In her early teens, Italian songwriter Alice Bisi was already putting music out into the world. Under the pseudonym Oh! Alice, she shared a series of emotionally wrought and minimal folk songs, full of intense teenage angst reminiscent of Conor Oberst, but with enough melodic chops to suggest something more interesting might come in the future.
Now, still only nineteen years of age, that promise has begun to resolve into something truly exciting. Now working under the moniker BIRTHH, on her debut album, Born In The Woods, Alice has successfully melded her folkish origins with a rich selection of electronic arrangements. These serve as a sparkling bed for her stunning vocal, recalling Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh or Natasha Khan, with at times the slight gospel tinge of Aretha Franklin.
Lyrically, Born In The Woods finds Alice exploring the darker recesses of her mind, taking on an alter-ego; The Queen Of Failureland, we find a songwriter obsessed with apocalyptic events and incapable of finding emotional peace, “I thought love was enough, but truth is love is dead”. The music plays along with the lyrics, rich layers of bassy instruments and booming kick drums convulse like a heartbeat, as the vocals seem to serve not just as melody, but as impassioned releases of emotion. Almost all the songs on Born In The Woods seem to end in tragedy on an almost apocalyptic scale, as she notes on the excellent Senses, “if you want death darling, death you’ll find.”
There’s an almost Shakespearean tragedy to the way Alice writes, hers is a world where problems are driven out through melodrama into full-blown catastrophes. In tapping into the darkest, most dramatic of human emotions, she’s managed to create a beautiful portrait of the darkness, relatable even to those of us who don’t see the world ending at every turn.
FTR: Who is/are BIRTHH?
BIRTHH is the extension of Alice Bisi’s writing persona joined in partaking the musical experience by Lorenzo Borgatti and Massimo Borghi. And in some way BIRTHH is also who listens to my songs.
FTR: Your album (Born In The Woods) is out next month, what can you tell us about the recording process?
We recorded with Lorenzo Caperchi at the board and worked on the songs trying to find different approaches to get to the final result we had in mind. The album is an exact representation of where the warmth of the acoustic sounds and the freshness of the electronics meet. We were in the studio for about 5 weeks and had the chance to explore with instruments and ideas.
FTR: Where did the name BIRTHH come from? Why did you decide to use a pseudonym rather than release under your own name?
It comes from the fascination around the concept of origin, the birth in itself, a defined moment in which someone or something comes to be, contraposed to the more philosophical uncertainty of the concept of beginning. I decided to use BIRTHH instead of my own name to distinguish myself to the musical experience that BIRTHH is, all wrapped in an orthographically unique word.
FTR: Why do you write music?
Coming from a family of musicians I can’t remember a moment of my life without playing music. The moment I had the necessity to express myself, writing music was just the most natural method I could use.
FTR: What prompted you to explore the electronic sounds on this album?
I went to recording this album with a clear idea of how it had to sound: having played some of the song for a while just on an acoustic guitar I wanted to add a depth and atmosphere that I could find in music I was listening to at that moment. The work done in the recording studio easily fit into place.
FTR: You’ve spoke about wanting that contrast in the crisp electronics and more lo-fi instrumentation elsewhere, what appeals to you about that?
Contrasts really fascinate me, I often see music as a metaphor for nature: they both have the ability to make irrationality comprehensible, and therefore more rational. In this album I really wanted to underline the opposition between rationality and chaos, between the unpredictability of acoustic instruments and the neatness of the electronic elements.
FTR: Have you thought about how this record will work live?
There’s definitely been a lot of production on the live set and the results allow the stage performance to keep the songs true to the album version while giving us some wiggle room for fun. I take care of playing guitar and keyboards as well as sampling and processing vocal elements, Lorenzo Borgatti takes care of electronics and guitar, while Massimo Borghi does his magic on percussions: they both recorded with me so we have all shifted our playing from the studio to the stage together.
FTR: You’ve talked about this album being a written as if through a character, where does Alice end and BIRTHH begin?
There’s not a defined line, Alice and BIRTHH are part of each other and represent different emotional and temporal stages of an evolving person.
FTR: Born In The Woods seems to have something of an apocalyptic feel to it, what appeals to you about those images? Are you someone who’s drawn to catastrophe?
I constantly think of catastrophic events, it’s part of my daily train of thoughts. Isn’t it like that for you as well?
FTR: Who are your musical influences? What were you listening to when you made this record?
I think I have been subconsciously influenced both from the outside world and from inside my family (as I mentioned earlier I grew up among many musicians), creating quite a substantial layer where the thickest would be Nina Simone, Nick Drake, but also Sufjan Stevens, Frank Ocean… During the recordings I remember listening to Jon Hopkins, Daughter, Sufjan Stevens…
FTR: What inspires you outside of music?
Poetry and literature, art, food and friendship, not necessarily in this order and not limited to this list.
FTR: What’s the music scene like in Florence at the minute?
Florence has always been a peculiar city in the music scene in Italy; in a way I’d say the pride on its rich history reflects on a closeness over current cultural trends. There is music, don’t get me wrong, but a more open approach would probably foster a new wave of musicians.
FTR: Why did you choose to sing in English rather than Italian?
It wasn’t really a choice as when I started writing that’s how the lyrics came out naturally, but I indeed treasure the fact that English allows my songs to reach more people.
FTR: You’re releasing this album on We Were Never Being Boring, how did you come to work with them? Do you think labels are still important?
Believe it or not it was just the classic email with my demos. They liked it and we started working immediately on the album. Labels are definitely still important! They work as an amplifier for the artists.
FTR: The video to Queen Of Failureland is fantastic, do you enjoy making videos? Is image important to you? Is it something you think about?
Thank you, the amazing Diego Gavioli is responsible for the video of Queen of Failureland and I definitely enjoyed making it. I feel like songs can mold in different shapes through images… Is image important to me? I never actually asked myself this question, and this is in itself already an answer, but I would lie if I didn’t admit that the expressions of “image” soaks our daily aesthetic lives in ways we can’t avoid.
FTR: What are your aspirations for this album? Do you see music as a viable career?
It feels like real life is already exceeding expectations and aspirations, and I just keep raising the bar little by little. Same thing works for music as a career… Little by little…
FTR: How would someone who describes themselves as, “the queen of failureland” cope if they succeeded and became famous?
Doesn’t being a Queen already imply fame?!
FTR: What’s next? Touring? Another album?
Touring, touring, touring! Massimo, Lorenzo and I will be on the road in Europe for a while, including two shows at Eurosonic in January, then in March we’ll also cross the pond for a long North America tour starting at SXSW in Austin, Texas.