- 06 Mar 20
Stephen Shannon of Mount Alaska chatted with Hot Press ahead of the duo's upcoming St. Patrick's Festival gig at Pepper Canister Church about their history, imaginary films and why releasing music can be so hard.
Normal concert venues aren’t always the best places to catch a live performance. At least that’s what Stephen Shannon of Mount Alaska says. The electronic duo have made their way around the festival circuit, including a slot at Forbidden Fruit, but their favourite gigs have been the ones in unconventional spaces.
“We're always drawn to playing in really unusual spaces or places that are challenges for us. I've been playing in bands and playing music for many, many years. That kind of prescribed setting of a venue with a bar and people pay in and you play at a specific time and it stops at 11, it's never as memorable,” he says,
Shannon and his bandmate Cillian McDonnell have even played in a yoga studio, yet their upcoming gig at Dublin’s Pepper Canister Church is a brand-new challenge. A part of the St. Patrick’s Festival, they’ll be joined by experimental post-funk group Slow Moving Clouds in the centuries-old church on March 15 for a night of transcendent instrumental music.
Mount Alaska only started releasing music in 2016, but their story goes far beyond that. The two met about 25 years ago and immediately bonded over a shared love for dance and electronic music. As close friends with such an intense common passion, it was only natural for the two to work on music together. They first joined forces as Halfset in 2005, an experimental electronic band that featured live percussion, guitars and even harp.
Halfset disbanded shortly after their first album in 2008, but the two knew that their story wouldn’t end there.
“Cillian and I were always more interested in making electronic music and experimenting with electronic sounds. Even while the band was still going, we were working on a different kind of music. Once the band split up, we just continued on and made sounds together,” he explains.
Years of experimentation led the two to finally make the decision to let their music out into the world. Once they made the first public move, everything else came naturally.
“We were just experimenting, and we were never really happy with what we had. Or at least we weren't confident that it was unique enough, so we just kind of kept on working away at it for a few years before we released anything. Once we were happy enough, we've been pretty prolific. We’ve released 16 or 17 songs in the last two, three years,” Shannon says. “Releasing music, it’s both exhilarating and really, really scary.”
Their sound blends modern electronic music with neoclassical sounds and vintage synthesizers to create a cinematic sound, something Shannon is used to in his other career as a composer. Their latest record, Wave Atlas: Season One, is inspired by his work on compositions for films. It focuses on storytelling and emotions, serving as a soundtrack for a film that doesn’t actually exist.
“We decided to try and do our own imaginary film and make a soundtrack for that,” he explains. “We had an imaginary script in mind and imaginary characters, and we composed music for that imaginary film. We didn’t describe to people what it was we were doing, we just released it as music and let people fill in the gaps with their own imaginations.”
That imaginary film will never come to fruition. Shannon doesn’t want to tell anyone the plot, instead enjoying the new interpretations each listener has.
“It’s morphed beyond that anyway. They were almost like placeholder concepts to make the music go through, but the music’s taken on a life of its own now. That’s the interesting about releasing music as well, once you put it out into the world, it’s no longer yours at all. You have no control over how it's played, who's listening to it, what way they're listening to it, and what they perceive when they're hearing it. I prefer to leave the narrative to them.”
Only months after releasing Wave Atlas: Season One, the duo are beginning work on a new concept-based project. They're excited — but Shannon isn't ready to leak any hints yet.
“Sorry to be so shady,” he says with a laugh.
Secrets aside, the duo are planning to take some time off to give the new project the attention it needs. So for fans and curious newbies, the upcoming gig will be the last chance to see Mount Alaska before they disappear back into the studio for a while.
“We’re planning on doing something very special with the lighting and the sound,” he enthuses. “This will be the last chance for the next few months for people who are fans of Mount Alaska to come and see us play, so we would love to see people there on the night.”
Mount Alaska play at Dublin’s Pepper Canister Church at 8pm on Sunday, March 15. Get tickets here.