Embracing Dichotomy with The Microdance
“I’ve always said that artists making serious music doesn’t mean they have to take themselves seriously.”Alex Keevill, The Microdance
The Microdance, fronted by Alex Keevill, are not only a band that are clearly inspired and passionate about music, but also possess vast knowledge and experience, having collaborated with Nicole Fiorentino of the Smashing Pumpkins, and Eric Gardner, who has worked with the likes of Iggy Pop, Cypress Hill, and Beck. Moreover, there was talk of a potential opportunity to work with Annie Hardy of Giant Drag, who most of us will remember from the rather colourful closing section of Deftones’ ‘Pink Cellphone’. Overall, it takes talent to recognise talent, and if names such as these want to work with The Microdance, it’s clear that they’ve a lot to offer.
Alex comes across as quite the musical connoisseur, certainly not limited by genre or labels when it comes to citing his inspirations. Having had a neighbour ask him if he lived with ten different people due to the sheer whiplash of his music choices, Alex is inspired by a plethora of artists: from Prince, to Rachmaninoff, to Pantera.
The Microdance could be most commonly described as shoegaze rock: rife with distortion but with an interesting disposition for uplifting melodies and soothing, drifting vocals. Alex cites bands such as Deftones and The Cocteau Twins as providing creative inspiration, and it shows. These artists, like The Microdance, manage to capture that curious sweet spot between melancholy and serenity. With a broad repertoire that expresses an even broader range of emotions, Alex summarises The Microdance as: “contradictory – such is the positive/negative dichotomy of me!”
Now, let’s explore and embrace this dichotomy together, as we catch up with Alex…
First of all, congratulations on your upcoming EP, ‘Urgency in Dead Air’. I, amongst many others, am greatly anticipating it! Can you tell us a bit more about its release and premise?
Urgency in Dead Air is out for pre-order and dropping on the 10th of December on our Bandcamp and I don’t know when on Spotify! We need to build the interest! All proceeds for pre-orders are going to the mental health charity Mind – which is a very worthy cause to me. Mental health problems are what has led to all my music being so miserable… That’s sort of a joke!
It’s what I attribute to the relative lack of success of the band. I say relative because we’ve had Vice Magazine calling us “the best alt-rock in a decade” – but, if it wasn’t for those problems, I’m sure we would have done a lot more. This EP is the most ambitious we’ve done to date and features the heaviest song I’ve ever written.
So, this isn’t a conventional fundraiser. You’re getting an EP that’s been described as “the best fucking thing ever” and “a work of astounding power and inexplicable beauty” by some eminent music people. It’s a bit different to sponsoring people for not drinking for a month. I mean, sponsoring someone for NOT doing something? Come on!
You’ve become a familiar face on Instagram since we stumbled across your profile. Actually, you’ve become ‘the’ face of ‘The Microdance’, and a shroud of mystery remains regarding the band. If I understand correctly, a lot of the tracks from your latest album, ‘Out Love Noire’ were written and played by yourself? I’m intrigued, and keen to understand more about your journey; could you share a bit of background/ introduction regarding ‘The Microdance’?
The idea of The Microdance was formulated in 2007. The moniker came from a dance I did, mainly to the glitchy outro at the end of ‘Clarke Gable’ by Postal Service, in which I did the smallest movements possible – fluttering my eyelids and stuff like that, all a bit silly. It’s a silly name for a serious band. I’ve always said that artists making serious music doesn’t mean they have to take themselves seriously.
That year, I headed to the studio with Al Heslop, who engineered, co-produced, and recorded the EP, ‘Her Ride to the Stars’. It was just me and a drummer, James Davies. At the time, I was listening to a lot of poppier music – The Killers, Ladyhawke, stuff like that. That crept into the EP, but the alt-rock, shoegaze, new-wave influences were still heavy in the mix. There’s one acoustic song on it, ‘Other Pretty Girls’, that I still play live at my solo shows. It’s a good example of how my song titles are rarely relevant to the song’s subject matter!
