Interview: Alice D’s divine debut EP is your end of year highlight
Image: Sara Dallin
Working on her distinctive sound for five years has reaped big rewards for Alice D, whose debut EP shimmers with soulful pop drawn from a well of honest feeling
British singer-songwriter Alice D (full name Alice Dallin-Walker) is nothing if not tenacious. A fully independent artist in every sense of the word who’s been working at her music for five years, today she releases her debut EP, Narcissus, which she created herself entirely from scratch – as she has done for everything she has ever released.
“The list is endless!” she laughs. “There are so many elements that go into a proper release. I have had to source absolutely everything myself. My good friend made the music video, my mum took my press shots and my boyfriend created my logo. It’s all very DIY but the results have been great.”
And, like everything else Dallin-Walker has ever released, Narcissus is an exceptionally polished, mature collection that is further proof Alice D has exactly what it takes to become a major player in the music industry.
Born and raised in London, Dallin-Walker comes from a very musical home – her mother is Sara Dallin of Bananarama and her father, Bassey Walker, has been a dancer and singer-songwriter (see Women In Pop magazine, no. 1). After studying art history at university, she began releasing music in 2013 and developed her career slowly in perhaps the best way possible – by experimenting with a variety of sounds, producers and collaborators until she found her path.
“Growing up can be a confusing time and you experiment with different genres and write with lots of people, trying to find your feet,” she explains. “They were the building blocks that made me into the artist I am today. I feel like I have definitely found my lane and sound now.” She cites the release of her 2017 single ‘I Don’t Owe You’, a smooth, stripped-back, chilled-out R&B/pop track as the “turning point” for her sound. “It was the first song I truly felt represented me as an artist,” she says. “I had full creative control and knew which musical path I wanted to go down.”
The Narcissus EP is, she says, the “natural progression” from ‘I Don’t Owe You’ and Dallin-Walker has spent most of 2018 writing and recording the five tracks with friend and producer Oscar Scheller. It is in many ways a record taking her back to her earliest recordings – Scheller also produced Dallin-Walker’s very first single releases back in 2014. “What I love was that Oscar and I made the music together from scratch. Each song was tailored to me and the sound I wanted to create,” she says. “For most of the songs I had a basic melody or idea and I would bring it to our sessions and we’d work on embellishing it together. Oscar is a very talented songwriter and producer so working with him is a breeze!”
Like many of her previous releases, Dallin-Walker says Narcissus is inspired by her own experiences growing up: “Heartbreak, anxiety, feeling vulnerable, being naive and just the general highs and lows of different relationships,” she says. “I think the overriding message I wanted was for people to realise that they can take ownership of their situations and come out with a renewed sense of worth.”
First single from the EP, ‘More 2 U’, is perhaps the best indication of the ethos Dallin-Walker wants to project with Narcissus. The often brutally honest track deals with the anxieties that go along with being in a relationship, and the lyrics evoke a sense of a person slowly falling apart: “I can’t get no rest / Don’t want to drown in the deep / But can I be my saviour? … Medicated, did it all / Frustrated cos I know / It could be better, we could be better”. Dallin-Walker openly admits it was difficult to release such an intensely personal song. “I did question it at first as what I’m singing about was such a vulnerable point in my life,” she reveals. “But writing is like therapy and I think it’s important to share our experiences. As clichéd as it sounds, you never really think that anyone else is going through the same as you but once you start opening up, you realise they are.” Connecting with people through a song is the upside to showing that vulnerability: “I wanted people to realise you can overcome the bad times and become a stronger person. The situations I discuss on the EP aren’t necessarily nice but they are relatable. I want people to know we’ve all been there and you will get through whatever you’re going through.”
‘More 2 U’ also showcases perhaps Dallin-Walker’s most remarkable talent – her voice. Warm, rich and emotive, on this release Dallin-Walker turns it up a notch – passionate, full-bodied with an at times smoky huskiness which is mesmerising to listen to.
Second single from the EP, ‘Mama Said’, also released today, is another slice of soul/R&B and again touches on a topic close to home. “It’s about not listening to your mama’s advice – and regretting it!” she laughs. “When you’re younger you brush off what your parents say but they do really know you best and can easily spot when something or someone isn’t right for you. The song is about being young and naive, craving the attention from a guy who only wants you for one thing – despite you clinging onto the hope that it might turn into something more.”
The way that men treat women is another theme that runs through the EP and ultimately inspired the title. “Narcissus is the Greek mythological character who fell in love with his own reflection,” Dallin-Walker explains. “I felt this encapsulated the sentiments of the EP perfectly as a few of the songs discuss egotistical men and how their behaviour affects the other person.”
Gender equality is a topic Dallin-Walker is passionate about. She believes there is an unacceptable level of misogyny lurking in the music industry. “There’s so many unbelievably talented female producers, songwriters, musicians that never seem to get the same credit as men,” she says. “I’ve also heard so many horror stories of men in positions of power in the music industry and abusing it by taking advantage of young, impressionable female musicians. A lot of emphasis is on how women look, which overshadows their talent. A man can be standing in an old grubby t-shirt and it wouldn’t matter, whereas if a woman did the same she would be met with disdain. That sort of misogynist behaviour has to stop.”
She does see some light at the end of the tunnel, though. “Female artists are dominating at the moment though, it’s a real breath of fresh air!” Dallin-Walker cites Grace Carter, Jorja Smith and Mahalia (“So good!”) as the female artists we should be listening to right now, as well as emerging Belgian singer Angèle. “I discovered her from watching the online music channel COLORS and I’m hooked. Her voice is beautiful.”
Listening to Narcissus, there is a real sense Alice D the artist has taken an important step in her musical evolution. With a sonic palette that embraces soul, R&B, pop and even an echo of trip-hop, the EP is both contemporary and unique, with a refusal to trade in on the latest production-studio trends scattered through other mass-market releases. With music this good, it is highly probable Dallin-Walker won’t be doing everything herself in the future. “Being an independent artist is brilliant as you have complete control and can be as creative as you like,” she says, but “it can get overwhelming.”
For now, though, she has her sights set on an even more productive 2019 after an eventful 2018. “It’s been so fun this year,” she says. “Making more music and getting a band together in the new year to do live shows with is my ultimate dream. A headline show would also be brilliant. Watch this space!”
Narcissus by Alice D is out now. You can download on iTunes or stream on Spotify or Apple Music. To keep up with all things Alice D, you can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify and Soundcloud.
Listen to our podcast with Alice D here