Alice Russell is natural, pure natural talent, a natural presence, a force of nature. Whether on a big stage with her 16 piece band, charming a crowd of 4000 into staying out dancing in the rain (as she did at Montreal Jazz Festival) or rocking out an intimate club set with a stripped down 6 piece band, she’s a singer who demands attention. Unfazed by taking to the spotlight after a sober Amy Winehouse or joining Roy Ayres live for ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’, there’s no wonder her powerful soul voice has attracted rave reviews from numerous national and international publications and praise from fans as diverse as Gilles Peterson, David Byrne, Dennis Coffey, Massive Attack’s Daddy G, and Groove Armada.
Alice has also won over a whole brace of producers – lending her strong, emotional tones to releases by Mr Scruff, Quantic and Nostalgia 77, the latter pairing producing the ‘Seven Nation Army’ cover that demolished clubs for years. But following her first release 'Under The Munka Moon' it’s her records with longtime producer and bandleader TM Juke that she’s best known for. From their debut album ‘My Favourite Letters' through to 2008’s live-tinged ‘Pot Of Gold’, they have made some of the most arresting blues soul since the glory days of Aretha.
“We’ve both got a very open approach to writing songs,” she explains of the prolific relationship. “And we both like so many different types of music whereas some people are more purist. Our influences run from Sarah Vaughan to Bach, Kate Bush to Arvo Part, and J Dilla to Alice Coltrane. We love everything from dirty, squelchy dub step to old school soul. We nudge each other in the right directions.”
The direction they’re nudging each other in right now is towards the synthesizer rack. A love of Prince’s upbeat ‘Dirty Mind’ album and tracks like ‘Controversy’ are leading to a new sound for the upcoming album.
“We’re writing and recording as we speak,” Alice exclaims. “It’s sounding like a cross between ‘My Favourite Letters’ and something much newer. Obviously my voice is there, which brings out that soulful, emotional sound, but there are a lot more synths. It’s a bit more punk electro soul. Yeah!”
If you’ve seen Alice perform live recently you might not be surprised; her December show at the Forum in London saw her take to the stage with her traditional horn section backed up with synths, while smaller gigs have showcased the pacey songs with a four piece set up that sounds rocky. As much as she loves being in the studio there’s something special about Alice let loose on an audience.
“Being on stage is more instant,” she admits, suggesting the reason why she limited herself to just three takes on each song on ‘Pot Of Gold’. “I like things when they’re quite free. In the studio it can be like when you know someone’s taking your photo. Writing in the studio is amazing but when you’re doing takes it can be a bit daunting, but also really exciting. Live you can’t take it back – you’ve got to go all out there.”
It has led to some great experiences, like when she stayed on in Japan to visit the village where the promoter was from: almost like a 50s teen movie, a deal was struck where Alice would have free reign of the hotel for her stay if she did a gig.
“Of course we said yes,” Alice says with delight. “Babies and grandmas all turned up and there we were with a makeshift sound system thrown together out of amps and speakers. It was one of the most heart warming gigs I’ve ever done.”
Other live highlights include singing with The Roots in Philadelphia, while recording has seen her sing on Talking Heads leader David Byrne’s recent LP. Surely belting out the intensely emotional songs must get a bit tiring. Apparently not.
“It’s a great emotional release,” Alice smiles. “And sometimes makes you feel really high, especially when you’re singing the high notes. If you’re feeling rubbish and everything else feels like it’s going wrong you feel better if you have a good singsong.
"Working with a singer like Alice was something new, terrifying and ultimately amazing."
- David Byrne
"....one of Britain's best kept secrets"
"...lush strings combined with Russell's intense, declamatory tones result in a strikingly soulful makeover..."
"Amy Winehouse will wish she could produce an album half as good as this....Alice is a wonderful soulful, bluesy vocalist backed by a band that's tighter than an Aberdonian during the credit crunch"
- Daily Express
"...her vocal style has a gritty power and authentically raw soulfulness..."
- Venue Magazine
- Word Magazine
Alice Russell Official’s tracks