Interview: ALMA Talks ‘Have U Seen Her?’ & Quarantine
Since breaking internationally with “Dye My Hair” in 2016, ALMA has carved out a reputation as one of pop’s true non-conformists. At a time when bangers sound increasingly cookie-cutter, the Finn brings a punk sensibility to the dance floor — experimenting with genre, speaking her truth and generally breaking all the rules. Her no-fucks approach is on full display on Have U Seen Her?. ALMA’s long-awaited debut LP seethes with anger at the state of the world, explores queer issues with rare honesty and still manages to make you want to move.
I recently spoke with the 24-year-old, who is isolating in Finland, to find out more about her journey and the evolution of her sound. ALMA revealed that the first draft of the album was completed two years ago, but she made the radical decision to scrap it and start over. Not because the music was sub-par, but simply because it didn’t feel completely authentic. We also chatted about writing for other artists including Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan, and her future plans. Get to know the breakout star a little better in our Q&A below.
How is quarantine treating you? Are you in Finland?
Yes, I’m in Finland. It’s okay. We’re allowed to go outside and go for a walk and stuff like that. That’s making me happy. Things are getting easier all the time. It’s mostly positive, but obviously, I’m not able to do any shows and interact with fans. That makes me a bit sad, but otherwise, I’m doing okay.
What is like promoting an album in the middle of a global pandemic?
I’ve been doing a lot of promo like [phone interviews] and lives on Instagram. I really want to stay connected with the fans. Obviously, it’s a bummer that I’m not able to go and tour the world right now because I have the album out but nobody planned this. I feel like at the moment we need music and we need positive stuff because there’s so much fear. There’s just a lot of anxiety in the world right now because we don’t know what’s happening. This is new to us. I think making music and releasing it, it’s most important.
Even though there are so many different sounds, your album feels really cohesive to me. Was that the goal?
Yes. I really like how you said that because, actually, that’s who I am. I wouldn’t say I’m changing all the time, but I’m trying different things. That’s why I love pop music because I feel like you can do that. I don’t know. I grew up listening to music on YouTube. I’m that generation. The best thing about YouTube is that everything is free and you in an hour, you can be listening to soul, R&B, rap, rock and roll, punk, whatever, and that’s what I did. I think that is reflected on the album.
Yes, of course, there was a lot of frustration. As a young girl in the industry, I have a lot of different moments where I just felt like I could just fucking smash everything, but that’s not how it works. There’s a lot of anger from other things too, but I’m not a kicker and puncher. I can only throw plates and stuff like that in my house. I needed to get the anger out through music.
It’s very relatable. Everyone is angry in 2020, there’s anger with the government and people in power.
Yes, for sure. I think there’s a lot of fucked up things happening in the world and a lot of fucking weird people rule everything. I think everybody’s just like, “Can I fucking rule this world for a second?” I think I would be even better. People are just fed up.
Living in LA, “LA Money” really connects with me. This is city that is amazing and completely awful at the same time.
I feel like LA is definitely a place where you can really feel the feelings that are in the song. It’s also about the rest of the world. It’s about the people who only think of themselves and would do anything to succeed. That makes me feel very lonely because… where is the love? Now, I love LA because I found the people that give me love and I give love to them. I feel like I’m not lonely. Definitely first few times when I went there, I felt so lonely and nobody really gives a shit.
I come from a place where people are just like, “Let’s go for a beer.” Then next week we literally go for a beer. In LA, it’s more like, “Yes, let’s do that,” and nothing really happens. You really have to find your people. I feel like it’s all around the world and I think the song itself is more about loneliness. Like don’t ask what I do, ask where I am and where I come from and what I love, stuff like that.
You also worked with some amazing people on that song like Justin Tranter and Sarah Hudson.
Yes. They’re literally my favorite people. We’ve done sessions where we literally just fucking laugh and do nothing. I love that. With them, it’s not about really getting ahead and it’s not about really working hard. It’s about talking and connecting and then great stuff happens. I’ve never felt pressured with them. They’re literally the best. Sarah Hudson is just the most fucking funniest human in the world, for real. It’s crazy. I love to work with her just for that, she’s so fucking funny.
Another song that really resonated with me is “Loser.” How personal is that song?
Very personal. I feel like my mom and dad are such losers, they are weird characters. [Laughs]. I’ve always felt like… I wouldn’t say like an outcast, but I’ve never been cool enough or perfect enough to fit in with the cool crowd. I loved that because I never had any pressures. I was just like, “What the fuck? I’m doing my own thing.” Then when I got famous in my home country and started to travel around the world, that was the first time when I felt pressure to be perfect. They wanted me to be a winner. Holy shit.
