Not much has been heard from former Baroness drummer Allen Blickle after a harrowing bus crash last August that waylaid the band’s tour in support of their last album, Yellow & Green. Blickle left the band in March of 2013 with nary a word; frontman John Baizley made the announcement via the Georgia metal band’s blog. Now, however, Blickle is ready to speak — via his newly launched project, Alpaca, and its debut album, Demimonde.
Those familiar with Blickle would likely categorize him as a hard metal drummer, having spent around 10 years playing with Georgian alt-metal band, Baroness. Those who have spoken to him about his passion for music, however, will immediately discover that his interests run much deeper than that. Pop, punk, jazz, Blickle’s musical influences run the gambit — a state of affairs that becomes extremely evident when listening to Alpaca’s debut disc, which is due out October 1.
Blickle — who previously used the Alpaca name as a producer — has been playing with ex-stepbrother Justin Nuckols for years now. However, it was only after the accident last summer that the drummer decided to take all the tunes they had been working on while he was on the road and convalescing in Brooklyn, New York, and make something of them, pulling in guest vocalists like Erika Spring (Au Revoir Simone), Nicole Yun (Eternal Summers), and Halina Larsson (Tórild) to round out the sound.
And that sound, it must be noted, is markedly different from Baroness’s — buzzing, layered and eclectic, Alpaca’s music is perfect for nighttime drives in cities replete with neon.
While preparing to make his entree into the music world, new moniker in place, Blickle took some time out to talk to Hive about how the band came about, that fateful bus crash, and what it’s like to exist on multiple planes.
So you’ve been working on Alpaca for a while now, right? When you were still in Baroness?
Kind of. It’s kind of like a production project. It started out like that while I was touring with Baroness for the past years. I had started just like producing things on the side and then we put a bunch of songs together and I wanted to finally make Alpaca come to fruition. So we put 10 tracks together that we really liked on this record and it came from there.
But the longstanding relationship between my stepbrother and myself has been since we were teenagers, but never actually putting a name or a record out — it was always just kind of working on different things. That’s kind of how it came about — in the beginning, at least.
Before Alpaca, what kind of music did you make together?
Like when we were kids?
We were in, like, a jazz fusion band when we were kids. We met in jazz band class in high school and we were both drummers. And then he also played guitar and sang and was going to go to Berklee College of Music. So we ended up writing an album when we were 16 that was like Mahavishnu Orchestra kind of style jazz fusion stuff — like a John McLaughlin kind of thing. So for 16-year-olds to kind of listen to that — we were just playing our version of crazy jazz fusion. That was kind of wild. That was kind of where it started.
We’re both players in that sense and then we both went on different paths for a long time. He went to school and did Berklee stuff — did an engineering program. I went off and started playing drums with Baroness and touring the world in a metal band. Which were completely different routes. And then we met back up a few years ago in Brooklyn and that’s when we started working back and forth on laptops when I was on tour and when I was home we’d write some more material. That’s how it happened.
So you would work remotely a lot?
Yeah, we do right now. We did in the past. I was in Brooklyn up until March of this year. So when I got in the bus accident, which was in August, it was sort of that time from August to March that we were finally like — I had a studio set in my apartment and we were going to a bunch of different studios around New York recording songs and different parts and getting other vocalists around Brooklyn that we knew from different bands and kind of just put this whole project together from there.
Did the accident at all have any effect on the timing of this project?
I think it did. I think what really happened was that we wanted to do for it for so long, but our lives were so crazy and I was so focused on Baroness that we just didn’t have any time to sit down and do it and I think when the accident actually happened I was going through so many crazy things at that point — not only from the album, the last record that Baroness and myself did — when the bus accident happened I was going to through a bunch of weird personal stuff and I was just like sitting there all screwed up on my couch and laying on my bed for months at a time healing up. It sort of just finally gave us a little more motivation to do it. If we’re ever gonna do this, we’re gonna do it now. So we just made it happen.
Alpaca is sort of my project that I always had with that name where I always produced things and put “Alpaca” underneath. We’ll be doing this for the foreseeable rest of our lives under this moniker.
So this is your sole musical project now?
Yeah, pretty much.
So tell me about the name. Why that particular animal?
I think it’s weird because when I first got that name it was 2008, when I needed something to put whenever I was producing a project. I don’t even know really how the name came about. I think I enjoyed the name and thought the animal was totally goofy and weird. It’s almost like a really useless animal, you know? It just like sits around and mills about.
Tell me about your collaborators — you have a pretty interesting collection there.
Yeah, we had a bunch of musicians we were trying to work with and get on different tracks and then the three singers that we had at the end were the ones that made sense with the timing.
So what do you think they added? Like Erika Spring, for example?
She has such a wonderful timbre and an amazing, beautiful voice. She’s such an awesome person to work with as well. Really, really laid-back and chill. We met — I went to one of her Erika Spring solo shows in Brooklyn and we had some mutual friends and she was interested in the project. She came to the studio in my apartment first and we just had, like, tea and talked about the project very lightly. She chose one [song] that she was really into and we wanted to work on and then she came back and we just nailed it out. There’s this kind of eerie peacefulness to her voice, you know? Very subtle, but beautifully clean, you know?
In that vein, the sound is so different from Baroness. Do you think people will be surprised or taken aback by the change?
For sure. I hope they are. That’s sort of what it’s all about — jumping and taking chances. Doing something you love, you know. This is the type of music that I’ve always be into. I’ve always been into pop music since I was a kid, and then I got into, like, punk rock and metal early on, but I always had that side. When you start producing music you kind of like put your limbs out and try a bunch of different things and I think how this record kind of took shape was all these different influences. It’s from the heart and it feels good.
It’s going to be weird, I’m sure, just because what people know me as is a hard-hitting metal drummer, but I think that’s just what’s so weird about it — to come out of the woodwork with a record like this and people are like, “What the hell?”
So tell me about the title of the record — Demimonde.
I think that title really made sense to us because it was throughout a period of time where I was touring in the world and coming back to Brooklyn — sort of like a domestic lifestyle with my girlfriend and working with Justin and going back and forth. I think the idea with Demimonde is these sort of people who live normal lifestyles from the outside, but they have this whole life where it’s really dark, sort of hedonistic, and they have both these sides — but people don’t really realize that they have both these lives. I feel like we’re always running back and forth on two different lives. Different planes.
Would you say you’re more on one plane, currently?
I think my whole life is flipped upside down. So it’s like completely different now. I guess I am sort of one more plane now, but that goes back and forth. I think it’s always going to change. I think I’m always going to have these two different lifestyles that interweave with each other my whole life.
You said everything flipped around — what do you think the biggest change was?
When the bus crash happened it was sort of one of these things that I feel like I needed to do a change in my life — a different trajectory maybe. I had never really taken my own self from the band that I had been playing with since I was 20 years old and experienced some other way of living or tried some other musical venture on my own — completely. That was the changing point. It was very pivotal for me. It was probably the hardest decision I ever had to make in my life. It’s scary, you know, to take a chance on your own and believe in yourself and make something happen. But it hopefully pays off in the end. As long as it feel good in your gut, I think it makes sense.