Yesterday, Harness Magazine’s Katie Harriman snagged a chance to sit down with Alice Merton, singer + songwriter of her hit debut single, No Roots (yeah, we’re excited, too!).
Born in Germany, Merton travelled frequently due to her father’s job, bouncing from Europe to the US to Canada, then back to Germany and the UK. After moving to Berlin, Alice and her manager Paul Grauwinkel founded the record label Paper Plane Records. Subsequently, they released Alice’s hit single, No Roots, which reached number one in US alternative radio charts (cue the confetti!).
We could go on and on about Alice’s incredible career, but we won’t keep you waiting any longer. Let’s get to the juicy interview where Alice talks Coachella (obvi), her body’s reaction to performance and her complicated relationship with friendship:
Katie: Can you tell us what it’s been like performing at Coachella?
Alice: It was a lot of fun. I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy it this much. I mean, the first weekend, I was super nervous. The second weekend, we just had a lot of fun. So yeah, no, it was really cool.
Katie: Why weren’t you expecting to enjoy it so much?
Alice: Well, I mean, I guess with festivals, I get really nervous when I go on stage. And so, this time it was just something that I just really enjoyed. And I think I’ve been asked in so many interviews, “are you excited for Coachella?” And I think that builds up. So, you go into it almost with a, not a negative idea, but just you’re nervous—because I felt like, people can watch it online as well, and expectations might be big, so that’s why from my perspective, I was just like, am I going to enjoy this? But we went around and watched other acts as well, and it’s so much fun to just see different artists, and the vibe is very, very nice.
Katie: So it’s a lot of pressure leading up to the event?
Alice: I felt like that. But I think it’s just because I’m from Europe. I get a lot of “Oh my God, you’re playing Coachella,” and that’s why it just felt like there was a little bit of pressure. But no, in the end, it’s another festival that’s just a lot of fun to be at. People are cool, so it’s cool.
Katie: So at Harness Magazine, we focus a lot on mental health. And we let women share their stories from all around the world, whatever their personal experiences are. Can you speak to the mental health of the pressure and the nerves before you go on stage? What’s it been like for you traveling and touring in the United States? Because this is your first U.S. tour since the album came out, right?
Alice: Well, I think you have both sides. You’ve got the side where you love touring, and you love being with your band, and making music for everyone. But then on the other hand, you have that side where you’re in a new place every day, and there’s no continuity sometimes. The only thing that’s continuous is the actual schedule. Everything else changes, and it can be tough.
There’s a lot of times where I see a lot of my friends who actually aren’t artists, and them growing and having families. I don’t know, I love performing, but I don’t think my body loves performing. I feel like my body always tries to fight against it. But my soul and my heart are like, “I love this job.” We’ve got six flights next week—we’re in a different city every day. And it gets tiring, and it challenges your mental health a lot.
I guess everyone has different ways of dealing with it, whether it’s meditating or breathing, but I have phases where I’ll feel really sick before a show, and I’ll be like, “I can’t do this, I don’t want to do this.” But then the other part [of me is] like, “you love this. You love performing, you love writing songs.” And it’s trying to figure out that balance, and being like, well, how much of this can I do without actually harming my voice, harming my soul? I’m still trying to find time to come back and relax and enjoy the other parts of living, and not just touring, but also building a foundation.
Katie: So, do you meditate? Do you do any kind of exercises for that? Because it seems like, for most artists, they experience wanting to do these things and then it’s so much stress, and it’s so much stress on your voice. How do you handle that on a daily basis?
Alice: I’m trying to be more careful now with vocal chords. Because I do realize if you have a show every day, you really have to be careful. I try and steam and do vocal warmups before I go on stage—I find that breathing is really important because sometimes I’ll have a show in two days, but it’ll be a really important show, and then I’ll notice two days before that I feel nauseous. Like, why am I feeling nauseous? And then I’ll connect the dots and realize it’s because of the performance. And so, it’s something I don’t even notice. But the only thing that helps me is either chewing gum, and actually, that’s one of the reasons why I called my album Mint—because the only thing that helps me when I’m nervous, other than breathing and meditating, is chewing mint gum. So, yeah, it has a really good effect on me.
