The self confessed “poster girl” for Soundcloud shows us the darker side of RnB.
Wyoming isn’t known for its music scene but 25 years ago it birthed Alo Lee, Britain’s RnB take on Taylor Swift. Lee doesn’t just sing to you, she shares her troubles with you – relatable lyrics packed with raw emotion exhort you for empathy. You’re in it together but don’t fret, her seductive vocals layered over slick beats ensure this is two-way therapy. Recording and writing from her bedroom closet, Lee is a textbook case of musicians trying to catch a break online. We catch up with her to talk big egos, trashy TV and the skill of soulful songwriting.
You’ve been writing music for almost a decade. If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice when starting out, what would it be?
I’d probably tell my 15 year old self not to be afraid. I spent so many years questioning myself- wondering if I was good enough, if anyone would actually like songs that I wrote myself, if I was just another blonde girl that wanted to sing. I constantly questioned my self-worth. Part of me is happy now that I’m so self-critical because I always want to stay humble. Massive egos really turn me off, and being so hard on myself has really developed me. Being critical is fine, being scared isn’t. I wish I’d have been as fearless back then as I feel now.
Your latest track “Snake” is a fresh release. Can you tell us what the lyrics mean to you?
“Snake” is all about knowing full-well that something is utterly poisonous for you but being drawn to it anyway. I’ve been like that in so many relationships in my life – going for someone that is completely wrong for you, knowing that it will end in tears but taking advantage of that adrenaline rush. We all do it and I really wanted to write a song that captures that experience and I think “Snake” does that.
On the track you collaborated with Soundfauna and Casio McCombs. How did this come about?
I was sitting in my flat one night browsing Soundcloud and I came across this beat by Soundfauna called “Be$os”. Soundfauna had barely any followers, maybe like 200 at the time. It was so random that I came across the instrumental but I was completely fascinated by it and I immediately started writing to it. The lyrics and melody flowed like the song was meant to be. I messaged Soundfauna on Soundcloud and sent him the first draft of what would then become “Snake”. He loved it and gave me permission to use the beat but told me he couldn’t mix vocals. My great friend Casio was already producing “Mean It” for my EP so I asked him if he could mix the vocals and agreed. The amazing thing about Soundfauna’s instrumental for “Snake” is that he played each and every instrument on that track himself, all from his bedroom. His process is almost exactly like mine and I respected that so much. All of the producers and the rapper that I collaborated with on my EP are all bedroom artists. They’re all extremely passionate about the music and couldn’t give a shit about making any money from it. If the money comes, it’s a bonus. That’s how it should be. That’s the ethos I have and to collaborate with people that share that ethos. This makes this EP mean all that much more to me.
You’re the self confessed “poster girl” for Soundcloud but it took you a while to jump on the Spotify bandwagon, an unusual move for an emerging artist. Can you explain why?
The EP is actually on iTunes and Spotify now. Don’t get me wrong, I do love Spotify and love what they represent but I source ALL of my new music and producer-collaborations from Soundcloud and will continue to do so. The reason why I love Soundcloud so much is that anyone can upload their work. It’s like the Reddit of the music world and I fucking love that. I feel like it’s this incredible boundless expanse of creativity – I could sit on Soundcloud (and I do) for hours at a time just browsing beats from different producers. Some of these kids are like 14-16 and are making the most incredibly unique music all from their bedrooms, all across the world, and I can find them sitting on my laptop. There’s quite a lot of bureaucracy when it comes to Spotify and iTunes, understandably, but what I love about Soundcloud is that it’s limitless and unchecked.
You follow a ton of artists on Sound Cloud. Is this how you seek inspiration for your work?
100%. I know a lot of people obsess over keeping their ‘follow’ numbers down so they can look cool and aloof. I probably follow more people than follow me… I don’t really give a shit about that. I follow ANYONE on Soundcloud if I like what I hear and that makes my main stream on Soundcloud really varied. Whenever I log in there is constantly tons of new things for me to listen to. I follow really obscure producers and DJs and love to hear how they switch up current songs into their own personal styles. It gives me so much inspiration. I’m constantly creating Soundcloud playlists of songs which inspire me. A lot of times I’ll steal a beat from Soundcloud, write something to it, and then either message the original producer and ask if they want to work on the track with me, or I’ll just use the acapella and approach another producer to tailor make a completely new song with me. That is exactly how my process works. Without Soundcloud, the Twice Burned EP wouldn’t exist. Period. That’s what I did for every single track on the EP. “Electric Blue” was written originally on a beat that I randomly took from another producer’s page, I emailed it to him and never heard back. I then met Krysshun Livingood from Soundcloud who took the acapella and made the version that’s on the EP, which I actually like so much better.
Your Instagram profile says, “Songwriter 1st… Singer 2nd”. Do you see yourself walking down the path of a lyricist rather than a singer in the future?
