guy, Michael Brauer, and we recorded drums/bass/guitar all live. Then went in to overdub and fix what was needed.”
CW: How was the song-writing process different in putting this together? Did you do anything different for this record? Were you afforded more “toys” (bigger studio, more instruments, ‘better’ engineers, etc)?
CM: “The songwriting process was the same. We were afforded more toys, more time, and amazing engineering. All of which helped in making the record great. It still starts with a great song, though. Everything else is details if you can get your songs written the way you want them.”
CW: What are your touring plans to support the album (headlining slots?)?
CM: “We’re looking at a myriad of different tours. As this record rolls out, we’ll be headed on the road with anyone who we think will complement our music…and will take us!! “
CW: Do you like to experiment with different tools (technologies) when in studio, or getting ready to record?
CM: “Yes. The recording process can be very much a part of the writing process if you have the gear available. We did a lot of our preproduction rehearsals in Pozo Hondo Studios in Texas which prepared us for the actual recording. We knew what would work and not work going into it.”
CW: This is looking like a breakout year for Alpha Rev. Where do you see the band going from here (musically)? New sounds, new directions? Or is it too tough to tell?
CM: “It’s going to be a great year for the band. I see our sound heading a heavier direction. I’m happy with this record, but I’m also really looking forward to getting more creative now that we’re establishing a fan base.”
CW: Is there something in the water in Austin, or would you have developed as a band like you have had you lived elsewhere?
CM: “There is something in the water – It’s called Jesus, Lone Star, and Mary Jane. Austin is still hippy at heart. It allows for a counter culture based on relationships and not on status quo. There’s no way I would have been able to put a band together of such great guys anywhere else!”
One thing is clear about Casey: he is no stranger to hard work. But getting a Major Label record deal is not going to keep him from hitting the pavement on his own terms. “It’s is just the beginning of the journey these days and it doesn’t mean you can just sit back and watch the world go by. It’s actually the opposite and it means that you have to work twice as hard just to put yourself in the right situations for success.”
“All the pieces of the puzzle have to come together at the right time; the preparation, the record, forming your team, the live show, the digital PR campaign, etc.,” he added. “It’s way more complex these days and you can’t stop working or fall off the path for a second if you want to break out of the pack. My video just got on to rotation on VH-1 and I am still doing extra little things on a daily basis just like any other band without a deal; it’s what you have to do these days just to get to the next level.”
His appearance at the Cakewalk booth at the 2010 NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA is a great example of that.
In front of a very tuned-in crowd, he demonstrated how he was able to take the stems of his record and, by using SONAR and a V-Studio 100, he was able to create new “dubbed down” versions of the songs so polished that he could use them as backing tracks for solo performances he did while waiting for the release of his record. He laughed as he recalled the NAMM demonstration, stating matter-of-factly “Well, by using SONAR and the V-Studio 100, I’m able to stay active and keep moving forward without a full band while keeping the vibe of the record in a solo, live performance situation.”
Staying active. Keep moving forward. We’d expect nothing less from the leader of Austin’s next “major” thing…