How did you meet and how did you start making music together?
Elizabeth: We almost certainly met at Grrnd Zero in Lyon sometime in 2008 (not in Atlanta in 2009, as literally every Alligator bio on the internet would have you believe), but the first time we played music together was in March of 2009 when Lisa came to the US with a mutual friend of ours to start a band (with me and a friend of mine in Athens, GA) and go on tour. We toured under really weird circumstances (the band was necessarily doomed since Lisa and our other French friend were to leave after three weeks, among myriad other issues), but in the end it was really fun.
Lisa: First in Grrrnd Zero but we really met in Athens, Georgia, at Elizabeth’s; I was invited with a friend, Nico Poisson, to join Elizabeth and her friend in their band ‘Favorite cousin’, for a little tour in South America. We practiced for few days and then went on the road. When Elizabeth came back to France I proposed her to play together; I had a song that I played at the guitar and we started for few hours of guitar/ bass. Then we tried drums/ bass and we have kept it.
You are both members of other bands right? Elizabeth of the hardcore punk Moms on Meth and Lisa of Réveille. How did you come about being a drum/bass/vocals duo? And did you already have a precise idea of what music you were going to make since the beginning?
Elizabeth: Since that tour, we had talked about making music together once I moved back to Lyon in September 2010, and after a few false starts we wrote the five songs that would eventually go on our s/t cassette. I was especially motivated after hearing her band See Hi Oh My (later Reveille’s demo) when I was still in Athens. I’m no longer in Moms on Meth or Frustros, another band I played in for a couple years in Lyon – so any extra time and creative energy I have these days is reserved for Alligator.
Lisa: Before starting Alligator, I had a duo guitar (or bass)/ drums/ vocals with François Virot, it was See Hi Oh My that became Réveille few months after. I really liked that formation, a duo, one single melody instrument and the drum.
I was really into The Ex rythm and melody at this time and i wanted to do a band where rythms, bass and vocals would have been the essential. It was also important to have the vocals as a starting point. It was a way to do something dry since today you find that most of the bands have lots of hamornies and instruments . I was really into The Amps, The Ex, The Curtains, Lispector, No age, bands from Sublime Frequencies. We didn’t have a real idea of what we wanted to do; but anyway I’ve never been good with deciding/planning what I want to do because all the time it’s like that something different arrives. It’s the same in my artwork. So I guess I first did songs with the guitar that was influenced by the indie-aesthetic, without any idea to do something in particular. And then we played together, I focused on that formation and it became a duo bass/ drums/ vocals, Alligator.
What are your touchstones, musical or otherwise, that inform your sound and your vision/aesthetics?
Lisa: I listen to a lot of different music, that goes from Halo Halo, Barr, The Lijadu Sisters, Massicot, Taulard, Trash Kit, Grass Widow to Mdou Moctar. I guess I’m influenced by all the music I like.
How do you make your songs? Who is the songwriter?
Lisa: We somehow have a special way to compose songs. Most of the songs of Runners come from sketches I write on guitar and vocals. Then we make back and forth between guitar melody, chords and bass line. We have a melody, a structure with the vocals then we work with the bass line, the drums and to finish the vocals harmonies. With that method we have a lots of rhythmic patterns because we have all the bass notes instead of chords. Elizabeth has good bass lines that highlight the vocals. We work on all that and then we totally remove the guitar. That makes something interesting, the vocals are not really where you wait them and we have full of harmony possibilities. We also sometimes start with just a bass line as with Cycles and Moving our certainties. It’s interesting to have a different way to compose, so the set has different tints.
I write most of the lyrics, it seems that sometimes it’s easier to write in an other language; I write in English not just because we’re related to English/American pop punk music but also as it’s a way to find a certain unsettled/ instability within text.
Where does the name Alligator come from?
Elizabeth: It actually came from that first tour we did in the Southeastern US; we were in Florida, and we convinced a German friend who was travelling with us that there were alligators EVERYWHERE. Like, that they were one of the leading causes of death in Florida. Alligators thus became a running joke on that tour.
