When we first spoke, I was on my mobile in New Jersey, where the leaves had already morphed into brilliant shades of autumn. Alice was at home resting in between grueling European tour dates, watching the rain come down outside of her window as she drank coffee and ate boiled eggs. The two of us seemed worlds apart.
THIRSTY: For the record, tell us your name and where you are from.
Alice Russell: My name is Alice Russell and I'm originally from Suffolk in the countryside, but I've been living in Brighton for quite awhile. So the UK basically…I'll stop beating around the bush.
THIRSTY: What is your fascination with Boiled Eggs?
AR: [Giggles with child-like embarrassment] I actually adore them, I'm afraid. I think it’s a childhood thing. When I was growing up, I don’t know if you had this, but on Saturday and Sunday we would each have tea, crumpets and definitely a boiled egg with it. I think it is very much like a comfort thing. And in school for some reason it was a name we used to call each other. In our friendship group I don’t know why but boiled eggs were very amusing for us. Just thinking about it makes me all warm and cozy inside.
Alice started singing very early in life. Having a father who was an acclaimed classical pianist and professor meant that music was around her from birth.
(credit: Digby Oldridge)
THIRSTY: Would your dad be able to pull off the organ solo on "Got a Hunger"?
AR: I don't know. He does play a lot of Bach which is kind of funky with Fugues [an intricate, fast paced and difficult movement within a piece of music]. That kind of classical stuff has all these crazy rhythms. We have Ben Jones playing that solo. You know what, I might sit and have a little talk with my dad and see what he does with it. Record it and see what happens. He does improvise but when you are classically trained, it’s harder to break [habits]. I'm not really that good at reading music. I am much better at just hearing stuff. But my dad is much better with theory.
THIRSTY: Did you ever have a secret talent to fall back on?
AR: At the same time I was doing music, I was very much into visual art. I went to college to paint as well. But music sort of took me on that little path, you know…so I carried on. I didn’t really know which way I wanted to go, but I knew I wanted both of them in my life. Whether or not I could make it happen [chuckles] is a different story.
THIRSTY: Do you still paint?
AR: Yeah that’s the thing. I haven't done it in ages. I still sketch. Because when you go on tour all the time and you’re coming in and out it sort of takes awhile to sort of settle yourself. That’s definitely one of my New Year’s resolutions…
Russell’s seductive phone voice mirrored that of her recorded work. I was instantly smitten by her charm and personality. I usually have a hard time picking up on sexual advances (especially from across the pond) but if I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought Alice was flirting with me.
THIRSTY: What’s a Munkaroo?
AR: Well that’s a personal question. I don't know if I could… [Giggles]
No…It’s just a mythical creature. It’s sort of a cross between a beaver and a fox. And of course he has a little tail, so maybe he looks like a raccoon? I should draw a picture for you. That could be my project! Yeah. I'm on it. You’ve inspired me now. I am going to create a Munkaroo on canvas.
(credit: Digby Oldridge)
THIRSTY: I can't wait
Her debut release, “Under the Munka Moon”, sparked immediate questions about the true meaning of the album’s title. I guess I have to wait for my sketch before I can understand it fully.
THIRSTY: You are often compared to a lot of the other British soul singers. What comparisons do you loathe the most?
AR: [Smiles] Loathe is such a big word. I don't loathe any of it because I understand that’s what journalists and people do. If we taste something we say, “Oh, that tastes a little bit like (something that I haven't tasted before.)” I think it’s happened because Duffy and Joss Stone are English and they both sing soul, but I'm Alice.
With the presence and grace of a seasoned veteran, Alice explains her role as benevolent band leader.
THIRSTY: I read that James Brown was one of your early influences. As a band leader are you as tough as he is?
AR: [Laughs hysterically] I wish. I'm getting there. It’s taking me ages. I've seen him in rehearsals and he is brilliant. I like the idea of fining the guys [The Godfather of Soul would charge members of the band fines for everything from being late to rehearsal to the use of profanity] but it won’t pay because they are all very good to me anyway. I was a slow learner but I’m getting a bit tougher now. I think James Brown knew exactly what he wanted. He wasn't like, “Ooh can we try this? How about a little of that?” I always like to hear the band’s opinion, I feel like we’re more of a group than just me dictating… although I do feel like dictating sometimes!
THIRSTY: Take us back to the very first time you ever recorded a song in the studio. Tell us the name of the song and what was going through your mind.
AR: Basically the first song I ever recorded was "Taking Hold" by Kushti. The studio setup was a couple bedrooms….so they had all the stuff there, but it was very much in someone’s house. I've always had quite a vivid imagination anyway so I didn’t find my first experience that scary. It was quite a relaxed atmosphere so I was quite lucky in that way. I think some people have a different experience. For me it was a very relaxing and enjoyable experience.
THIRSTY: You sound to me like the Pentecostal singers I grew up hearing in Church. Have you ever been to a Pentecostal church?
(credit: Digby Oldridge)
AR: I've been to a Baptist church, but I think I should go. Yes?
THIRSTY: Have you ever caught the Holy Ghost on stage?
AR: I've actually been in a place where people were doing that. People being thrown back…touched and that sort of thing. Crazy. I do get that on stage. It doesn't happen all the time. But you get that weird rush up your spine. When you feel like something else was there. It’s kinda freaky.
Alice’s most recent releases, Pot of Gold and Pot of Gold: Remixes were the only two physical CDs I purchased in 2009. She had such a powerful story and brilliant visuals that I succumbed to the impulse buy on her website and ended up loving every single song.
THIRSTY: Are you content with running your own indie label, Little Poppet or would you rather be signed to one of the majors?
AR: That’s the age old question. The main thing you think to yourself is if you can keep control. You hear stories of people who have this whole body of work and then the majors shelve it …won’t release it and won’t even give it back to you. The only good thing about the majors is that you get more support and obviously get a lot more money to spend on your shows and recording your music. But I think it’s good to do it yourself. Its hard work and I sometimes find it taking up a lot of time when you want to get creative and you’re missing time in the studio doing label stuff. But at the end of the day, with the way things are going...do it yourself. DIY.
THIRSTY: What’s next for Alice Russell and the boys?
AR: We just did a show at Co Co's and shot a video ourselves and basically I just want to get back into the studio. We are doing a lot more touring. We're going to France at the end of the month. And I just want the live show to get bigger. We've done a couple of shows in the UK with about fifteen people on stage and the energy has been amazing. So for me I just want to look out for the band and for my boys. I'd love to record something new as soon as possible.
Judging by her recent accomplishments and worldwide acclaim, Alice Russell is one magnificent star to watch. I’m thankful that we had a chance to talk, laugh and ponder what truly lies ahead for soul music.