Alma: "What the fuck is going on?"
21-year old Finnish songwriter Alma has already been tipped by one of the biggest pop stars on the planet - and this is just the beginning.
Published: 7:30 am, May 16, 2017
'Dye My Hair’, an inescapably infectious slice of tropical-infused pop that has clocked up millions of YouTube views and propelled Finnish powerhouse Alma into radio playlists worldwide, originally started out as a joke in the studio. “Someone said to me ‘You should write a love song’ and I said ‘Oh, that’s hard’. For me, love songs are like Bruno Mars singing ‘I’d catch a grenade for you’… Kind of clichéd, so ‘I would dye my hair blonde for you’ was just a joke; then we made a serious song about it. I wouldn’t ever actually dye my hair blonde for anyone,” the 21-year-old confirms, “but Bruno Mars wouldn’t catch a grenade for anyone either.”
The pop-star-in-waiting never expected it would be such a massive hit, though. “I’m kind of a pessimist,” she confesses. “I’m always telling everyone ‘Let’s see, let’s hope for the best’. But when you get a good response it always feels fucking amazing.” She’s currently enjoying her week back at home in Finland. “It’s very relaxing, even though I’ve got a big rehearsal week for my tour,” she says. “I get to sleep in my own bed and everything; I’m so happy.”
Growing up in Helsinki, music wasn’t something Alma experienced as a child. “Music is not our culture,” she considers. “My parents were not listening to music at all when I was growing up - it’s a bit different here.” Despite it not being an intrinsic part of her upbringing, it wasn’t long until she started discovering music, taking the time to trawl through YouTube as a teenager and stumbling upon Amy Winehouse, The Jackson 5 and Spice Girls. “I would listen to everything and discovered I really enjoyed music but didn’t really know why. My family is not musical at all, so it was weird, but when you’re a kid you start doing things that you like, and you don’t know why; even strange things…”
Singing quickly became one of Alma’s favourite things to do. “I was singing all the time to myself and listening to music all the time,” she remembers. “It made me feel some strange way, but it made me feel good. Even though it sounds stupid, it was just part of me growing up… Of course, when you’re a kid you say to your mum ‘I want to be a superstar…’ but that’s just because everybody wants to be something big and cool. But when I was a teenager I think those thoughts were gone, and I was a bit unsure about what I really wanted to do,” she recalls.
After finding music, Alma found her own voice and became a part of Finland’s “very small” music scene. “Everybody knows each other, whether you’re making rap or punk or rock, whatever. But it’s very hard to get into the circle; people are very tight and like a family. I don’t think they want to take the risk of welcoming new artists… Once you’re in, though, it’s easy.” Soon after, Alma discovered that she had another talent: songwriting. “I hadn’t really considered what I wanted to do, but music was the only thing I was good at,” she suggests. “I just don’t know how to do anything else.”
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Last year, Alma played The Jazz Café in London for a showcase hosted by Radio One DJ Annie Mac - who has previously called her ‘a badass’. It’s safe to say the experience has stayed with her. “I was quite nervous because my music was still very small and I didn’t know whether people would know my songs at all. But at the gig, people knew every lyric to every song,” she gushes, sounding genuinely humbled. “Personally, the most important thing is that I get to break through every day in the UK, so it was very strange and great that people were so lovely to me; especially because, in the UK, there are so many artists already.”
She needn’t have worried, though, as her brand of chart-ready genre-fusing bangers caught the attention of one of the world’s biggest music icons: Elton John. “One day I got a call from my manager who told me that Elton John had just played my song on his radio show. He was talking on the radio saying that he’s a big fan. Nobody knew anything about it; it was just that he discovered my music on Spotify and wanted to play it. For me, if you get a good response from a legend like that, it says something.”
She’s also toured with MØ, who she considers “fucking amazing - as an artist and a human. I was so honoured to be able to tour with her at such an early stage in my career.” What stuns Alma most, though, is when people know her songs. “That’s the craziest thing; I still freak out now. Wherever I go, if people know my songs, I’m like ‘What the fuck is going on?”
Talking about her fans, she refers to them as “the craziest people,” adding “I love them”. As for the vibe at her gigs, mosh-pits are a regular feature; “at my last gig in Copenhagen I went into the audience, and we created a moshpit. It’s fucking great; strange but cool and very energetic. People dance and have a good time. It’s not anything glamorous; it’s just new music, hanging out, drinking and having fun.”
As for an album, from what’s been recorded so far, people can expect “a new sound,” she enthuses. “I’m busy working on it, but there’s definitely more intimate, personal and experimental stuff. But also big pop songs with elements of everything, and maybe some cool features.” Talking of features, Alma’s next track is a potentially massive collaboration with dance producer Sub Focus. “He heard my song on BBC radio and got in touch saying he wanted to work with me. I’m a huge fan of his work, so I was like ‘Yeah, let’s do it’. I love house and dance things, and he’s the guy!” It’ll follow her festival-friendly second single ‘Chasing Highs’ - a song which she wrote three years ago about being in a club “kind of wasted. When I write my music, it can be just about one moment and ‘Chasing Highs’ is one of those…”
Looking to the near future, Alma has her sights set on playing shows in the USA, “playing cool gigs”, making music with cool people and just enjoying life. That’s the most important part for me. I want to do everything in my own time and keep it in my own hands. The most important goal is the album, of course: it’s my debut, so I need to make it perfect!”
Taken from the June issue of Dork, out now. Alma plays her first headline London show at Oslo, Hackney, tonight (16th May).