Interview: Alessi’s Ark (Alessi Laurent-Marke)

By on Tuesday, 4th October 2011 at 12:00 pm

The lovely Alessi Laurent-Marke, the woman behind the mystique of Alessi’s Ark, just spent the last 2 weeks with Laura Marling on the road in North America. (Read the DC gig review here.) I was able to send some questions over to the mysterious Ms. Laurent-Marke, and her answers may surprise you. Such as how she responds to what ‘Time Travel’ means to her. Continue on through the interview below…

Hi Alessi, welcome to Washington! Is this your first real tour of the United States? Had you been here before for SXSW or CMJ?
Thank you for the welcome Mary! I’ve had the pleasure of visiting and playing in the United States quite a few times but this this is the first tour that has stopped in Montreal, which was a treat.

You and Laura’s band had the day off Monday – did you get any sightseeing in, or was it a case of catching up on much needed rest?
I don’t sleep so well but I think the others caught up on nap time. We travelled to Philadelphia for the band to perform at the World Cafe Cafe station and arrived in Washington in the evening so we didn’t see very much of the city on this trip. I was lucky to play in Washington in June however and had some time to walk around and learn about the beautiful city with my family. It is steeped in so much history and the architecture is very interesting. I hope to visit again before long.

On this tour, with you supporting Laura Marling, it’s a bill of two strong, female songwriters from London. What’s in been like, going across the country with Laura?
It was an honour and great fun.

You have such a beautiful, unusual name – Alessi. What is the story behind it? (I loved how you started your set last night with “You are beautiful!” Set the tone for the night, really.)

Thank you, I’m glad you like the name! ‘Alessi’ is an Italian name that my Mum had liked for a long time and had always intended on naming a child. We don’t have any Italian connections other than we have a mutual love of their cuisine!

Tell me about your musical childhood, when did you start getting interested in music? And when did you start to write songs?
I started playing the drums at school when I was 11 and joined the school bands playing cover songs. It was good fun and led me to picking up the guitar when I was 14. I also started writing a zine called ‘Brain Bulletin’. Around the same time where I’d write about music and books I was excited about and hoped others would enjoy too. I started putting music to poems and piecing songs together when I was
around 15.

I heard your first instrument was the drums. Is this true? It seems like a difficult first instrument, especially for a girl?

Yes, I started on the drums. They are wonderful to play and always looked very fun to play whenever I went to gigs. My dream was to drum and continue with the zine.

Most of your songs are very short. Are they conceived this way, or is this how they end up when you write?
I’m not sure why my songs are so short, it’s an interesting question that I can’t really answer. I guess I don’t wish to outstay my welcome.

So the mythology is that you signed your first record deal at the age of 17. Not what other 17-year olds are doing at that point in their lives! Tell me what that was like. Did you feel a lot of pressure, especially since by that point you had quit school against your parents’ wishes?
y parents are very supportive of my sister and I and we’re very lucky to understand each other as a family. They never objected to my leaving school and the pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself
(which is quite a lot, I suppose). I started playing gigs in and around London when I was 16 and didn’t rush into signing with EMI – I was very taken aback and a bit frightened that the music had caught their
attention so early into my playing.

So yesterday (27 September) was the American release date for ‘Time Travel’, finally. I really like it and I feel like it shows a more mature Alessi. Do you agree?

Oh I’m glad you like it, that’s great to hear. ‘Time Travel’ was recorded three years after my first album ‘Notes from the Treehouse’ and so there has been inevitable growth and experience in that space
of time. I hope it keeps others good company!

My two favourite songs on the album are ‘The Wire’ and ‘On the Plains’. In ‘The Wire’, it sounds like you are continuing a theme explored in the earlier ‘Soul Proprietor’ EP (review here), and I’m really intrigued with the song. First, there is the American vs. British English usage in “dollar bill” rhyming with “rusty till”.
The ‘Wire’ was written with a shop in mind that I used to visit during my time recording the first album in Omaha so there really were dollar bills in the rusted till!

Second, the woman that you sing about in the song sounds very powerful. Does she represent someone in your real life?
She is a strong, beautiful woman who is apart from the person she loves.

There’s a nice, upbeat change of pace in ‘On the Plains’, and it even has a happy flute in the background. It has a line that goes, “it’s hard to say what kept me going / ‘cos I don’t what kept you gone”, which I find utterly heartbreaking. The happy feeling of the song goes against what the song is saying to me, it’s actually a sad love song. What can you tell me about it?
I love the sound of the flute, it’s such a pretty instrument. The song was written in two parts and covers different ground and experiences.

‘Stalemate’ also has a very powerful line, which I found even more powerful live last night: “the only thing I’ve learnt is I like singing / all the lessons that the guitar is bringing.” In the process of being a songwriter, have you “learnt” a lot? Anything you care to share with us fans?
My songs are snippets of everyday life that I hope others can relate to. In my song ‘Woman’ there is a line, “some things are better sung than said”, and I keep finding that the sentence is true, at least for

The longest song, at barely 4 minutes, is the title track ‘Time Travel’. “I can time travel / just lying in bed” – what does this line mean to you? Is this a prevailing theme throughout the album?

You can be transported by memories and dreams, which is something so beautiful. All you need to do is close your eyes. It’s free and you can go anywhere. Music for me is a means of time travel and always has been. Putting on an album can be be amazing escapism to wherever you’d like to go.

You also have a cover on the album, ‘Maybe I Know’ by an artist most young people are not familiar with, ‘60s star Lesley Gore, who famously sang ‘It’s My Party’. How did you come to choose this song to cover?
Two summers ago, a friend dreamt that I performed the song at a school party and he sent a link to footage of Lesley performing the song. I was blown away by the lyrics but it wasn’t till I’d finished
recording ‘Time Travel’ that I decided to have a go despite how in awe I was of the song. I didn’t even play with the full ‘Ark’ on the recording; I sang and played drums, Jamie swapped from his usual
electric to acoustic guitar and the lovely engineer, David played vibes, bass and piano. We finished off with hand claps!

There are so many young people coming up now that want to be a position like yours, being a singer/songwriter with few restrictions on your artistic direction. What advice would you have for them?
The support and encouragement of family and friends has been invaluable to me: I’d say keep a security blanket around your soul and stay true to you.

Alessi’s Ark’s second album, ‘Time Travel’, is available now from Bella Union. Many thanks to Elliot for setting this interview up for us.

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