Isamaya Ffrench and George Clarke introduce their new band, ALTO ARC

Written by on 20/01/2022

At some point during the pandemic, beauty guru Isamaya Ffrench and Deafheaven frontman George Clarke started a band with progressive producer Danny L Harle and Treyer Tryon from the Florida band Hundred Waters. Four disparate artists at the height of their creativity, the formation of ALTO ARC was unexpected. The funny thing is, you’ve probably already heard their debut single “Nocebo” without realising it, cosying up to Rosalía and Billie Eilish’s “Lo Vas A Olvidar” in the trailer for Hunter Schafer’s special episode of Euphoria in early 2021. Incredibly cinematic, the track – on which Isamaya’s elven vocals dance with George’s proclamations and screams over a stuttering, confrontational production – would be just as at home in a mystical video game score as it is here, kicking in just as the neon-tinged world Rue and Jules inhabit starts unravelling. 

“We were just doing the work,” Isamaya says as she walks through London’s busy streets. “So to have Euphoria reach out and say they wanted to use our track for the trailer… that, for me, was definitely like: okay, we’re doing the right thing.” Making music from different sides of the world (Isamaya and Danny are based in London, while George has been living between New Zealand and the US, where Treyer is also based), the four artists have never actually been in the same room at the same time. But this pen-friend style of creation seems to be working pretty well for them. 

Taken from their forthcoming EP, today ALTO ARC are releasing their second single “Bordello”, together with a twisted early fantasy music video from director Elizaveta Porodina. Both the song and its visual feel ritualistic: dark, disconcerting and completely hypnotic as we follow George into Isamaya’s world of tarot, snakes, haunting visions and black-red blood. “We wanted something that was not explicitly vampiric but definitely in that vein,” George explains, joining the call from his LA home. “We were talking about Roman Coppola’s work on Francis Coppola’s Dracula and the old in-camera effects from Nosferatu. There are all these snippets of evocative language,” he explains, citing Marcel Schwob’s The King in the Golden Mask and the creepily surreal art of Leonora Carrington as other key influences. 

Watch the video for “Bordello” below – taking heed of George’s chant-like forewarning that “the chaos has started” – and read on as ALTO ARC’s vocalists introduce their band for the very first time.

How on earth do you describe what you’re doing with ALTO ARC?

George: I’ve been having real trouble answering that question even for friends. I just tell them it’s odd and fantastical and like, future-Viking or something. There’s also this quasi-religious thing – mixing those sorts of sounds with Danny and Treyer’s futuristic production really made this thing its own timeless animal. 

And did you guys go into the project with this sound in mind or did it just happen?

G: I think there’s just such a huge amount of trust in this project that it became very naturally open-ended. We were allowed to throw everything at the wall and see what sounds and textures stuck, so I think that open-mindedness led to that.

Isamaya: You know, George is in a very successful band already, and I don’t have any kudos in that department, but I’m always so amazed by what Danny and Treyer bring to the table. Treyer especially is somebody who I thought I had a handle on what his musical style was, but he’s become a real noise artist through this project. It’s been quite amazing to see everybody’s styles develop, and I suppose that’s because we’re all so different – when we’re given a noisy track, it’s a real challenge to sing and track over it so it pushes us in a direction that might not be so native.

G: I completely agree. I think this thing has allowed everyone to go to their extremes in a really cool way.

Definitely. So what kind of influences were you working with?

G: There was a lot of talk about aesthetic – how we wanted things to look and how songs should feel. I guess specifically for “Bordello” there was a big emphasis on having an early fantasy incorporation. It’s not strictly horror, it’s broader than that. 

I: George and I lead the visual side of things, and I think a lot of the fun is in the process of translating the music. There are a lot of literary references in there, as well as film. In fact, we never play each other music, do we? I think everything is created through shared experiences of stories or books or poetry. It’s been quite a backwards creative process, in that sense.

G: Yeah, the visual informs the music. I think it works in these different directions because all four of us are doing different things at different times, before trying to cross our paths and seeing how it all comes together.

So when was the last time the four of you were actually in a room together? Has that happened?

I: Never!

G: Not the four of us! I was in London in November, and Isamaya and I saw Danny together; he came to set when we were shooting this video. Then I’ve tracked with you and Treyer in LA and that’s it. 

Wow, so very remote but it’s working.

G: The craziest part was last spring when I was in New Zealand for four months so we were triangulating between Los Angeles, London and New Zealand and I was having to track in a studio down there. Isamaya and I were getting on the phone at like 6am my time to go over ideas. I actually really love it — it’s nice not always having to be in the same room.

It’s the new normal. I’m wondering how this project compares to your usual work? And how the dynamic between the four of you impacts that?

G: The thing about ALTO ARC that I’ve enjoyed so much, lyrically speaking, that divides it from Deafheaven, is that there’s so much more open-endedness; there’s not a need for a direct narrative or a direct meaning. I suppose the lyrical intention is simply to bring emotion. It’s been really great to write for, and to use my voice in such strange, aerobic ways. I haven’t been able to utilise myself like this, maybe ever. It’s fun!

I: I think everybody in this project is kind of avant-garde in one way or another, which sounds really wanky doesn’t it? I mean, there’s a lot of theatre going on in all of our work individually and the way we express ourselves in our own worlds, and I think the video is quite a good amalgamation of all of the theatrics. That’s something I really love about the music and the band and the sentiment: we’re not making work that’s trying to follow a trend, we’re just doing what feels right. And because everybody has that theatrical background, the result is kind of an over-the-top piece of work, but I really love that about it.

G: It’s like four theatre kids putting their brains together, and it results in something that’s so bombastic. It’s cool. It’s what makes this project really fun, that everyone has this childlike enthusiasm for the extreme. 

Theatre kids are usually the best people, in my opinion.

I: The most annoying people!

G: The worst people!

I really need to see this EP live. When can that happen?

I: We have been talking about doing it at some point. We need to write more music, I think.

G: Yeah, we can’t do a 28-minute set.

You could! But you probably ought to get in the same city.

G: Yeah, we need to meet first. 

So tell us, is this EP a standalone project, or the start of something beautiful?

G: I don’t see our collaboration slowing at all. What ALTO ARC will be and become, I have no idea, but I think that’s part of what makes it exciting – that we all kind of have it in our back pocket, you know? And it’s not a point of stress for anyone, it’s such a pleasure.

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