Frankie Siragusa heard the EP and invited me to his studio, theLAB, in Los Angeles. The then-fledgling band worked with us to record ‘Yo Yo at 26’, ‘Glitches’, and ‘Epiphany and Dreams of Getting Well’. Having the opportunity to work with Frankie made me realise his genius and infectious enthusiasm for music. It gave me no choice but to pick him as the co-producer of our 2015 debut album ‘New Waves of Hope’. After that, we had our first bit if success with ‘We Are Made Of Evil Things’: a song engineered and co-produced by Blair Jollands. He’s a brilliant, multi-talented man, and I’ve worked with him several times. The song features on our EP, ‘Get Dark’, which can be bought as part of our pre-‘Our Love Noire’ Discography
‘We Are Made of Evil Things’ gave us our first real bit of radio attention. It was played on Kerrang Radio between Deftones and Metallica – which I loved!
Our Love Noire was mostly me because there was no band. I mean, a fair bit of our other stuff has been that way too. At that point, it was good because I didn’t have the cohorts who I trust on board, namely the best two bandmates I’ve ever had, Gavin Mata Hari on guitar and Cheryl Pinero on bass; no one besides those two can do my visions justice. So, I was happy to play it all, besides drums. There were plenty of EP’s between Her Ride and New Waves though. None of which are on Spotify. Our Bandcamp is the only place to get them. You have to go old school and buy it, I’m afraid!
You mentioned your first album, ‘New Waves of Hope’, which was released, back in 2015, and there being a fair few EP’s following that. Though, you seem to have taken a five-year ‘break’, before re-emerging with the ‘Premonitions of Love’ and ‘Lovesick Kisses’ EP’s, both released in 2020, and this year your full album ‘Our Love Noire’. Whilst it feels like a lengthy silence, you’ve smashed back onto the scene with copious amounts of material to make up for it… Had you taken that time out to write, or were there other events leading to such a gap?
I’d call ‘Premonitions of Love’ and ‘Lovesick Kisses’ singles. I’m old school and think singles should have B-sides. The gap was brought about by what I can only describe as anomalously dark experiences: I mean crazy bad stuff, dozens of things that most people will never experience one of. Those precluded us from gigging, let alone touring. This was a great shame for me because we had a West Coast tour lined up with one of my favourite bands, Silversun Pickups.
With regards to taking time out to write, I don’t need to do that. I’m sitting on over 300 songs, which is frustrating because, while it may seem we came back with plenty of new material, I would have loved to release a lot more. No one’s buying music these days, and Spotify’s royalties are so paltry, they may as well be paying nothing. Plus, music like ours isn’t cheap to make!
I find there’s quite a strong contrast between the two albums: 2015’s New Waves of Hope being much more ethereal and tender, whilst 2020’s Our Love Noire feels much angrier and spewing thick, hazy distortion. What would you say has been the primary influence, resulting in this shift to a darker, grittier sound?
Our Love Noire is definitely the angrier of the two! Although, it’s not outright anger: it’s anger which results in empowerment from rough times and exacting revenge! There’s a smorgasbord of emotions on that album, but, yes, there is a lot of anger. I’m glad you picked that out!
New Waves of Hope was largely predicted on the title. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but some of that aforementioned dark stuff already had its head above the parapet. In spite of those events, there was a kind of naive hope that things could be okay, or at least, I would be okay. Also, I love new-wave music – so there is that!
Another influencing factor in the sonic differences between the albums is that New Waves of Hope was all done in one studio with the same brilliant four people – Gavin Mata Hari, Frankie Siragusa, Nicole Fiorentino, and Eric Gardner. It was a kind of singular vision – there’s a lot of variety but that vision gives it a tad bit more cohesion.
We did go fucking heavy on that album, but we just about stopped short of full-on heavy metal, whereas ‘Get Darker’ on Our Love Noire had a fifteen-second black-metal blast section! I managed to sneak some love onto the album at the very last minute. I thought it needed another new-wavey, electronic beat-driven song, so I wrote ‘Premonitions of Love’ right at the last minute. (I’m surprised that Deftones fans haven’t picked up on that song title yet!) I’ve got a girlfriend who I love an unbelievable amount, so the only song I wrote for the album after her and I got together had to be about her!
You mentioned a couple of names there and wanted to ask about that… You’re a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan, and having former Pumpkins and Veruca Salt bassist, Nicole Fiorentino sing on your debut album along with Eric Gardner on drums, (Gnarls Barkley, Cypress Hill, Iggy Pop, Morrisey, Steve Vai, Slash, Beck, and numerous Tom Morello projects), must’ve been awesome for you! How did that all transpire, and how did it feel working with those guys?
