Alice Smith: Alice In Wonderland

There is nothing more refreshing than a rebel in a world filled with sheep. It’s even more spectacular when that rebel is a young woman, standing 5’8”, boasting a four-octave range, who completely defies musical standards. Allow us to introduce you to Alice Smith – the strangest, most refreshing musical landscape to emerge in years. The debut album from Alice Smith, For Lovers, Dreamers and Me, garnered critical acclaim from music enthusiasts around the world, who are calling her the “next best thing.” The first single “Dream” was featured on an episode of HBO’s hit series, Entourage, and the rest is history. With musical influences such as Fiona Apple and Billie Holiday, the Washington, DC native is certain to carve her own niche in history.In between touring and sessions, Alice Smith engages in a conversation about the state of the music industry, taking charge of her life and her music, what it means to be a soul star, and what inspires her. Her journey has begun. AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Hey, where are you right now?Alice Smith: I’m in a van on the highway.AHHA: You sound a little tired.Alice Smith: A little bit; plus I’ve been recording for a couple days in the studio, and my voice is just, you know, a little tired. It’s not bad or anything, it’s just not as chipper as it would ordinarily be.AHHA: With four octaves I imagine your voice undergoes a lot of strain. What type of vocal training did you have to do to perfect the use of that type of range?Alice Smith: I started taking lessons…I always say a different number, but I’m going to say between three and five years ago. At first I didn’t really go, but then I started going more for stamina so that I could do it over and over again.  So I just started seeing how the classes were just making it so much easier. I would get real excited and just blow my whole throat out. Then I would be anxious for the rest of the time. I was going to class, and I was singing a lot.  Like, I’m still singing a lot. But I got into it just to get in touch with my voice.  Like, this voice is natural for me, but with lessons I saw how much more connected I could be to my voice, and what I can do and what I can’t do. That’s what it is.AHHA: You are teeny tiny, but you completely control that huge voice.  Alice Smith: No, I’m not teeny tiny. That’s what people think.  It’s an illusion. I’m just tall and straight. I’m really very hearty. I mean, I think so. [laughs]AHHA: Having such a big voice, were you ever shy?Alice Smith: God, I’m still shy. I’m good in a large group; I’m good one on one. But if it’s a weird number like ten, or seven, you know, more people than I can direct my attention to…Yeah, I’m pretty shy. I mean, the stage is different of course.AHHA: Now, since the days of Fiona Apple, Bjork, and E. Badu, there hasn’t really been a female artist to push the envelope the way that you do. Do you enjoy that part of it?Alice Smith: Oh, my otherness? Yeah, I’ve always enjoyed it, but I think part of the shy thing comes in when you’re young and you think that most people won’t [understand what you’re trying to do]. It’s happening more and more, I guess. I know when I was young it wasn’t like we were being encouraged to be different. My family was fine with it.  Everything that was close to me was fine with me the way I am. I guess other people would have been to but…I was just always other – the other person. The tall girl, or the Black girl, the only child and whatever other stuff. But I like it. AHHA: Do you think your deviation from what’s standard has been an obstacle in your career and getting you to this point?Alice Smith: No, never with business. That always manifests itself in personal situations. Business is business.AHHA:  What about your otherness though, in this very predictable business?Alice Smith: Yeah, it is [an obstacle]. I mean, anybody that wants to do the same music and do the same thing as what they hear on the radio, and everything is the same and that’s the way it is in a business situation then… I mean, people are followers. Or, people are just fine with it, but that’s what sticks out in my head all day; that’s all I do. So I have my own ideas, my own ways of doing things. I’m also an adult. I [turned] 30 on the 30th [of November]. You know, I sure ain’t letting nobody tell me what to do, business or otherwise. You see what I’m sayin’? So when you get into a business situation with those kinds of people, who are used to dealing with that other kind of person- not me, or whatever they’re used to.  I don’t even really know. But whatever it is they been doin’, I don’t really do that. And I trust myself, you know? And I think a lot of people don’t trust themselves, and that’s how they get caught up. The difficulty comes in – and it’s not really a difficulty – but when you’re trying to get people to understand that you’re a real, thinking person. It’s hard for them to get that, because I really am a thinking person, but somehow it doesn’t come across that I am. [laughs] They think, “Oh she doesn’t want to work,” or whatever other things they make up just because I don’t do things the way they’re used to. So that’s it. You just have to come to an understanding. And that’s what’s tough for people to understand – the fact that you want to be involved, you will be involved and that that’s okay. It’s alright for us to have a dialogue about it. And it’s alright, when you don’t know what you’re doing with my music, for me to say, “This is what you need to do.” It’s really simple. [laughs] It shouldn’t be a threatening thing, but the state of the industry is such that people feel threatened. They’re scared, and they probably should be. But I’m not, so… I mean, everything is so wide open. Now is the time to not be scared. Whatever we think might work, let’s try that and see what happens. These people ain’t stupid out here, listening to this music. I mean, it’s just music. People do it in the shower. People do it all the time. I mean, people ask me, “When did you know that you had this gift?