Interview with Alice Merton – touring, songwriting, and hints of a new album
by Austin J Schofield for the Mass Media
Austin Schofield: So, there are two main points I would like to cover with you today. The first is a perspective on your background as an artist, and the second is your touring career—touring now, in the future, and what you’ve done in the past.
AS: I have seen other sources categorize your work as country—
Alice Merton: I saw that the other day on Wikipedia; oh my god, I got a panic attack [sic]. I was like, ‘why would anyone consider my music to be country?’ I do not do country—I don’t have anything against country, but the music I make is definitely not country.
AS: All this said, if you had to define your music, how would you?
AM: I really hate defining music because it’s putting everything in boxes, and I find that really difficult. I guess if I had to define it I would say it’s alternative pop, because it’s not like the typical pop you would hear on the radio, but it’s still upbeat, it’s somehow got 80’s elements in it as well—I was very inspired by Queen, the Alan Parsons Project, even bands like Keane, for example, or Travis, Regina Spektor—so it’s hard to say what exactly influences it but I definitely think alternative pop is a good way to define it.
AS: Now, back in your last year of high school, you took a class in songwriting, and prior to this you played piano and clarinet, but would you say that the songwriting course played a pivotal role in how you became an artist, and the direction that you took?
AM: Definitely; for me, it was like discovering that I could do something that I never knew I was able to do. Without that course, I would have never discovered that I could write songs.
AS: Prior to that, were you already considering being a career artist, or were you still exploring other paths?
AM: I wanted to either become a pianist or an opera singer. I fell in love with opera when I was 7, I’ve played piano since I was 5, and I loved classical music, but I always felt like there was something missing—it annoyed me that it always had to be so perfect—the way the composer wanted it instead of the way that I wanted it. And honestly, I never considered a career in songwriting because it felt natural, and I thought to myself, ‘if it feels easy, there’s no point in doing it’—I should have it as a hobby, so I can enjoy it. I remember friends telling me to become a songwriter, but I stayed with classical. At some point, I realized I needed a break from this, and I had a friend tell me about this university where you can study songwriting, and so I applied and got in, and knew I had to give 100 percent at that point. And it wasn’t actually as easy as I thought—it’s crazy, but it’s so much fun.
AS: It’s known now that one of the biggest inspirations for ‘No Roots,” your top single, was all the moving around that you did throughout your early life. Would you say that this was the biggest inspiration for your music overall, or is there something else that drives you?
AM: I think that definitely did play a big role. My music—it’s hard to tell what country it’s from. You can’t listen to it and guess that I’m from the U.S., or England or Canada—so I think that has definitely played a role, with all the moves, in just creating a sound that I feel could be universal. But, it’s difficult to say if I’m honest. Can we come back to that?
AS: Definitely, I’ll come back to that towards the end. So, I want to shift into your touring now. So, obviously you’ve toured in both the U.S. and Germany. How would you compare the two?
AM: I love doing both. I don’t like the distances in the U.S. You have to fly everywhere, and you also have to take really long bus rides. Sometimes I think I prefer touring in Europe a little more, just because I feel like I’m near to home—but that’s weird though, because I grew up in Canada, so here I am, still near Toronto and everything—but I notice that when I am touring in Europe, I miss touring in the U.S...I think I need the balance. It’s hard to be in all of these places at once. I’m very, very restless. I don’t like being too comfortable in one place, so that’s why I enjoy touring. If I could change one thing about touring, it would be having more sleep, since I don’t get much sleep on tour.
AS: So, you definitely need more sleep, but what do you love about touring in the U.S.?
AM: Honestly, I love the feedback from people afterwards or before shows, getting to know the people, because, in Europe, often people don’t listen to the lyrics as they do in America, since it’s not their first language. When I’m in America, I feel like people are listening to the lyrics while I sing them. You get a different reaction—people here know what you’re saying and get really excited about it.
AS: Now, is there something particular you are looking forward to for your touring in 2020?
AM: We’re doing Austria, Germany and Prague—so the thing is, I didn’t want to tour too much in the beginning of the year because I want to finish working on the next album, which is coming out very soon. That’s something that is being worked on at the moment, and one of the reasons we are actually doing this show is because I was a coach on the Voice of Germany and now the people have a face to the music. So we figured we should do a tour at the beginning of the year because of that, but other than that I am just working on the album.
AS: So, can fans expect a release at some point in that year?
AM: I can’t say too much yet, but the concerts will have some new content from those songs. Deciding what songs will go on the album is also a very important decision to make.
