About Me

Interview with My Own Private Alaska

My Own Private Alaska supported their first album release “Amen” in 2010, produced by Ross Robinson, with countless tours all over the world including support shows for Metallica and then they went on hiatus. But now the French men are back to the scene with the reissue of their incredible album, filled with haunting, avantgarde post-rock & "pianocore" apokalypse atmospheres. Metal Imperium talked to Milka (vocals) and Tristan (piano) about the album that granted them world wide attention, their cover of “My girl”, the upcoming album, the work with international associations that prevent the youth from discomfort and suicide and a whole lot more. Let’s get to know them better!

M.I. - Where does the name My Own Private Alaska come from? What does it mean to you?

M.: The name of the band is a reference to two movies: Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho” and Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild”. We wanted an expression of something very personal. And we chose Alaska because it's a symbol of the other idea we wanted, something very rough and cold. A kind of end of the world.

M.I. - What are your musical influences? What attracted you to music in the first place?

M.: Of course, a lot of rock and metal – hardcore – punk. For example, the pianist wanted to make music when he first listened to NIRVANA in the 90's! We were fans of powerful bands, like Envy, Neurosis, Gojira, and also really intimate music like a lot of piano composers, from Chopin to Michael Nyman, and also Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen.

M.I. - How did you come up with the idea of combining screaming vocals, piano and drums? Why have you decided not to include guitars in the band?

M.: I discovered one day that my friend Tristan was playing piano. He never told us before. I just fell in love with his compositions, and we decided to make something together. We needed a drummer, of course, because the idea was to combine extreme melodic sensations with the piano and extreme visceral sensations with the screams. Then we wondered if we needed a bass guitar and, at the time, we didn't want to add a bass guy playing standing, while we were sitting. Then last year, we got the idea of another keyboard that takes care of the bass frequencies. We chose Mathieu Laciak because he's another talented pianist too, and also a guy who used to deal with hard electronic frequencies, because of his electro music project: Incandescent.

M.I. - In 2014 MOPA went on a hiatus… why? Were you tired of the music business? Family issues? What have you returned now?

M.: Music business was hard indeed because we built ourselves in the DIY system, with passionate people working in associations. Even if we worked with famous people, we were still part of the process, working day and night on the development of the band. All that was tiring indeed. But most of all, we had to deal with family issues too, and the band became a complicated equation. Now we built a new team, Tristan and I, with the willing of not doing the same mistakes than before and the deep love of making our music together, and the equation today is even better than in the past!

M.I. - How can the reissue of a 10-year old album create such a fuss? Who do you think might be interested in the digital version of “Amen”? New listeners? Old fans?

T.: Difficult to say. I often used to say that once music is recorded, it doesn’t belong to its composer anymore. Hopefully, 2020’s listeners are still curious if not more than in 2010.

M.I. - Are there any differences between the album “Amen” released in 2010 and the digital version released on 22nd May? Was it “upgraded” somehow?

T.: Absolutely no difference. 100% the same. We first thought to add some extra material but, finally, decided to keep it like the original one as if it was just released. We keep extra surprises for a bit later…

M.I. - Ross Robinson is the producer responsible for “Amen”… how was it working with such a famous producer? 

M.: Of course, it was amazing. How couldn't it be? This guy is an artist, before being a producer. He's got visions and sensibilities. More than lots of studio engineers. He's really into the spontaneity and truth process, during the recording. He wants the musician not to act in a role, not to play a score. He wants you to BE what you play, to believe in every single word you say, and never lie to yourself. This is the most difficult part. So, he's got methods and psychological process. We rehearsed first 14 days in a row, 7 hours a day, he wanted to tire us mentally so we could “think” only with our body, and our heart. “Unplug your brain”, that's his leitmotiv. And we still follow this one, especially.

M.I. - The band’s living off the success of “Amen”… did you ever think it would last this long? 

M.: I don't know. I'm just happy it's happening. The pause we had in our career led us to that but, after “Amen”, we wanted to write new stuff directly, we were not stuck in our past, despite it being our only record so far. It was of course a very important record for us, and also maybe for the people who listened to it. I still feel the intention we wanted to give in it, when I listen back to it. The goal of the process, to make a record last, is also to make it listenable to a bigger audience every day, and I guess that's what we're doing, talking to medias all over Europe right now ;-)

M.I. - What has “Amen” given MOPA in these 10 years? Positive and negative?

T. : Truth is… mixed things. Thanks to this album we have been able to reach territories and people we would never have met without. In the other hand, a certain amount of people who know us before AMEN had been disappointed by this album and the “Robinson side” for whatever reasons... As I said before, music doesn’t belong to its composer once recorded. We have to understand that “everything has its way”. One thing we learned: this record produced by Robinson led us to consider music differently.

M.I. - The band’s done a cover of the song “My girl” from Nirvana. What do you think of covers? Some say they should only be done if they are better than the original… do you think the same way or do you just want to do it in your own way?

M.: Personally, I like covers, as a listener. I like to see how a band can re-build, re-imagine a song that I know. It's very interesting. I guess covers are also imprinted in our collective subconscious. That's what is positive. Listeners can embrace it easier than a song coming out of nowhere sometimes. As for “My Girl” or any covers I made, I don't have the pretention to make the songs better than the original ones. But I deeply think any cover should bring something. A different sensibility, a new auditive reading, an upgraded version sometimes... That's what we tried to do with our cover on “Amen”, which by the way is from Ledbelly. Nirvana were already covering it in the 90's ;-)

M.I. - Are there any further cover versions planned? I read that you are thinking about doing a The Cure or a Pink Floyd cover… is that really so?