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. When I started liking listening to it.” When I liked it, that’s when I started being like, “Yeah, I’m gonna keep doing this.” I mean, but every child sings.  [People] asking me, “Did you sing as a kid?” Hell yeah, didn’t you? [laughs]AHHA: [laughs] How about the comparisons? Are the comparisons flattering or uninformed?Alice Smith: I mean, they aren’t uninformed, because people come up with their own ideas. It just doesn’t affect me one way or another, really. I don’t care. I don’t take it any kind of way. Sometimes I’ll say, “Oh! That’s interesting,” but that’s it. But other than that, if you think so, I mean, okay. [laughs]AHHA: You don’t like to be called a soul artist and you actually sang in some rock bands during your college years, yet your soul pours out on every song. Explain that.Alice Smith: Okay. This is what I think. The soul thing is relevant to the person, right?  My soul is different from your soul and all that stuff. It’s a personal [thing]. My soul is me. So the music that I do, if I’m able to tap into that, or if I’m willing to go into that, that’s really just my voice. People can say I sing from my soul, but I’m Black so… And I grew up listening to Black music and other people’s music too, but I grew up in a certain way. And so the way that I came up comes out in my voice. But that’s not the music; that’s me, you know? I just sound that way. So when I used to listen to Bjork in high school, or college, that’s when I really started contemplating the idea of soul music. Like really, soul was listening to Bjork sing. I’d be like, “Golly! Well where did she get that? Where’d that voice come from?” So that’s what I think about it. And no, I don’t think the particular style of music I do is soul music, only in as much as it’s powered by my voice. People want to put you in these categories of R&B or whatever, but that’s just because my voice can do it, you know? That’s not everything that I am.  Like, why would I just sing R&B music or soul music if that’s all I’ve ever done my entire life? I can do that in my shower. I can do that at home, in my momma’s kitchen. When I’m trying to do something for the rest of my life, I want it to be something that’s challenging for me. AHHA: You grew up in Washington, DC? I know you were young then, but were you familiar with the music scene?Alice Smith: No. I left when I was 17. My momma was having me nowhere. I don’t think I ever went to see really live music, like DC live music while I was there. You know, people that would have been doing what I would have been doing. AHHA: So that brings us to NY, where you are now. Between DC, Georgia and NY, where have you gained the most inspiration, you’d say?Alice Smith: I don’t know. I think it’s an equal thing. I was in DC throughout all my schooling. But then when I wasn’t in school, in DC, I was in Augusta [Georgia], on a farm with my family. And in DC, it was me, my mom and my dad. Then when I got to New York, I didn’t have no family. I got really lucky with my situation, because it’s so balanced. That’s why I’m saying I don’t know. I think it’s all about the same.I’ve gotten inspiration from other places that I’ve been, like Martha’s Vineyard. I got a lot of inspiration there. It’s like my favorite place. I moved up there for a while.AHHA: Really?Alice Smith: Yeah girl! I loved it up there. And I find that the older I get, the more water plays a part in my creativeness and my inspiration. I went to Kauai this year, and that turned me out. Girl, I’m tryin’ to move to Kauai right now. I’m so serious about it. AHHA: [laughs] Okay. Let’s talk about the album; a great album, musically. In your humble opinion, was it ground breaking?Alice Smith: Groundbreaking? I mean, yeah! I think it’s phenomenal, you know? [laughs] But honestly, I don’t really think about it like that. I didn’t think about it like that when I did it. I wasn’t trying to make it anything. I was just trying to do things that I liked, and that’s what I did.AHHA: I know you wrote on the album. As far as the concept of the songs, do they all have stories behind them?Alice Smith: Well you know I only wrote four songs on the album. I wrote “Dream,” Do I,” “Gary’s Song” and “Love Endeavor.” I love my songs. I think my songs are groundbreaking, absolutely. [laughs]AHHA: I hear you have recently signed a major record deal with Epic. Congrats! Is that exciting?Alice Smith: Yeah! We’ll see. [laughs] It’s cool. All I really want is to be able to make another record, you know? Keep making records. That’s really it. So when they came and wanted to [sign me], it was very exciting. We just re-released the album under them, so I’m starting on the next one. So I’m excited, because I get to keep playing and I get to keep singing. AHHA: Nice. Well I’m going to let you get back to your road trip. But before we go… Using the five senses, tell me what your music evokes. What does it taste like, look like, feel like, smell like, sound like?Alice Smith: That’s a long question. [laughs] Okay, it tastes like water, smells like air, looks like trees, it feels…What does it feel like? It feels like really good. [laughs] And it sounds like Alice Smith.

 

Below is Alice Smith performing Dream Live. See the talent for yourselves.

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