A treasure box of wonders. There is no other way to define “Lover’s Leap”, the third album by the young Alex Pester, twenty years old and with a face like a high school student, who mixes with impressive ease the most pastoral Paul McCartney, the sketches of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and the delicacy of Elliott Smith when the role of the Englishman. A musician who has the audacity to open the dances of his “Lover’s Leap” with a fourteen-minute suite, “Love On Our Shoulders”, which is like a dreamlike wander around an imaginary world in full expansion. An album that allows itself deep Richard Hawley-like timbres in “My Darling” and that, after the luminescent guitars that embellish the finale of “Insecurity”, completes a long, dreamlike and chiaroscuro apnoea, and then it rises to the surface with the wonder of “Help Us! “and finally reaches its apex in the coupling of “Night” (another miniature suite that seems to dilate endlessly its five and a half minutes) and “Wound” (ghostly and poignant as a page of Robert Wyatt), where Alex shows his total mastery in manipulating the musical matter.

Once we finished listening, we couldn’t help but want to meet him… even if only to say “bravo” and, of course, “thank you”.

Here’s what we said to each other.

 

alex pester looking upHi Alex. First of all, congratulations on your record. We thank you for these seventy minutes of grace… but let’s start from the beginning!

Tell us how it came about and what suggestions you followed to compose the long opening track “Love On Our Shoulders”. It seemed to us – as we wrote above – a dreamlike wandering… but around what? What kind of landscape do you paint? Real? Imaginary? Mental?
The first and last sections mirror each other. When structuring the song I purposely bookended it before the middle sections had been written, allowing for some sense of a framework. With really long songs I find it helps to approach it as lots of different movements and variations on a theme, rather than one linear composition. The middle sections were swapped and changed about numerous times, with the original idea being a post-rock inspired build and release. I think it exists in its finished state as a tone poem; heavily indebted to musical Impressionism and progressive music forms. Everything expressed in ‘Love On Our Shoulders’ is real and from personal experience. I wanted to create a tapestry of concentrated memories that inform a wider compositional theme. I guess it’s simply about the struggle of conveying your emotions through art. We’re very good at complicating the true meaning of words.

Tell us about Bath, the place where you were born and where you live: what kind of city is it? How has it influenced your music, if at all? And if so, where can we find it within the record?
I was born in Barnstaple, a town in North Devon. I grew up around coastal paths and folklore. There’s a strong tradition of folk song and pub culture in Devon so my early gigs and songwriting owed a lot to those places. It’s easier to say I’m based in Bath, as it’s the nearest city with a folk scene and it’s also where I study. I’d say Bath has influenced the arrangements of my songs, as there’s a wider pool of local talent to call on. It’s a truly beautiful city, and it feels like a natural move from the countryside.

In your sound, we hear wood and tight strings vibrating. It seems to remind us of certain acoustic diversions that led from the sixties to the freer and more progressive forms of the seventies (one name above all: John Martyn). What do you see in this almost pastoral mood that you don’t find in modern sounds? Do they fit better with your inner world?
I think wood-y is a good way to describe the feel of it. It is a very small and warm world I exist in musically- although Lover’s Leap is vast, I also feel as though I wrote from a more intimate place and there’s a warmth that comes from that, when translated into ornate string arrangements. I try and write every single line as it’s own melody, I like my arrangements to snake around the songs.

From “Little boats” to “Goldfish bowl” we saw another hidden suite that winds its way through five watercolor paintings that are a long descent from which you rise again with “Help Us!”. Did we get it right? Did you have this dynamic in mind?
Yes. That was intended as a mini suite within the wider narrative. That’s me disappearing into my subconscious for about 20 minutes. I pictured that part of the album as a journey from the sea to the land: “Little Boats” through to “Help Us”. I was inspired by Shirley and Dolly Collins’ English song suite ‘Anthems In Eden’.

Was Paul McCartney your favorite Beatle? Joking aside: what kind of music have you listened to in order to develop your musical education, given that – because of your young age – we imagine that your education is still in the making…
Working at a record store helps. I think it’s weird that I have this disc jockey approach to folk music. I’m not a Cecil Sharp collector, more of a magpie that builds a musical nest out of song branches. I’m learning all the time, it’s like cooking. It’s certainly a skill of balancing your influences. I’d never want my music to be overly reminiscent to the point of distraction, but it’s also a celebration of the sounds I love

In our conversations with British artists, we are conducting a sort of survey on British Folk. For us Italians, it is difficult to understand the importance and influence that the folk music heritage exerts on artists, particularly if they move in the singer-songwriter sphere. What relationship do you have with the folk music of your land and if it influences how much and how it does in your being a musician?
It’s a massive influence. My girlfriend is an amazing researcher of lost and found sounds from the English folk song book. I like the unwritten histories, passed down word of mouth. That’s a real romance. It affects the way I play my instruments too. I can’t play a mandolin without thinking of Richard Thompson bouncing off the fretboard on ‘Over The Hill’.

Although we greatly appreciated your two previous works, we believe that with this third album you have made a remarkable leap forward… What happened? How does this new work relate to the previous ones?
It’s really just a time thing. I spent one and a half years making Lover’s Leap, more time than the previous two combined. I also just pushed myself harder I think. The first tracks recorded for the album were actually tracks that didn’t fit on Seasons; ‘When This Is Over’ and ‘Help Us’. I didn’t know what to do with them so I set them aside and started working on the centrepiece ‘Love On Our Shoulders’.

In “Lover’s Leap” we noticed a greater presence of the electric guitar than in your previous works and, through it, the manifestation of a subtle vein of soft psychedelia that gives a suspended and arcane sound to many compositions. Is this impression correct?
That’s very well observed. I was aware when I was making the album that the electric guitar had gained prominence. It’s mostly informed by Lee Underwood’s playing on Tim Buckley’s jazz folk albums. The songs just needed them more than my others ever had. “Devotion” was this very contained session, recorded and written in one month with the same 6-7 musicians contributing instrumental arrangements, and “Seasons” was more a collection of songs than a fully fledged narrative. They were both light as a feather when it came to their presentation and just didn’t really need the electric guitar. It’s allowed me to do more with my sound on this album.

I listened to the record this morning, while I was preparing breakfast for my children. It’s a time when I have to be careful about timing, otherwise, I end up making them late for school… and instead, while I was listening to your music, time seemed to flow much more slowly. I had the impression that, rather than blocking the flow, your compositions made me experience it in a different way, reconnecting me to a more natural flow, different from the mental and frenetic one that we impose on ourselves.
What is your relationship with time? We are asking an author who is only twenty years old, who places a suite of fourteen minutes as the opening of the record and, in general, delivers an album that lasts seventy minutes…
There’s either never enough or too much of it, and you’ve always got to do something with it. I do everything else in my life secondary to my relationships with others and my music. It’s no coincidence that my songs are all more or less based on one facet of the human condition. It’s a continuing case study into human relationships and how to navigate them. The first two I’d say are more about my relationship with myself in the present tense, and Lover’s Leap is more outward facing in its scope and reach, while also focusing more heavily into my relationship with my past.

Would you like to print the album in a physical format? Maybe on vinyl? What is your relationship with music in digital format?
I am a record collector, I love physical media. I am also an artist. I’d love to have something of my own that I can put in pride of place in that collection. Lover’s Leap is such an old school vinyl experience- it needs a gatefold and a trifold poster, a textured sleeve and four illustrated labels. It will happen, I just need to figure out who can do it best.

Love On Our Shoulders