Interviews

Veröffentlicht am 15.03.2019 | von Sophia Kahlenberg

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ALICE PHOEBE LOU – Interview

Alice Phoebe Lou via Skype im Gespräch? Ja bitte doch! Wir sitzen im kalten Berlin, als wir uns mit der Künstlerin unterhalten, der während dem Interview Südafrika’s Sonne ins Gesicht scheint. Sie erzählt uns von ihrer alten und neuen Heimat, von Lektionen, die sie als Straßenmusikerin gelernt hat und natürlich von ihrem brandneuen Album, Paper Castles.

-What are the biggest lessons you learned from busking?

A lot. A lot, really on a personal level and on a level of human anthropology and understanding people. How much it has taught me about people has been a big life lesson. It also shaped the person I’ve become today. I think what’s amazing about the street and playing on the street is that you’re using the space as your performance space, but there’s other people using the space in different ways. There’s drug dealers, there’s people who are begging for money, there are people using it as an in between.. So you have to find a way of making it symbiotic, so that everybody is able to use the space. What that creates for me, is a system where you have no hierarchy. On the street and when you’re using the street, it’s not that the drug dealer is below me or that the business man, who needs to get to his appointment is above me. It really helped me in my perspective to view everybody equally. And musically I think it’s just about the scariest thing that you can do. Playing your songs and being vulnerable on the street, especially in the beginning is incredibly intimidating and daunting. You don’t get a great reaction from people all the time, you get super self-conscious and it’s also the way people look at you. You’re a street person and there are so many stigmas you have to get over with. But once you get over all of that and learn the lessons, it’s the most rewarding thing ever.

-I guess you really need to learn to focus too?

It can be chaos man, really chaos! All the people engaging with you, attacking you and harassing you and men doing disgusting things to you. It happens so often and you really have to find ways of dealing with these situations. You have to have empathy and understanding. You have to fight violence and aggression with peace and understanding and that’s the best lesson you can ever learn.

-When did you decide, that this was something you wanted to do? When you first moved to Europe you were performing as a fire dancer, correct?

I liked performance and I liked using my body for that mainly. I was listening to theatre and things like that, but I never thought that music would be my direction. And then after I got to Berlin, I got inspired by all the musicians around me and had a lot of nice experiences and started writing my own songs and realizing that people were enjoying them. I just thought, okay let me see where this goes if I carry on a little longer.

-The performance part has drawn you quite naturally then?

In a way. But when I performed with fire, I had a different kind of confidence. And when I started playing music on the street, that was so scary. I didn’t look people in the eye. Also I didn’t have any money, so I was doing it just for money. I don’t think I would’ve done it if not for that reason.

-You’re from South Africa but have been calling Berlin your home for years now. What was it about Berlin, that made you stay?

I think I’ve never experienced a city, that’s got so much freedom and so much grungy, arty vibes and so much happening. But at the same time, it’s so safe and the public transport is so good and you feel like anything is possible. I think that often when cities are safe and highly functioning, they often become over-regulated and lose their charm and lose their artistic integrity and community. Berlin, for me, always had everything. Coming from South Africa, where, as a woman especially, with the kind of crime you experience there, due to a lot of obvious elements – I understand, why the crime is so high, why people resort to crime, they’re living in really bad circumstances.. But coming from not being able to walk down the street alone at night and not having that kind of freedom and being so highly aware and scared of crime, it was an obvious thing for me. To move to a city, where I didn’t have to think about those things and where I could concentrate more on becoming a woman and making art and not thinking about, you know, watching my back all the time.

-You could easily be put into a box that fits commerce and is dictated by the idea of women the different industries – film, music, fashion, you name it – are trying to sell. Yet you clearly choose to set your own path. Does it sometimes feel like you have to fight a real fight doing that? Or does it get easier with time and growing respect? “Didn’t wanna be told what I’m supposed to look like. Didn’t wanna be told what makes a woman look right.” You sing on My Outside.

I think it gets easier, I think the fight is actually within yourself in a way. It’s more just the expectation of what other people think you should do and what they tell you is the right way to do things. You just sticking to yourself and being strong enough in your convictions and your understanding of what you need to not let that effect you. I think now my confidence in myself and in what I’m doing is on a much higher level. So it doesn’t feel like a fight anymore, it just feels like an obvious thing, that makes sense, that I would do things in that way. I keep my freedom, I can choose what I want to do. Some people have the goal to become famous or to make it in a more commercial way, which isn’t wrong at all. It’s just a choice, a goal, a dream and it’s just as valid as any other dream. But it’s not mine and I realized that very young. And I’m happy that I did, because I don’t need to do the typical things to get there. I also don’t have a time limit, that’s put on myself like it is on so many women. I’m 25 now, by the time you’re 30 you’re kind of old news or whatever. I don’t believe in that stuff and I want to learn over time and see where it goes. I’ll always find a way to survive and find a way to make enough money to eat.

