Soul singer extraordinaire, Alice Russell is releasing her fifth album this month on Tru Thoughts — 'To Dust'. She's again teamed with Brighton-based producer TM Juke, having previously collaborated with Mr Scruff, Quantic, DJ Yoda and David Byrne from Talking Heads.
Alice herself moved to Brighton in the mid-'90s to do a music course, liked it and stayed. It's been four years since her last album — “It's taken a long time cos I had some management stuff to sort out,” she says — during which time the tracks went through several permutations. What shines through, though, is Alice's magnificent voice. 'To Dust' is a great modern soul album, and DJ Mag wants to know why Alice isn't up there with Adele and Emile Sande et al...
How did you get Harry Shearer, aka Derek Smalls from Spinal Tap, to star as a cross-dresser in your 'Heartbreaker' video?
“He's actually a friend now, he's like a music head, a real fan. I think he heard one of my first releases with Quantic Soul Orchestra back in the day, and came to one of my gigs at Cargo in London before the smoking ban came in. I didn't meet him then, but we made contact over the years. I've done some stuff with him and hung out, and when our visual guy Steve came up with the idea for the video, I thought, 'I'm not sure if I want to ask him too many favours, but sod it' — and he agreed!
“He didn't tell his management, he's the kind of guy who, if he does want to do something, he'll do it. If he doesn't, he'll tell you to get lost. He was so professional to work with, it was right in the middle of the Olympics on a Saturday — the only day he could do. He was great, he's got a wicked sense of humour as you can imagine.”
So who've you got for the next video – De Niro?
“Yeah, that's the thing, trying to get him and Al Pacino, but after he's had a bit of surgery done on him. It'd be great to just always do a cameo in your own video — much less stress for me.”
Have you got any other well-known fans?
“I dunno, erm... off the top of my head... I'm trying to think... I heard that Robbie Williams was seen buying 'Under The Munka Moon' in LA, that's about it. Hairy guys from LA, basically. Someone who won a few medals at the Paralympic Games came to one of our shows recently, too. We've got all bases covered.”
You've collaborated with Tru Thoughts people like Quantic and TM Juke over the years, but have you been tempted — or been asked — to do a commercial EDM track with a David Guetta-type of producer?
“Aaaarrrgh, why did you say David, I'm going to be sick! No, it's weird, isn't it? I have an issue with David Guetta, although I'm sure he's a really nice guy. I can't take it! I can't take the videos, I can't take the sound of it. Sia did something with him, didn't she? She's writing pop stuff for other people now, and if it comes from a place of integrity, it could work, but you'd have to have limits as to who you'd want producing your stuff. Unless he did something really different, it's a bit of a turn-off for me — musically — to think about working with someone like him.
But you never know, there might be some of the other big boys who would be interesting. Flying Lotus or someone like that, but that's at the completely other end of the spectrum. Or SBTRKT — he's my favourite at the moment. People like that I'd love to work with, but not anything like David Guetta.”
Think of your bank balance, though...
“I know! When you think about crazy payoffs and other stuff you could spend money on in the studio that could be really lovely, but then you'd have to be in the same room as David Guetta and listen to the track. I suppose you could do it remotely to a click-track, and he could put loads of auto-tune on you and you'd never have to listen to the finished track...”
What was it like doing that track with Fatboy Slim and David Byrne?
“That was really cool, I didn't meet Fatboy, I just met the lovely David Byrne. When he asked me to do it, I thought 'You're David Byrne, how can I say no to you?' Although when he first sent me the track, I was trying to get one of the other ones, but it had already gone. It was too late. Meeting him was pure pleasure, but that's probably about as far as I'd agree to go into those realms.”
Can we just read you a quote from the DJ Mag album review of your latest album, 'To Dust'? “With a voice that really could make the sky fall and some of Britain’s best-ever soul songs, it should be Alice Russell rather than Adele shifting albums by the shit-load. Especially since, as au fait with contemporary clubland as she is with retro soul, her fifth album comes in many more colours than beige.”
“Ha ha ha, I like it, and I love that it ends with 'beige'! Fucking genius, I'd love Adele to give me some of her sales, that'd be great. That would help. Why aren't I better known? I don't know, it's a crazy old world. There's so many people we both know who we think should've reached a bigger level, it's a lot to do with timing and different stuff. I'm so glad Adele has got to where she's got to in the last year though, I remember seeing Youtube clips of her doing little tiny gigs — just her and her guitar. So there are some great people who come up and break through, but I'd like a piece of it. Give me a piece of pie, a slice — just an eighth! It's frustrating being up against it a bit, with the live show and being on the purse strings with the videos. But hey-ho.”
What is soul?
“Oh god, that's so hard. My first gut reaction to soul music is that it is emotion and about humans trying to make sense of the world we're in, and communicating feeling. But at the same time, soul originated from the music of black oppression, which was nothing to do with a little white girl from Suffolk. Circumstances and struggle, that's where these great movements come from, it's something that's always evolving, but the basics of soul music for me are about expressing your emotions.
“How do you know if something has got soul? You just know. You feel it. Sometimes it can just be a groove or a cello player or some folk song from back in the day. A voice is a great conveyor of soul, it's so instant.”