It's all too easy to become entirely enveloped in the enchanting, beautifully ambient work of Alice O'Leary alias I am Alice. With a sincerely loving and heartfelt conveyance of what is dear to her, the London-based producer -- part of our most recent Oneiric Escapism collection -- seamlessly stitches the wonderment of fantastical worlds into the more recognisable fabric of our own with the help of her highly evocative, skillfully manipulated field samples; the subsequent tapestry -- as demonstrated on debut EP, Moth and the Meteor -- enticingly aglow with an underlying vibrancy, joy and contentedness that wonderfully contrasts with the suggestion of transient awareness so viscerally existing throughout. ALGB met up with Alice last weekend to find out a little about her and her artistry, learning how she manages an awkward mix of full-time employment and creative endeavour, how music gives her life a necessary purpose, and what the honest, simple and seemingly uncommon inspiration is behind her choice of subject matter.
I don’t think my writing is particularly deep; I just write about things that make me happy.
Alice: I always used to be in bands. I played bass at university, so I was always band-focused, but, always in the background, I was writing poetry and silly little songs, and I started on Cubase, back in the day. As I’ve got older, I’ve got a little bit more confident with my ability and better at production — I just decided it was time to go it alone. Bands are really hard. It’s really hard to keep a group of people that have jobs, lives and everything, together, and keep on the same page and create something beautiful. I was in a band called Jonah Serene for a while. I felt like it was working really well, and then it just fell apart — it was heartbreaking. There are pros and cons to working alone, but I’ve got full creative control and I can just come home from work and work on my music. I do that most nights: I’ll finish work, come home and just sit on my computer and write. I couldn’t do that in a band — you have to plan rehearsals and it’s very constricting — so I’m really enjoying working alone, actually.
Alice: It’s a funny one. Because I’m a primary school teacher, I have to censor myself. My class are ten, eleven years old — they will find my social media, they will listen to my songs, and I do have to be a bit careful about what I’m writing about: making sure that it is child-friendly. Which can be frustrating, sometimes. Even down to my EP artwork for Moth and the Meteor; that had to go through my council to make sure it was okay and suitable. As an artist, it’s very frustrating, but I love my class and I love the children, so it’s just part of the job.
It’s also time-demanding as well, obviously, but when I’m having a tough day with the children, coming home and working on my music is lovely.
Alice: I was thinking about this the other day, actually. Ideally, I would love the opportunity to take a sabbatical and to travel with my music: to do a short tour would be amazing. But that’s kind of a dream, and I don’t know if it would ever be a possibility for me. But, I enjoy my day job, so I’m quite happy just ticking along. Music’s always on my mind: I’m always thinking about the next project, trying to rehearse as much as I can, book gigs, keep social media ticking over. It’s a lot of work, but I love it.
Alice: Exactly. Especially in London, it is so saturated; there’s so much talent. I play a lot of open mic nights, and the talent that you see is incredible — you just think: Why are these people not signed? They’re amazing! But there are just so many of us out there making music, and making interesting, experimental music.
Alice: Well, growing up playing bass, I was really into bands like Tool, Nine Inch Nails — bass-heavy. But I always liked the electronic stuff like Aphex Twin and Four Tet as well. I like music that’s a bit sinister, that’s got a dark edginess but also an innocent naivety — like A Perfect Circle: that kind of sound. That’s what I try and do in my music, and my vocals can be quite cute and naive — I get that a lot — but I do try and balance that out with a bit of darkness. I like a bit of spookiness within the music.
Alice: YouTube has changed my life as far as my production is concerned, because I am basically a bedroom musician. Whenever I got stuck, I used to have to work through the manuals — that makes me sound so old! [laughs] They were like Bible-thick. But I use Ableton Live at the moment, and you can YouTube anything; I can usually figure something out through that. It’s an amazing tool for me. I don’t have to pay money for classes; you can just teach yourself. I really encourage my kids at school to do that as well. They can learn anything. It’s so cool, isn’t it? The internet is amazing. It can be really destructive, but it’s an amazing tool for artists.
Alice: It is complex. I’ve been working on electronic music for the last ten years; I started off with Cubase and worked my way through the programs. I flip between Logic Pro and Ableton now. They’re all fairly similar, in a way. But yeah, in many ways, anyone can just have a go at writing music, and that’s really cool.
