"It blew my mind, I did not expect any of that to happen..." hmv.com talks to Alessia Car
Canadian songstress Alessia Cara first began garnering attention for her Isaac Hayes-sampling track 'Here', featuring a stream-of-consciousness lyric about being stuck at a terrible party. Since then the handful of tracks she has released have earned her some celebrity fans and the No.2 spot on the BBC's Sound of 2016 poll, just behind Jack Garratt.
She's spent the last couple of years carefully crafting her debut album and, having released Know-It-All in North America back in November, the album arrives in stores in the UK today. We caught up with Alessia for a chat about developing her own sound, being interviewed by Taylor Swift and putting her party-loving friends in a music video...
So your debut album Know-It-All is released over here this week – it has already been out for a little while in North America, how have you found the reception to it so far?
“It's been awesome. I mean, I don't want to say I'm surprised... actually yeah I am kind of surprised. It's not like I didn't think anyone would like it at all, but it has been surprising the amount of people it's resonating with. I think it's more than just the music, I think people are really connecting with what I'm saying and that's all I've ever wanted as an artist. I think that's what every artist would want, so I'm just really glad that it's coming across the way I intended.”
When did you start writing for the album? Are there songs that have been around for a while?
“Yeah, definitely. I started like three years ago, for example 'Here' was written about then, so yeah some of it has been around for a while and it's been a long time coming, so I'm really excited to get it out there.”
So is 'Here' the oldest track on the album?
“I think it might be. Actually I think 'Outlaw' was written the day before, so that beats 'Here' by a day.”
There seems to be quite a range of influences on there, from pop & R&B to soul and Motown – what artists do you look to for inspiration?
“When I'm writing I try not to listen to other music too much because I want what I'm doing to be different, even though I'm sure that everything has been done in some way before, but as far as writing style goes I really like visual writing, so artists that I really admire are things like Frank Ocean and Ed Sheeran. Also Amy Winehouse and artists that convey emotion very well. So somewhere in between hip-hop artists and people who convey emotion really well I kind of just came up with this style that's mine. But yeah, I really love those artists.”
You've been working with people like Kuya and Pop & Oak on your debut – what have you gained from working with guys like that?
“They've really helped my find my sound and define my style. I think my music is kind of all over the place in the sense that I really like experimenting with sounds, so I think what makes this album cohesive is more down to the lyrics than the actual sonics of it. But they've really helped bring sounds out of me and also bring out things in my vocals that I didn't know I could do, whether it's reaching a note or doing a background vocal that I wouldn't have thought of. So I think all the people I've worked with have helped bring out different sides of me and evolve my style.”
Was it all recorded in one go? Or has it been done in pieces over time?
“Definitely bits and pieces, even the songs that were recorded three years ago we had reproduced or re-recorded a few months later. It's been in progress for a very long time.”
Are there any songs that you're particularly proud of? Or that set the direction for the rest of the album?
“I'm really proud of 'Four Pink Walls' because it was the first song that I had written completely by myself, it was just me and a producer with me dictating everything so that feels like a personal accomplishment. The song that was kind of a turning point for the album though was 'Seventeen'. We were at this halfway point and I didn't really know what I wanted to talk about anymore or where I wanted the album to go. I think once we figured out what that song was going to be I realised 'OK, this is what I want to talk about, I want to write about my life, about real things that people can understand', so that's when I figured out the direction the rest of the project would take.”
The lyrics to 'Here' talk about a really terrible party you went to, we understand you got the actual people from that party in the music video, is that right?
“Yes, I did, haha!”
Did they know it was them you were writing about? How did you persuade them to get involved?
“Oh yeah, they definitely did, they knew. A lot of them are friends from school and stuff and it was kind of a reputation of mine that I didn't really like to go out and party, so everyone knew I was awkward anyway. You'd think there would be a lot persuading involved but I really didn't have to persuade them much I just kind of said 'do you want to do this?' and they were surprisingly sweet about it. They waited around all day just a film a ten second scene, but it was incredible, they were very involved in it which was great.”
You were named on the BBC's Sound of 2016 poll in second place – were you already aware of the poll? How did you react when you found out you came second?
“Yeah I was definitely aware of it, that was kind of amazing to know that I'd been included. I mean, even being considered was insane, I'm not even from the UK, so to be that high up was just incredible, to be embraced like that by another country. The UK was actually the first place that 'Here' ever got played on the radio, I got news that it was played on the BBC and I just started crying, I was amazed. I never thought that would happen, I'm so grateful and so flattered that I would even be considered for something like that.”
Does stuff like that add more pressure or is that something you can use to motivate yourself?
“I guess it's a bit of both. There's an element of it giving me more ambition to do more, but it's hard to say. There's pressure in the sense that you're like 'oh my god, I'm just one person, all this stuff is happening to me!' But I think it's more flattering and drives me to continue doing what I'm doing. I don't know if validation is the right word because it's hard to validate art, but at the same time it's always really nice to know that what you're doing is working.”
You've got a celebrity fan in Taylor Swift and you've played onstage together, how did that come about?
“That was amazing, I think she found the cover that I did of 'Bad Blood' – actually I think that was on the BBC too, the UK is really helping me out! But she'd apparently then heard the EP and I don't what possessed me to ask but I got in touch to ask if she would interview me for my album. I just thought 'well, let me ask her because she won't ever answer anyway'. But she responded within minutes and was like 'I'm in, where are we doing it? What do I have to do?'
“So I'm already freaking out by this point and then she's like 'I'm in Tampa Bay, do you want to come and do it there and then sing with me on stage?' It blew my mind, I did not expect any of that to happen, that was crazy.”
So you've been touring in the US and Canada what are your touring plans in the UK / Europe? Have you played many shows over here before?
“I have a couple of shows in the UK coming up, we're doing London then we're doing Manchester, Birmingham and a bunch of other places, which is interesting because I've never been outside of London before so that's going to be really fun. I've not played many shows there, maybe three? I've played at places in London like the Barfly and Dingwalls, but out of all the paces in Europe I've played in England the most, I'm looking forward to it.”