Finland’s biggest pop export talks Matthew Kent through the songs that make her excited to be an artist in 2019.
Neon-haired party starter ALMA has gone from summers in Lapland where she used music as therapy to rubbing shoulders with Lady Gaga at parties in L.A.
The Finnish pop star was raised between the capital city and her family’s summer home in the Arctic circle, and now she hops between Helsinki and the perpetual heat of Los Angeles, making the music she’s always dreamed of.
ALMA burst into our lives with the pulsing ecstasy of “Karma” and “Dye My Hair”. Taken from her first body of work - an EP named after the latter – they showcased her powerful vocals and ability to write personal, yet relatable pop. Collaborations with the dance legend Martin Solveig and German hitmaker Felix Jaehn made her voice a mainstay in club culture and her very own party anthem “Chasing Highs” saw her reach new highs.
With her Heavy Rules Mixtape ALMA showcased more breadth on the emotional “BACK2U” while being her very own hype girl on the braggadocio-laced “Legend”. As the release of her long-awaited debut album approaches these are the two themes that seem most pressing to her. Thus far we’ve heard the introspective “Summer” which she discusses in-depth here in relation to seasonal depression, and the obnoxiously brilliant never-forget-me anthem “When I Die”, which is all about still being remembered when you’re dead and gone.
ALMA wants to make a connection with her music and that’s what she’s proposing her debut album, Have You Seen Her will do even more of. “My life was all about partying and I didn’t even what emotions were back then” she explains. “This album helped me a lot. I think people are going to get a lot out of that.” For the singer/songwriter music is about making a connection, finding a thread of relatability that you can take with you when you switch off, grow up or until your eventual death.
From her days of underage clubbing to some the most exciting young voices of recent years: these are the nine songs which have forged that thread.
“’I Follow Rivers’ was probably my biggest teenage song; every time I hear it I get those memories. We were 16 and there was this one club where underage kids could go and that was playing all the time. At first I didn’t even know what it was, you never really know the artist at first and there wasn’t Shazam at that time. I went to YouTube and I was searching for ‘I Follow’ and ‘I Follow Something’ and I finally found it. I’ve been listening to her basically every day ever since.
“I was very much waiting for Lykke Li to put out something new and I was actually at the release party in L.A., I heard all the songs and I remembered this one. It was at Andrew Wyatt’s place, a producer that I’m working with. She was singing in someone’s apartment and I just needed to hear that song again. It’s that beat and everything about it, the lyrics and the title “sex money feelings die” that I could relate so much.
"‘sex money feelings die’ just makes me dance and feel good. I was so happy she put out something new, finally. And my friend just bought the vinyl of the new album for me!”
“I’ve been working with Miley and I love her. ‘Nothing Breaks Like a heart’ is so simple and pretty and heartbreaking. There are so many great songs on her new album, some that I also wrote. I love Mark Ronson, he’s is a legend. I released “Cowboy” and you know the whole country vibe? I love that. Even though I’m not from America, I feel like Finland is like a little bit Wild West and I can connect with that whole country guitar thing. I feel like Mark is bringing that back now and Miley’s vocals are everything.
“When I first started working with her I only really knew that she was this crazy Disney star and I was super excited, but I didn’t know she could sing like that. She can sing like Lady Gaga or any of the biggest legends and that was shocking for me. After this album comes out, I think everyone will understand that she can sing, for sure.”
“We were touring with MØ and that was the best tour ever. Me and her have so many of the same fans and she’s such a good friend. Every time that we’re together we don’t talk about music business stuff, we’re just talking about normal stuff.
“That song was crazy live, she’s going crazy on it and when I actually saw her playing in L.A. I was crying when “Blur” was on. It has this cool Nirvana-style guitar, which I love, mixed with electronic sounds. I love the production and the lyrics are kind of emo, which I love from her because she is a fucking emo sometimes and I really feel that. I love that people can see the other side to her.
“MØ was also another artist I was listening to when I was younger, she was like indie-emo, with Lykke Li and MØ it’s those super-hard, indie-rock vibes and “Blur” is like a little throwback to that, but in a good way. I feel like I live in a blur all the time, I’m travelling so much and I’m seeing so many people. I’m just like “What the fuck even happened today or last week? I can’t fucking remember.” I can relate to that so much.”
“I really pushed for this song; this whole year I really wanted to put out songs that aren’t radio hits. I hate that I only released one song in six months, I’m so done with that and I have so many songs that I want to put out.
“I know that ‘Summer’ has a little place in some people’s hearts, it’s a love story and it’s very important to me. In Finland we have this winter depression when winter comes around, and I turn into a different person basically. The song is about that, I’m just asking someone to wait for the summer and I’ll be this better person when the sun is up, when there are parties and it’s not just raining and snowing.
“I’ve grown up so much, I’ve been partying since I was 13, so that’s like 10 years. A lot of people say to me ‘You’re so young’, but I started so early. I love to party, I love to dance and I love to hangout in the clubs, it’s a good place to be, but then again I have so many fucking problems. So many crazy problems, so many fucked up adult problems that I want to share. I feel like there are a lot of kids and fans who need that from me.”
“Firstly, my producer, Andrew Wyatt wrote this song, so I’m very proud of him and also I just met Lady Gaga last week at a party. That was probably the first time I was actually shaking to meet somebody.
“I’ve met Justin Bieber, The Kardashians… everyone, but when I met her it was crazy. We were at a party and it was a totally normal situation and then I couldn’t be normal. I was just like ‘I can’t, this is Lady Gaga’. I needed to say ‘You’re a huge inspiration to me’ and then she kissed me on the cheek. She’s fucking amazing and super down to earth. All of Lady Gaga’s songs are such huge inspirations.
