While some artists start their careers playing Jägermeister-soaked dingy rock clubs, Nashville’s alt-folk pop chanteuse Alicia Blue instead started her career at a Thai restaurant in Los Angeles, singing phonetically in Thai. “I wanted to legally YouTube the songs and there would be English phonetic subtitles for pronunciation. That was all I needed,” she admits.
While her career singing at that restaurant in Los Angeles’ Thai Town didn’t quite make it to celebrity status in the area (“We ended up getting fired and replaced by this older, kind of sexy Thai woman who definitely did a better job than me singing in Thai,” she laughs), it introduced her to one of her mentors, a woman named Nong, who helped her hone her musical creativity… leading her to this point in her career.
Alicia Blue may not have the third line / 36 pt. font size of one Bonnaroo or the Newport Folk Fest tent that Brandi Carlile or Laura Marling command, but if I were a betting man, I’d encourage you to place all your chips on her. Her new fantastically lush EP Internal child labor part 1 wields the punch of Lissie, Sharon Etten and Angel Olsen with a sharper indie edge. She wades through dark indie streams with her song “Saline Waters,” which bottles the melancholy of early Tears for Fears with the sexy noir by Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”. She gets really poppy and melodic on “DTMTS (Tell me not to smile)” that sticks like a pick to the skull. Having cowriting partners in Lincoln Parish of Cage the Elephant and John Paul White of Civil Wars doesn’t hurt either.
But definitely keep an eye on this one. While you may not see her while eating spring rolls, you may see “Alicia Blue” in 36 pt. on a tent very soon.
According to your biography, legendary soul singer Malcolm Clark Hayes, Jr. helped you to discover that you can actually sing.
I spent about three years learning about music from him [she was his caregiver while he recovered from a stroke]. I learned to respect musical authorities in terms of artistry and who to listen to. He would say things like, ‘If you want to be the best, listen to the best.’
Did he hear you hum and say, “Girl, you gotta sing,” or did he bring out a latent talent in you that you didn’t even know you had?
It was 100% a dormant dream. Almost like I was begging him to show up in my life… and there he was. It was like music knocking on my door. No… It was more like music knocked at my door, broke in and led me out with folded arms.
So following Malcolm’s guidance, you started performing at a Thai restaurant… singing songs in Thai?! Did you even speak the language?
[laughs] I sang a lot in Thai and had no idea what I was saying or singing. We ended up getting fired from this restaurant in Thai Town and replaced by this older, kind of sexy Thai woman who definitely did a better job than me singing in Thai. Ha! It was clear that she was upset that the restaurant had let Nong [a Thai guitarist/singer who taught her performance basics] come with me first! I think we could have taken her crown a little. Huh.
While the first album Bravebird (2020) was a solid record, Domestic child labour feelp more confident and more fully realized… like you’re about to find out who “Alicia Blue” really is.
I appreciate your directness! Bravebird was my first go at a studio album with a full band and producer all working as a team. There were many avenues to explore and we did. On Domestic child labourhowever, the vision is more streamlined and has a deeper penetrating directness to my inner energy. I wasn’t afraid to go to dark or intense places on the EP. And I think the singularity shows, not only vocally and lyrically, but also in the music itself. The rock n roll woman in this folk singer was unleashed on these EPs.
Apparently this “rock n’ roll woman inside” is responsible for your latest cover of Jane’s Addiction’s “Jane Says”.
Jane says‘ is one of those songs that I have stuck with since I was a child. When I was a teenager I realized what Perry Farrell was singing about and I was almost afraid to grow up and be like the girl in his story.
Which then leads us to the song “Best Hands” which is on your upcoming EP [Inner Child Work Part 2 which comes out in November 2022]. You take this trashy feminist stance where you don’t take crap from anyone (“I look in and get no answers”) while also knowing they all want a piece of you (“All my teachers are in love with me “). With you on the beat, early Liz Phair better ‘fuck and run‘!
