After years building a fan base and crafting their sound, South Yorkshire band Alvarez Kings are ready to unleash their debut album on a music scene crying out for a guitar band to do something different. I caught up with singer Simon Thompson at The Leopard Doncaster, on the eve of their first ever headline show.
Simon! How’s it going?
Brilliant thank you. We’ve been here for the past 3 days as we have been rehearsing here. We’ve not seen each other really since recording the album 3 months ago. We realized we really need to learn this set…
Why here then? Why The Leopard?
Our tour engineer is the in house engineer at The Leopard. We thought as this is the first night of the tour we would set up and leave it set up and that’s made it a lot easier. Half the set are new songs from the album that we have never played live.
Do you still get nervous when playing songs for the first time?
Yeah really nervous… worried about making a mistake! We probably shouldn’t have as many drinks tonight before going on. Concentration face will be on.
I’ve seen you a few times in various venues across Doncaster, what are your memories of those shows?
We’ve always had a good time in Doncaster. One of our first ever gigs was at The Boiler Rooms, that was a pretty crazy night as I remember. That was like… 10 years ago. We were a completely different band then, we had a different singer but I remember that as a good night. We played Vintage Rockbar a couple of times and that was always great. I remember we always used to get a free bar there, can’t remember much about afterwards though (laughs). One time we actually slept in the van after playing at Vintage.
We’ve also played Social a couple of times and they are really good, really professional. You get looked after there.
This show was added last to the tour, we wanted a warm up show and it made sense to do it in the place we have been rehearsing in a town we already know really well.
So this is the first time you have played in Doncaster since being signed to Sire Records. What will be different, what can people expect this time round?
This is the first time we have played the album live. For the first half of the year we were touring non stop, we were in America for two months and we toured with Melanie Martinez where we were playing 3500 capacity venues so that has helped us craft our on stage sound to the point where we feel really comfortable as a live band. But now we are doing a brand new set so it is back to square one again, it’s almost like we are a new band. Brand new set, brand new songs, even some of the older songs have been reworked and edited to fit on the new album so it is all new to us. This tour will be a warm up tour and then in November we will play the bigger venues again.
Is it nice to play some more intimate shows again?
It is yeah. This is our first headline tour so it’s our crowd, people have come out to see us so we’re looking forward to that. You can’t beat playing those small intimate gigs. Hot, sweaty, that’s what it’s all about. Sometimes the music gets lost in those bigger venues, except down the front, but both the bigger and smaller venues have pros and cons.
The general consensus about the Fear to Feel EP is that it incorporates a bigger, more expansive sound. Would you agree with that and was that a conscious decision or just an organic progression?
I’d definitely agree with that. When Sean joined the band about 4 years ago, he was really big on the production side of things and we never had that edge to us, we just went on stage and played the songs but then we got this other avenue to go down and that made us aware that we can do more with our live show, make it bigger, add more sounds. So the songs we have been writing were written for bigger venues.
Does that make them more difficult to write or is it more natural?
It just comes naturally, when we started writing together we knew what we wanted. We took on lots of different elements production wise from Electronica, R & B, House, Rock and Pop as well. Lots of different influences but we are trying to make our own sound and fit in somewhere with that.
You have played everything from SXSW to the Warped Tour. Is there a place or a festival that you really fancy playing that you haven’t played yet?
I think we were one of the first British bands they had on The Warped Tour. We played SXSW in 2011 and The Crookes were playing as well, we bumped into them and they are good lads. We’ve been back to Austin, Texas since and it’s still one of our favourite places to play.
For a place we haven’t played I would say straight away Glastonbury, I have been to Glastonbury a couple of times and it’s still the best festival. The band have spoken about it and it is definitely an aim for us. Glastonbury is one of a kind, it’s one of the best in the world. You have full families there, everyone is open to new music. You have your headline acts but there is so much more going on. You get the feeling everyone wants to have a good time and meet new people and be introduced to new music and we want to be that new music that people want to listen to.
How much has South Yorkshire influenced your song writing and general sound?
I would say growing up there were bands coming through like Kaiser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys, Milburn, all those bands. I do remember thinking when Arctic Monkeys came on the scene, wow, we have got to step our game up because they are killing it. I remember being happy for them but really jealous (laughs), I thought we have got to do something here. It’s been quite a slow transition but I think it’s good that we have waited so long because now everything is falling into place for us. Growing up in South Yorkshire, most of us are from Rotherham, I remember when we got our first gig in Sheffield and we all thought that was amazing. We made the progression from venue to venue and Sheffield was a really good city at the time.
Being around all those bands at the time like Crookes, Pistola Kicks, Vegas Child and plenty of Doncaster bands as well, we seemed to be playing together every other week. That is what made us as a band. That sense of community.
The first ever tour we did was all over Europe and we booked it ourselves. We got a van, we were emailing venues back and forth and we just went. We thought lets just go and do it. It was great fun. No money, getting paid in beer and fuel, but still great fun.
What’s next for the band after this tour?
We are doing the Melanie Martinez tour that starts in Lisbon on the 6th of November. We are going into places we have never played before like Scandanavia and Eastern Europe. We’ve got a digital only single coming out in October and then in November we will be doing our first proper full release single. The album is looking like the beginning of next year, maybe March time.
Is the album finished then now?
It’s not yet mastered but it’s finished. It’s being mastered in New York in one of the best studios in New York so it’s difficult to find a time slot. God knows who’s in there at the moment… probably Bieber or somebody…
Good luck with that. Thanks for talking to us.
Alvarez Kings took to the stage a few hours later without a hint of the nerves that they had spoken of earlier in the day. An atmospheric run through of ‘Run From You’ had the crowd transfixed and the band didn’t let up from that moment to the last few notes of ‘Postcards From Berlin’.
New songs like ‘Picking Up The Pieces’ and ‘The Other Side of Sadness’ slotted seamlessly next to fan favourites ‘No Resolve’ and ‘Fear to Feel’. The perfect harmony between Simon Thompson and Sean Parkin’s backing vocals have became a trademark for the band and this comes alive during a show with each member of the band feeding off each other. Instruments are routinely switched with Parkin adding additional drums at one point, something that showcases the startlingly good musicianship within the band.
The Kings have reworked some of their older songs for the new album and whilst ‘Cold Conscience’ sounds completely different to its original incarnation,there is no doubting that it fits their current sound better than it did before. The band keep interaction to a minimum preferring to concentrate on the music. There is a determination about the bands performance tonight and you get the feeling the crowd at iconic Doncaster venue The Leopard are lucky to be hearing these songs for the very first time.
‘Postcards From Berlin’ closes the set and as always it is a storming rendition. There is nobody around who sounds quite like Alvarez Kings at the moment and the stage is set for them to go onto much bigger things when their album drops in 2017. Don’t bet against them landing that Glastonbury slot in the near future.
This article was written for Doncopolitan magazine: