It’s 11am in Los Angeles, and ALMA is getting ready to start her day when I call for our scheduled interview. “I’m just going to do some shopping and then… back to the studio,” she laughs. “This is my life now!” The 22-year-old star is living her dream; in just two short years she’s racked up a string of hits, hundreds of millions of streams and even a co-sign from the legendary Elton John.
She’s currently hard at work on an album which she says is “50% done” and will be executive produced by best friend and collaborator Charli XCX, but to keep her fans ticking over she recently released a mixtape, Heavy Rules. The cohesive, largely uptempo mixtape was conceived not only as an official platform for old songs ALMA had recorded but not released, but also as a collection of stories intended to show fans a new side to her character.
Although initially intended as a low-key project, high-profile collaborators MØ, Tove Styrke and Kiiara – all of whom are ALMA’s close friends – got involved and the mixtape took on a life of its own. Shortly after its release, we called the young star to discuss musical inspirations, loneliness and the importance of diversity in pop music.
You just released the 'Heavy Rules' mixtape. Can you tell us a little about the project ad how it came together?
Well, Heavy Rules really came about because I’m working on the album but just wanted to start putting songs out; it doesn’t make sense to have 200 tracks on your iTunes and not actually release anything. So I decided to release a mixtape. I spent a week in Finland finishing it up, and trying to create something which would bring out another side of my personality. When I was finished I was just like, “Let’s just put it out now” – so we did!
How easy is that process when you’re signed to a major label?
You definitely need to get them excited, and I didn’t know whether they would be, but they loved the whole thing. Then I managed to get MØ, Tove [Styrke] and Kiiara, but they’re all my friends so it was super easy. In fact, it was so easy that I thought I wouldn’t even do any promo, but then the mixtape was on the table and I was like, “Shit, this is not just a mixtape, it’s a real project”, so now here I am, doing promo!
You say you had hundreds of songs, how did you narrow them down?
I just wanted to bring something different. All of these songs are kind of old now, because I’ve been making music for two years, but you can hear that I’m being super real and not trying to be something I’m not. I wanted to tell stories about young ALMA, about when I didn’t have money or anything. It’s hard to do that with just one song, so this was my chance to bring six tracks which really just represented me.
"BACK2U" deals with loneliness and the downsides of fame. Was it important for you to have that track on there?
Because I’m from Finland, I never really dreamt of being a worldwide star. I’m not now, but I still do loads of big things, travel a lot, and meet these incredible people. Everything has been so fast – my life basically changed in a day. But of course there are times when I just want to go home, especially when I’m in LA because the culture here is so different. "BACK2U" is about showing that other side to the story. People think you can’t be sad, angry or emotional because you’re living your dream, but I wanted to show that I really do feel fucking sad sometimes, even though these experiences are amazing. Some days I think “fuck this,” like I’d rather just be a bartender, earn a little bit of money and live a normal life.
You’re close friends with artists like Charli XCX, Tove Lo and MØ – do they give you advice on how to navigate the industry?
Yes, a lot. Charli and Tove have given me so much advice. They’re on another level whereas I’m still super new, so they’re always advising me and it’s lovely; they want to help me. If I have a few deals that I need to make, they’ll be like, “Have you checked this out?” “Oh, I have this lawyer…” Anything I need, I know I can call. Especially Charli – we’re like best friends.
It’s often pointed out that your big break came on ‘Idols’. Do you think those reality shows are still a good way for young artists to come up?
No, no, no, fuck no! It’s always fun when people bring this up, because I was 15 at the time and ultimately wasn’t successful on the show. After that, I went back to school and started everything over again. I think those shows are about to die, actually – people want real stuff. But of course they can be helpful. I didn’t know anyone at the time; I really wanted to make music but I was shit in school. I struggled, so for me it was helpful because I found a guy that I started to make beats with and work with in the studio. Otherwise, I definitely don’t think it’s a good way to try and break through.
What can we expect from the album?
It’s definitely going to be different; way, way, way more dark, and urban. I would say it’s like pop music for Prodigy fans! I’m really trying to break out of European, Scandi dance music. I want to pass that phase and start to make something new and which is still super pop, but darker.
You’ve talked about not being a conventional pop star in the past. Do you think the idea of what a ‘pop star’ should be is starting to shift?
Yes, but I would really like to see more diversity. I hope that people start to think more about what kind of pop stars we want, because it’s all about what we listen to and what labels put out. I think it’s already changing and there are so many different kinds of ‘pop star’ now, but the biggest stars are still amazing-looking. And I don’t care – I love people that look amazing! I love Rihanna and Beyoncé, but I think it would be good to have alternatives because kids grow up looking at pop stars. That’s maybe not the best way to grow up actually: it can really mess with your self-image.
Which artists were you listening to growing up?
Amy Winehouse and a lot of soul music, but also the Prodigy and, you know that Russian band, t.A.T.u.? I love them! I was a big fan of all of their work; obviously the singles like "Not Gonna Get Us", but there was another song called "Show Me Love" which I really love. I’ve always loved things that are rebellious, I think – if something is too pretty, sweet, or soft then I lose interest immediately.
Finally, your life has changed hugely over the last two years. Will that be reflected on the album?
Of course, because my struggles are different now: being away from home, how that’s affected my friends, my love life. There are a lot of twists and turns in my love life! But I’m still working all the time when I’m back home in Finland, and when I’m there I just want to write about what I used to feel like. It’s super easy, because I’m still going to the same bars I used to go to and I still live in my parents’ house in Finland. I don’t have an apartment there. So all of those memories come back and my life really changes whenever I go back home, so it makes it easier to just be that same kid again. You know, I would never make an album that was just like: “I have money now! I’m going out with Charli XCX!” Fuck no!
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