The Okayplayer Interview: Alice Smith Talks About Her New Album 'She'
She makes classical, soulful music--draped with vocal stylings that run the spectrum from playful, to seductive, to eerily haunting. Her sassy/classy demeanor possesses a spiritual effervescence that refreshes and excites. Her artistic confidence and vocal dexterity allow her to serve as her own conductor and still be her own diva. In an era of musical and vocal carbon copies, she is that rare original that escapes definition and eludes categorization. There are no limits to her creative depth, range and texture, yet she's so in control of what she's doing. She is Grammy-nominated, yet still criminally under-recognized. She is Alice Smith, and her sophomore project is She (slated for release on March 19).
“I'm just pretty much free and honest, I try to keep it that way, that's what it is” explained singer Alice Smith rather nonchalantly by way of re-introduction. And in a recent discussion with Okayplayer, she did just that:
Okayplayer: I see you’re a native Washingtonian. How long did you live in DC?
Alice Smith: until I was 16, through High School. I went to [Georgetown] Visitation.
OKP: I went to Carroll, pre-coed unfortunately. What did DC give you personality-wise, that carried over to your art?
AS: Not really a laid back demeanor, but a certain level of calm.
OKP: And just that overall cool, people can always sense that about us DC folk.
AS: You would think so, I'm sure you think so. There is a certain kind of cool that DC has.
OKP: What fuels the intense yet very controlled passion that resides in your vocals?
AS: In terms of performance, I'm just emotional. I like to hear or feel a degree of tension. It's a control thing which is alos purely a physical thing. You know, speaking non-verbally through my body.
OKP: If I had to describe your body of work, the only single word that might do it is 'range'. Could you possibly define your style or sound?
AS: It's the same thing; I'm an emotive type of singer. I think people can relate to my passionate spirit. It's a hard thing to manage when everything gets all screwy, but it’s there in all of us, you know. That's really what I think people are saying when they put all of these names to it. You know, soul or whatever you want to call it. It doesn't matter. There's soul in all kind of music right? It's really about being honest and being free, and that's basically my focus. It's just my nature; my spirit is honest when it's in its true essence.
OKP: I definitely appreciate it. I saw your live performance of "She" at Joe's Pub and I loved the range and freedom of it. I know that it's the title track of your new project- set for release on March 19, what a way to set the tone for the release.
AS: It's just one of the songs, yes the title track, but I'm not sure how I'm going to use it, or if it'll be a single. But yeah it is.
OKP: Given your previous homes of DC, Georgia, Santa Monica and now Brooklyn, how has your geographic locale influenced your creativity and musical product?
AS: I really loved California; I loved being out there. Where you are located sets the tone for certain types of self-exploration in your life. My location affects me a lot; whether in the city or by the ocean. Your location also allows for a certain level of expansion based on what your senses pick up in that location. It influences both content and style.
OKP: You're also a mother--how has the arrival of your baby girl affected you?
AS: It made me a lot faster. I can do a million things quicker. Her arrival has enhanced and intensified my ambition. Make no mistake, I've always been ambitious, but I was quietly ambitious. I'm not a person who will do anything to get what I want, but I do have better clarity about what I want for my life and for her life. Her arrival has given me a new perspective on what it actually takes to get to where I have to go to be who I have to be for her to be who I think that she will be.
OKP: Did you write a dedication or welcome song for her? Did she inspire some new music?
AS: No. I did record a song holding her- that was fun. It was a song called “The One,” I actually held her on the version that appears on the album. During the recording, she went right to sleep, and that was really cool.
OKP: What theme are you conveying or expressing on She?
AS: I think it's about freedom. I did it after I left Epic, which was a frustrating experience. I really was free, I felt free. It's about relationships, I'm always thinking about my interpersonal skills, and just how people relate to each other, affect each other, empower each other.
OKP: you come across beautifully spontaneous live, does that carry over to your recording process as well?
AS: I am pretty spontaneous [recording]. I don't really immerse myself in my creativity. It would be cool to be so studious about it.
OKP: Hey you've got to do you.
AS: (laughter) I try to keep the channels open but I do have to be able to do it when I do it. I kind of have to go with the flow on that.
OKP: Who inspires you musically or otherwise?
AS: I don't know a lot of people inspire me, to some degree by everything that I hear.
OKP: For better or for worse...
AS: you're inspired to not be weak, or to get better. I don't know. You know who inspired me recently? I went to see Nai Palm play at the Rockwood this past month, she's from this group Hiatus Kaiyote. She came by herself to play the guitar, and she was jamming. Anyway they have a really great album. I'd been listening to it, I found some inspiration there.
I've been listening to Miguel, he's inspiring. Frank Ocean was inspirational to me, it's free, and that’s how I feel about Hiatus Kaiyote. Also Miguel. Anybody who I feel is being honest, and being successful at it--I find that inspiring. My band, the people that I write with, my producers; they're my friends and they really inspire me a lot.
OKP: That's special, definitely. Is there a song on She that could serve as your mission statement, or your purpose as an artist? Or anybody else's art?
AS: She, I guess would be an easy one, the overall theme of it. I love that song, “Another Love.” It's hard to pick one thing because maybe the mission changes tomorrow. I like She, the whole body of work; as a word, as a definition...that's why you put songs together.
Be sure to check our Alice Smith on upcoming dates in Baltimore (Rams Head Live-April 2nd), DC (930 club-April 4th), and NYC at the Bowery Ballroom April 10. You can get more details on project information and shows at alicesmith.com or follow her on Twitter at @alicesmithmusic.