Interview // ALICE: “Smoke It Out”

As strictness of quarantine continues to ebb and flow in all corners of the globe, music fans and creators alike are being drawn to online communities. Various channels and group pages are flourishing more than ever. That is how I met the rising talent that is ALICE.

Describing herself as an LA-based Korean American R&B/pop singer breaking stereotypes in the American music industry, ALICE represents the burgeoning scene of independent artists making waves with minimal assistance from major record labels.

Furthermore, her global outlook and experience as a Korean American artist informs her music in a way that seeks to break cultural stereotypes. While some may be tempted to lump her in the booming Kpop scene, she refuses to be pigeonholed as such…even if she does proudly declare that BTS quite literally saved her life.

During quarantine in LA, which has been one of the harder hit hot spots in the US, ALICE was inspired to write “Smoke It Out” as a call for everyone to just…chill out! In the midst of an increasingly maddening 2020, it’s a positive message to consider.

Here’s a brief chat we had over email about her music and experience as an LA-based artist during quarantine.

Hello ALICE! How long have you been writing and releasing music for as an LA-based artist?
Funnily enough, it’s only been a year and a half since my first official release. Isn’t that crazy? No lie, I’m proud of myself for all I’ve accomplished since then. I moved to LA 2 years ago in June 2018 and immediately got to work on music, and released my first single and music video to “WILD CARD” in January 2019. Before then I was in Boston, the city I call home.

In your interview with Teen Vogue you said you don’t identify as a Kpop artist, but it obviously has had a huge impact on you as an artist. What was it like pursuing music before and after Kpop’s explosion in the West?
Interestingly enough, my courage to pursue music full on was actually birthed by Kpop’s huge global reach in recent years. Before it became popular and before BTS won the hearts of many Americans, I never felt that I would ever be appealing as an artist because I only ever was compared to Kpop, which is not the genre of music I make, and I never saw representation of people who looked like me in mainstream media.

To be completely honest, for most of my life it felt “uncool” to be Asian, almost rightfully so, because my experience was filled with racial slurs and people making fun of my race. HOWEVER! After BTS’ huge explosion globally, which I believe was the advent to a lot of Kpop becoming more mainstream, I gained the courage to move to LA and pursue music fully because I felt that I could after seeing someone who looks like me on huge American stages (BBMA’s, AMA’s, The Ellen Show, etc.) This is why representation is so friggin important. It’s everything I stand for.

I feel a whole lot of responsibility to not only bring the attention to the Asian community but now especially speak up louder for the Black community.

You studied at Berklee College of Music (same as Psy!)! What was the most important lesson you took from there into your career as ALICE ?
Ok, I’m gonna be real honest here, and preface this by saying I don’t think this is many people’s experience at Berklee, but it’s mine. My most important lesson is that you don’t need a degree to be an artist. Now, I DID study Music Business instead of Performance which did give me some insight into the industry beyond just making music. But I think I could’ve learned music business through networking and research, and saved my $240,000. :). 

You said that this track “Smoke It Out” began as a reflection on the global craziness that is 2020. Tell us, what has 2020 been like for you on a personal level?
Well I definitely had high hopes for this year! And while every single show I was supposed to be a part of was cancelled, a lot of gigs and opportunities are now gone, I am thankful for this year. And I say that because this nation truly needed an awakening.

I understand that now is a heavily divisive time, but we needed this. We needed to wake the fuck up. We needed to bring attention to problems that are bigger than ourselves. We needed to become aware of our surroundings that we ignore everyday. And as human beings we are selfish and self serving, therefore it took riots and protests and a pandemic to get us to this place. But like I said, I am so grateful. Because conversations are being held that shatter ignorance and help people understand one another better, with love.

On a personal level though, as an artist whose brand relies so heavily on conversations about race in the media, I feel a whole lot of responsibility to not only bring the attention to the Asian community but now especially speak up louder for the Black community. And I have, and for that reason many difficult conversations were had with people who don’t see things the same way. It is fucking exhausting, but I am going to die standing for who and what I believe in rather than living comfortably in the shadows of my own privilege.

You mentioned to me performing at KCON last year, and building some momentum as an independent artist. How has quarantine and everything affected your music and creativity process?
For a while, my creativity was absolutely stunted. I’m a person who thrives on a packed schedule, being way too busy, and getting shit done. So now having too much time actually had a toll on me, which was really eye opening to the lack of self care I have for myself. My last release, “MOODY” the EP (January 2020) totally wiped me out – mentally, financially, physically. I needed time to rest before getting to work on anything new. But as I was having conversations everyday about Covid-19, privilege, and selflessness with many people, I realized I can put this all into song and send a message.

Honestly, I love “SMOKE IT OUT”, and I’m not sure if it would’ve come to life without all that transpired in recent months. So while quarantining was difficult in the beginning, what was born from it was a song that sends a strong message, and I am really proud of it.

What do you hope people will take away from your music? 
I hope people will feel empowered to pursue their dreams, fuck the haters, and become more accepting. I talk about these things in a lot of my music. I am a highly confident person, and I want to encourage people to feel the same. To love themselves enough to go for the big dream they’ve always had, and to get rid of any negativity in their life that isn’t serving them. I know that my voice is important, therefore I am going to continue to send music with a message, and it will always be related to my own personal experiences. 

Who is your dream collab (besides Jimin lol)?
MY ULTIMATE DREAM COLLAB IS BTS, of course! It honestly is a big dream of mine. Aside from that, I’d love to collab with my mother CL, BLACKPINK, GD, Sabrina Claudio, Mac Ayres, and Daniel Caesar. It’s hilarious – my taste in Kpop is the big bangers, and my taste in American music is chill, dreamy R&B music. I’m VeRSAtILe.

Who is your dream hotbox partner(s) to “smoke it out” with? 
So funnily enough…I actually don’t smoke! I am around smoking culture a lot because you know, LA, but I don’t smoke myself. But if I did, I’d smoke with Donald Trump so I can yell at him.

“Smoke It Out” is out July 31. Follow ALICE on Instagram now!

Kevin Loo

Live, laugh, stare into the existential void, love

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