With the Artist: Alice Phoebe Lou
Interviewed by Joyce Lanxin Zhao
Photographed by Joyce Lanxin Zhao
Alice Phoebe Lou, 23, is a musician from Cape Town, South Africa. Check out her music
Joyce Zhao: How old were you when you left Cape Town?
Alice Phoebe Lou: I was 18, when I finished high school, then I traveled for a year on my own and found Berlin. I was going to go back home to study, but decided to stay in Berlin.
J: Oh, did you study in Berlin at all?
A: No, I never studied after. I thought that as an 18 year old, I had to study. However, being in Berlin just made me realize that things are so much more depending on the individual than what is expected at a certain age. I loved school. I got really good grades and got accepted into universities easily. I really enjoy history and anthropology. That’s what I wanted to study. But it just dawned on me when I was playing on the streets in Berlin that this is what I want to do. Maybe in my 30s, I’ll study. I don’t know.
J: Yeah. Also, you don’t really have to study in school.
A: No, absolutely not. Because I am an independent artist, I’m running my own business and my own labels, and it’s a lot of work. It’s not just playing music, but also understanding the music industry, understanding how all of that comes together. It’s a full time study. I feel like I understand the music industry so well now, and I’m able to use the knowledge I learnt to be an alternative business, apply it in my own way to do something more genuine and more suited to me, to individualize.
J: You’ve also been traveling quite a bit because you are playing music, right?
A: So much! I did a TEDx thing a few years ago, and from a few other things, I started getting a lot of requests, from playing gigs to opening up for other artists, even to licensing songs in Product Advertising. I took everything that was coming in, and later realized that I don’t want to do all of it, and I just chose the things that felt right. I constantly ask myself like, ‘Why would you do this? Do you do it for Profit or Fame, or do you do it because that’s something that feels genuine, something that you enjoy doing, something that’s going to bring you something wholesome’, you know? That’s what I did, and because of that, I just had the most random experiences. I often choose the weird things, and constantly in pursuit of random, interesting things.
J: How can you experience it otherwise?
A: Exactly, I feel like that’s what gives you perspective, makes you grow, like new experiences that are totally out of your comfort zone. Being able to spark up a conversation with anybody, and also appreciate what they say, not always feel as though just because this person is so different, that we will have different views, and that I’m not going to learn anything from him. For me, that’s kind of connected to the pursuit of having empathy for people. Because I am a very fiery person, when someone’s a dick, or when someone is putting profit over people, I usually will be like: ‘f**k you!.’ Then I zoom out, take a breath, you know, and be like ‘wait a second, where is this person coming from, and why are they like this.’
In the music industry, a lot of young artists need the cash for the two most expensive thing; Touring and Recording. Labels can give you the cashflow for that. And that’s very appealing at the beginning, although it depends on the labels. There are good labels, artist-friendly labels. But often times, it comes with something along the way is not going to be connected to your vision, to exactly what you want to do, you know?
I have to fund everything, because I decided to be uncompromising. It’s tough, and money is scary sometimes. It goes up and down all the time, but then everything balances out. At the end of the day, I eat well, I travel well, I make music wherever I go, I’m happy. And I think that everyone has that capacity. You just need to trust more in your passion. With enough motivation and enough dedication in what you do, you can live for your passion. You don’t have to substitute. You don’t have to settle. You don’t have to. It’s just purely about you, your initiative. It is about taking a risk as well. And it’s about also knowing that there will be times when you are slightly hungry, and you need to find a way to get by.
J: Are you working on anything besides your own music?
A: One of my passion things right now is to start putting on events. We were at this festival earlier this year, which a friend of mine organized. They asked me to close the main floor, but I was like at 12 o’clock at night, I’m not going to start singing some depressing folk songs. So I have a bunch of friends there, majority of who are incredible musicians. And I proposed that let’s just create an electronic jam. There was an electric guitar, a slide guitar, saxophone, and my bandmate was playing a bunch of synth. We jammed for four hours. People were going crazy, and they were asking what is your band’s name. We just responded we are just bunch of homies, jamming.
We thought that we have to do it again, so I hired a venue in Berlin. It has a 600 capacity, and we were sold out. We had five bands that I feel like deserve an audience, and we did this electronic jam at the end. So I’ve been wanting to start doing more of that, and take it further. Because I realize that in Berlin, I have such an amazing community of friends who are artists in all different kinds of ways, and if you think about it, the one way that you can bring all types of art together is a party. You can have the lighting person, the sound engineer, the musicians, the filmmakers, the chefs could come in and cook the food. I’m starting to really go far with this idea of almost like a collective, and creating f**king awesome parties in Cape Town and in Berlin, and maybe doing one in New York at some point.
J: Yes, please do!
A: And like, always making sure that the lineup is really good, so people know that even though they don’t know who’s playing, it’s gonna be a really nice, collective mix of music. And just getting everyone involved, because for me one of the most important thing about being an artist is that art is not my own personal pursuit only but rather a very communal thing. Uplifting and helping your friends and fellow artists is the best thing that you can do. And it also create an environment that’s not competitive, you don’t want art to also be competitive. Art and creativity should be collaborative. Let’s create art together and uplift and help each other, give each other the space and motivation.
J: I feel like the idea of art being collaborative is also related to the fact that all our senses are connected. If you can trigger multiple senses at the same time, the experience must be a lot better.
A: I completely agree. I’m actually having a show in Berlin in December. There is this really old and beautiful planetarium in Berlin. It has just been renovated with the best projectors and surround sound, and we are going to put on the first concert there. We’ll actually have a person projecting the night sky and planets colliding to the music. I’m always looking to try new thing, especially in Berlin, where there are so many amazing venues, and I way prefer using unconventional spaces.
I did a concert in a crematorium last year. It’s like a really weird, beautiful space; dark, but really beautiful and amazing. If you think of crematoriums, it’s actually a very anarchistic thing. I think that crematorium opened at the turn of the century, which was a time when people were buried after they die. That was in accordance with the bible, and in accordance with everything, and there was no alternative way of grieving someone’s death and of commemorating the death. Then, people who weren’t necessarily following the lines of what the norms, decided that there should be another way for someone to die. and burning is a beautiful and symbolic re-appropriation of that in a way. So like I had a whole new appreciation for how crematoriums were formed. It was almost like an opposition of what is the norm of death. I really appreciated it. They created something different, I like that.