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Q&A | Mount Alaska talk to TLMT ahead of Pepper Canister show

Mount Alaska's Cillian McDonell talks to the Last Mixed Tape.

Mount Alaska will play the Pepper Canister Church in Dublin this Saturday, March 15th. Cillian McDonell recently spoke to TLMT about the duo’s debut album Wave Atlas: Season One, what he’s been listening to and future plans.

What’s the last song you listened to on Spotify?
It’s new release day so I’m trawling through a few music retailers’ newsletters (Bleep, Boomkat and Norman Records) to find stuff that’s out today. First thing of interest to crop up is the new Pantha Du Prince album, Conference of Trees. Just on the first track now, Approach in a Breeze, which reminds me a bit of Eno’s Music for Airports, but with lovely long, droney strings. It’s actually quite reminiscent of Steve’s soundtrack work so I must send it on to him. He’s an Apple Music person, so if he’s not working right now he’s probably blaring William Onyeabor as I type, and I’d wager it’s When the Going is Smooth & Good, specifically.

What’s the last record you bought?
I pre-ordered the new Four Tet LP, Sixteen Oceans, a few days ago. The last record I bought in a store was a discounted copy of the awesome Tirzah album, Devotion. And the good folk in Spindizzy have a copy of the André Bratten album, Pax Americana, on hold for me – must pick that up, thanks for reminding me – it was one of my favourite albums of 2019.

What influenced your new single ‘Slopes’?
Slopes started out as an experiment, or learning exercise. Steve got a Roland Boutique SH-01A just over a year ago, and the idea was to try and write a song in its entirety on this awesome little synth (to get our heads around it). It didn’t quite work out that way – we added some Juno synth and a bunch of processing and bits in Ableton – but at least 80% of the song was written on that machine, so that was probably the biggest influence on the sound and direction.

Tell us about how your album Wave Atlas was written and recorded?
Wave Atlas: Season One is a bit of a weird one; the process was probably quite different to most bands’ experiences. The idea of a ‘different’ kind of album to what we would normally do was pitched to us by an ambient/experimental record label. We write a lot of music but up to that point had only really released uptempo stuff, so it was a rare opportunity to dig into our folder of quieter compositions. We then came up with the concept for the record, the general arc and sound that we wanted to explore and capture, and from there started ordering demos (old and new), fleshing them out and writing some completely new pieces.

We write anywhere and everywhere, but everything is recorded in Steve’s studio in Dublin, Experimental Audio, where we make good use of his collection of synths, especially the MiniMoog Voyager and Roland Junos. Funny story, things didn’t work out with that label in the end, so we ended up with this quirky little record that felt a bit out of context and seemed like maybe a bit of a reaction to the previous material we’d released. Thankfully the good folk over at 251 Records / Faction Music swooped in and said they’d love to put it, and so here we are.

What do you have planned for the rest of 2020?
Maybe a bit of a rest, from gigging and releases anyway. It feels like this show in Pepper Canister Church brings the Wave Atlas: Season One album campaign to its natural conclusion, and we are really eager to get back into the studio and start writing again. We have some demos and drafts knocking around, so some time to write and figure out where to next would be nice. We do love a good festival slot though, so never say never!

Mount Alaska, Dublin duo Stephen Shannon and Cillian McDonnell play the Pepper Canister Church on Sunday March 15th at 7.30pm as part of St. Patrick’s Festival 2020. Tickets costing €15 are available from  

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