T.: I like the idea of doing a cover on every record we make. As M. said, it’s a very challenging task because we don’t “just” want to cover the song. I like to propose other angles and reach different lays of the original song. which is not easy. The Cure and Pink Floyd are two phenomenal famous bands and I’d love to lead one of their most famous song elsewhere. Wait and see.

M.I. - You have a particular staging during your concerts and supposedly you announce all of the songs you will play before playing them all in one go. Why? In your opinion which are the most important aspects of a good live show in general?

T.: Indeed. This original idea was to let the singer “scream” and nothing else. He was not “allowed” to speak to the audience. Then, because I don’t have any microphone on stage, I didn’t have other choices than announcing all the songs in a row before playing the show. As simple as that. We knew that was weird, cold, very “Alaska”. But, in hindsight, something was missing: the connection between the audience and ourselves. Fact is we pushed too much the cold “Alaska” side at the expense of people, which is not what we want to show anymore. Today, our desire is to share our music with people more than propose them “only” our “Alaska” topic.

M.I. - The band toured the world supporting Metallica… how was that experience? I read Russia is your favourite country to go on tour. Why is it so special over there?

T.: Metallica support was a one shot, but an awesome one! We could make this “coup” thanks to our former booking agent. We didn’t have the opportunity to meet the Metallica guys, but this day was a once in a lifetime experience. We are so grateful having the opportunity to play in such a beautiful and meaning place as the Arenas. Of course, Metallica fans didn’t expect a 3 sitting piece band without guitars doing the support, but we enjoyed it and will never forget this day. For the anecdote, I broke 5 of my piano keys during the first song due to the excitement…
Russia is a place we appreciated to play in from the very first time, because fans just dig our music and lyrics so much than the connection between them and us is obvious and intense. We saw people on stage with us singing “would you die for me” as if they were really asking the question to their beloved ones… Could be that Russian fans are more liberate than standard European fans due to their history.

M.I. - Is MOPA working on new material? How much pressure do you feel when creating it? Do you fear you might not live up to the expectations?

T.:  Yes, we are working on new material. Truth is that we already had new material since a while, but we just can’t wait to play extra songs, particularly with the newcomers in the band. I don’t feel any pressure at all as I’m very confident. Our new songs will be better than ever. There will always be some disappointed and critical, whatever you do. And for the third time: music doesn’t belong to us once released, we have to accept it and move forward.

M.I. - The lyrics seem to be very personal and dark. Are they all fictional or biographical? In your opinion, how much impact should honesty and truthfulness have in the music? 

M.: All the lyrics are true. Based on true stories 100% of the times. Sometimes it's me. Sometimes it's friends. Families. And I guess that's one of the reasons why the lyrics can move people, in our case and in any case, because you're concerned. You're not singing lyrics because you “need” to have a few words to scream, or to sing on. These lyrics are emotional material too, and the more powerful they are, the better the song will be.

M.I. - In which direction will your musical path lead you in future? When can your listeners expect new material? 

T.: Songs will be shorter and easier to dig in I think. “Amen” contains many old songs of mine.  Most of them were composed in a very “classical piano “way”. Today, I need to compose something more urgent and affordable, rougher and “straight to the point”, something very punky in its approach.

M.I. - The band has received so many testimonies from fans that say your music helped them dealing with difficult moments so MOPA has affiliated to some international associations that prevent the youth from discomfort and suicide. Can art, and music in particular, be a savior? Have the testimonies of your fans ever inspired you to write lyrics?

M.: The testimonies of our fans totally blew our minds. We were sincerely moved. I often got the willing of crying reading some of these stories. Because they were sad, and also because I was proud to realize I helped these people. They were saying “thank you, you helped me”. Wow... It's so powerful. I guess that's exactly why musicians make musicians, provoke deep emotions, and also deep and positive reactions. That's s what we got, and we wanted to give back, and go on creating positive circles. It's seven years now that MOPA is involved in those “prevention social / musical actions”. That's today one of my jobs! I meet young people in despair every week, and I just “try to” help. “Music” can be a savior. It's a combination. Sometimes, art is just a click, that moves you deeply, and can also resonate with other inner forces: love, friendship, childhood, family, animals, sport, or whatever... I'm really proud to be part of these processes when they happen.

M.I. - Now that the virus has locked everything down, you won’t be doing any shows in the upcoming months… will they be rescheduled? 

T.: Some will and others won’t. We lost the occasion to play for the HellFest warm up festival in April and the Irreversible festival in Switzerland with Soulfly and Hypno5e in June. But, we are rescheduled for the Plein Air Festival next June and the Francofolies de la Rochelle next July. Very happy and excited to play there next year.
As I speak, I still don’t know if our 4 gigs in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia will remain in September. Would be a heartbreak not play over there.

M.I. - What can fans expect of MOPA in the near future? 

T.: Whole new social networks. Plenty of things as we are working closely with a bunch of all new partners. In the other hand, this virus led us, like every other band in the world, to a mess that will delay our plan. Hopefully we’ll be able to propose something fresh in 2021. 

M.I. - Any final words you’d like to share with the readers of Metal Imperium?

M.: Grazie mille for the work you did preparing this interview. That means something to us. It's important to still spend time talking about art, and not to consummate tons of streamed songs on the internet. It's important to dig sometimes. Deeper, as someone often told me. ;-)

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Sónia Fonseca