With New CD, Alice Russell Makes Sense of Nonsense
When "To Dust," Alice Russell’s fifth CD, got a major release in the United States, one music critic warned that Adele "better watch her back." However, this premonition did little to ensure massive exposure to the performer, already well known and admired in the United Kingdom. Arguably, that was just an "easy" way out to describe someone who is not Adele, because it’s often so easy to drop a famous name and be done with it.
"To Dust" is a free ride of raw nerves, bitter emotions and a resolve. Russell is an artist that wears her heart on her sleeve -- no easy task these days. Her songs "Heartbreaker" or "Different" are not "feel-good" summer songs; rather, Russell delivers music that delves deeper as it touches, teaches and awakens the spirit through song. To kick some dust up in the United States, and bring overdue attention to her talents, Russell returns for a major U.S. tour in the fall of 2013.
There is a wonderful spontaneity to Alice Russell that instills hope and strength. This along with a strong and dedicated musical vibe of soul, rhythm and blues and English funk, Alice Russell is no "throwback" to a different time -- her music is a perfect fit for right now. EDGE spoke to Russell about her latest CD and her career.
EDGE: The title track ’To Dust’ is excellent, as is the whole album. Your lyrics ’the less I fear, I disappear’ are sort of philosophical. Would you agree with that?
Alice Russell: Well, there’s a lot of frustration. There are things that happened that made me learn, and it’s a hard thing to do. I’ve really learned a lot and I think this album was trying to make sense of the nonsense, if you know what I mean? And I think it definitely does.
EDGE: Don’t hit me upside the head, but when I first saw the title of your new CD and the cover photograph... it says ’To Dust’ and I wrote down, ’Lemon Pledge’...
[An authentic British laugh ensues from Alice] You better wait until I see you! I’m gonna get you for that. I can only sing about the obvious though. Oh, that was hilarious. Now, when I think about the record, it’s like, ’Ewww... it’s a kind of Pledge’... it’s very not me. My husband would like me to be more like that.
EDGE: Let’s head to track eight called ’I Loved You.’ I was picking up a Chaka Khan kind of vibe, like her rendition of ’Through the Fire.’ Would you agree?
Alice Russell: Yes, [Alice starts to hum] Yeah, that’s a new version. We were working on it and it was a little bit disco and I was like, ’No, no, no.’ It can’t be that way.
Working with David Byrne
EDGE: I keep coming back to your song ’Heartbreaker Part Two.’ All the way through this CD, I’ve enjoyed your straightforward lyrics, and on this song your lyrics are so good. Would you agree that you don’t have to go through a maze of meanings to really understand your songs?
Alice Russell: No, you’re right, you don’t. I’m straight up. No chasers.
EDGE: Hey, in the remix that Faulty DL did of ’Heartbreaker,’ I really dig the sound of an old phone being left off the hook for too long! So cool!
Alice Russell: Yeah! (Laughter) It’s got all those dub beats... I love all that. I was really glad he did it cause it’s nice to catch these cats sometimes and work with them!
EDGE: David Byrne [Talking Heads and solo artist who has said, ’Working with a singer like Alice was something new, terrifying and ultimately amazing.’] contacted you to create some music. What was this experience like on creating a track [’Men Will Do Anything’] for Byrne and Fat Boy Slim on their ’Here Lies Love?’ I go back with him musically to 1978. He is an awesome talent.
Alice Russell: Oh wow, he’s something else! I mean it is the best of all to be asked by him. An e-mail came through on my birthday and I was in America at the time. I was like ’David Byrne? Is this a joke?’ It was just such an honor to be asked. He’s just constantly on the go, you can tell. I’m the same as you, I’m a massive fan. Talking Heads and ’Stop Making Sense’ is amazing.
EDGE: Just from looking at the photos that I have seen of you, I wrote down the words ’Glam, blonde, beauty, strong.’
Alice Russell: Ha, ha, ha! I love you! You should be doing my promos.
EDGE: How would you describe your stage persona?
Alice Russell: I’d say I’ve gotten more emotional, expressive and the more you perform, you get more open. To be able to express what you need to express at that time. I think I’m definitely getting to be a bit more of someone to be reckoned with. (Hearty laugh)
EDGE: The video for ’Heartbreaker’ could have been about anything, yet the video focused on an older cross dresser or female impersonator with the actor Harry Shearer. What prompted that decision?
Alice Russell: Basically with that song, I didn’t want to do a narrative video. We wanted to do something a bit ’different’ or a bit quirky. ’Heartbreaker’ could be so many different things. Not just a love affair, it could be about frustration in life, miscommunications or misunderstandings. And Harry is a friend. I was sitting down with the video guy, who does our stuff and he just plugged in. He came up with the idea. He said, ’Why don’t you have Harry dress-up as you and we’ll have a shot of you both wearing the same dress etc. I really was not sure that Harry was going to go for it. I was like ’mmmm...’ I was a bit reticent. I didn’t want to push it. Straight away, Harry is the kind of guy who will say ’get lost’ if he’s not into an idea. So, Harry said, ’yes’ and we just got ourselves a hotel and there you have it!
Close to her heart
EDGE: I thought the ending of the video was classic, like a take on ’Dressed to Kill’ or something in a funny way.
Alice Russell: He looks good in that dress!
EDGE: The bonus track ’Different’ on ’To Dust’ is so beautiful to hear. Your voice reminds me of Annie Lennox and Diana Ross in various parts of this song.
Alice Russell: Ahhh, I’m glad you like it. That’s phat, actually. That’s one of the first tracks that we recorded for the album. I ended up feeling like it was on its own, in a way, compared to the other tracks. I made sure it was the bonus because that track was close to my heart. I always felt it belonged to the project but it’s steppin’ out on its own to the next phase.
EDGE: Tell me now, what does this 45 minutes or so of music that you’ve created, mean to you?
Alice Russell: This is going to sound like a response from a lot of other people on a lot of other albums... but for me, it’s a lot of therapy. I had some bad dealings with somebody that let me down quite badly. I’ve lost a couple of friends during these last few years in really sad ways. So, it’s a wake-up call. It’s getting it all out there for me. Sadly, sharing a bit of my frustration but hopefully giving you guys something else at the same time. Expressing just what needed to come out.
To learn more about Alice Russell, visit her website. Below is a list of her fall U.S. tour: October 5th - The Howard Theatre - Washington, DC, October 6th - World Cafe - Philadelphia, PA, October 7th - Highline Ballroom - New York City, NY, October 9-12th - Filter Culture Collide Festival - Los Angeles, CA, October 9th - Yoshis - San Francisco, CA, October 10th - Yoshis - San Francisco, CA, October 11th - Kuumbwa Jazz Center - Santa Cruz, CA, October 13th - The Glass House - Pomona, CA, October 15th - Cervantes Other Side - Denver, CO, October 16th - Cedar Cultural Center - Minneapolis, MN October 17th - Lincoln Hall - Chicago, IL.