Amazing! Actually, Annie Hardy of Giant Drag was going to do the BV’s for the album – you know her who did that gnarly spoken word part at the end of the unedited album version of ‘Pink Cellphone’ by Deftones!
When it came to Nicole, honestly, I just winged it… found her email address, sent her the song ‘Moopy Moop’, she said she loved it and she was in. That was probably the most excited I’d been about anything! Nicole nailed every song right off the bat. You know, working with Billy Corgan and doing 65 perfect takes and being asked to do another 65 will probably make you efficient in the studio. Although, I’m sure she had that in her already.
When she said to me that seeing Frankie and me high fiving with massive smiles on our faces after she’d finished a take made her as happy as she’d ever been in a studio, I was like ‘that’s it for me!’ because not only was she the bassist in my favourite band, but she was my favourite bassist to play with my favourite band – and they’ve had a few! Also, everyone… do yourself a favour and check out her current band, Bizou for a heady dose of new wave goodness!
Eric Gardner was exemplary. Frankie had made me do three mapped out demos for each song and was extra keen for lyrics if only to give Eric references to the parts of the songs. He came to the studio (with six snare drums!), hadn’t heard the demos, and nailed 70 minutes of complex music in a day and a half.
There’s one point when he was recording ‘The City Was Cruel to Our Love’ and I said to Frankie, I want this fill in the bit coming up (second chorus), Frankie stepped into the live room, mimed it to him and he played it perfectly, exactly what I had very roughly explained to Frankie. That was indicative of the calibre of the man.
Aside from the Pumpkins and Silversun Pickups, which other bands do you consider having had some impact or influence on you, over the years? Are there any artists you would like to work with in the future?
God, my musical taste is broad. I probably listen to about eight hours of music a day and that encompasses a lot! Although, not all of it finds its way into my compositions. I have neither the skill nor the talent to create like Beethoven and while I’m super meticulous in the studio, I don’t think I have the attention to detail to do something like Panopticon. Also, I don’t want to alienate people. I did start a black metal side project that all my black metal aficionado mates thought was great. It was outright rejected by my two favourite BM labels though. So maybe wasn’t up to snuff! Those that want to hear it, DM me on our Instagram!
As far as stuff that actually influences my music, off the top of my head: Pumpkins, Deftones, Silversun Pickups, The Cure, New Order, The Joy Formidable, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Soundgarden, Death Cab for Cutie, The War on Drugs, Catherine Wheel, Pearl Jam, Amusement Parks on Fire, a tiny bit of Pantera – see the closing riff to ‘I am the Motherfucker! (Hate Mail)’ on our upcoming EP. As far as who I’d like to work with, I’d like to add some guitar solos to songs of those bands I love that don’t have solos in their music. Woods of Desolation would be great, thick, claustrophobic, yet beautiful black metal that is just crying out for a blast of shrill wildness! Also, Get Ready, my favourite New Order album’s songs have this brilliant habit of lifting into something higher, a middle eight key change in a chorus will take them to the next level. I reckon I could exaggerate that with some choice solos!
In your repertoire there are quite a lot of shorter songs that are more like soundbites, they seem to capture a particular moment or mood, as opposed to a narrative – i.e. ‘Stupenzzza’, ‘Messilina’s Missive’, ‘This Malaise is Over’. Would you agree? How do these types of songs come to fruition?
Well, I like to mix it up! All of our releases have at least one seven-minute song, the average length of our songs being just over five minutes. So, the (mostly) instrumental ones could be considered as palate cleansers – kind of like Shakespeare’s comic relief moments… but they’re not comical! They also give me the chance to focus solely on the textures of the instrumentation, without losing any of that aural goodness to the vocals. That happens a lot – some really great guitar, bass, and synth tones can get lost when vocals get laid down.
‘Messalina’s Missive’ and ‘Stupenzzza’ were both demos that I’d had kicking about for ages. Both of which I couldn’t play if you asked me, as they were demoed off-the-cuff and forgotten!
Tonally they’re so interesting, so when I was going through my 300 songs in a vain attempt to catalogue, I heard these two and thought: “these are golden”. Even though they were improvised and recorded in about half an hour, I knew they would add some texture to Our Love Noire. So, I bounced them down, brought them to the studio and the awesome Nikolaj Bjerre (who was engineering and co-producing a lot of songs on the album) laid down drums for them. We wrote those parts in 10 minutes, and blamo!