Lisa: The name comes from a joke we did when we first toured in Florida, we were in alligator’s land, no? As the name crocodile was already taken, haha, no, alligator was just a cool name related to our first shows together… I remember a nice gig in a music store in Gainesville.
Could you tell me more about your first album Runners, realised by the co-production of Clapping Music , Gateau Blaster, Corn Dogs Records and Et mon cul c’est du tofu?
Lisa: I guess Pascal from Et mon cul c’est du tofu told really liked the demo; we first recorded a tape with Julien Besse from Full beans records. Pascal proposed us to do a vinyl in co-production, we proposed that to several labels as Clapping Music, Corn Dogs, Gateau Blaster. They were all into it, so we released it. They’re all labels from Paris, Clapping music and Et mon cul c’est du tofu released albums of Réveille as well. It’s funny because while we were on tour with Trash Kit, last november, our 2 labels Clapping (for Alligator) and Upset the rhythm (for Trash Kit) released the new Deerhoof, La Isla Bonita!
Could you tell me something about the cover of Runners?
Lisa: The cover is originally a painting made by Katharina Ziemke*, an artist living in Berlin. I really liked the melancholy of that picture, the colours and the way she paint the scene. I liked that rough treatment and those colours, almost bad taste. There’s something mysterious in the scene, that girl waiting for something, we can imagine lots of stories about it. It’s sometimes the same with my lyrics, they are open to interpretation. The painting also remind me of Gerhard Richter’s paintings, and the one he made for Sonic Youth*. I asked Katharina if her painting was related to the portrait of that girl in red but actually it’s linked to the painter Ludwig Kirchner*. We first wanted the painting just like it was as a cover but the picture Katharina’s got wasn’t HD (300dpi), it was too light for a vinyl cover print. As she‘s sold the painting, we didn’t have any other better picture. We worked with a friend, Tom Heni, who is a graphic designer. He proposed us several issues to keep the painting as a cover but in an other way. He printed it on silk paper and took a picture of it, so we had the ethereal and faded/ altered look that fits well with the meaning of some songs.
What are your songs about?
Elizabeth: I’ve only written the lyrics for two of our songs. Cycles is about disappointment, bad habits and vicious circles. A new song we haven’t recorded is about not being able to communicate with friends because they’re far away, and not being able to make the same excuse when you’re unable to communicate with friends who live next door.
Lisa: Most of the songs/ lyrics are fictional or related to stories that happen to me, about feelings or about novels I read. It sometimes goes into poetry. There’re some songs about ‘my past’ as a long distance runner. I talk about experiences I did and then I mix it up with fiction; as Hikers, Long Run, Moving our certainties which are about being lost on a mountain, running in the hard winter or looking for treasures when you’re a kid. Bloody mouth was written when my mouth was bleeding after a bike accident.
I like how you describe yourself: ‘Leur musique est pop et directe’. What do you mean by ‘directe’?
Lisa: ‘Directe’/ straight is related to the minimal aesthetic, I wrote it once for a biography. It means with no ‘big’ arrangements or intricate melodies. The music is pretty pared-down (don’t know if it’s the good word). ‘Straight’ also means with a few/not much technical background. That changed a bit today as we practice for few years. We first did with the method and the approach we had, not much technical.
Elizabeth: I agree – I guess ‘direct’ in this sense can be taken as ‘simple’; we like to focus on uncomplicated rhythms and harmonies, with few to no effects on the bass or vocals. What we play for our recordings = what we play live (with varying degrees of success).
What are your projects for the future?
Elizabeth: We just finished touring with Trash Kit (London), during which we talked about putting out a split 7-inch with them sometime in the next year, which would be awesome. Otherwise, we’re both pretty busy – I guess our short-term goal is to just record the five or so new songs we have!
Lisa: Yes the split with Trash Kit in 2015! They’re doing such good things! After the little tour we did with them we want go on tour again.
Alligator are Elizabeth Hargrett & Lisa Duroux and are based in Lyon.
Images in order from top left: Gerhard Richter, ‘Untitled (Evening)’, 1971; Ludwig Kirchner, ‘Female Artist’, 1910; Katharina Ziemke, ‘After Kirchner’, 2009.