Bachelorette - aka Annabel Alpers - is New Zealand's one-woman answer to Kraftwerk. She talks to Scott Kara about her new album and her forays into the US music market
Annabel Alpers has two families - a human one and an electric one. And it's the latter she writes about on her latest album, My Electric Family.
"I don't think it's meant to be listened to as a concept album as such," says Alpers, who goes by the band name Bachelorette.
But it is very Kraftwerk of her, that's for sure.
"My initial idea for the album was to make it about my relationship with machines because I was interested in that and exploring the idea of communication through machines.
"And I was reading lots of stuff about electricity, and it inspired me to write lyrics along those lines. But as I went along other things filtered in that weren't based around machines - things change," she says.
The best example of non-machine subject matter is the "psych disco" of Mindwarp, with its blaxploitation guitar chink throughout (played by Tom Watson from Cassette).
"I like the idea of making psychological, psychedelic disco. I just think it's a funny combination."
Elsewhere My Electric Family morphs from psychedelic pop, into darker dancefloor grooves, and then spooky electronic folk. There's the synthetically sweet Technology Boy (which is about as robot love as the album gets); The National Grid has hand-clap beats and an arching darkness to it; and the bleepy singer/songwriter slant of Long Time Gone.
This week Bachelorette plays Wellington's Mighty Mighty on Thursday and the Kings Arms on Friday. The New Zealand shows will double as a fundraiser for a 32-date tour of the US starting at the end of May. It will be her second US jaunt and includes a mix of support slots for folk oddball Bonnie Prince Billy and lo-fi indie music slatwart Bill Callahan (aka Smog), as well as headlining shows with her four-piece band.
"It's an amazing opportunity but you can't predict if they will take to it," she chuckles cautiously.
Alpers is a nomadic soul and doesn't "technically have a home at the moment".
"But I don't think I'd like to be homeless forever," she laughs. She wants to put her roots down eventually - where, she has no idea - but it suits her being of no fixed abode at present with her up-coming tour commitments.
Over the years Alpers has played in a number of bands, including surf rockers Hawaii Five-O, and the more electronic-influenced acts like Space Dust and Hiss Explosion, but in the early 2000s she decided to go it alone.
In 2005 she released mini-album, The End of Things, and then came her first full-length Isolation Loops in 2007, a poppy but often desolate record about lost love. As the title suggests it was created solely by Alpers who was holed up by herself in her family's 1920s bach.
In contrast My Electric Family was recorded all over the place - in Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland and Dunedin, with much of the foundation for the album written when she was living at Otaki Beach on the Kapiti Coast while on a 10-week, artist in schools residency at Waiopehu College in Levin. When not in class, or converting the students to the joys of electronic-based music, she worked on the album.
My Electric Family is also a more collaborative affair and even though she's worked with instrumentalists in the past, this time round there are more live players than ever before.
"It was very much a case of me telling them what I wanted and them doing their thing much better than I can do it," she declares with a laugh.
"With My Electric Family I just didn't really have it in me to do it all on my own the third time around. I got it out of my system with Isolation Loops and was more into working with other people and broadening things a little bit."
These players include drummers Dino Karlis (HDU) and Craig Terris (Cassette), guitarist Tom Watson (Cassette), bass player Andrew Bain (Fur Patrol), and most impressively the Royal New Zealand Air Force Brass Band in a lofty performance on Dream Sequence. "I tried to get the Levin Brass Band in on it originally but the conductor was a little bit, ah, I'm just trying to think of the right word. Ah, he was unhelpful," she chuckles.
Compared to Isolation Loops the new album's more complete sound makes it more self-assured and solid.
"I just do what I can at the time and the more you work on stuff the more you learn about how to make music, I guess. It's not a conscious thing," says Alpers. Early last year Alpers self-funded a US tour and it was then she not only made a fan of Ryan Adams, who bought some records off her at a New York show, but at her Chicago gig she won over the heads of local record label Drag City that will release My Electric Family in America.
"The good thing about Drag City for me, of all the labels in America, is that I respect all the artists [including Bonnie Prince Billy and Smog] on it. They're pretty picky about who they have and they seem to approach it from the right direction by releasing stuff they like rather than doing it for money-making purposes."
But what does signing to an American indie record label mean for her and her music?
"I don't know what it means in financial terms at all," she says. "It's a strange time for putting music out. It's an enormous and competitive market over there - not that I'm used to viewing music in terms of the market - I just do it because I enjoy playing it.
"But it is hard work. This tour that we're doing is about promoting the album - it might go well and it might not."
Who: Bachelorette (real name Annabel Alpers)
What: Psychedelic and psychological electric pop
Where & when: Kings Arms, Auckland, Friday
New album: My Electric Family, out May 25
Past albums: The End of Things (2005); Isolation Loops (2007)