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Interview: Alessia Cara on her debut single 'Here' + forthcoming music.

Interview: Alessia Cara on her debut single 'Here' + forthcoming music.

Alessia Cara’s single ‘Here’ epitomizes the night we’ve all dreaded but eventually had - one where you’re stuck in a corner at a boring party wondering why you ventured out of your house. Not many songs give light to the experience of being socially uncomfortable and out of place, and fewer still do it with such stellar vocals and smooth R&B inflection.

Cara was recently signed to Def Jam, and is already working to provide fans with highly anticipated follow-up content after the massive success of ‘Here’.

In between writing and touring, she’s accruing famous fans - including Taylor Swift, who recently applauded Cara’s rendition of ‘Bad Blood’ for BBC Radio 1.

Alessia chatted with us about girl-power idols, introverts, and feminism...

"The media out there, and life in general, make you believe certain things that aren’t true. Sometimes it’s good to have reminders that you don’t have to look or act a certain way to be happy with yourself."

COUP DE MAIN: We really love everything you’ve put out so far! ‘Here’ is such a rare song because it’s about being introverted and tired of socializing. What inspired you to write it?
ALESSIA CARA: It’s based on a true story! I went to a party a year-and-a-half ago or two years ago, and I felt really uncomfortable. I didn’t realize why I was there or what I was doing there, or how to interact with people. Those things wouldn’t get out of my head, so the next day I had a studio session with a producer and we were just writing songs. I just thought we should write about it because it isn’t a topic that is touched upon too much. I thought we should just write a song about it.

CDM: In pop-culture there are so many token texts about being a male loner, and for men being introverted is perceived as braininess or insightfulness. For women, sometimes wanting to be at home is coded as being pathetic instead. Why do you think that is?
ALESSIA: I don’t know! I guess it’s kinda good I wrote about it in the song. I don’t really think I was trying to shed light on the women who are like that, but it’s interesting that you say that. In a way, it is speaking for those women who feel that way. When we made the song I wasn’t even signed. It was just us making songs. It was unintentionally relatable, I guess. Women, especially, are coming up to me and saying, ‘It’s so good there’s some light shed on us and our stories, and what we’re feeling.' It definitely wasn’t intentional, but I’m glad that it speaks for that demographic now, for sure.

CDM: You premiered a song called ‘Scars’ at TEDxTeen. It’s really empowering and seems directed at a friend with self-confidence issues. Do you often write songs for friends? Where does that type of empowering content come from?
ALESSIA: Definitely for friends, but for myself also. I wrote that song for myself and also for everyone who is going through that. It’s a topic that’s so big and so serious. People go through that all the time - especially young women. There’s not one girl who can’t find something about herself that she doesn’t like, you know? It’s just a constant thing. The media out there, and life in general, make you believe certain things that aren’t true. Sometimes it’s good to have reminders that you don’t have to look or act a certain way to be happy with yourself. I definitely need that every day. You go through that; all women do. It was directed at all women as a reminder.

CDM: As feminism is becoming more recognized in media, it feels like more artists are coming out with songs aimed at empowering women. At the same time, there still exists songs that glorify abuse and other things that diminish women. Looking forward at the rest of your career, do you want to continue writing songs that are particularly empowering to women?
ALESSIA: Yeah for sure! I do. I think the good thing about it is, even if you make a song for yourself or if you make a song unintentionally, a lot of people will end up relating to it anyway. I think people are so much alike. Even if you write a love song about something you are going through, I bet there will be a thousand people who can relate to it and are going through the exact same thing. I definitely want to keep writing about these things. The world sometimes needs little reminders, and I know I definitely would’ve liked to hear something positive.

CDM: Do you think it’s becoming easier for young women to assert their point of view in the music industry? 
ALESSIA: I think so. I think as we continue on in life, I hope that women will be taken more seriously. I’m glad there are strong female figures, especially in music, who are able to say what they want. It helps other young women be able to say what they want. I think there’s definitely a shift in music where young women are doing things independently and saying what they want to say. You have people like Lorde or Tori Kelly - just all these girls who are coming out and saying things and making music. It’s a kind of independence that I really love, and I hope I can be one of those people.

CDM: You already are! You’ve said that you want to have albums as bodies of work rather than just a collection of singles. You’re currently working on your first album - what do you want the central narrative of that to be?
ALESSIA: I want it to sound like it’s coming from a young girl’s brain. Because it is! I want it to be my thoughts and my emotions, but at the same time have it be relatable to everybody. I would never write something that nobody else is going through - which I think is kind of hard anyways. I guess it’s just my personal thoughts and feelings and my views on the world. I guess my intention for other people is that they can find at least one song they can identify with.