I’m surviving all of that by having the attitude that I’m still such a loser and it doesn’t matter if sometimes I fail or sometimes I’m not perfect. I don’t know, for me, it’s just so much easier to call me a loser than a winner because then I don’t have any pressure. It’s like “Fuck you” to that. I don’t know, people always say like, “Do bigger and better.” I’m just like “Do what the fuck you want to do, but don’t measure everything by success.” That doesn’t make anybody happy.
The album is a lot less EDM than your EPs and mixtapes.
Yes, for sure. I think because I come from Finland, and I was working with a lot of European producers, it just made sense to do EDM. Also, at that time in my life, my life was very much about going from party to party. I think with this album and where I am in my life now, I just fell in love with guitar. That’s also the music that I have grown up listening to all the time. Artists like Amy Winehouse. I don’t know. I went for EDM, but now I’m coming back to me a bit more.
You even mix in a little punk, which feels very authentic to your personality.
All of my fans know, if they’ve seen my live show, it’s like a fucking punk show. Even though it’s EDM. I’m literally moshing and singing. That always has been in me and that’s also one of the reasons why I wanted to make this album have that punk energy. I just had to do it. Also, Finland is a very big country for punk and rock and roll music. I’ve always been listening to punk music.
It took quite while for album to come together. What was the reason for that?
A lot of different reasons, but I think the biggest reason was that everything started super fast and I was touring so much. Then in the meantime, I was also working for the record and then I think two years ago, I had the record ready and I was listening to it and I just felt… I just couldn’t put it out. It was not where I saw my career going. I liked the songs, but I wasn’t being 100 percent real and that made me feel lonely, I guess. I was brave enough to just be like, “Fuck it, let’s make another one. Let’s go back to the studio.”
That’s when I found Justin Tranter and he has always seen that there’s so much more in me than just party jams and EDM dance songs. Thank God I found Justin because, yes, I don’t know, after that I’ve been so happy making records. It felt like me. But it took a little time for sure.
I appreciate how you talk about queer relationships in a very natural way. Songs like “Lonely Night” are so real and relatable.
That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. That also took me a little time because in my childhood, I never heard a queer track apart from songs like “I kissed A Girl.” I love that song, but as a real queer human, those lyrics don’t make sense for me to sing. Like, I can’t even remember that I’m queer most of the time. I feel like I’m just a normal human being that writes about love. I get a lot of messages from people saying, “Thank you so much for doing that.” You know, I would love to see a movie about a queer astronaut or chef.
Every time, if there’s a queer movie, it’s about them being queer and I’m just like, “Okay, that’s great but we also have jobs and we also have issues that have nothing to do with us being gay or queer.” I just wanted to do that with the album. Just talk about things in a realistic way.
Is it scary being that vulnerable?
Yes, for sure. It took me a little time. When I was listening to the first album that I did years ago, that I didn’t release, I wasn’t using female pronouns when singing about love. I just felt like I wasn’t being 100 percent real. I knew there was so much more in me. I want to change the world a bit.
As well as writing your own amazing songs, you’re also a highly sought-after songwriter in LA. How did you connect with Miley Cyrus? I’m obsessed with “Mother’s Daughter.”
Thank you so much. We actually met at a party and we really clicked. We were just like, “Wow, we’re literally the same person but we come from so different backgrounds.” The next day we were in the studio. It was so simple. It was just like, “I love you.” “Okay, I love you too.” It was just like a crazy connection. We had the same energy and same kind of craziness. The first track we did was actually “Slide Away.”
It was literally the first track we did together ever. We were both in the same situation in life, I think. It was easy to talk with her and I feel like it was easy for her to talk with me too. We had so much fun in the studio.
You also did that Charlie’s Angels song. What was that like?
It was the same time we were working on Miley’s album. I think Ariana Grande hit up Miley and then Miley asked me to be a part of it. I was just like, “Oh, yes, thank you, I will.” It was huge for me. Ariana Grande and then also Lana Del Rey. Like, what the hell? They’re the biggest artists in the world right now. It was huge for me and I’m very honored that they wanted to take a chance on this young songwriter.
How did that Lindsay Lohan song happen?
She actually DM’d me and asked, “Do you have any songs for me?” I sent her a lot of different songs, and we started Face-timing. She became a friend and she really loved “Back To Me.” I think it’s fucking funny because Lindsay Lohan is also my icon. When I was a teenager, she was the queen.
What’s next for you?
I’m always writing and as soon as they open the borders, I will come back to LA and write music for me and other people. I already have a lot of plans for touring, but we’ll see where the world is going to take us. When it’s safe again, we’re definitely going to be touring. There will be new music eventually because now is a good time to be creative. It’s a release too.
It’s been a pleasure. Congratulations again on the album.
Thank you so much.