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Interview: Alice Russell


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Alice Russell is one to watch on the British soul scene. Set to release her new hip hop-inspired album next month, TNS found out what’s behind the music, from being a Catholic choir girl to a ‘Sex Machine’ fan at the age of nine…

Alice RussellWhen Russell picks up she is in the middle of going through “receipts and stuff” from the preparations for her new album. “It’s a pain in the arse, I’d much rather be off doing the creative side but it’s got to be done – things are so busy at the moment!”

And that certainly seems to be the case as we get talking. Russell talks about leaving her management company at the end of last year, already having a big enough slice of the soul industry to tuck into. In fact, the business-savvy artist has a history of taking the reins when it comes to her music.

You also released your last album through your label, Little Poppet. Do you prefer taking the lead in your career?

In a way, yeah. That was something we wanted to try, but this time around we really moved on from the management because we have enough to be getting on with. As well as Tru Thoughts in the UK, we’re also working with the French label Different which has been great because they’re so connected. They’re taking care of mainland Europe, while Tru Thoughts is in charge of the UK, the States, Japan and so on.

Probably enough on your plate, then! Which countries give you the warmest welcome?

France has been great thanks to Different; we’ve had a lot of television time over there. And the French have a good approach to the arts – they really invest in culture and music. Germany has been very receptive, and America is just so vast and diverse that you can’t go too far wrong!

How do you think the UK measures up?

I think that we’ve had so many great genres stemming from Britain that we’re all a bit spoilt for choice over here! At the moment you’ve especially got all this electro and alternative music breaking through. We’ve got some good radio sessions coming up, though, and we’re hoping that the music will take off in the UK in the same way that it has in France.

Having worked with Tru Thoughts throughout most of your career so far, is it good to be back with the funk and soul label for your new album To Dust?

Yeah, with the last album we just thought we’d do something different, but with To Dust it made sense to work with them again.

How did you get into soul music in the first place?

Yeah it’s weird when you’re growing up in Suffolk, in the countryside! I guess I’d heard songs when I was young, like ‘Sex Machine’ and Aretha Franklin at about nine or ten years old. It just uplifted me and I felt connected. I mean, you do abandon yourself to the music, but you’re still involved. It made me feel closer to my family, to myself. I think that’s what music is about, just feeling that connection, and I found that with soul. It was that and the fact that I sang in a choir when I was younger. That was all very Catholic, but you’re learning about harmonies and layering sounds, so the Gospel side to my music really stemmed from there.

Has being a choir girl affected how you approach your music today, whether it’s your material or covers?

Definitely. When it comes to the covers, with ‘Crazy’ [by Gnarls Barkley] I just loved the meaning behind the lyrics. I wanted to strip that back and really focus on the emotion. Actually, at first it used to be just me and a piano. But one day the keyboard player couldn’t make it in, so we went with just a guitar and voices. I loved how it sounded, just this spontaneous moment – it’s really all about experimenting.

Can we expect more covers on To Dust?

This time, no, it’s all my own material. There is a bit of a vision to it – I’m really into the hip hop genre which I also used in My Favourite Letters [Russell’s debut studio album], so I wanted to write with that in mind and build on it. There’s also a lot of frustration on the album, mainly to do with past disagreements in the music industry, so there’s plenty of venting!

How would you sum up the album to your new listeners?

I’d go with ‘electro soul’, I think.

Alice Russell’s album To Dust is released on Tru Thoughts on 25 February.

Russell brings her tour to the UK in April.

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