With her debut album, Little Body in Orbit, Alice Tolan-Mee, aka Alice TM, set about trying to explore the multitude of different types of love that we human beings experience during a lifetime. The record saw Alice embrace collaboration, and quite possibly a touch of awkwardness, working with composer Tarpit, her ex-partner, and producer Ale Roubini, her current partner. The album was released on, “community, label and useful phrase”, Whatever’s Clever at the start of October.
Despite touching on the universal subjects, the music Alice makes has a distinct personal quality, finding Alice embracing her queerness and letting it out as a torrent of love, guiding her through a minefield of past anger, depression, abuse and loneliness. These themes manifest to a soundtrack of pulsating electro-pop, rich with creativity and an eclectic ear for sounds, which is delightfully hard to pin down. Take the opening track, Generous, coming across like the middle ground of Christine & The Queens and Animal Collective, and every bit as fun as that sounds. Elsewhere, there are more downtempo moments, from the blissful Saying Nothing to the Bjork-like introspection of Hold Me (Together). A record that feels as much physical as cerebral, Little Body in Orbit is a release, a letting go of the past and an embrace of who you are, who you love and where your life is going next. With a record this good as a jumping-off place, there’s surely no limit to where Alice TM’s music could take her.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who is Alice TM?
Hi 🙂 I’m Alice, a queer experimental-artpop singer and composer originally from Brooklyn, now based in LA. The project Alice TM is a nostalgic futuristic-pop collaboration between me, co-composer Tarpit, and producer Ale Roubini. Tarpit is my ex, and Ale is my partner, so our work process is very cozy lol… it’s all in the family! Hilariously, when we first started working all together the three of us, I assumed I would be the go-between for the two of them, but it turns out that they barely even notice me when they get into it.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
Our first show was at Bananas in Leimert Park, we only had a few songs and so we played all (two? three?) of them, and then my sister in the audience kept yelling for more and I was like “shhh we don’t have any more stop!” That show was just vocals and backing track, so thinking back on it now, it’s fun to see how much the live show has evolved.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
Music has always been a big part of my life—I started playing the violin at 3 years old (you start on a cardboard violin so you don’t smash the real thing in frustration), and then around 10-11 I finally got up the courage after all those years of staring longingly across the orchestra at the cello section and switched instruments. I’ve been playing cello ever since (and actually if you listen carefully it’s all over the record). Then in high school I got more serious about dance, and went to dance conservatory my first year of college, but I tore my hip a couple months into my first semester. I had to take time off dancing to deal with the injury, so I left dance conservatory and turned to music. When I went back to school I started singing for composers and learning about opera. By the time I was able to dance again, I couldn’t tear myself away from music, and actually my dance advisor said, “You’re spending all your time in the music building, are you sure you’re not just a music major?” So I gave over to it, still dancing too but allowing myself to focus most of my time and energy on singing and composing.
FTR: What can people expect from the Alice TM live show?
Because we straddle NY and LA, we have two versions of the show that are very different from each other, but both deeply reflect what matters to me in this project. We perform a fully choreographed set in NY with dancers Beth Liebowitz and Matthew Bovee, and drummer Dan Petty. In LA, we lean into the band version, with guitar, bass, drums, and me playing electric cello while I sing. I believe in the inextricability of movement and music, and love making shit that makes me move—that doesn’t (always) mean bouncy stuff or fun stuff, a lot of the time it’s much moodier and the movement that it elicits is super sludgy, but slow angry emo dancing is dancing too 😉
FTR: What’s next for Alice TM?
We’re excited to play more shows on both coasts, and we’re about to start working on our second album. We were pent up for so long, it’s gonna be a fast turnaround on new music, we’re raging. We hope you’ll rage with us 🙂
They Listen To…
FKA Twigs – Water Me
FKA is one of the earliest references for my work with Tarpit. She made us think we could get away with sparseness and delicacy while still hitting hard and pushing up against bodies on the dancefloor and letting it get emotional (and wtf are these harmonies). I love these vocal samples, I’m absolutely hypnotized by this track, it’s the perfect song to listen to while walking home drunk, elated, exhausted from a party with too many heightened social entanglements.
Caroline Polachek – Parachute
This is the final track on her album Pang, which I think is basically a perfect album. Me and Ale and Tarpit played it through on the drive to our most recent LA show and all sang along to it to warm up. This song is too beautiful and too euphoric and I can’t recommend that you enter a party you are hosting directly after having listened to it, because you will simply have tears running down your face… but also your heart will be incredibly open.
Perfume Genius – Your Body Changes Everything
Albums that came out in 2020 hold a weird, special place in my heart. As a musician, I have a lot of respect for artists that pushed forward and put their work out into a new world with an uncertain future for performers. In fact, our album was completely cooked for a year before we released it, because we couldn’t let it go without being able to support it live. As a listener, it was part of my soundtrack of isolation. Ale and I spent so much time in lockdown driving aimlessly around LA listening to the same handful of albums on repeat, so it’s really the sound of someone reaching out to me in isolation, sending human interaction into the broken speakers of our 2005 Subaru.
Nine Inch Nails – Hurt
This is the song Tarpit always puts on when we need a palate cleanser while working or rehearsing—actually he plays the live version from ’95, which is among the best videos on YouTube. I’m obsessed with the build of this song, it just gets harder and harder but nothing really changes, until then it falls apart forever, it’s the most satisfying development and the kind of baroque arc I just can’t get over.
Tolliver – I Gotchu
Tolliver is the LA artist that makes me the wettest—he makes me sweat on the dance floor and cry on my bathroom floor. This is an older track of his, and he just keeps getting better and better with every release, but this one holds a special place in my heart because it’s one he was playing when we first shared a bill. It breaks my heart, then puts it back together again, then fucking breaks it again. I’m in love with this track.