Feature Article: Friends of Alice Ivy put a new spin on ethereal with ‘The Golden Cage and its Mirrored Maze’
The Golden Cage and its Mirrored Maze
Friends of Alice Ivy, the mid-career make-over of Kylie and Amps (core members of Australian darkwave ethereal luminaries Ostia), really know how to put a shine on reinvention.
Their new album ‘The Golden Cage and its Mirrored Maze’ aspires to dizzying heights of steampunk stargazing and mediaeval romance. Marrying metaphors of gilded cage restriction with carnivalesque reflections – this disarming and deceptively simple musical maze offers an alluring kaleidoscope of flitting shadow-selves. Reminiscent of the finest of sequels, like Alice stepping through the looking-glass, the first swell of seraphic vocals beckons us to leave the ordinary world behind and journey into a strange and beautiful realm far beyond the aether.
With eight songs and clocking almost fifty minutes, ‘The Golden Cage and its Mirrored Maze’ is a departure from Friends of Alice Ivy’s previous efforts as musical miniaturists. Kylie delineates the scope. “We have always loved releasing EPs, “fun size” collections of music that never outstay your welcome! But we wanted to be ambitious with ‘The Golden Cage and its Mirrored Maze’. I don’t think we will do another album.” Amps concurs that the grandeur may be a one off endeavor. “It’s an epic undertaking when you have day jobs, squeezing a huge creative project into the gaps! This is an album because we wanted it all as a body of work for our own satisfaction. It is bigger, bolder and more confident that anything we have done before.”
Not merely bigger, there is a textural richness, detail, and depth, as Amps illuminates. “We used to string chords together, stick a melody line over the top, and hope for the best. These days we spend time crafting layer after layer… We become arrangers. On previous recordings we had to settle for synthetic reproductions. We decided we’d introduce as many organic instruments as we could – real cello, harp, guitars and basses. It’s a much better mixture this time around…” This process came together in close consultation with producer Adam Calaitzis. “I truly don’t believe any other producer would understand us as well as Adam does. He’s not only a technical guy who can architect reverbs that sound like they come from the Gods, he’s an adviser on a number of levels; for every idea he ditches, he adds a thousand that are better. A real producer, he is as much part of this album as we are!”
The album has not only extended instrumentation; Kylie has developed her lovely, bright, lyric soprano voice. “I’ve never really thought of myself as a “singer”. In Ostia I was designated to vocals as no one else wanted to do it. Over the past eight months I’ve discovered there is a true art and embarked on a journey of learning theory, breath control, range and delivery techniques. I am now obsessed with singing and eager to continue challenging myself. I don’t have a lot of confidence yet. During recording sessions I think it would be easier to stand naked, than be so exposed with your raw voice!” It follows naturally to blend with other singers, and the stunning collaboration with Frances Catherine Brüggener on ‘Oars Under Glass’ is an album highlight. “I am so inspired by Frances’s voice. That she wanted to perform with us was just so incredible. She lives in Sweden so her contribution was recorded over there! I love combined female voices. I would have preferred to be more experimental and harmonise a heady swirl of angelic female voices. We hope to collaborate with Frances again. It would be a dream come true to work with her in a studio together.”
In the bowerbird spirit of Friends of Alice Ivy, all their new influences are old influences, fossicked from the 1970s to the 1570s. Kylie outlines the former. “Ah, yes! We have always been obsessed with 60s and 70s English folk, psychedelic and progressive bands. Later albums of The Beatles; ‘Abbey Road’ has been on high rotation; the awe-inspiring band The United States of America and their track ‘The American Metaphysical Circus’; David Bowie; King Crimson’s ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ lent strong influence to ‘Song of the Willows’.” Amps explains echoes of a more distant past. “‘Song of Lyra’ was written around an early music pattern – a jovial drinking song! We adapted the chords and changed the melody, purely as an exercise to work in an unfamiliar idiom. We’d been listening to Elizabethan music – we have a fondness for the instrumentation. We wanted to do something that sounded truly archaic, aching and aged!”
Arthurian Legend is a rich source of inspiration (look no further than ‘The Summerland Meadows’, ‘Tristan and Isuelt’ and ‘The Watch Hill’ on ‘In the Gloaming’), and Amps and Kylie have revisited the theme, as Kylie explains. “Igraine is a character we are both inspired and saddened by. The song itself is divided into two distinct parts; the first, a lament to the woman who died lonely and heartbroken; then an uplifting reprise about the recognition (albeit unknown to Igraine) for the important role she played in legend, both as mother of Arthur, and as a woman who rebelled through her love for Pendragon and through the learning and application of pagan knowledge and magic.”
Another abiding love for the duo is incorporating literary references, and this time lyricist Kylie picked up a thread from Richard Adams’s ‘Watership Down’. “It really is one of the most brutal and devastating books. The very thought that it was written for children quite blows me away! When Amps wrote ‘False Fox’ it seemed a perfect backdrop to weave in the influence, as it has pastoral folk qualities. ‘Inle-rah’ is the mythical black rabbit; both Amps and I still get chills when we think of the scenes where ‘Inle-rah’ appears. The chant itself – it is such a beautiful word, lovely to sing, although I did create intensity to the vocal delivery to emulate the feelings I get when I think of ‘Inle-rah’.”
Friends of Alice Ivy are launching ‘The Golden Cage and its Mirrored Maze’ at the Bloodlust Ball on Saturday August 23rd 2014 at the stunning art deco Tivoli Theatre in Brisbane. To tie a bow on each performance, Kylie has an impeccable eye. “I am obsessed with historical fashion and have a massive collection of antique clothing. I collect pieces specifically for our performance – we are exploring how we want Friends of Alice Ivy to look in line with the music. Both Amps and I are introverts and find it difficult to perform, but we know how important it is that we do. I have been collecting video footage and photographs to create a visual feast… this will give an audience something to visually connect with and articulate what our music is all about! I hope to continue building my amazing collection of clothes!” Punters will be treated to special guests joining the band live – musical confederate to assist with the launch will be Ikon’s Clifford Ennis. Amps anticipates a new spontaneous approach to performance. “We played a show after ‘In the Gloaming’ came out – it felt like karaoke. We wanted to release an album that would be conducive to playing to an audience. I think we’ve nailed it.”