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Interview with No Alarms

After seeing the EP posted on reddit, and being downright addicted to a genre of music that I hadn’t visited in years, I decided to reach out to Andrew from No Alarms to talk to him about how the band came to be, some of his inspiration, songwriting approach, and more. He’s an absolute gentleman and I want to take this time to thank him for getting back to me.

How did No Alarms come to be?

I’ve been writing music for about a decade, but I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so the name No Alarms didn’t come about until I finally had music that I felt good about sharing. Early in 2016, I started to pair warm synths with indie rock and pop structures, and knew I had something on my hands when I found myself dancing to the early tracks by myself in my bedroom! I wrote around 11 songs for the debut EP, and cut that down to 5 that I was really happy with. It was a learning process, picking a name, learning more about graphic design, and becoming an entrepreneur, really.

You need to have the full skill set to succeed these days, and that’s taken time to develop, and is still ongoing. I moved from Texas to Detroit during the final recording stages of the EP, and realized that I wanted to have a full band to play affecting live shows with, so I found 4 other super talented musicians, and we’ve been together since mid-2017.

What’s your musical background, growing up, what music inspired you and made you want to pick up an instrument?

My parents started me on piano when I was 7, so that was my first introduction to music. I wasn’t the biggest fan of piano at the time, but I’m so grateful that they did that, because something just stuck. I played alto sax in middle school, but it wasn’t until I got my first electric guitar at 14 that I really fell in love. Some of my first CDs were Sum 41, Blink 182, Jimi Hendrix, etc. A lot of pop punk stuff that, looking back, really taught me a lot of vocal delivery structure. I grew up playing guitar with a few friends and were super competitive when it came to technical skills. Lots of Metallica, lots of AC/DC, lots of classic rock.

I got a little tired of that style in high school, and discovered indie rock, and was absolutely hooked. It had the guitar technicality of some classic rock bands, but flipped it on its head by taking you to emotional landscapes you didn’t know existed. Bloc Party, The Mars Volta, Interpol, The Killers, I couldn’t get enough. I went to college, started writing spacey prog rock into GarageBand, and realized that most musicians are flakes. Or are into music for some reason other than the music. So I learned to sing, learned to play drums, took up piano again, graduated, then kept writing. While I’m an even-keeled person in general, when it comes to writing, I’m a control freak. So, it kind of became necessary to learn how to do it all myself.

I see that No Alarms was just you, Andrew, and now it’s a full group of five people. What has that transition been like from being a solo artist that wrote everything to having other members to bounce ideas off of?

The transition has been great, it was crucial to get the chemistry right and we have an awesome group, both talent wise and personality wise. It’s great to have input on songwriting and I’ve asked a few guys to contribute when I think there’s a good fit. The writing side is definitely still driven by me, it’s important for me to express my creative vision and I love the balance that we have now. It’s a fluid situation and I’m looking forward to seeing how we grow on the writing side.

 

Songwriting wise, all the songs on the No Alarms EP sound different, inspired by different artists and sounds, yet all fit together really well. Was the process any different for a song in particular or do you stick to a particular formula

There’s no magic bullet or process, but I’ll say that I rarely write lyrics before the bulk of the instrumentals are completed. I have to know how the music makes me feel, and the kind of mood it evokes before I can pin it down with lyrics. I wanted it to be clear from the jump that I don’t intend on writing the same song twice. At first, I was a tad worried that the songs would sound disparate, but realized that my voice, song structure, and synth palate tie a common thread through the songs that lends them cohesiveness. Most of the time, I’ll come up with one guitar or synth line, and just start building a house around that foundation.

Sometimes, however, I’ll hear a lot of the arrangement at once. The bass guitar, the rhythm, and a melody will play in my head, and I’ll realize it’s something new. I was home in Texas for Christmas and heard the whole arrangement for “The Wrong Side” at once, and rushed to my laptop to get it down. Didn’t have a guitar or a mic handy, so I mapped everything out with keys. Overall, I have a ton of artists that influence me, and I want to let each of those influences shine at different points, so I plan on writing a ton of different types of songs.

I, like quite a few others, found out about your music when we saw its vinyl release. What was it like releasing your debut EP on vinyl? Was any mastering done different? Did it make you reflect on the EP and what you could have done differently?

It was a long but worthwhile process! The masters were actually the same for the digital release, and the vinyl manufacturer turned out some incredible sounding records. Having the physical green vinyl release was definitely a milestone, and a point of reflection for me. It’s always go, go, go, and push, push, push, so having a moment just to reflect on what I’d made was a really cool life checkpoint for me.

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I see that the first single, “The Landing” is coming out on September 7th. What can we expect from it, and is a full length LP going to follow it?

The Landing is a synth-laden alt-pop track that just oozes optimism. The song is about taking a leap of faith and having it work out. I had just watched the Black Mirror episode “Hang the DJ,” and was riding high off of optimistic inspiration, and felt compelled to make something purely joyful, purely hopeful. I wrote the verses to climb and climb, leading to a chorus that just exuded optimism, and that made you want to move! Overall, I wanted to capture the feeling of landing on your feet after taking a leap of faith.

“Right Is What’s Left” was on the ABC Show “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World”. How’d that come together?

I reached out to a licensing company called Crucial Music out of LA, they pitch for movies, TV, and commercials, and really loved my stuff. I got an email about 2 days before airing that “Right is What’s Left” got its first placement. Licensing/sync is a huge part of the indie musician’s income stream these days, so I wanted to go after it early.

What inspires you to make music. The topics that we saw on “Amateur Telephony” and “Right is What’s Left” are definitely distinct.

Everything from the mundane to the amazing inspires me to write music! I think what’s important is cohesion between vocals and instrumentation. Once the instrumentation for a song is nearing completion, I pull out my notebook and go through either lyrics I’ve already written, or start jotting down ideas and concepts that the music brings to mind. For this album specifically, I wanted to tackle issues of drug addiction and codependency. I had a few friends from my hometown go through opioid addiction and subsequently rehab, so I wanted to highlight that for this first album.

Have you guys toured the EP yet? What’s the crowd experience been like?

We’ve played Detroit, Indianapolis, and Chicago so far, and plan to grow our streaming fan base online before we start touring outside of the region. The crowd response has been amazing so far! It’s such a cool moment to see new fans dancing to and really resonating with tunes that were previously just in my head!

Being based in Detroit, has the surrounding environment affected your lyrical content and songwriting? How did it differ from when you lived in Texas?

Moving to Detroit has definitely affected my songwriting. This city is so full of life, and the youth movement is fostering the city’s creative growth at such a rapid rate. People are into all sorts of music here, Hip Hop, Classic Rock, Indie Rock, EDM, so there’s definitely a lot more in the melting pot to draw from here than there was in West Texas.

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