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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Interview with Alice Merton – touring, songwriting, and hints of a new album

Austin Schofield: So, there are two main points I would like to cover with you today. The first is a perspective on your background as an artist, and the second is your touring career—touring now, in the future, and what you’ve done in the past.

AS: I have seen other sources categorize your work as country—

Alice Merton: I saw that the other day on Wikipedia; oh my god, I got a panic attack [sic]. I was like, ‘why would anyone consider my music to be country?’ I do not do country—I don’t have anything against country, but the music I make is definitely not country. 

AS: All this said, if you had to define your music, how would you?

AM: I really hate defining music because it’s putting everything in boxes, and I find that really difficult. I guess if I had to define it I would say it’s alternative pop, because it’s not like the typical pop you would hear on the radio, but it’s still upbeat, it’s somehow got 80’s elements in it as well—I was very inspired by Queen, the Alan Parsons Project, even bands like Keane, for example, or Travis, Regina Spektor—so it’s hard to say what exactly influences it but I definitely think alternative pop is a good way to define it. 

AS: Now, back in your last year of high school, you took a class in songwriting, and prior to this you played piano and clarinet, but would you say that the songwriting course played a pivotal role in how you became an artist, and the direction that you took? 

AM: Definitely; for me, it was like discovering that I could do something that I never knew I was able to do. Without that course, I would have never discovered that I could write songs. 

AS: Prior to that, were you already considering being a career artist, or were you still exploring other paths? 

AM: I wanted to either become a pianist or an opera singer. I fell in love with opera when I was 7, I’ve played piano since I was 5, and I loved classical music, but I always felt like there was something missing—it annoyed me that it always had to be so perfect—the way the composer wanted it instead of the way that I wanted it. And honestly, I never considered a career in songwriting because it felt natural, and I thought to myself, ‘if it feels easy, there’s no point in doing it’—I should have it as a hobby, so I can enjoy it. I remember friends telling me to become a songwriter, but I stayed with classical. At some point, I realized I needed a break from this, and I had a friend tell me about this university where you can study songwriting, and so I applied and got in, and knew I had to give 100 percent at that point. And it wasn’t actually as easy as I thought—it’s crazy, but it’s so much fun. 

AS: It’s known now that one of the biggest inspirations for ‘No Roots,” your top single, was all the moving around that you did throughout your early life. Would you say that this was the biggest inspiration for your music overall, or is there something else that drives you?
AM: I think that definitely did play a big role. My music—it’s hard to tell what country it’s from. You can’t listen to it and guess that I’m from the U.S., or England or Canada—so I think that has definitely played a role, with all the moves, in just creating a sound that I feel could be universal. But, it’s difficult to say if I’m honest. Can we come back to that? 

AS: Definitely, I’ll come back to that towards the end. So, I want to shift into your touring now. So, obviously you’ve toured in both the U.S. and Germany. How would you compare the two? 
AM: I love doing both. I don’t like the distances in the U.S. You have to fly everywhere, and you also have to take really long bus rides. Sometimes I think I prefer touring in Europe a little more, just because I feel like I’m near to home—but that’s weird though, because I grew up in Canada, so here I am, still near Toronto and everything—but I notice that when I am touring in Europe, I miss touring in the U.S…I think I need the balance. It’s hard to be in all of these places at once. I’m very, very restless. I don’t like being too comfortable in one place, so that’s why I enjoy touring. If I could change one thing about touring, it would be having more sleep, since I don’t get much sleep on tour. 
AS: So, you definitely need more sleep, but what do you love about touring in the U.S.? 
AM: Honestly, I love the feedback from people afterwards or before shows, getting to know the people, because, in Europe, often people don’t listen to the lyrics as they do in America, since it’s not their first language. When I’m in America, I feel like people are listening to the lyrics while I sing them. You get a different reaction—people here know what you’re saying and get really excited about it. 

AS: Now, is there something particular you are looking forward to for your touring in 2020? 

AM: We’re doing Austria, Germany and Prague—so the thing is, I didn’t want to tour too much in the beginning of the year because I want to finish working on the next album, which is coming out very soon. That’s something that is being worked on at the moment, and one of the reasons we are actually doing this show is because I was a coach on the Voice of Germany and now the people have a face to the music. So we figured we should do a tour at the beginning of the year because of that, but other than that I am just working on the album. 

AS: So, can fans expect a release at some point in that year?

AM: I can’t say too much yet, but the concerts will have some new content from those songs. Deciding what songs will go on the album is also a very important decision to make.

AS: That’s exciting. Now, going back to that left-over question, do you feel like there is something other than your upbringing that acts as a general driver for you?
AM: A general drive—I think just trying to be the best version of my songwriting self I can be—that’s what drives me. I see so many other artists out there, and I just have so much respect for what they do. I think it’s also important to know what I love doing and what I feel comfortable in, but I like pushing myself and seeing how far I can go. That’s the thing about music, you never know when you’re going to write the next biggest song, even for you at least, or what markets it’s going to suddenly just grow in. That’s something I have always found very fascinating; it’s almost like gambling. 

AS: You say it’s kind of like gambling; did you imagine that ‘No Roots’ would pop off on that level back in 2016?

AM: Not at all. I was hoping that people would want to listen to it but I didn’t imagine that we would be on late night talk shows—I just honestly wanted to get signed to a label and be able to release music and tour, but that didn’t really happen so then we put out our own label. It’s been such a crazy ride, but I learned so much through that experience. I love it so much. I can’t tell people enough how much I love writing songs, even if, at some point, it’s just for other people.