Hello there, dear readers! This article, I’d like to take you on a journey to Swiss Alps. Not to THE Swiss Alps, but to a local band with a great sound that happens to be called Swiss Alps. They may be based in State College, Pennsylvania, but their sound is good enough to reach a much wider audience. Hey, don’t take my always-right word for it, check them out for yourself below:
I discovered Swiss Alps when they were playing a house show with Gay Republicans, another local band I’ll be telling you about in a future article. I was really impressed with what I heard, so I asked the band if they’d be interested in talking to THE BOMBER JACKET about their band, music, and the local scene. Singer Devan Kochersperger was nice enough to take some time out of his day to answer questions, and I am nice enough to relay our conversation to you, on this new thing called “the Internet.” Enjoy:
TBJ: So first question is, obviously, how did you guys come up with the name Swiss Alps?
Devan: I think band names are often times almost as important as the music itself. I kept a list of words and names going that I felt might work for the music I was recording, but I was worried a lot of them would get lost in the glut of beach and nautical-themed names that seem to overpopulate independent music blogs recently. Eli and I can trace our family’s ancestry back to a lease for a vineyard outside of Bern, Switzerland in the 1300s, so it just seemed to make sense.
Who does your band consist of?
My brother Eli plays guitar, Jackie plays bass and sings, and I (Devan) play guitar and sing live, plus drums on the recordings.
Have any of you played in other bands locally? If so, which ones?
How long have you all been playing together?
We started playing together in late winter as the EP was being finished.
What has been your biggest success or achievement as a band so far?
It was a very gratifying experience to have a label physically release my music on cassette. I had just assumed for a long time I would make a few on my own for friends at shows, so working with Pyramid Lake to produce the cassette was a huge surprise that motivated me to really polish the songs.
I met you when you when Swiss Alps was playing in the basement at a house party. What’s it like playing at informal events like that, as opposed to a bar, or more organized show?
We all actually prefer the house party oriented shows to bars. Although bars certainly have the added advantage of being able to cover our gas costs, the experiences and audiences at D.I.Y. basement shows seem to be much more memorable.
The State College music scene is really only ever going to be what people make it to be. Groups like Roustabout and SOMA have a steady supply of amazing national acts that come through town, but it’s up to the residents and students to make their own bands to supplement those concerts. The bars will always be full of cover bands playing their own rendition of “Santeria,” but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great local bands playing in someone’s basement. It’s just a shame that the number of shows for the original acts seems to depend on whether or not someone they know has a good lease.
What is the hardest part of being an original band in this area? Do you have any strategies to overcome this?
Our approach from the start has never been to consider ourselves a State College band. From the onset of being on the Internet we simply labeled ourselves as being a “Pennsylvania-based group.” Any time we’ve needed to list a city we’ve cited Philadelphia. It’s actually pretty amazing how many more show offers we’ve been given just by making the change. Although we all reside and work in State College, it seems fair to us to call Philadelphia our ideological hometown.
How would you describe your band to someone who’s never heard it?
Where do you get your inspiration for songs from? What’s your songwriting process like?
I usually write the songs through the recording process. Personally, I’ve never liked writing a song as a full band and then attempting to record it. The sound that everyone has developed live and in their minds is impossible to nail on a recording. Instead, writing a song while recording it leaves you with a finished product that you can later worry about transferring to a live setting. This method has left me far more satisfied with the sound of the recordings since it isn’t competing with any expectations.
Most of the lyrics I write tend to be either about dreams I’ve had or moments of invented nostalgia. Living in the same town for 23 years has forced me to see a lot of the same places for decades. The passing of time adds a haze of beauty to something as simple as a maple tree remembered from childhood. Rediscovering these places as an adult with a different mindset gives me plenty to write about.
What do you guys listen to when you’re not making your own music?
All of us really loved Days, Real Estate‘s last record from October. In terms of newer releases, I’ve been enjoying DIIV‘s debut album, but there are several releases I need to catch up on. Most of this summer I’ve just been listening to a lot of The Ronnettes and Conway Twitty.
How do you feel about the NEW music industry (digital distribution, music blogs, youtube). Do you feel like it’s better or worse for bands in general? How has it affected Swiss Alps?
New music media was really what made Swiss Alps a band in the first place. I had recorded the first half of the EP on my own, but didn’t have any intentions on going further with them. On a whim, I put one of the songs on an otherwise empty Bandcamp account around New Years. A few days later a chain of blogs began writing about the song very enthusiastically which led to Pyramid Lake offering me the cassette deal, more recording opportunities, and concerts. Without the music bloggers who spend hours surfing the web just to share songs they love, there is no way Swiss Alps would be anything other than a couple songs on my laptop. We are definitely indebted to them.
What’s your favorite Swiss thing?
Toblerone. The title of our song, “The Hidden Bear” was a nod to their logo.
What do you think they do with all the holes they cut out of Swiss cheese?
Hopefully they’re stored in some sort of National Swiss Cheese Reserve, we can all turn to in the event our current supply runs dry.
What is the future looking like for the band? Touring, new albums, and so on?
We’re gearing up to begin recording another EP, hopefully released in early fall. We also have some more shows around Philadelphia being booked for around that time. A full album after that would be amazing if we had the right label that wanted to put it out. Otherwise we’ll probably just keep doing EPs and singles as frequently as we can. I’d love to get some more offers to record an exclusive song for a blog compilation as we did with Hearing Gold‘s summer music release, Vacation Spirit, back in May.
I’m sure we’ll be hearing from Swiss Alps again in the future. They have a great, melodic sound and seem to be making all the right moves to reach a larger audience. If you like what you heard, make sure you keep up with their soundcloud page, where they are continuously releasing new tracks, and you can like their Facebook page too, if you’re into that whole social networking thing. Next Strafing Run article, I’ll introduce you to another great local band, punk malcontents Gay Republicans. See you next time, boys and girls.