‘This Malaise is Over’ is a bit different. The night before I flew to LA, I started (trying) to play a song called ‘Oh Rolando’ but I’d forgotten it was in 3/4… So, there I was, strumming the chords in 4/4 with some overdrive on the guitar and I just started singing: “we’re out of here in time”. It was a perfect close to New Waves of Hope, especially given the theme of the album. I wanted it to be one of those songs that when it finishes makes you want to put the album on again.
‘Oh Rolando!’ was on an EP I gave away with New Waves of Hope, which was called 3am Fuck ’em Blues. All of the songs were recorded in one take at 3am. It features long-term compadre and wonderful vocalist, Bridget Walsh, who laid down her vocals for ‘Stars Over Salem’ in an airport. You can even hear the Tannoy announcements! That EP can be bought as part of our 48 song pre-Our Love Noire Discography on Bandcamp.
Your lyrics appear quite abstract a lot of the time, which I find really interesting. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process, and what inspires your lyrics?
I don’t know where most of them come from. I guess sometimes I try to convey strong emotions/messages with just enough lamination that they’re not too obvious. I think I stop short of metaphors, though! Some songs are super direct though, like ‘Moopy Moop’.
There are themes that pop up several times too. The idea of hope being a major one: ‘Hope Springs Eternal’, ‘Digging Up Dreams’, ‘Her Ride to the Stars’ are all major examples of this. There are certain lyrics that spring to mind: “Hope is the cruelest liar” (‘God’s Joke’), “This malaise couldn’t kill us” (‘We meet in Dreams’).
It’s amazing how much your live performances really do sound like your recordings (which should be a given, but so many artists don’t match up in their live performances)! Now that live music is making a comeback, are you planning any shows in the near future?
It’s funny you should say that because there’s no live performances on the Internet that I think do us justice – to my knowledge at least. There’s no band at the moment, it’ll be solo gigs only. It’s is a shame because COVID meant we couldn’t launch Our Love Noire and now I can’t launch the upcoming EP, Urgency in Dead Air… If there are Londoners reading this who fancy joining, hit me up… We need a drummer, guitarist, and bassist. At least one has to be female, for those essential backing vocals.
Your most popular song to date (according to Spotify) would be ‘Lovesick Kisses’ from Our Love Noire. That doesn’t surprise me at all, as I absolutely love it and it’s one of my favourites! What do you think it is about the song that has contributed to its success?
Two things: we had a shit-hot radio plugger and the song has three choruses, which is not something I’ve done a lot! I was definitely in ‘pop mode’ for that one, though. I must’ve done 50 takes of the bass. I was thinking: “If this is a pop song, I need to sound like a bassist – not a guitarist playing bass!”
Moving on from the fans’ favourite, I’d like to know what are some of your favourite songs from your repertoire, and why? Are there any songs that strike an emotional chord for you?
I’m not sure if that’s a fan favourite, I think it just got more casual listeners due to its radio promulgation. I’d say some of the true favourites are: ‘Mi Perro Blanco’ (New Waves of Hope), ‘The Ride Today’ (Our Love Noire), ‘God’s Joke’ and our current single ‘Kid Got Luck’. As far as my favourites are concerned, I’ll just say that I’ve put 2 hours’ worth of music by The Microdance together for Eardrum Buzz Radio… and it was too difficult! I always say to people, if you wanna get to know what we’re about, listen to ten songs from different periods. Also, listen more than once – we’ve been called ‘a five listen band’!
Also, my vaingloriously titled side project, Captain Keevill and His Darkest Horses has an EP: ‘False Gods and Wicked Lies’. I think those are four of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever written – Blair actually cried when I was tracking the vocals for ‘Time to Lose That Feeling’. It was one of those synergistic studio moments! I’m giving that EP away to anyone who buys any of our albums – so, if you go for the pre-Our Love Noire Discography, you’ll get 53 songs for £5!
Before we sign off, is there anything else you’d like to add that we’ve not covered? Any shout-outs?
A final shout out to all those who have supported us, all those who have bought our stuff, all the DJs who’ve played our music, and all of the press outlets who have featured us. That includes you guys! Thank you for the opportunity for me to spout my verbose rubbish in response to your excellent questions!
Not verbose rubbish at all, Alex! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, and we wish you all the best! A reminder for readers, ‘Urgency in Dead Air’, the upcoming EP from The Microdance is available for Pre-Order on Bandcamp and all proceeds will be donated to Mind.