Birthh, a.k.a Alice Bisi, the 23 year old singer from Italy, has an overwhelming energy when we speak. Leaning forward to answer my questions, her foot jiggles up and down and she traces shapes in the air. Her answers match the energy of her body language. She speaks quickly yet fluidly, throwing in names of German philosophers and Italian artists, managing to turn every answer into a contemplation of the cosmos.
Alice is currently putting out songs from her second album WOAH, which will be released in full later this year. This album, in contrast to her first, Born in the Woods, which mainly dealt with themes of heartbreak, has less earthly concerns. Her latest track, which came out earlier this month, is entitled ‘Space Dog’, and is a glitchy yet upbeat number. Lively synths and drums play out while Alice laments: “I wish I could be a dog and see this planet from the human race”. She explains that when creating this album “not everything was written consciously. I like the universe a lot and I like just trying to understand what’s going on a little bit better”. Anna’s fascination with space comes from the idea that it “represents the will to elevate”, to “do something that makes us happy and that fills our soul, even if it means having to struggle a bit more.”
This contemplation gives her the feeling of “breathlessness”, the same feeling which is achieved by “running really fast”, or she imagines “flying”. She finds this subject matter so inspiring that she’s decided to build her musical identity around it, creating a new genre called “cosmic pop”. When I ask her to elaborate on this, she states that she’s “always found it really hard to describe her music”. However, she chose this terminology as: “I hope that it’s something that can be intelligible for as many people as possible. And I say cosmic because again, it’s not just about this realm.” She laughs stating: “I try to cover all the realms of the multiverse.”
Alice’s own musical inspirations are diverse. Despite having grown up listening to Tom Waits and Bob Dylan in the car with her dad, her musical tastes developed a lot like most girls of her age, obsessed with the likes of Corrine Bailey Ray and Avril Lavigne; however, what is unusual is her exposure to classical Italian music from a young age. Her mum sang in a Gregorian choir and growing up between Bologna and Florence Alice learnt to appreciate classical beauty. “I know that it sounds cliché but growing up in that kind of environment truly refines your standards of beauty. In general, the contemplation of beauty is something that I really cherish, and growing up in a place like that, it’s easy.”
Despite this strong inspirational connection to Italy, Alice hasn’t, and doesn’t plan to, release a song in Italian. She explains that “I just can’t write in Italian … I can write essays and stuff like that, but now I’ve gotten really bad at even writing those things in Italian. I’m so used to English I can’t even think of good rhymes in Italian.” But it’s not just being out of practice that steers Alice towards writing in English; she states that “language is really a mirror of the culture as well. It’s not just different words and different sounds, you see things in a certain way. Like for example, I really love the way in English you say ‘I’m in love with you’, which means you’re in a certain space with someone.” She contrasts this to the Italian “ti amo”, which translates to ‘I love to you’. “It’s more based on ownership”, she explains. “These are little things, but they mean so much”, she adds.
Even though Alice won’t be producing music in Italian any time soon, she is extremely committed to changing the stereotypes which surround Italian music. “When you think of Italian music, it’s either like, all tenors like Pavarotti or Tarentella [Italian folk music], but it’s so much more than that. I have a very Italian mentality when it comes to certain things and it’s something that I show in lyrics. I really draw a lot of inspiration from Italian poets. Like one he’s called Montale and you can’t even like find a translated version of his books.” Alice has since started to translate them. “There are so many beautiful things in Italian culture that might be interesting for other people as well. Just like I’m interested in French literature or you know, like rap music!” Alice further explains that the Italian music scene “really mirrors a certain type of Italian mentality. Just like, you know, the UK music scene mirrors the mentality here.” She pauses awkwardly, before saying: “I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.”
It seems that 2020 shows no signs of Alice coming back down to earth. When I ask her what’s coming up for her in the new year, she delves even deeper into the realms of sci-fi. After telling me she’s going to explore her role as a director further, having self-directed the video for her track ‘Supermarkets’, she casually drops in “I’m also starting to work on something about artificial intelligence.” She says that she’s not sure how much she can talk about the project yet and is therefore going to be vague; though, she explains that it has something to do with harnessing the problem-solving power of the creative brain and channeling it into other areas, such as economics. “I really hope that’s something that can help because I feel like creatives now are just like put in their little boxes, only useful for entertainment”, she explains.
My mind is reeling as I leave the interview, having covered such a multitude of subjects in half an hour; however, reading back over the transcript, it becomes clear that while I may have gotten lost a few times, Alice remained focused and confident, continually steering the conversation to dizzying new heights. With so many mysterious projects coming up for this artist in 2020, it seems like it will be an interesting year; whatever she produces is bound to be out of this world.
Photographer Abeiku Arthur
Editor Arjen Gill
MUA Rebecca Hampson