My lyrics are what speak to people. They are the most important thing to me, creatively. My voice just so happens to be the vessel that I deliver them in. That’s how I see it. I honestly believe that writing saved my life. I am the kind of person that puts up a massive facade – I always pretend like everything is okay and I’ve got it all together. That takes a lot of effort, to put on this happy face and portray it to the world 24/7. When I sit down and write I just let everything out no matter how depressing or fucked up it is or how weak or vulnerable it makes me look or feel. It really is my form of therapy, it works for me. That’s why I say I’m a songwriter first. No matter what happens, I’ll always be writing.
Who is your favourite person to follow on Instagram, and why?
This is something that is constantly changing, but right now – hands down – I find myself going back to Rupi Kaur (@RUPIKAUR_). I first discovered her from the photo series challenging the tabboos surrounding menstruation that went viral online around January this year. Since then I’ve discovered that she is the most unbelievably talented poet and author. Her book “Milk and Honey” has become a bible to me in terms of inspiration for my music. She writes from a perspective of a woman who understands how it feels to be completely shattered into a million tiny pieces and rise from the pain of that and have the courage to find herself and put it all down on paper for the world to read. She is incredible to me. I hope my music and lyrics can inspire women like her words have inspired me.
Many mainstream artists of today don’t produce or write their own tracks. How do you feel about this?
I would actually contradict this statement and say how refreshing it is to see so many more singersongwriters breaking the mould and into the mainstream lately. Also, so many producers are making a name for themselves solely based on their incredible instrumentals. There are so many talented people out there, it just means going and looking for it. You don’t have to look very far, but you do have to look further than mainstream commercial radio. I don’t really listen to the radio anymore. I think there is a kind of renaissance of sorts going on in music right now. Take, for instance, someone like Mr. Carmack – he’s a DJ and producer but he’s gained a level of fame that only a singer could gain maybe 7-10 years ago. People are all about remixes and unique instrumentals lately. There are so many exciting singers and producers out there -people who do it ALL themselves – such as Ben Khan and MNEK. We have amazing and fearless women pushing the barriers like FKA Twigs. There are soulful artists putting so much pain and feeling into their lyrics and albums like Hozier. So I guess my answer to this question is, I don’t really listen to a lot of mainstream music. I know that might sound a little cliche but I just don’t. I like to explore and dig for the music I listen to, it gives me a lot more satisfaction that way and I always end up finding incredible artists that are massively underrated.
If you could choose anyone to write for, who would it be?
I would give anything in the world to bring Aaliyah back to life and hear her sing my songs and bring them to life with her voice.
Your music shows the darker side to RnB. Are there other styles that you’d like to experiment with?
I find experimental electronic music so fascinating but what I love is that a lot of RnB is really going in that direction so I feel I don’t have to sacrafice my love of that genre. I can take the aspects of RnB that I love and marry them with influences that are more electronic and experimental and make something incredible. That’s actually exactly what I’m doing for EP2, which is top secret but the world will hear soon. I’m working with some producers and we’re making some extremely left of centre sounds that I can’t wait to share.
What songs, if any, are your guilty pleasures?
Justin Bieber to me is a massive guilty pleasure. I honestly think that some of his recent stuff of his album “Journals” is so amazingly throwback RnB to me and brings me back to when I was 15 and listening to Jagged Edge and Omarion back in 2002. He’s gotten a bad wrap for some of his behavior, but the kid’s got a super smooth and sexy tone and I can jam the fuck out to “All That Matters” off of that album. It is pure babymaking music. If you played that for someone that was a huge RnB fan and didn’t tell them it was Justin Bieber, it would get mad props. I love the music for what it is – it sounds good to me and that’s all that matters.
What are your vices in life?
Trashy reality TV is hands down my biggest vice. Anything that you would be totally embarrassed to admit you watch? I probably watch it. I’m loving Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Love and Hip Hop Atlanta right now. Yaaaas gawd.
Tell us your favourite tune from Twice Burned, your debut EP.
I’d have to say my favourite track is probably “Electric Blue”. It’s just because that song had such a journey – it started as something completely different and transformed into the track it is now. It’s so haunting and honest to me. The song is me essentially fantasizing about a perfect sexual experience while I’m in a failing relationship. I’m hoping for something better and that feels like it will never happen. I was in an extremely vulnerable place when I wrote that, and every time I sing it or hear it, it brings me right back to that place; music is so powerful like that.
If weren’t in the music industry, what would you be doing?
I just can’t do anything but music. I can’t do anything and love it, at least. And if you aren’t loving it, what’s the point? I’ve tried… I have a full time office job right now. It makes me appreciate working hard for something, but every second I sit at my desk I’m wishing that I was in the studio writing music and it just kills me.I think if I wasn’t singing or writing songs, though, I’d love to go into artist development. I could totally see myself doing that one day. I think I have a good eye and ear for talent – I already source all my own production and artists for features on my tracks and I think I’ve found some incredible artists along the way. I think I’d really enjoy that.
Check out her site here.
Words: Christopher Maul
Photography: Hanna Hillier
MUA: Lauren Reynolds