Local Wire

Tempe Shoegaze Band Alison's Halo Added to Seminal Shoegaze Box Set

Formed in the good old days (see: early '90s and 1992, specifically), Tempe, Arizona band Alison’s Halo enjoyed a healthy run as a fully functional recording and live band for the majority of the decade. Founded by married couple Adam and Catherine Cooper (guitar and vocals/guitar respectively), and Lynn Anderson (bass, and childhood friend of Adam Cooper), the band also employed a drum machine early on named, you guessed it, Alison.

Ethereal, polished, and full of big, beautifully noisy guitar, Alison’s Halo is a nice amalgamation of their influences. Fans of Lush, Cocteau Twins, and similar shoegaze/dream pop sound will definitely dig what the band has to offer on their full-length, Eye Dazzler 1992-1996, which is a compilation of recordings, as well as live recordings, ep's, and singles.

From the band’s first show, which took place at “an old Oddfellows” hall which was opened up by this little Mesa band called Jimmy Eat World (also their first show, according to Adam Cooper), to eventual support slots for some of the shoegaze world’s biggest bands, Alison’s Halo enjoyed a really nice career for what some would have considered “just another local Tempe band.”

The band is still recording, even though they don’t play live anymore, and recently, they were significantly honored to be included on Cherry Red Records killer box set, Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995.

Due to this, we thought it would be cool to catch up with Adam Cooper and see what’s what in the world of Alison’s Halo.

How did Alison's Halo get involved with the Cherry Red compilation?

I’m not exactly sure how our name came up, but we said yes — without a second thought — due to Cherry Red’s amazing catalog and stellar history. We didn’t even know who was going to be on the compilation when we signed on, so it was a complete surprise to be in the same company with some of our musical heroes like the House of Love, Swervedriver, Catherine Wheel, Spacemen 3, and Slowdive. It’s really an honor. The compilation is great time capsule of the era, and Cherry Red did an amazing job on the artwork and packaging. It’s truly a work of art.

That’s awesome. Going back to the beginning, what inspired you to be a part of Alison's Halo?

Aside from all the noisy/spacey bands of the era like the Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, Lush, Chapterhouse, Ride, Pale Saints and so on, there was a small but very supportive scene in (and around) Tempe, Phoenix, and Tucson which consisted of Half String [which featured Brandon Capps and Kimber Lanning of Stinkweeds and Local First fame], Dog Show [which was occasional New Times contributor Brent Miles’ band], and Six String Malfunction, Lovesliescrushing, and Firecracker. It was a very exciting and electric time in Tempe back then…and very inspiring. Making noise, (using) effects pedals, and writing songs also provided some inspiration.

Give us some of the band’s background.

We started securing opening slots for national acts within a few months, with our fourth gig opening for 4AD’s Ultra Vivid Scene. We played the first Beautiful Noise Festival in 1993 and signed with Independent Project Records (IPR) based on our performance at that gig. In 1995, we released out first seven-inch single (Dozen/Calendar) on IPR and received tons of college airplay and loads of favorable reviews in all the major magazines of the day.

During the next few years, we opened for loads of influential bands like Medicine, Bailter Space, For Against, Apples in Stereo, and Stereophonics. We also were slated to open for Curve, [but] we were kicked off the bill because their management heard we were too loud and they were afraid of us blowing up their PA.

In 1995, we brought on Roger Brogan on drums, who now plays with Spectrum, Dean Wareham, and sometimes Luna, and Dave Roger on bass, who was in EcoTour. We did all the major festivals like South by Southwest, INTEL, and did a few small tours. During this time, we were always recording on various 2, 4 or 8 track cassette portastudios. All of these recording later appeared on Eyedazzler 1992-1996 which was released in 1998 on Detroit’s legendary space rock label, Burnt Hair. This will be re-released by Brooklyn’s Captured Tracks later this year.

Was there a particular opening slot you remember fondly? Maybe one where you felt like, after you got the gig, that you had "arrived”?

Opening for Bailter Space and having our friends in Six String Malfunction open for us at Hollywood Alley was definitely a highlight, since they were, and still are, two of my favorite bands of all time.

Is the band still active? If not, when did the band cease to be a "working" band?

Alison’s Halo hasn’t played a show since 1997, but we are still writing songs and always recording. We plan on releasing new material later this year; a few notable labels have expressed interest. The past year has been spent remixing our debut full length, Eyedazzler, for the Captured Tracks re-release.

Why have you stopped playing live?

We would love to play out again, but to be a great live band requires loads of practice (aka time), and a solid lineup. We had access to both those things back in the ’90s, but as we’ve gotten older, those two things are harder and harder to come by. I guess the logic is: if you can’t rock like a hurricane, why do it at all?

What are/were some of the challenges of being a "shoegaze" band in Arizona?

Being a band, pre-Internet, was far more challenging since we relied heavily on word of mouth, flyers, and an old fashion mailing list to announce gigs and fill the clubs. Local press at the time was obsessed with the whole desert rock scene on Mill Ave, when it was cool, that consisted of bands like the Gin Blossoms and Dead Hot Workshop. It was tough to get any ink at the time, even though we were getting press nationally and internationally. Part of this frustration led to me starting the local zine, Whirlpoolthat ended up getting national and international distribution through Tower Records back in the day.

What happened with Whirlpool? What years was it active?

Whirlpool lasted two print issues. That was around 1994-1995. After the second issue, we tried (a little too early I think) to jump on the Internet-only magazine model and most of our steady advertisers dropped off. They really didn’t know how to process the whole digital thing at the time. Plus, the band was in high gear at that point, so I decided writing, recording and playing in a band was more fun than writing about other bands
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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon