Near Death Experiences with alaska!

When I spoke with alaska!’s Imaad Wasif, he was at Guitar Center in Denver, having a bass amplifier repaired. Two nights prior, less than two weeks into their current tour, they’d been driving through Wyoming when they hit a patch of ice and flipped the van. “We landed on the roof,” he explained. The van was totaled; said Wasif, “It’s just a miracle that anyone’s alive.

With that in mind, a little Q&A with what could be the luckiest band on the road today.

How is the band doing?
Everyone’s OK; we had minor scratches and stuff. No one wanted to cancel the tour, because we’re at a really good point right now. I have a friend in Boulder, and I had him rent a van in Fort Collins, which is like 80 miles out. He picked us up and we had to high-tail it down, with all the equipment, to make it to the rental agency so I could switch [the rental] over for the rest of the trip. It was unbelievable; I was at point zero and I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do. We made it for the show last night; I’ve just never been presented with a challenge like that in my life.

Tell me how alaska! came to be.
We actually—Russell and I, Russ Pollard—started playing together sometime in 2000. We were both living in San Francisco, then about a year later we moved to L.A. and recruited our friend Lesley [Ishino, The Red Aunts] for the drums. So we’ve been a band with her for about two years.

You were in Lowercase and Russell was in Sebadoh. Were the bands breaking up anyway, or did you leave to form alaska!?
Lowercase did a few tours opening up for Sebadoh; the last tour we did was in ’99, and that’s where Russ and I met. I was at a point where I had started writing songs that I didn’t think I could do through Lowercase anymore, and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to. Everything was [in] a very shaky, sort of emotional state by that time. When Russ moved to San Francisco, Sebadoh had gone on hiatus, so it just sort of fell into place very naturally. We had gotten along so well; it just seemed, at least for me, the natural evolution of what I wanted to do musically.

You’ve also played with Folk Implosion, which led to your being the on-screen band in Laurel Canyon. How did that come to be?
We just helped Lou [Barlow] write and record the last Folk Implosion record. We were in L.A. and Russ and I were doing alaska! full time and also working on the Folk Implosion record, and we were broke. Really, really broke, actually. We got a call that Laurel Canyon wanted us to audition for this part—I guess we were quote-unquote real musicians, or something like that.

What does 2004 have in store for you?
We are going to finish this tour right now, that we have miraculously survived the first week and a half of. We’re going to get home, and we’re going to figure out how to make our record. That’s what we’re doing right now: we’re on tour and we’re playing a lot of the songs that will be on the next record. We just really wanted to get out; I personally was at a point where I had kind of gone through my writing process in L.A. I just don’t want to stagnate at all.

We’re all just really passionately connected to one another and emotionally driven to the point where that’s the focus of this: we’re going to figure out how to make this happen on our next record. We have been a band and we’ve been through everything together: we’ve been through emotional meltdowns, we’ve been through near-death car wrecks, and we are still alive and we’re still totally in love with playing music.

Give us a preview of what to expect February 27 in St. Louis.
You can’t expect anything; we’re totally beyond expectations. Expect to be touched.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It is a college, after all; there are underage girls.

[Laughs] Touched in a really appropriate way.

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