CDM: You’ve transitioned from life at home, taking a gap year before college, to touring a lot. Is it harder to find places of inspiration? Or is it just different?
ALESSIA: Yeah, because I’m always running around. It’s just hard to find time. You can get bogged down and just want to sleep. At this point of life, I think it’s about going out and sharing what you already have. As I go on and settle down and start to experience different things, I’ll find more inspiration. And I think there’s inspiration everywhere anyways. You’re traveling, you’re meeting new people. There’s inspiration with that in itself.

CDM: What’s been your favourite part about touring so far?
ALESSIA: Seeing all these different places! I’m from Canada, so most of these places I’ve never seen. I went to San Francisco and Miami and all these beautiful places I’d never been. I’m obsessed with watching interviews on radio stations, so the fact that I’m meeting these people and getting interviewed by them is really cool. I’ve always watched them and now I’m a part of them, which is really strange but cool.

CDM: Our upcoming issue is girl-power themed. Who epitomized girl-power for you growing up?
ALESSIA: There are a lot of people. My Mom is a really empowering person. She came from a really small place in Italy and she didn’t know how to speak English. She came here at 18, learned English, got a job, and raised kids. That was empowering to watch, in and of itself. She was indirectly a great influence on me because I just watched her do all that and heard all her stories. In terms of artists, I love Pink. She was so empowering to me growing up. I think she’s the earliest girl-power person that I loved. I remember loving The Black Eyed Peas and loving Fergie because she was in a group of all guys and was so cool. I love Amy Winehouse too.

CDM: We’re asking everyone this question for the issue: do you think gender equality does or doesn’t exist?
ALESSIA: To be honest, I don’t think it’s fully equal now. I think there’s always gonna be a double standard and we see that all the time - whether it’s in music or just in general life. Girls are always gonna be struggling to get that equality. But that’s why feminism has become bigger and bigger, because it’s still an issue. People don’t get it. People don’t even understand what feminism is! They think it’s anti-male or something, but it’s fighting for that equality that isn’t there yet. It’s just a struggle all the time. It’s obviously a lot better than it was.

CDM: Do you think the pop-culture conversations about feminism are productive and good overall?
ALESSIA: I do! I definitely do. You see that in music all the time. People bash a female artist for talking about a past love or something, but then when a male does it, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a thing that exists all the time. I definitely think that that conversation in pop-culture is needed and female artists talking about that stuff helps.

CDM: Over the past couple of years, there’s been a resurgence of R&B artists. Tinashe released her album to great reviews, and other artists are producing a similar type of music. You’ve been categorized as R&B as well. Do you feel conflicted about being put in a genre? FKA twigs said she didn’t want to be referred to as 'alt R&B' because she feels that designation is sort of based on race. 
ALESSIA: I’m probably only being categorized that way because I only have one song, and that one song sounds like that. But once my other stuff is released, you’ll notice it’s not that. It really is multi-format, and I tried to make it that way because I love so many different genres. I love R&B and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not 100% accurate to my whole album. I think overall, I do make pop music but it has an alternative aspect to it that people classify as R&B based on ‘Here’.

CDM: You started out with a YouTube channel and got ‘discovered’ through that platform, which is taking precedent over the traditional way with A&R scouts. When you first started the channel, was it with the intention of eventually getting signed? Or were you just having fun and messing around?
ALESSIA: I don’t even know what my intention was. Initially I did it because I was really shy to sing in front of people. My Mom asked why I didn’t just post videos and put them on Facebook or something. People would know I can sing, but if I messed up I could rerecord it. It was just kind of a way to get my voice out there, because I think I did eventually want to have a career in music, I just didn’t know how to do it. That was just a way to expose it. I kept the channel because I like doing covers and a lot of people followed me on there. But I definitely didn’t think I would get signed to a label - that’s the last thing you think would ever happen.

CDM: And lastly, do you have any plans to visit New Zealand any time soon?
ALESSIA: I really wanna visit! I don’t know how or when, but I want to get there. Whether it’s for this song or my next single or promoting the album, I’d love to visit.

Alessia Cara's debut single 'Here' is out now - click HERE to purchase via iTunes.

Watch the music video for 'Here' below...

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