Ask the initially shy New Zealander Bachelorette how she makes music, and you'll get a fascinating mouthful.
“Some of the stuff I make, it's almost psychedelic disco, other times I think the music is quite folky,” she begins, “in that kind of computer-based way.” Pausing she then adds, “Lately people have asked me to describe the style and I describe it as computer folk. The computer is my folk instrument. It's just me on stage and I have a couple of computers and samples and a guitar, a lot of sampling and looping live – I construct the songs differently every time I play, so there's an element of improvisation."
Recorded, at least on her self-titled LP released in 2011 on Drag City, the songs are at once soothing and eerie – Bachelorette (aka Annabel Alpers) lets her voice echo over pulsating synth just long enough to create alien unknowns, light-years beyond the realms of modern folk. In songs such as “Polarity Party” she could have slipped in the Drive soundtrack undetected, yet the very next track “Sugarbug,” which begins with the tinkling of a toy piano, would never have worked with all that '80s-cool smoothness. Her voice subtly hits emotional high notes here, and the slowed-down-to-a-crawl procession of keys and solitary drum beats build to a shimmering crescendo. Then the album takes another turn with Velvet Undergroundian “The Last Boat's Leaving.”
This casual variety should be of no real surprise once Bachelorette's background is examined. She grew up in NZ adoring the Beatles, then as a teenager began exploring the local underground scene, discovering bands on the Flying Nun label like Tall Dwarfs, also finding a lifelong love of atmospheric 1980s act Cocteau Twins and '60s psychedelic music, Syd Barrett, and the Kinks. She joined a teen band called Hawaii 5-0 that was “very unambitious psychedelic surf pop.”
Then came a shift in theory. She earned a bachelor of music, majoring in composition and focused mainly on computer-based composition. “I enrolled so I could use computers because I had ideas I wanted to make using multitasking before I knew how to use them.” She then spent an honors year studying in Auckland.
“That's where I started making music for Bachelorette,” she explains. “I got distracted when I was studying composition because we had to make this art music, I probably would've failed if I made pop music – I spent four years having to make pretentious academic art music.” Though she notes, “it was good training because it broke me out of my songwriting habits from bands before university. I ended up getting waylayed for four years then started making pop music again.” Bachelorette is slightly experimental but still has that pop sensibility, she says. Agreed.
She chose the name “Bachelorette” because of its simplicity and gender indication. And she just liked the way it looked when she it written on a piece of paper. “I thought the word written down suited the minimalist aesthetic [of my music] and of course it's fitting because I'm a woman making music on my own.”
Lately, she's been listening to a lot of folk music from China and parts of Africa. “I've never been any good at trying to replicate other sounds, I try to filter and turn it into my own thing. I imagine that listening to indigenous folk music would somehow influence my own music but it's hard to say how.”
Now based out of New York when not out playing shows (though she still goes back to NZ every year), Bachelorette has been touring the U.S. since the start of 2010, with a brief touchdown in Baltimore last week to help a friend mix his own album. After that she'll pick back up on tour with Magnetic Fields, which brings her to Oakland this Saturday.
“It's really great playing to their audience because they're a really great band with a great following. And it's nice to play to new audiences.“