Alice: I do a lot of work with field recordings, so I have a little Zoom recorder that I use. My track Insects: that was probably the hardest to try and record. I was recording insects, so that meant waiting until the evening — I had to go out into the country — and lots of hours of trying to get the right sound. I was trying to get wing beats, and the hitting onto glass of moths — and wasps, as well. That was painstaking. I trimmed them down, and that became the drumbeat. I’m proud of that; I think it gives it a real depth and makes it really interesting. It makes it interesting for me, too; I like taking unusual sounds and turning them into drumbeats. Same with my track Home, which is about London and how obsessed I am with the city. That was recordings that I did on the Tubes — the underground network — and then I sliced them up and created the drumbeat out of the sound of the Tube trains. Which I know isn’t a particularly original idea, but it’s like photographs: little snippets of my life and what I can hear. I always have my Zoom recorder in my bag, so I’m always recording this and that.
So yeah, that becomes my base, and then I build on that just using synths and other sounds. I play the electric violin, so I put a lot of violin into my music, and then obviously the bass as well. Finally, it’s the vocals. I don’t really enjoy singing — it’s not something that comes naturally to me — but for the kind of music I want to make, it’s a necessity. I’m kind of getting used to it, but I do find it hard. Especially live. I get really bad stage fright, so my voice does falter quite a lot when I play live. But, “Whatcha gonna do?” [laughs] I just have to try and get through it. The more I play live, the more used to it I become.
Alice: Yeah, without a doubt. I mean, I chose the bass guitar because I love the fact that you’re in the background: you’re playing the music, but you’re not out front. So, for me to be on stage by myself is terrifying. But I’ve got faith in the sound that I create, so I feel like I really do want to do it, and I like hearing the instant feedback and the response from the crowd when they enjoy … [laughs] “The crowd.” It’s rarely a crowd, I’ll be honest. There are not many people usually, but that’s good for me because I’m just starting out; I’ve only been playing live for maybe a year. Leaving the bedroom was hard after being a bedroom musician for so long, but I’m enjoying it; I’m getting there.
Alice: I don’t know; I’ve just always done it. I like having a bit of that organic sound: a bit of reality in there. Electronic can be quite sterile and robotic, which I actually really like as well, but I think the contrast is quite nice. And my music is very definitely home-made; I quite like that charm. It’s not perfect at all. It’s not a polished production — it’s full of glitches, strange sounds and issues with recordings [laughs] — but I think that gives it it’s own little charm.
Alice: Oh, gosh. That’s a tricky one. I’d say I’m quite naturally a creative person. My parents are both artists, and my brothers and sisters are incredibly creative.
Alice: Not really. I mean, my life is so hectic with teaching that when I come home, it really just floods out of me. I think if music was all I did, and when music was all I did at uni, it was quite stifling, but I’m just so busy and preoccupied with teaching, that anytime I have a moment to myself, it just comes out. I’m quite lucky in that way.
Alice: A bit of both, I think. My job is really academic: you’re teaching maths and literacy — obviously I try and make it creative, but at the end of the day, it can be quite… I don’t want to say dull, because that’s not true — [laughs] — but you’ve got a set curriculum you’ve got to teach to, so when I come home, it’s nice to just do what the hell I want.
Alice: For me, it’s all about the feel of the sound: like I was saying before about getting that balance between the light and the dark.
Alice: It just gives me something different. I’ve got a very standard job, and I love it, but it just gives me a goal; it gives me something to dream about. What do I daydream about? It’s always about music; it’s always about what I’m going to do next: the next gig, the next song, the next drumbeat, the next field recording. It takes up so much of my time and thought process, and it makes me really happy to have that. If I didn’t have that, I don’t know what I’d think about. I think I’d feel like I wasn’t really going anywhere, because I do the same thing, day in, day out. It makes me feel like I’m moving somewhere, and it’s satisfying. I don’t really have many people that listen to my music, but when people do find me — like you did — and they hear something in my music, then that’s amazing. So, I would like to try and share my music with more people, but it definitely goes against the grain for me as a person. I’m not a particularly extroverted person at all; I don’t feel comfortable on stage, but I do enjoy it, in a way. I get so nervous putting music out. It’s very scary putting yourself out there, but what’s life about? You have to force yourself to do these things, and I do get a lot of joy from it when people enjoy what I do.
