An interview with Tru Thoughts' Alice Russell
UK-born soul singer Alice Russell has long been blazing a trail in the the electro-soul scene with her unique sound. With a whopping five solo albums to her name, it's hardly surprising that Alice is both a talented and passionate song writer.
Having been signed to Brighton's long-standing Tru Thoughts record label for most of her career, we couldn't wait to have a chat with Alice over coffee about her career, influences and plans for the future ahead of the label's 18th birthday party (congratulations Tru Thoughts!)
How did you first get into music?
I was always doing music from a young age because my dad was a choir master and in a local orchestra, so I did a lot of classical stuff when I was young like playing the cello.
When I started to get money as a teenager I started collecting records – people like Cameo, Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder and Prince who I was obsessed by! Just everything really. When you first start discovering music you want to listen to it all.
I was into hip-hop a lot and through that found people like David Axelrod and then a whole other plethora of records. I’m still discovering new stuff.
Then I started my career by singing in local bands in pubs.
Do you think being a choir girl has affected how you approach music?
I was a choir girl from the age of 5 as my dad was an organist in our local church. It was a pretty good learning ground because of harmonies etc. - I’ve never been good at reading music, I tend to do it all by ear. The music in the Church of England is very different to the music I’m doing now! I still love all that choral music though.
It’s affected how I construct harmony parts and backing vocals. There is all that background stuff that you call on. You can tell from listening to my music with some of the twists and harmonies and stuff that there is that influence there.
How do you approach song-writing? Does your voice affect it?
Music is all very instinctive, as with a lot of my writing is as well. I also write a lot with other people such as Alex (Cowan) - we wrote most of my previous albums together.
Sometimes you’ll be lucky enough that a melody and a lyric will come out at the same time. With me it tends to be the hooks and the melodies first but then it can be harder to put the lyrics on. There are always different approaches.
The problem with doing the music first is it can then force you to sing in a certain kind of way. Sometimes you’ll write a song and it won’t suit your voice so your own sound definitely does have an impact on what you write.
What advice would you give to a young woman wanting to have a career in music?
Be clear about what you want first. You need confidence. You must craft your work. Make it clear what you want to do.
You shouldn’t be afraid to do your thing.
Make sure to always get the legal stuff sorted!
In the past it has been quite difficult for female singers. Do you think it still is?
I think it depends. Kate Bush started young but was really confident and very different and did her own thing. She just stuck to it and didn’t give a damn. I think the main problem with that and other female singers like Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone is that they get labelled as awkward.
Woman in the industry seem to get labelled a lot quicker than men if they stick to what they want to do. I don’t think women should care about how they’re seen. Who cares? There is a lot of stigma around being labelled a diva or something. You should just own it. Be strong. Do what you want to do.
Who has been your favourite person to collaborate with?
My favourite would be TM Juke (Alex Cowan) and a close second would be Quantic. We’ve also toured a lot together which makes writing easier and more comfortable, so it’s all very instinctive.
If you could collaborate with anyone who would it be?
I really like Thunder Cat and Hiatus Kaiyote is amazing!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Bumping into Al Green in a lift in his pyjamas! I asked him if he was Al Green and he said No! I’m Al Brown.
Glastonbury Festival in 2013 was pretty good and also the Big Chill Festival. There was a 16 piece band on stage complete with dance moves. It was really good fun to put the show together.
Getting to meet and sing with David Byrne was pretty cool. That was the highlight.
What are your plans for the future?
I'm focusing on being a mum at the moment, but I’m doing some shows - all of which are laid back. The plan for 2018 is to get back into the studio!
Written by Clare.