There's something about nosnow/noalps that sets them apart from all the other Maltese bands, and it's not just their awesome name, so tactfully chosen to succinctly represent their geographical origin without resorting to any patriotic fervour. What I'm talking about it is an incessant energy that has essentially fused every formation, fuelled every step the band has taken in the eight or so years of its existence to date. And it has been a busy time throughout; one that kicked off with the band quickly establishing itself on the local scene, having countless radio hits and bagging some awards in the process. There have been some difficult times too, but each challenge has only served to make the band stronger and more determined to bring its music to as many people as possible, here at home and especially abroad, as they tell Michael Bugeja in this interview.
"I'm going to have my last cookie", the band's main singer and guitarist Nick Morales says, before I ask my first question, and he's not the only one with a sweet tooth either. Having spent much time with the band at this year's Malta Takes London October concert, I noted sweets were always somehow present, physically or in conversation. As crucial as this may be to their cravings, we have more pressing things to talk about, among them the band's latest single Kaleidoscopes and their recent performances abroad.
Before all that however, given that nosnow/noalps are one of the few local acts with hefty experience of gigging abroad, I venture to ask the band their comments about the Maltese music scene and how it compares to its foreign counterparts. "In the past few years, the scene has grown a fair bit", Benji Cachia, the band's drummer, remarks. "There have been several new bands emerging, and better still, different types of bands too". As to what is lacking here he feels that, apart from perhaps not enough opportunities to perform, it is perhaps time for a musicians' union to be set up.
Morales is quick to concur, especially as this is a point he has also been pushing for quite some time now. "It isn't easy as it's rather time-consuming to set up, but it would be a big step forward for all musicians". Indeed it would, although I suspect that perhaps the bigger challenge would be to bring everyone on board. We're about to leave that topic behind as Morales shares his view that the Maltese music scene is constantly evolving, booming when a new venue crops up and slowing down when venues shut down. "V-Gen and Coach & Horses are good examples of this...on the other hand, it's also great to see so many adventurous young jazz bands emerging too, but we also need more venues".
While the drought of live venues on the island is certainly a disadvantage, nosnow/noalps haven't quite let it hold them back, clocking up a healthy live track record for themselves that includes a good number of gigs abroad. Keyboard player Sarah Falzon who, along with the band's newest recruit Leona Farrugia is also one of the band's vocal talents, has more to add. "Actually, this band was formed specifically with the intention of infiltrating the international scene". Morales confirms this, adding that availability to travel and perform abroad was always one of the main criteria when recruiting band members.
Farrugia knows this only too well, having joined the band around a year ago, and finally experiencing not one, but two foreign gigs in the space of a month. "Playing at Sardinia's Karel Music Expo was a blast, " she says, as the rest of them join in, reminiscing about it. "We had to play a toned-down set since it was a seated theatre gig", bassist Bertram Cachia points out, "but the audience was very receptive to our music all the same".
A few weeks later, nosnow/noalps were among the 11 acts that took over London venue Surya for the third edition of the annual Malta Takes London gathering. "Compared to Sardinia, our gig in London was much louder and heavier, and our set went down very well there too". Morales, being one-half of the team behind the event is pleased as much about the band's performance as he is about the overall turnout. "It's an event we put a lot of time and effort into, and we're happy it's picking up momentum from one year to the next".
As easy as it may sound, performing abroad is no easy task. "The band is self-managed so there's a lot of work involved", Bertram tells me, adding that when it comes to the crunch, each member has his or her role to fulfil. "But getting the gigs is something we leave to Nick, as he has more experience than any of us". Getting gigs abroad may be slightly less daunting now, but it took time to put together. "Through the Rock The South festival I was able to start making contacts abroad", he continues, "but it was a challenge to establish a foothold abroad that would eventually lead to gigs". Once that was done, the band started reaping the fruits of its labour, with tours that have so far taken them to various countries, namely Austria, Denmark, France, England and several locations throughout Italy.
"As a band we feel it is very important to perform and tour abroad", Morales emphasizes. "Each gig brings with it new challenges and helps us to evolve, to push ourselves further, to connect with new audiences in new places". It's possible that the success of their 'connections' to date is also due to the band's versatility; a characteristic that has been there from the get-go and is also very present in the band's latest offering. Kaleidoscopes, featuring Alex Taylor-Helleur on trumpet, is a soulful number that nevertheless captures the band's indie inclination. "We don't like to be restricted in what we write or what we listen to", Bertram confirms. It is an open-minded approach that works too, as all the band's radio hits clearly prove.
Versatility aside, there is another important quality that has kept nosnow/noalps going so long. "Each musician who has at some point or other worked with the band has contributed to its success", Benji concludes. "The thing is, we don't just meet up for rehearsals; we like each other's company and hanging out together...and we're all 100% dedicated towards taking the band to the next level". She may be the last one to join, but Farrugia sums it up perfectly by saying "This is more than just a band for each one of us, it's like family".
This article was first published on the Sunday Circle magazine (06 December 2015)