-Do you ever have moments where you think that doing this whole thing as an independent artist is too tricky and you do think about joining a big record label?

Definitely! And I also don’t want to have things that I won’t ever do. I want to be able to change my opinion, change what I do. For me it’s, I don’t have rules in my life. We’ve talked to labels, we’ve entertained the idea of creating relationships with labels. I have a label too in Germany who I work with, but just through their distribution. They help me out, but it’s not a signed deal. It’s me hiring them to perform a function. But sometimes I have no idea, where the money is gonna come from and it’s very difficult. I need to borrow money, figure things out on my own, because I’m a bit uncompromising in that sense. Every once in a while, I do a bit of a corporate gig that’s paid well. The bills are really high, you need to pay lots of people to do lots of things for you. And releasing an album.. I could just put it on bandcamp and not run a campaign, but my intention is to do things in a very professional and high quality and high level way, so that I don’t feel like being an independent artist is holding me back and that I can do it, just like everybody else. It does have its complications, it isn’t easy, but I don’t mind.

-Let’s speak about the new album. You’re all about collaboration it seems, bringing the forces of creative minds together and creating hand in hand. Can you compare the creation of Orbit from a few years ago to Paper Castles?

It’s completely different actually. I was in a musical relationship with somebody for a long time and I ended that a bit over a year ago. The thing is that I fed into my insecurity of being a musician that isn’t trained, that doesn’t know music theory. I don’t feel like I know a lot about music in some sense. I felt like this other person had much more of an authority over my music and the decisions regarding my music and the creativity of it, than I did. Once I ended this relationship, I got back my confidence in myself and I realized that you don’t need to know music theory to have an intuition and people to enjoy what you do. I just had much more of a confidence in directing my music and getting what I wanted out of this album. So this album is much more a reflection of me, rather than a reflection of somebody else through my music. So it feels like this is the first album that is really me. Obviously with the help of a lot of incredible musicians. We just had fun and I learned not to take things to seriously and to not take myself to seriously. And that’s been a big part of this album.

-On this album again, your lyrics speak about different galaxies, the moon and the sun and the ocean. On the other hand though, they address serious world issues. Could we say that you’re creating your own little universe, that isn’t scared to stare the demon in the eye?

I like that, I guess so. I think that this album has a lot more personal subjects, that I feel are relatable to a wider audience, especially to women. I just realized, that if I wanted to write songs I felt strongly about, they needed to be about strong subjects, that meant something to me. The songs on the album definitely represent me coming into womanhood and dealing with traumas and dealing with things that I’ve been through and hoping that people can relate.

-It seems like you manage to write heavyweight songs around social and political issues but keeping your peace too. Is that a balance act sometimes?

Definitely! And I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I pull into deep pits of sadness as well, but I think that’s all part of it. You kind of have to accept that. Also, the balancing act also comes in the form of understanding how to engage with my fans and the audience and their emotions. Because they feel very strongly about my songs and tend to feel strongly about me and I, first of all, don’t ever want to have some sort of messiah complex feeling like I can change the world or something, because I don’t feel like that way at all. And I want people to just see me as a human being. And I also need to protect myself from people who elevate me onto a very high level of being an angel or this or that. I’m really rejecting that. I’m being uncompromisingly myself and I’m trying to make people see my humanness. I’m not trying to create a perfect image of myself. I’m not perfect, I’m not pure, I’m not angelic or whatever people describe me as. I’m just a human being with problems and issues and I want to be respected as that, you know?

-Surely the release date being international Women’s Day didn’t happen by chance?

Actually it did. We looked at the campaign and tried to find a release date and we literally just looked at a calendar of dates and because I was gonna be on the US tour and in New York on that date, it was perfect. And two weeks or so later, my manager messaged me that that’s international Women’s day too. That sounded about right then.

Can we speak about your song Skin Crawl? When the song was released, you shared a note of the traumatizing experience behind it too. What is your connection with the men in the video? Can you share a little about the process behind it?

It’s mostly my closest guy friends and most of my band is in it as well. I mean, that was another layer of it, that it was my male friends voluntarily coming and putting themselves in those positions for this video and for this concept of just trying to show things in a humorous way and turn things on their head. It was a really funny day and that was the main point of it. That it wasn’t supposed to be serious or trying to make people feel bad. Maybe make people feel a little bit uncomfortable, but it was humorous and done with love.

-‚How about I take your patriarchy, you sing, your misogyny. And I put it in the backyard and set fire to it.‘ It’s your iconic raw and honest storytelling, filled with deep emotion, but told in a humorous way.

Exactly! I think, when I approach harder subjects that are quite in your face, sometimes it doesn’t have a place in music. Because it becomes too didactic. But I try to approach it with humour, that hopefully people can understand and not take too literally. I felt like that was the best way of combating it, because humour is a way of getting into people’s hearts and it also shows, that you’re not taking it too seriously and that you’re not someone who is full of hate. That you’re just trying to navigate and find a way of dealing with it and that’s all.

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