Alice: It’s completely saturated, but you’ve just got to keep trying, really. And I think you’ve just got to keep trying to be true to yourself and not change your music to please the masses. I could make my music a lot more polished, and a lot more radio friendly, but it’s not me. I’m not a very polished person; I like being a bit scruffy, and real, and honest. I think it’s important that my music is real and honest. I don’t try and polish it too much.
Alice: I don’t really know what people think of when they think of my music, but generally it seems to be quite a true portrayal of me, because it is quite honest. People quite often say it’s got quite a magical, kind of ethereal vibe to it, and I really love that. I do love the whole sinister fairytale aspect of music, and I’m really glad that that comes through in my music.
When people see me, perhaps they think I’m more extroverted because of the pink hair. [laughs] I don’t know. I’m just Alice; I’ve always been like this. I’ve always been my own person, doing my thing, even if it meant I wasn’t always that popular: not the coolest kid on the block. Especially being interested in things like gaming, it didn’t always make you that popular. But that’s okay; I’m happy. [laughs]
I think technology has always been quite a natural thing for me. Growing up, me and my brother played lots of computer games, so I always had consoles around the house. Even now, as an adult, I’ll always try and treat myself to the latest console, and I just got the new PlayStation Virtual Reality. Technology: I’ve always been fascinated by it, and gaming, and how it can be used. I really do see games as a kind of art form, and I definitely think that that’s influenced my music as well in as far as the sounds that I like. And I really like soundtracks to games. Especially being the age that I am. I’ve lived through the changes in technology, and seeing it go from the old SNES to PlayStation VR is just incredible. I think it’s the same with my music. Being part of technology changing has been such a cool thing, and we’re really lucky to come through this and witness this. As much as I can see the negatives though my class — my children being obsessed with computer games — I do think there’s a lot of positivity that can come out of gaming.
I sound really nerdy, but I definitely would say it’s influenced my sound and the way I work. It’s just a hobby of mine that’s got a similar level of escapism to me — I’ll either go home and work on my music, or play a game.
Alice: I think you put yourself in a very vulnerable position. Playing my songs is like reading my diary, but that’s just the way it is. You have to do that.
Alice: That’s really special. The first time I played that song, my parents and my family hadn’t heard it, and I’m really close to my family. They came to that gig, and it was quite emotional. I was quite tearful on stage, and it was really nice. I write about things that I love: London, our relationship with London and ours as a family… We’re all a funny bunch. We’re like most families: we’re all a bit odd and and we’ve got our own quirks. But yeah, that song was just really about how important they are to me…
I really enjoy performing it. It doesn’t really matter if my voice falters, because I think the meaning is really apparent in that song, and I put so much of my heart into it. It’s just a little love song for my family. [laughs] Which is really cheesy, but the older you get, the more you appreciate them, definitely, and the closer I think we’ve become. So yeah, I love that song, and all the sounds and everything. It’s got an instrumental in the middle, and that just reminds me of — you know when you’re sitting on the train and you’re just looking out the window? It’s that introspective, watching-the-world-go-by, kind of feeling. It’s nice.
Alice: [laughs] What makes me smile? A lot of things make me smile. You know what? I’m really lucky. I’m naturally a very happy person; I’m a very positive person. I smile a lot. I do suffer with anxiety, but generally I’m a really happy, positive person. I’m really fortunate, because I know that’s not the case for everyone. But yeah, I can find a lot of joy in anything. I seek it out. I seek out the happiness. If it’s not readily apparent, I’ll hunt it down.
Alice: Not really. I don’t think my writing is particularly deep; I just write about things that make me happy. Like insects. And robots. That’s still one of my favourite songs that I wrote, actually. It’s not on the EP because I wrote it years ago, but it’s called R.O.B.O.T.S.G.O, and it’s totally inspired by playing computer games with my brother.
Alice: [laughs] Oh, my gosh! I like to think when people hear my music, they get an idea of who I am, and it’s a nice one, hopefully. I don’t know. It’s hard. I’ve never listened to my music as a listener, and I don’t get a great deal of feedback, because I don’t really have a big fan base…
Alice: [laughs] It does sound so sad. But I’m working on it!
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