The Other S.I.D.E.: A Q&A with Alice Merton

Ahead of her stop in Portland opening for Bastille on May 24, Alice Merton talked to Indie/Alt about her new album, S.I.D.E.S. (out June 17th via Paper Planes), touring in the States for the first time in three years, and what got her through the pandemic

Indie/Alt: This is the first time that the US is able to hear some of these new songs and the first time that you’ve come to the States since before the pandemic. How does it feel to finally be touring live over here again?

Alice Merton: It definitely feels different. I mean, this is our first time on a tour bus in three years, so I think we’re all kind of just adjusting to that lifestyle again. Even when we toured last year in Europe, we were staying at hotels or we were taking cars and trying to be very careful with COVID. We have a smaller group, obviously, because we’re opening up for Bastille, but it’s taking some getting used to sleeping on a bus again and playing shows again. But it’s really nice to be back in the States and they’ve been very welcoming.

Is it nerve wracking playing over here as well? Because you know, the States are kind of notorious for being a little odd when it comes to COVID stuff. 

Gosh, it’s difficult. This wouldn’t be my comfort zone, but I think it’s important in life to venture outside of the comfort zone if you want to do something you love, and if you’re passionate about something. If it was up to me, I’d probably wrap myself in cotton wool and never venture outside. But I will always choose performing over my—it’s bad to say my health, but yeah. Just because I know I have to push myself sometimes out of my comfort zone. Otherwise I’m just never going to leave my apartment.

That’s very fair. I felt the same way going to shows and starting to get back into that too, but it’s definitely a great experience to finally be doing that. 

I wouldn’t be ready to actually go to a show yet to be honest. I see people there and I think it’s great, but as a show goer, I am still very nervous about that.

I’d love to know a little bit about this new album you have coming out, S.I.D.E.S. What’s been the biggest inspiration in writing this record? 

I think the biggest inspiration for me was learning to let go, learning to accept things the way they are, and also realizing that there’s always going to be a light at the end of the tunnel. For a very long time, I felt like I couldn’t get out of a certain headspace, even with therapy and even with a lot of other stuff. I think the best remedy I realized was needed was just time.

What does the title of the record mean to you? I’ve been very curious. 

Well, I started noticing that I was using the word ‘sides’ a lot in the music. For example, “Same Team,” we’re not two sides of the same team. Or, I wrote a song called “Blindside” where it talks about seeing someone’s hidden side much, much later on and wondering who’s to blame: yourself or the other person. So I kind of felt like that was an appropriate title for the album. I realized that life is just a sum of sides. You keep going from one to the next and at some point, you think you’re great and then something happens and you fall down again. So, I kept wondering to myself, when am I going to get to the other side?

You’ve released quite a few singles for this album, but what yet to be released song are you most excited for people to hear?

I’m very excited for “The Other Side,” which is the last song on the album. A lot of this album is darker than the first album, but “The Other Side” is kind of like the light at the end of the tunnel. I wrote it when I had that first moment of actually feeling good again, and realizing that I might not be on the other side, but I know I’m going to get there.

You said that this record is darker than the first album. How has the sound changed between Mint and S.I.D.E.S.?

I think the sound has just become a little bit darker because of what happened around me. This [album] talks about the experiences I had during COVID. I didn’t feel like writing a happy fun album. I wanted to write something that I was feeling at that time. I think that’s the main difference. It’s very introspective on how I see things, what happened, why I felt so deceived. I’d say that’s the reason it’s a darker sound. It wasn’t something I set out to do because I wanted to. It was something that just kind of developed organically. 

Being in that headspace and writing about hardships that you faced through the pandemic, was that a difficult thing to put that pen to paper?

In the beginning it was very difficult, even just to motivate myself to talk about how I was feeling. But I always remind myself that it’s how I help cope with certain things and that really helped. In the beginning, I didn’t want to talk about it. I also just spent a month in bed feeling sorry for myself, feeling like the world was going to end and questioning every single thing, even my job. But then at some point I was like, I can’t do this for the rest of my life. I have to actually get out of bed and live life, even if it feels like there’s not a light at the end of the tunnel. Which is how it felt in 2020 with everything going on in the world.

What was getting you through that time? Were there any albums or music that you were listening to a lot?

Honestly, I wasn’t listening to that many albums at the time. The only thing I really remember is watching series after series. I was watching Handmaid’s Tale, Breaking Bad. And actually, these series inspired the writing in the beginning because they were so dark. When I’m feeling down, I don’t want to listen to happy music. I want to listen to even darker music or watch even darker series. So that definitely helped spike the inspiration for the album.

In between your first album and this album, your sound has changed, but how have you seen yourself as a person grow?

I think I’ve just become more confident with the process of making an album, and more confident with going with what feels right. I often got asked, why did you decide to take it in this direction with the production? Why did it become darker? And honestly, it’s never really something that I do consciously. It’s more something that happens organically because of how I feel. I’m very in tune with my feelings, and somehow it’s really easy for me to turn that into a sound. As soon as I feel something, I like creating a sound that then mimics that feeling. And I think that’s honestly what my goal has always been.

For fans that both know you and will also be finding your music for the first time on this tour, when people come to watch your opening set, what are they getting?

They’re getting a mix of the old album, but also partially some new songs that we are playing here for the first time. So it’s really great to try those songs out and see if people react to them. And honestly, just a good time. 

Is there a song that has been getting really great crowd feedback from this new album?

I’ve been very excited to play “Vertigo” live because we haven’t played that live in America since I released it last year. So people have been reacting really great to “Vertigo.” “Same Team” we played a little bit differently in the live setting, so that’s always fun too.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your day! We’re really looking forward to seeing you in Portland again.

Yeah, I am too! I’m very excited for the Portland show. Portland is my secret favorite city in the US. Every time I come to Portland, there’s something about that place that just gets me.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity. Alice Merton will play the Keller Auditorium in Portland with Bastille on Monday, May 23rd. Tickets are available at PORTLAND’5 Center for the Arts. S.I.D.E.S. will be out June 17th via Paper Planes Records. Preorder the record and find more information and tour dates at alicemerton.com.

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