"F*ck Yeah!" Clash Meets ALMA
ALMA’s debut album ‘Have U Seen Her’ jolts listeners into a fresh, unexpected soundscape of genre-bending fun-erability.
It’s 2pm on a Friday. I’m all set up, ready for an interview. I notice I have a squeaky monkey shoved in my pocket (courtesy of my nieces), which I fling dramatically across the room and answer the call to one of Finland’s finest: ALMA.
Bursting onto the scene at age seventeen on Finnish reality show Idols, ALMA has since written and released a string of wildly successful singles, all whilst rocking various shades of blinding neon hair. Now, ALMA is fresh off the back of releasing her debut album ‘Have U Seen Her’, and, spoiler alert: it’s magnificent. A 12-track delight, ‘Have U Seen Her’ sees ALMA getting really real about “everything”, exploring darker avenues of herself and the music industry.
ALMA and I got candid about mental health, the past, and our favourite swear words, over the phone for Clash.
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Congrats on releasing an incredible album! Did you think ‘Have U Seen Her’ would take shape in this way?
Obviously we had that talk, about whether we should delay the album. I should be travelling around the world right now! But the album is very honest; it’s the first time I’m speaking 100% truths and telling stories about everything. I think it’s important in these times, so I’m glad that I [released] it right now.
A lot of music and art is being created at the moment, so it’s great that you’re putting something out that’s so honest and accessible.
I hope so! I’ve been getting a lot of messages from my fans about it, which really makes me feel good.
Did anything in particular inspire the darker sonic edge that you took for this album?
For the first time in my life, I was thinking about everything. When I started my career I was all “holy shit, I’m able to do this” and, it was literally ‘Chasing Highs’ everywhere I went. It was all about having a good time, and partying, and stuff like that. But now… I’ve been an artist for a couple years now, and I knew that when I’m gonna release an album, I’m gonna plan it through. It needs to be something that’s gonna change the world a bit, I guess.
I went to the studio, and I was listening to all the bands and artists that I was listening to when I was a teenager – Amy Winehouse, Gorillaz, The Police – stuff like this that inspired me to [make music] in the first place. I’ve always had in my mind that singles can be whatever, but when it comes to the album, that’s when I’m actually taking everything seriously.
Was it scary, having the debut out?
Yeah! It was, at first. Because I started with very dance-y-pop music, it was. But, then again, I’m in a place in my personal life where I’m brave enough to take this risk, and see where it’s gonna take me. I just wanted to be real. There’s weird shit happening in the world right now and I’m not in a mood where I’m just like “hey let’s party, I don’t give a fuck”, because I do give a fuck, you know? I’m not 17 anymore. (laughs)
Why didn’t tracks like ‘Cowboy’ and ‘When I Die’ make it into the album?
With this album, I just wanted a fresh start. I’ve been making this record for a so long time (sic) that when it came to the point where we were like “ok, now the album is ready”, it didn’t feel right to be like “here is the album with all of these singles”, and then only two new tracks. I’m in a mood where I just want to release more and more and more all the time.
I will! Now that I don’t have the festival summer, I’m going back to the studio next week so, let’s see what happens.
It must’ve been difficult, being such a perfectionist, to know when you’re happy with a finished product. For you, what makes a good album?
That it makes me feel something. That it makes me feel angry, or it makes me feel good, or it makes me feel emotional. Or it makes me feel weird. I don’t like genres, I listen to every kind of music, but it has to affect me in a way. I can’t stand an album that isn’t risky. It has to make me feel something.
Also, I love artists that are honest. I get when you have to here and there put in an easy hit single if you’re in the pop world. But then when it comes to albums, I really like to get something more from the artist.
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What sort of artists like these do you draw inspiration from?
I’ve always been a fan of Lykke Li, and ‘I Follow Rivers’ is my favourite track ever. Amy Winehouse is also such an inspiration. It was crazy, because I was listening to Amy Winehouse when I was very young, and now that I’m a bit older and I understand English very good, now I'm like, “holy shit this artist is so real, and telling everything like it is”. I’ve always admired that. Lily Allen is a great example – somebody telling stories exactly how it is.
I also love MØ, she’s a good friend. I think she makes super good pop music. Every time when there’s a strong female, really fuckin' saying everything how it is, I always fall in love.
I think we can see that a lot in your music – you’re unafraid to throw a few fucks around. Do you have a favourite swear word?
*Sighs in contentment*
…it’s just ‘fuck’. Also, in Finnish we say ‘vittu’ which is kinda similar. I get that in some places you shouldn’t swear (for example, like, don’t swear at funerals), but (…) sometimes because I speak two different languages, I don’t know a word, so I have to say “fuck!” here and there, to get the emotion out. And “fuck” can mean so many different things! It depends how you say it. It can be like “fuck, yeah!” in a good way, or “fuck you”. It can be whatever.
Do you have a favourite track on the album, or do you feel equally connected to all of them?
I really feel connected with all of them, but ‘King of the Castle’ (…) it was one of the recent ones that I [created]. I really connect with it. I was quite young when this career happened to me, and my life was completely different to what it is now. I’d been dreaming to grow up and have all of these things, but now, I wish I could just go back and be seventeen again. I think all of my friends feel the same.
The second verse starts with “I’ve been thinking, tonight, we can all escape / They can’t know our names / Don’t you wanna live forever?” and it’s crazy, because this summer is basically me escaping. Also, because I’ve been inside so much, the lyrics “I’m the king of my castle / But come and save me” is kinda ironic.
Did you write it with any of the current situation in mind? It’s scarily accurate!
No! I didn’t even know that this kind of situation would be possible six months ago. But I feel like everybody can definitely feel that they’re king of their castle, and their walls are breaking.
Tracks like ‘King Of The Castle’ feel especially relevant considering that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. In ‘Loser’, you sing “I’ve got trouble with my DNA”, which resonates so much to people like myself, who’ve struggled with mental health. How did you want ‘Loser’ to appear to your listeners?
I’ve definitely had mental health problems and I think the whole album… there’s a lot of different tones about those kind of topics.
Usually when I start to panic, and start to be very anxious about life and all these responsibilities that I have, I tend to scream to myself “I’m just a loser, it’s all good!” You don’t have responsibilities when you’re just a loser; it’s way easier to identify yourself as a loser than a winner. Because, if you’re a winner, you have a lot of responsibility, and it’s very hard to carry all of that. I always try to remember that, like, “hey, you’re still such a fucking loser, you’re not a winner, don’t take any responsibilities”.
‘LA Money’ definitely seems to be exploding at the moment. Do you ever expect that some tracks are gonna be more out there than others?
When we wrote it, we were like “this is something great and this is simple, people can probably really connect with it”. ‘LA Money’ was one of the first tracks I did where I was like “ok, now, we’re on the right path. This is where I’d like to take this album.”
It’s not even just about LA… everywhere, it’s like Instagram, everything is so fake all the time. I just hope I will see a bit more love everywhere, not just “look, I have a cool car” or “I have a lot of money” all the time.
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‘Have You Seen Her’ is out now.
Words: Gem Stokes
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