Interview: Alma

You’ll recognise Finnish artist Alma’s distinctively soulful and powerful vocals from her recent hits ‘Karma’ and ‘Dye My Hair,’ two instantly catchy pop songs with tropical house beats and synths. Alma is a bold songwriter, unleashing her feelings into her music, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind in her lyrics. The neon-green haired singer certainly feels like a breath of fresh air in her genre, with her music having a strong sense of edginess, rawness and authenticity. Having recently won two EMMA awards in Finland for Best Newcomer and Best Export, and being selected as a ‘new name’ by Radio 1’s Annie Mac, Alma is wowing the European music scene, which she will no doubt continue to do this year, which will see her releasing a new single in March, as well as playing at London’s Jazz Café (23rd March) alongside other artists chosen by Mac. We met up with Alma to find out more about her edgy pop sound, songwriting and what music means to her.

So how did you get started with music? Has it always been part of your life?

I think I never started, you know, I was just always singing random things even when I was very little like three, I was kinda singing some melodies. It’s just part of my life, I’ve never understood why, I have never studied music. I wasn’t even interested when there were school music lessons, as for me everything in school, I was just not into that. I was just singing. When I was a kid I thought that everybody was singing like me, so I didn’t understand that it was a big thing. When I was walking home from school alone I was singing, if I was afraid I was singing, if I was happy I started singing, so I never really started music, it’s just how I express myself.

Nobody understood what it meant in my family until I was maybe twelve, when I sang a proper song in our car, it was Jackson 5 ‘I Want You Back,’ and my mum started crying. Before I was singing more to myself not to other people, so when I sang one song, everybody was just like “Wow, what is going on?” After that my mum started pushing, saying you can really sing, you have an amazing voice. I went to a couple of singing lessons, but it didn’t feel right somehow, I was a kid who wanted to play and be out with friends, not studying anything. So I never started, I have just been singing all the time.

Your music career sounds like it was really ‘meant to be,’ and very natural for you to be making music.

Yeah, it’s very natural. I think I’m good at it, and I never found any other things that I’m very good at. And I mean, I haven’t done that much work, you know, it’s just that I went to the right place and I did fucking great songs, and the right people heard the tracks. That’s it.

Who are your musical idols and influences, who inspires you?

I love Sia. I loved Amy Winehouse a lot. The Jackson 5 also, and just soul music. When I was a kid I was listening to a lot of soul music, I didn’t even know the name of the songs, I was just singing random youtube songs. There’s so many, but I love Sia, she’s great.

When you started making your own music how did you find your own sound?

It came kind of naturally, when I first went to the studio I didn’t have a clue about the instrumental sound. I knew what I wanted to sing and what kind of melodies I wanted, I wanted to be pop and I wanted to be kind of soulful, but I didn’t know about the production. I didn’t have a clue, because I didn’t know anything about it. So then I just went to the studio and suddenly I had ideas, I was like do it like this, use that sound. So I already knew what I wanted, I just didn’t realise before. It came out very easily. ‘Dye My Hair’ is a song I wrote two years ago when I started and the production hasn’t changed even that much in those two years. And the next single, which is coming soon, is also one of the first tracks that I ever did.

I feel like your music is really refreshing for pop music too, it feels very authentic.

Yeah, it’s real, everything I’m singing is my own experiments, my own stories, and I just write what I need to. When I go to a session I often have a feeling like I need to put this out. When you listen to my songs you can understand who I am, and understand what kind of situations I’ve been through. It’s so hard to say what kind of music it is, but it’s definitely pop, it’s just my own kind of pop. But with influences from soul music, and with my new music, you’ll be able to see influences even from punk, there’s anger and darkness there too.

So what’s your songwriting process like?

It depends, but usually I like to start from scratch, maybe with some chords or piano. And I’m collecting things all the time, like if someone says a cool thing or even a cool word, I put it into my notes. Or if I read something, or anything that comes to my mind, I make a note of it. Sometimes I’ve been doing twelve sessions in a row and I don’t have anything, and then I just sit down and think about how I’m feeling, like I’m homesick, okay I’m going to write about that. Then it’s very easy, for me it’s still very natural and very easy, I think I am very good with melodies.

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“When I was a kid I thought that everybody was singing like me, so I didn’t understand that it was a big thing. When I was walking home from school alone I was singing, if I was afraid I was singing, if I was happy I started singing, so I never really started music, it’s just how I express myself.”

What do you want to explore with your music?

It’s very spontaneous. I want to explore and I think I’m a very open person. We just did a track which had a punk element, and then I’ve been doing more house tracks, and I’ve been doing lots of pop. Of course in the end it needs to sound like my songs, but I like to try different things, I never use the normal way, the ‘pop hit’ way, and I like that.

Is there a song of yours so far that you’re most proud of, and why?

I’m proud of every one, but I love ‘Knock,’ even though nobody knows it. It’s on my EP and it doesn’t have any clicks on spotify or anything, but I’m just proud that it got onto the EP and the label were okay with it, because I wrote it by myself, and it’s just a song that I just really, really needed to have on the EP. So I feel most proud of that. But then again, also ‘Bonfire,’ which I did with Felix Jaehn, because it has had the biggest effect all over the world, so also that one.

If you could collaborate with any other artist, who would you choose?

If I could, I would have gone with Amy Winehouse, but that’s sadly not going to happen. I would like to do a session with Sia, and I would like to just talk about pop music, cause she’s doing her own thing.

What’s been the best show you’ve ever played live?

I just did a show in Hamburg, Germany which was crazy. It was my first headline show in Germany, and there was like a hundred people and they were getting crazy, so maybe that. But then, we did some amazing shows in my hometown, Helsinki, and they feel the most special shows. Because the people feel so proud of me, and I can feel that love. Every time I play a gig in Helsinki, it somehow touches me. They are Finnish, I can speak in my language, and it’s so real, so that’s why I love it. People are crying because they are so proud of me, it’s so beautiful.

What has the rest of 2017 got in store for you?

I’m doing a European tour, I’m doing gigs in America too. I’m excited about the proper tour, writing more music, writing sessions, and just travelling around the world.

Any plans for debut album any time soon?

It’s definitely coming. Now I’m in a situation where big names and good producers around the world are calling my manager and asking me sessions. I have many songs and now I have the chance to do it with great people. I’m still working on that, but it’s coming.

If you could pull off any dream creative project, what would you do?

Of course I want to do the album, but I don’t know actually. Maybe for Finnish people, they should see a documentary about what’s going on, cause they don’t know half of it. In the UK and America this is normal, people are successful and it’s fine, but nobody from Finland is successful, nobody is signed to Universal Music here and there and there. So it would be fair and crazy and cool to a documentary about that’s really going on. I think we are definitely. going to do it at some point, definitely.

Alma will play the Jazz Cafe, London on 23rd March 2017, click here for tickets.