Sep 30, 2021
EP 109 - Alessia Cara
Welcome to the Pretty Intense podcast, today we have Alessia Cara. Alessia is Canadian. Bet you didn’t know that. Alessia was 2018 Grammy winner for "best new artist." She has her third album coming out, called "In The Meantime." Two songs on the album are rooted in duality. A topic we love. These two songs are Sweet Dream and Shapeshifter, which you should check out her great videos for these songs on YouTube. Alessia is a really insightful, deep, thoughtful young woman. She’s in her mid-20s talking about some hugely mature concepts. We are talking about the inspiration behind this album, and the things that she went through last year that led her to where she is today. Alessia's vulnerability is really endearing and I think that’s why her music resonates with so many people. This album is full of big songs that came from some of her sleepless nights, and some of the discomfort she had. Insomnia, anxiety, which so many of us have gone through in the last year. She turned that discomfort into art. Alessia is a really beautiful soul - brave, vulnerable, very honest and a damn good singer so enjoy the interview.
Alessia Cara uses pop music as a diary. Over the last five years, she has matured alongside her audience, first capturing the highs and lows of adolescence with camera-like clarity, and then documenting her first, tentative steps into adulthood on deeply resonant songs like “Trust My Lonely” and “Out Of Love.” Now, she looks inward—again—on album number three. In the Meantime reflects on a period of intense self-doubt and traces the Grammy winner’s slow journey back to happiness. “There's a sense of duality to this entire project, that’s the common thread,” Cara reveals. “It's introspection and despair, followed by the first inkling of hope.” The 24-year-old teases both ends of that spectrum on the album’s first two singles. “Shape Shifter,” a feisty, mid-tempo bop, represents the dark, while the instantly catchy “Sweet Dream” symbolizes the light. The former was recorded in producer Salaam Remi’s home studio—a holy place of sorts for Cara. “I was super nervous because that was where Amy Winehouse wrote all her music,” she says, still in awe. “I remember thinking, ‘Amy if you're out there, please don't let me look dumb!” A sweeping kiss-off that oozes attitude and swagger, “Shape Shifter” has all the elements of a summer smash. “I felt a little mistreated by somebody and a little wronged,” Cara admits. “I was in a period of my life where I was just mad at the world.” She channeled those feelings into a fictional narrative about a cheating husband. “The song would be the wife’s response,” she explains. “It ended up just coming out of me. I don't know if it was the universe or maybe Amy really had my back.” “Sweet Dream” is similarly multi-layered. The song explores pandemic-induced anxiety and insomnia, not that you would know it from frequent collaborator Jon Levine’s bright, breezy production. “I like writing darker lyrics over the top of a lighter instrumental. I've always enjoyed that juxtaposition,” Cara says. The result is one of 2021’s most deceptively hard-hitting earworms and another reminder that nobody does relatable pop quite like the “Here” hitmaker. Speaking of that ubiquitous loner anthem, Cara’s early success informs her new music—at least indirectly. “I think being thrust into the music world at 18, I never really had the chance to process my emotions,” she says. “Now that I've had a year of stillness [due to the Covid-19 pandemic], I realize how special and insane that time in my life was.” That's putting it mildly. Cara exploded onto the music scene in 2015 when “Here” became the unofficial theme song for millennials. It went nuclear on streaming services and then crossed over to pop radio, eventually peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling three million copies. Her platinum-selling debut album, Know-It-All, delivered another smash hit with “Scars to Your Beautiful” and she memorably contributed “How Far I’ll Go” to the Moana soundtrack. Cara then added further platinum plaques to her collection with “Stay,” a dizzying club collaboration with Zedd, and an unforgettable feature on Logic’s “1-800-273-8255.” The Brampton, Ontario native resurfaced in 2018 with The Pains Of Growing, which won a Juno Award for Best Album and cemented Cara as one of the foremost singer/songwriters of her generation. It seems like the magnitude of those achievements is only just sinking in. “The fact that I'm three albums in is crazy,” she muses. “It has been such a wild experience. I don't know if I'll ever fully grasp it.” The experimental, deeply personal approach of “Shape Shifter” and “Sweet Dream” is reflective of the rest of In the Meantime, too. Take “Better Days,” a soaring ballad that details Cara’s rock bottom. “I had a little get together on New Year’s Eve 2020,” she remembers. “I felt this profound, deep sadness and sense of hopelessness. I went to my bathroom and started crying. I felt like there were no good days ahead.” Ultimately, it was a turning point. “It’s when I really started working on myself and was able to get out of that gloomy space.” A lyric from the song inspired the album’s title. “So it goes, you live and then you die,” Cara belts on the heartstrings-tugging anthem. “The hardest pill to swallow is the meantime.” But if “Better Days” is a glimpse of the multi-platinum artist at her lowest, “Apartment Song” represents the flip side. Produced by Joel Little, the album closer is about practicing gratitude. “I was finding living alone a little bit challenging,” she says. “Then, one day, I just looked around my place. I just had this moment of sheer happiness, finding joy in being and living alone.” In addition to Joel Little, Saalam Remi, and Jon Levine, other producers that helped craft the dense, multi-layered soundscape of In the Meantime include Greg Kurstin and J Kash along with Canadian heavyweights Mike Wise, Billboard, Doc McKinney, Banx & Ranx, and Boi-1da. In many ways, the album is a snapshot of an artist finally processing the seismic shift of becoming a household name in a remarkably short period of time. Working with this vast cast of collaborators, Cara was able to dig deep, like she always has. But this time, she’s doing so with a goal that sounds simultaneously modest and herculean: “I want to make music that outlives me—that's universal enough to hit a chord with people and endure.”