“It’s super interesting and super fresh to hear an acoustic song, and even a duet, on the radio these days when there’s so much dance music, it’s so refreshing. It’s the same with the Miley song, even though it has a beat, I want to hear more things like that, which sound organic and more real. Obviously she’s Lady Gaga and everything she puts out is big, but this song is so massive and she wins all the awards. It’s such a simple song, guitar, vocals and that’s it. It’s so good, there’s some magic in it.
“I could relate to the film a lot. I feel like it’s a very realistic world, where I live and all the musicians and everybody who’s working around it lives. What was annoying for me was that men can be rock stars and puke and be dirty and then women have to be pretty, they can’t be dirty, they can’t be rock stars and they need to be pop. That made me want to be even more like “I wanna be a fucking rock star.”
“Even though I love her and she’s my idol, I still don’t want to start dancing, wear more makeup and change anything about what I look like. It was a very important movie and I think I learned a lot from it. I don’t think about this industry a lot, I’m just living in it, but sometimes when you see stuff like that it’s so fucked up. It’s like ‘I should take care of myself and think about what I’m going to do in ten years’ time.’”
“My Aunt lived in the UK and every Christmas she bought albums for me and my sister, because you couldn’t get good albums in Finland. When I was very young she bought us an Amy Winehouse record, I didn’t know who she was, but then I started listening to that album. I think my sister got that album and I got something I didn’t like.
“Amy Winehouse was my first idol. If I need to name any songs or artists that inspire me I choose this one every time. I could name every song of hers, her lyrics, her whole identity and her story are very inspirational and when I first heard her music I could relate to the lyrics so much. When I was a teenager there weren’t many real lyrics. We had Spice Girls and stuff like that, which I could never relate to. They were cool, but I didn’t want to dance and be spiced up or whatever. When I heard ‘Rehab’ and stuff like that, I liked that energy. Her story is horrible and tragic, but she really inspired me to be who I wanted be, to be a little rebel, that I can be who I am and that I don’t have to change.
“We didn’t really have music on in our house, we didn’t even have a computer when we were growing up and when we did have a computer, I was on YouTube all the time. This was the first time that I heard a song with someone singing with that raspy, deep kind of voice and it made me feel super calm. I was always running around with so much energy and I couldn’t handle myself, but when I heard this I just wanted to listen. Even my Mum thought it was weird. Then I started to sing it, one time I was singing this song and my Mum didn’t know I could sing, she was crying and everything.
“I didn’t even understand all of the lyrics, so I was just singing something. That’s how I kind of learnt English, just singing songs. I didn’t even understand English, but it just made me feel something amazing and I Google translated them all.”
“I didn’t know about HAIM until last summer. They’re not a big thing in Finland at all, but then we were at Coachella with Charli XCX, MØ and all of that gang and they wanted to go see HAIM. I saw girls playing guitar, drums and bass and I was like ‘What the fuck?’ I’d never seen a girl band, literally, I couldn’t handle myself. I was going crazy and screaming and partying and I remember this song came on and I was such a fan. I was so in shock. The bass player as well, her face.
“They’re fucking rock stars and it was so fresh to see women on the stage giving no fucks, like not giving any fucks, and she’s just playing that fucking bass. That show made me so happy, it was probably the only show I watched from beginning to end at Coachella. It’s L.A., in a good way. Every time I think about Coachella - and that was my first time there - this memory comes up. Beyoncé’s concert was fucking crazy but for me it was the HAIM concert. I didn’t know they existed, it was crazy.”
“I think she’s the coolest right now. This song is the newest one right now and what is that? What is that sound she’s making? It’s something super new. It’s the opposite of how I sing, she sounds so tiny and it’s so interesting, it’s very relaxing and therapeutic. The whole concept of ‘bury a friend’ was super interesting, the music video, how she looks, the creative side and everything is on point. Her being so young makes it even more interesting.
“I know that young people right now are so intelligent. When I was 13 I was a kid, but when I’m in L.A. and I see 13-year-old kids they already have a plan for their life, which is fucking crazy. I had a plan last summer. When I was 16 I was fucking things up, I left my school, I’d been at home for six months and I got super depressed. I was like ‘If life’s going to be like this, I’m not going to do it.’ I was partying a lot with fake ID. My best friend and my sister skipped school too. Everyone’s still kind of on that road since we never went back to school.”
“Every time I hear a track from her, firstly, I know that it’s M.I.A. I feel like there aren’t that many artists taking advantage of how much power they have, and if I had the power she has I’d probably do the same thing. I’d take a thing that’s close to me and start breaking walls; giving voices to other people who are like me. That’s a responsibility for every artist who has power and who has a voice. Kids aren’t listening to the Presidents and why should we? I’m listening to artists.
“When I was a kid, I was listening so carefully to everything that Lady Gaga said and I want to get a little bit more famous, so I can start doing stuff like that. I’d fight for mental health issues, people aren’t taking them seriously and that’s our biggest problem in the world. People just give us pills and that’s fucked up. Why don’t we have free therapy for everybody? That’s the biggest issue in Finland: getting therapy and getting help when you have problems. It’s unbelievable that it’s so hard. If you’re rich you will get it, if you’re poor or something in the middle, you’re not going to get anything.
“I’m going to therapy right now and I remember when I was a kid and I was using pills, I didn’t feel anything and that’s a problem. Nothing should take away feelings, I need to learn how to cope and understand my feelings. Feelings aren’t bad, but how you deal with the feelings is what could be bad.”