Katie: Okay, so about the album, your single No Roots, that’s about being a nomad. And I know you’ve traveled a lot and lived in a lot of places. Can you speak to that?
Alice: I’ve moved around 13 times now. It prepared me for tour life, I think. Not really having that base just made me feel almost like a nomad on the road, as well, which is great. But you still have your family on the road, which is nice. And I don’t know, it was difficult as a child. Now, I’m dealing with the aftermath of everything, realizing that it’s hard for me to find friendships that are very profound and very deep because I never had that.
Every time I was in a city, I’d be there for two years, three years, and then part of me knew, okay, I’m [leaving] anyway, so why bother really making friends? I have a few very close friends, but I found out that friendship, for me, is something totally different than friendship for other people. I think with every experience, you have to face the consequences of that as well, and that’s something I’m just now going through.
Katie: So, what is friendship for you?
Alice: I’ve realized all my friends are very weird. And so, I like finding something in that, because it just makes me feel really at home to have these people. But there’s something about them that makes them very unique and special, and I love that. And I think that’s what draws me towards them, but also, they’re friends that I’ve had since I was maybe nine years old, or 10 years old. Even the ones I meet later on, I’m just very picky with that. I don’t know, it’s really hard to describe.
I love being with people and being social with people, but when you can only tell someone in three months advance that you’re going to be there and hey, let’s meet up in three months, it’s difficult, you know? I love meeting new people, but I find it really hard to dig in deep to the roots of that.
Katie: Is that something that you are exploring in your music? Do you spend a lot of time writing when you’re on tour?
Alice: Definitely, yeah. If I have something on my mind, I’m always writing it down, always.
Katie: So you’ve been touring since January in the United States, is that right?
Alice: No, we came here about two weeks ago. We toured Europe first, so we started with the European promo, and then we went on the European tour. Then we came to America, and we’ve got one more week of the American tour, and then we go back to Europe for some festivals.
Katie: What’s after that? What comes next?
Alice: I definitely want to be in the studio a little bit more. But I also want to focus on myself and my mental health, as you guys are saying, of just realizing what the next chapter is. Because, with me and songs, if I have nothing really to say to people, I wouldn’t put out an album. I don’t have the pressure of anyone telling me I have to put three albums out within six years. And if I feel like I need to say something to the world, I will. And I’ll put it in music, but if I don’t, then I won’t. And so, I’m just going to see what happens, I guess.
I don’t like forcing things. I feel like music always comes to me or speaks to me if there’s something I feel like I need to share. The last three years have been like that. The fact that I moved—that’s something I just needed to get off my chest. And now it’s off my chest, and obviously, there’s still parts of me that are going through that again, and again. But it gets better.
Katie: Very cool. Is there anything that you would want to tell your fans about you that they might not know?
Alice: I get told a lot that I seem very confident on stage, and I think I want people to know that behind a lot of confidence there can be a lot of fear. And in my case, there definitely is. I love performing, but every time before, I will feel super sick.
I remember as a child, I would do piano competitions, and my leg wouldn’t stop shaking. I always thought it wasn’t normal. I’m always asking my dad, “am I the only one whose going through this, this badly?” And he’s like, “I don’t know, nerves are normal.” But in my case, I always felt like it was just so bad. I always thought I wasn’t meant to do this.
So, I want people to know that even if your body is telling you something, if your heart is really burning for something, and you really want it, and there’s a real fire, definitely don’t be scared to try it. I get scared every time I go on stage, but it’s such a nice feeling because you feel rewarded. It’s really important to get out of that comfort zone and just try something. Try it, and if it doesn’t work, then don’t do it. But, sometimes it can be this wonderful feeling that you just discovered.
Katie: What is that reward for you?
Alice: My fans’ reactions. I feel rewarded through their reactions, and through the fact that people will come up to me and be like, “Your song helped me through this time. I was going through a tough time.” I feel rewarded when I get letters or just seeing how they react to the songs when they know it by heart—when they sing along to the lyrics. It’s just weird because you’re like, “Wow, I wrote this somewhere else, in a really weird time and it means this for me,” but for someone else, it could mean a completely different thing.
Follow along on the Harness Instagram account to receive live updates on Coachella. Also, be sure to check out Alice Merton for her amazing music!