Oh, that’s cool. And yes, I often write from a kind of heroic narrative when I am most frustrated. Feeling powerless is not something society often likes to talk about. But I love talking about this kind of thing. Then I can breathe, regain my confidence in a healthy way and move on.
Did you write the songs on your first album yourself or did you get help from collaborators?
Throughout my short career, the number of times I dove into a collaboration or partnership with someone and had it go bad because I didn’t return anything romantic is astounding. At some point you think: Where is the fucking sign on my forehead that says: “Want to fuck for inspiration and growth”? You start to wonder where your gift really lies. Doubt can inevitably creep in. But luckily I woke up! And that’s when I wrote the lyrics to “Best Hands”.
One thing I find interesting from the progression from your debut album to your new EP is that your newer music feels more like a confessional… like you’re pointing at the emotions on your sleeves and saying, “Hey look… here’s the!”
Absolutely. I think there’s a romanticization of the tragic artist and the sad girl thing going on right now.
On the song “Picasso Blue” you put away the gruff “I can do this” persona and take a more serious note about mental health. The trope you chose – Picasso’s “Blue Period” – is a pretty powerful image as he painted lots of somber scenes with blues, greens and earth tones. Likewise, you use it as a metaphor for breaking out of depression.
It’s a bit of a cliché, but I suppose all clichés are truths. It can be fun to sit in your blues because there is company there…just you and your sadness. It’s addictive. But most of all it is familiar. This is the danger zone. So of course there was that light bulb moment where I realized I had outgrown the pattern of choosing joy and beauty as the main base of my life. I also knew that I needed joy and beauty, and especially peace, to be the best artist I could be.
How did you come into contact with John Paul White by Cage The Elephant and Lincoln Parish of civil wars?
My manager had sent some of my demos out to a couple of publishers, and I was lucky enough to get Lincoln and John Paul to respond, separately, and want to meet for writing sessions. My first taste of Nashville’s amazing scenery.
You and John Paul wrote “Young” together, which has an interesting take on ageism.
Yes, there is an interesting perspective and twist in “Young”. I met John Paul White over Zoom for our first session and started telling him how I always felt like the youngest person in every room growing up, even as I got older. He said it was funny because he always felt like the oldest person in every room, even when he was much younger. We knew right then that we wanted to write a great song. This one revealed some belated teenage frustration, a suburban LA hometown where you can’t relate to anyone, where mindlessness is a cool thing and high school’s “golden years” of jocks and prom queens are a thing of status. I mean, unconsciousness is dead if you stay in it too long. At least it was for me. “Young” is about getting there. Haha!
“Faster” is one dance-y banger… It really needs a remix. Who do you think should do it?
Oh god how fun. I haven’t thought about that at all. I’m so not hip to the best DJs, but I didn’t do it FIRST remix some cool stuff? Maybe MUNA!
So what exactly is “inner child labour”? It sounds heavy.
Inner Child Work as a concept (not an album title) is a kind of therapy work, like going back and finding the frozen little parts that didn’t see the light of day when you were younger. These parts can really run amok when you’re older if they don’t get the proper attention! And they will come after you, especially if you run from them. They come even harder. And it can mess with you.
You are quite upbeat and personal in your music. But who are you, Alicia Blue?!
Hmmm, I suspect that much of what they want to know can be found in many of my texts. I always look for freedom in a song, but I love reality and I write about my life.
What do you want with your music?
To be able to share that with someone who will listen is a great honor. That’s what health is to me. I try not to come across as drunk, but it happens from time to time and it’s out of my control. The heart is at the center of everything I do and hopefully I sometimes strike a nerve with some people.
So now that you got me hooked on your music, I want more… What’s next?
Writing for my next record is what I’m doing now, and I’m really excited about the people involved. I hear people call Nashville the next Laurel Canyon. Well, I wasn’t there (or alive) then, but I know this place in 2022 feels loud, unlike any other place I’ve been. Grateful to be here doing what I do.