AS: That’s exciting. Now, going back to that left-over question, do you feel like there is something other than your upbringing that acts as a general driver for you?
AM: A general drive—I think just trying to be the best version of my songwriting self I can be—that’s what drives me. I see so many other artists out there, and I just have so much respect for what they do. I think it’s also important to know what I love doing and what I feel comfortable in, but I like pushing myself and seeing how far I can go. That’s the thing about music, you never know when you’re going to write the next biggest song, even for you at least, or what markets it's going to suddenly just grow in. That’s something I have always found very fascinating; it’s almost like gambling.
AS: You say it’s kind of like gambling; did you imagine that ‘No Roots’ would pop off on that level back in 2016?
AM: Not at all. I was hoping that people would want to listen to it but I didn’t imagine that we would be on late night talk shows—I just honestly wanted to get signed to a label and be able to release music and tour, but that didn’t really happen so then we put out our own label. It’s been such a crazy ride, but I learned so much through that experience. I love it so much. I can’t tell people enough how much I love writing songs, even if, at some point, it’s just for other people.
Hobo Johnson plays the House of Blues in Boston - Show Review
by Austin J Schofield for the Mass Media
Following all the celebratory events for Veterans’ Day, Hobo Johnson and his band, The Lovemakers, came to the city of Boston to perform at the House of Blues last Monday, Nov. 11. Along with them came Mom Jeans, an American rock band, as their main opener for the tour. The two bands, both from California, have lined up stops across the United States and Canada. The Boston stop followed a New Jersey performance the night prior, on Nov. 10, and prefaced their visit to Toronto occurring two days later, on the 13th.
With a line starting from the entrance of the venue, stretching the entire length of Lansdowne Street and making it’s way far past the Cask ’n Flagon, one could tell as they walked up that this was going to be a packed show—and a packed show it was. With around 2,000 people in attendance, both the first-floor standing room and the upper level balconies and seating were just about filled up, making for a tight but intimate experience for fans.
A bit past 8 p.m., Nate Curry came on and performed a few songs. An emcee/crooner based in Sacromento, California, Curry kicked off the night with his relaxing and laid-back, yet still captivating style. Of his music, he also took a minute to discuss the influences he has had, and the reasoning behind his work, calling it “therapy.” He warmed up the crowd easily, between his music and his personality, cracking jokes and grabbing the audience's attention. At one point, he had the majority of the standing room waving their hands to the beat.
Following Nate Curry and prior to the main opener, Mom Jeans, The Philharmonik switched up the pace with a groovy, Stevie Wonder-style set that filled the venue with energy. Also coming from California, The Philharmonik is a hip-hop and soul artist with a diverse variety of music—he really has a song for everybody. That was certainly the case during this event, as him and his DJ had the crowd moving and roaring the entire time they were on stage.
To conclude the opening act, Mom Jeans finally arrived on stage and delivered what was arguably one of the best opening sets I have ever witnessed. Playing some of their most popular songs, like “Death Cup,” the Berkeley-founded band absolutely shredded through their set, exhibiting an unmatched and unprecedented energy from a modern rock band of this generation. With a tour of performances like this under their belt, it would be shocking if they didn’t recognize the palpable demand for a headlining tour and gear up for the road soon. Seriously.
After a diverse and animating group of opening acts, the Hobo Johnson & the Lovemakers time slot finally arrived. All the preliminary artists certainly took care of their responsibility to excite the crowd, as the anticipation was clearly heavy before Johnson’s appearance on stage. He and his band ironically ran out to Taylor Swift’s hit song, “Please Don’t Go,” which several of the band members chimed in and sang along to before they dramatically cut and went into their set abruptly. Johnson and the band went through a number of their more prominent favorites, like “Subaru CrosstrekXV,” and “Romeo & Juliet.” In the middle of his set, Hobo Johnson mentioned, “this is the biggest amount of people we’ve ever performed in front of.” That pressure did not deter him from putting on a show, however. Between Mom Jeans and Hobo Johnson, the House of Blues security staff practically got a workout from removing so many crowd-surfers from the amped-up audience. The quirky personality that Johnson shows in his music, specifically in his slam poetry, was shown to be true and organic as he consistently joked around about a pre-show fish sandwich bothering his stomach, and his Subaru … only one question lingers. Did Subaru get this man a bag?
Overall, Hobo Johnson & the Lovemaker’s Fall tour performance was a great experience, especially for someone with a diverse taste in music. Between the chosen openers, the set-lists for all performers, and the House of Blues experience, this was a night I could not forget.