For episode 75, I had the pleasure of chatting with George Pappas of Alien Skin about his song “The Unquiet Grave”. Alien Skin is George’s solo project after being the keyboardist in Real Life, which is a band I fondly remember from one of their hit singles “Send Me An Angel”. (George’s remix on his website is a wonderful update, by the way.)
George told me that “after a long period in the band Real Life, I decided to concentrate solely on my own writing. David Sterry (Real Life singer) & I co-wrote quite a number of songs together, and I felt the need to explore musical areas I hadn’t touched on with the band. Hence the development of Alien Skin and my first solo release, Don’t Open Till Doomsday, in 2008. I performed extensively with Real Life up to 2005, but not as Alien Skin.”
Alien Skin is a departure in style and substance from Real Life. “In the latter, I played the role of keyboardist, producer & co-songwriter, but it was essentially David Sterry’s vehicle. The songs we created were generally more upbeat & necessarily suited to a live environment. They had dance elements and I guess they were more immediately accessible. David’s voice is certainly more appealing than mine. 🙂 The music of Alien Skin is far more atmospheric, enigmatic, mysterious, dark and minimal. It may take a little more concentration and requires an appropriate mood sometimes to extract the most from it. I enjoy creating cinematic, darkly melodic soundscapes & vocally, which I don’t mind, my voice has been likened to Martin Gore of Depeche Mode. ‘Send Me An Angel’ was always a killer live when we played it, and it probably won’t go away, not in my lifetime. :)”
George discovered Horror Addicts through Grave Concerns Ezine. “It seemed an interesting idea as I know my work as Alien Skin appeals to people interested in haunting atmospherics; right up my alley, so to speak. To me, ‘The Unquiet Grave’ felt the most appropriate choice of track to submit. It’s a 14th century English folk song, steeped in medieval, sad romanticism. I first discovered the folk song, in many versions & variations, good & bad, on Youtube in 2010. Only about 600 years too late, but its sad melancholic tragedy & sadness impacted upon me immediately.”
Though he lives in Melbourne, Australia, he finds more inspiration from abroad. “Musically, much of my interests were drawn from bands far away, in Britain & Germany. The electronic scene of the late 70s and 80s, together with the pop culture of the 60s, mashed up with film noir of the 40s & 50s and B grade sci fi from the 50s & 60s have been far more influential. I love old horror movies too. Ones that play on psychology, and not graphic & obvious visual scenes. Imagination is far scarier and interesting I believe. So, living where I do has not been of importance to me.”
Having toured extensively, he shared some stories with me. “People vary considerably in their behaviour & the way they demonstrate their attitude towards a band. In Alien Skin I have quite a number of devoted fans. This is the age of social media, so I am a lot more accessible to people than say, back in the days of Real Life. On tour though, with Real Life, the adoration of many people, face to face, was always the most pleasant aspect of performing. Of course ‘Send Me An Angel’ was usually a show stopper. On many occasions we reprised the song during encore, and had anyone from the audience interested, jump on stage and sing it with us. On some shows the stage was packed with people often obliterating hearing access to my foldback monitors, making it difficult for me to hear. I had to politely push people away from my immediate space around my keyboard, fearing they’d knock me over. 🙂 Chicago, especially, was a crazy gig a number of years back, with masses of people screaming and singing their way through the entire show. It was staged in an old vaudevillian theatre, converted into a club. We each had body guards next to us on stage. I didn’t know what was going on actually; only later was I told it was a dangerous neighborhood and that’s why there were all these additional people, male & female on this huge stage with us. It was a top night, though!”
Regarding the name of his solo project, “Alien Skin”, I asked about the story behind it. “Most people assume it has sci fi connections. Actually it’s more philosophical. On my debut album, Don’t Open Till Doomsday, the last track is called ‘Alien Skin’. The song came first, then my name. The track has only one repetitive lyric in it: ‘the stranger within alien skin’. What I’m referring to, is that the essence of who you believe you are, does not always correlate with the way others perceive you or the way you choose to present yourself and sometimes you feel perhaps like a stranger within your own skin: i.e., that you’re not the person others think you are. That was the theme of the song, although it does lend itself to an extra terrestrial interpretation as well, which I don’t mind either.”
It may be hard to choose, but which of his works is his favorite? “Yes, it is almost impossible to choose without the advantage of being removed from the music by many, many years. At present I have to say that my new 2012 album, Ghost In The Rain, is the one that satisfies me the most. It is my latest work as Alien Skin, and best articulates my current position, musically, aesthetically and emotionally.”
It wouldn’t be sufficient to label his style as “goth”, but it’s probably a good start. “It’s been called ‘goth with the rock bled out of it’; ‘a kaleidoscope of electronic melancholia’; ‘icy vast cinematic emptiness’. I agree with all of them. Fundamentally, it’s electronic in core, with atmospheric & mystery undertones. I love creating dark, ethereal, shadowy spaces, and melodies that hopefully are memorable, way after you press the stop button.”
That kind of fruit has many seeds so I asked about his favorite bands. “Specifically, Depeche Mode, especially from the Black Celebration and earlier era, when they were exclusively electronic; Kraftwerk who are the seed from which all of modern electronic bands have developed from; David Syvian (ex Japan) has a magnificent baritone voice and is such an inspirational, experimental music writer; David Bowie has always been present in fragments of my conscious writing; as have the Beatles, especially in the areas of psychedelics which stongly affects my arrangements, even though it may not be blatantly obvious. The Cure & Joy Division will always be faves, too.”
Some musicians focus solely on their craft while others find additional outlets. George is definitely the former. “Speaking generally, music is my preoccupation, and creatively, I don’t think I’m really too good at anything else. My wife and I had our apartment remodeled a couple of years back, it involved making decisions on color schemes etc. I quickly learned I had no idea what goes with what, I left it all to her, and she made all the right choices (got to say that, if/or when she reads this. 🙂 Seriously though, being good at one thing at least keeps me focused on it, and hopefully I’m continuing to develop and improve on it.”
What’s next for Alien Skin? “Well, at the time of writing I’m about to release my new CD album, Ghost In The Rain, together with an additional limited addition 4 track EP-CD called The Secret Garden, so I am and shall continue to be busy promoting it online, and touching base with as many people as possible. After that, once my already fried brain settles a little, I may feel the energy to begin writing again for a future release.”
George agreed that giving advice is tricky as “there’s no template for success”, but he did have some great advice. “Basically, listen to other people’s opinions, but essentially do whatever you believe is right for you. That way you have total control of your success or failure & there’s no one to get angry at. Just do what you do, but be respectful to others; be courteous and don’t burn bridges as so many people tend to do, as you never know when the person you’ve pissed off may one day be in a position to help your career along.”
Beyond the usual sites to listen his tracks, including his official website, alienskinmusic.com, Alien Skin has a private guest list, which gives fans access to exclusive song downloads, podcasts, music prizes and personal contact with regards to new, exciting developments throughout the year. Check it out by going to http://www.alienskinmusic.net/free and join for free.
CDBABY is the official Alien Skin distributor, found at http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/AlienSkin, plus you can follow Alien Skin on Facebook (at facebook.com/alienskinmusic) and on Twitter (at twitter.com/alienskin).