Alice Russell

  • Chinwe Ojielo
I don’t know if she’s a Mac or a PC, but I can tell you she’s in the iPhone camp, as her icon-adorned screen has been disfigured into six pieces. Most people would have a major tantrum, but not Russell. “It’s all right if you smash it, as long as you don’t smash it on a rock or something”. (Laughs) “It’s not a good look”.
Like many singers, Brighton-born Russell grew up singing in the church choir, which coincidently was the setting we found ourselves in; the Union Chapel to be precise, where she’d be performing her most intimate set yet. When you hear her soulful tones, you can be forgiven for assuming they belong to a black lady, kind of on the Amy Winehouse and Joss Stones vibe and judging by her knowing smile, this is an assumption that Russell is very aware of. “Some people do, especially if they haven’t seen me and they just hear my voice, but as you can see I’m very white and pasty. So has a doorman ever tried to deny her entry after prejudging what she’d look like? “They usually have a little photo so they can see”, she said laughing at the thought, “but actually that has happened, but just in funny clubs and the band can’t get back in”.
As our conversation progresses, there’s another thing that I notice about Russell, her cheerful demeanor. She comes across as one of those people who take things as they come, taking the expression and viewing the glass as half full. It’s an attitude that inspired the title of her last album Pot Of Gold. “The title is from one of the lines in the last song that was added called Turn And Run, and it goes ‘poor as beggars are on pot of gold’ because it feels like that sometimes. Everyone is still so struggling financially to make this all work, but it feels like no matter what happens, we can still do what we are doing which is performing, and that’s golden”.
It’s surprising to hear that four albums deep, an artist as revered as herself with huge followings from London to Paris and even as far as Japan, still has to battle to do the thing that she loves, but Russell focuses on the positives. “We’re lucky you know, we get to travel around and do gigs all over the world” and it was while overseas she received a request from David Byrne to sing on his new concept album with Fatboy Slim. “The email came through on my birthday and I was touring America at the time and I was like ‘really, David Byrne?’ I was really excited; he’s like a hero of mine. How can you not be a fan of Talking Heads? Those lyrics and those beats. Brilliant. He’s such a down-to-earth guy. We recorded it in London”.
Abroad this year has seen Russell set foot in Columbia for the second time to visit friend and collaborator Quantic. “He lives out there. I went in February and nearly finished another album with him”, but on Pot Of Gold she joined forces again with TM Juke to recreate the magic which produced the critically acclaimed My Favourite Letters. “We wanted to get back to guitar and voice as the album before that was producer-led. We went back to scratch and wrote all the songs pretty much just with us two, with those instruments and then took it to the band and got everyone to play in the same room, so it was a very organic project which is wicked”.
As this was the first time she’d mentioned her band, I jumped at the opportunity to extract anecdotes about life on the road. I wanted gossip. Who’s the funniest? Laziest? Messiest? “They’re all of those things, myself included,” she said tactfully. Finally, as the interview drew to an end, noticing a t-shirt draped over a chair she let one slip. “Mikee the guitarist is the smelliest because he’s intense. He really goes for it”. Cue her warm smile and laughter.