Known for her electric beats and powerful stage presence, singer-songwriter ALISHA has just completed college and has proceeded to take the West Midlands music scene by storm.
Following frequent headline shows, including opening Birmingham’s Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival, and the release of her debut EP, Electric Impulses, ALISHA joined us to discuss representation, influences, and what it’s like working as an independent musician.
Our student writer, Sasha Jewel, finds out more.
So you come from Birmingham, which is an absolute melting-pot of music culture. How do you find working within the music scene there and do you think it was an ideal place to start off your career?
ALISHA: I think working in the music scene in Birmingham has definitely had a massive impact in launching my small success. Any sort of small victory is a victory in my eyes, and it was probably the right choice for me because of how diverse the music scene is there. It’s bustling with energy and I know that a lot of people are in the industry to support each other.
Your debut EP, Electric Impulses, was released back in October and includes five tracks. Are there any that are particularly close to your heart?
ALISHA: I think for me, at the moment, my personal favourite is Talk of the Town, just because I remember writing it. It’s a very personal track for me and it was based very much on how I was feeling at that moment.
I just happened to be producing at the time and I remember sitting in my living room and writing the chorus to it, singing to myself “Guess I’m the Talk of the Town, I don’t really know what to do”. I was just like “Ooh, I kind of like how that sounds”. I just think that excitement and enthusiasm to create really filled me up in that moment and I was just like “This is gonna be the one song”. I find myself listening to it a lot more than I would like to admit.
The cover for Electric Impulses is absolutely stunning – did you know early on how you wanted to present your work visually or was it a long work in progress?
ALISHA: I struggled a lot with the visuals of the EP, actually. I’ve had a lot of misfortune with events and my health actually – being a chronically ill musician is quite difficult – and I think, at the point when I released Without U, I didn’t really have a lot of material and I didn’t really have anything to release as the cover art. I worked with a photographer, Karen Mae, from my college and we had done a shoot a long time ago which, originally, was supposed to be used as material for Electric Impulses, but that fell through because I changed my mind on a lot of the tracks and I felt that our work together didn’t really represent what I had envisioned. I did end up using the material that I worked on with Karen for the covers of both Without U and Entranced, but then I did a shoot with photographer Ziggy Begley, and there was something about one picture from our shoot that I just could not let go of. It was just so stunning – the colours and the vibe – everything just felt so ME and it was exactly what I wanted this EP to represent. The strong shades of pink and blue… I’m very big on colours and when I saw how the picture turned out I thought “This perfectly represents the balance between the fun tracks like Entranced and Without U, and then the more solemn, heavy-topic tracks such as Talk of the Town, Out of Time and To Be Honest”, and I just thought “this is the perfect one.”
I understand it took quite some time to develop the self-assurance that you possess now. Could you explain to me how you came to build that confidence?
ALISHA: I feel like a lot of times I look to Lady Gaga. I’m a massive supporter of hers and I really look up to her as a creative and as an artist. There’s definitely a divide between the ALISHA you see on stage and on social media, and the real me. I started performing at open mics when I was 14-years-old and early on I was so shy and nervous – I couldn’t open my eyes and I could barely move. I just sang with a mic stand and I felt very immobilised, but after going to college I realised that I had to be more confident. It was sort of like an epiphany for me, because I just remember watching everyone perform and I was like “Everyone else is incredible”. I realised that I didn’t want to be a ‘mic-stand-singer’ anymore. I wanted to move on stage and be like the people that I look up to, so I would watch a lot of performance videos – (Lady) Gaga, Rina (Sawayama) and Charlie (XCX) – and I was like “What do they do?”.
You sort of let go on stage. You let go of that stigma that people are going to judge you. You have to understand that if you look shy and nervous on stage, that is exactly how people are going to perceive you. If you act confident and you put on this front that you are strong and you are a powerful musician, then people are going to see exactly that. Whatever you put out is whatever you portray. There’s a reason why I wear those 6-inch platforms on stage – I have to keep up with that image.
It is also clear to see that you have built a remarkable knowledge when it comes to self-promotion and knowing how to put yourself out there as an unsigned artist. Could you give our readers any tips on how best to manoeuvre around the industry on their own?
ALISHA: A lot of my promotion and the more technical side of everything comes from the brains of my brother. When we were planning out the EP we had a game plan of how we were going to release it and what we were going to do.
I definitely think that understanding colour theory and what colours your music portrays is important. If you don’t have a good grasp on what your song means and how it makes you feel, then you won’t be able to market it properly. When I released Without U, I knew that it was a very electric and dancey track and in my head, when I listened to it, I thought “This is a blue track. This feels like dancing in a night club and just feeling like ‘let loose’”. You have to understand what is unique about you and what is going to draw people in. Once you get that figured out, it’s pretty much keeping the ball rolling from there.
Representation, individuality and inclusivity are important themes for you – could you tell me how you plan on incorporating ideas surrounding this in your future work?
ALISHA: I always make it very well known that I am mixed-race. On both sides I am considered a minority in the UK, and I want it to be very well known that I am part of the LGBTQ+ community – I’m not an ally, I am a part of the community – I want those things to really be at the forefront, representation is really important to me.
I’m not a huge fan of parasocial relationships, instead I want people to listen to my music and to see me and understand that there is a safe place and that people like me can perform and make music – people who are minorities, or part of the LGBTQ+ community and even people who are considered disabled. You know, I’m battling with disabilities of my own all the time, and I want to be someone people can look at and be like “I can do it too”. I don’t want to be someone people idolise, I want to be someone that gives people motivation and makes people feel safe.
I want it to be known that the woman people see on stage is bisexual, whether that can be done by changing pronouns in covers or switching up pronouns in my own songs. I feel like there is a lack of representation in the music industry, at least in Birmingham. I don’t feel like I’m seeing big artists that are in minority groups. I would love to see more African artists, Indian artists, Asian artists – anything. I’d just love to see more diversity.
And finally, what does the future have in store for you? Have you got anything particular in the pipeline?
ALISHA: I’m not sure how much I can say, but there is definitely quite a big project coming out, as well as new music and a few more little things here and there that I’m working towards. One thing I can say is that I have a show in Sheffield in February, which has not been officially announced yet. But yeah, I’m constantly working on things and I think if I can say anything it’s just.. Keep looking out for any announcements!
Author: Sasha Jewel