From the moment her outsider anthem Here blew up last year, it’s clear that Alessia Cara is the opposite of a regular teen popster.
Full of wisdom, wisecracks and wonderful choruses, the 19-year-old Canadian has been snapped up by Drake’s management team and is the newest member of Taylor Swift’s squad. Cara sang Here to 55,000 fans at Swift’s show in Florida.
Debut album Know-It-All continues Cara’s rise, a riot of outlaw attitude and Lorde-style non-conformist cool.
Sat with Loaded at her London hotel suite, Cara talks with 200mph enthusiasm, largely about why she feels she’s merely the most high-profile of a new wave of pop that actually has Things To Say.
“Pop has taken a new path and it’s meaningful again,” she enthuses. “Artists like Tori Kelly, Hallzy, Troye Sivan – people of my age have things to say. And people are finally listening.”
It’s certainly worth listening to Cara, as Loaded found out…
Loaded: Drake, Taylor Swift and Lorde are fans. Why don’t you have more big-name guests on your album?
Alessia Cara: It was important to make an album that was me, not something dependent on other people. I want to show people who I am before I jump into remixes and collabs – they can wait until my next album. My co-writer, Sebastian Kole, is the only guest and that’s because the album is so much down to him.
Loaded: Would you be interested in writing with other musicians?
Alessia: I’d much rather write for myself, but only because it’s really hard to know what other writers want, especially if you haven’t met them before. I’ve done songwriters’ camps where it’s just “Write a song for this person.” But I’d 1000% be interested in meeting and writing with other people, if not for them.
“Me and Amy Winehouse would have made songs together and talked about life forever”
Loaded: Who’d be your dream person to write with?
Alessia: If Ed Sheeran and I wrote a song together, that’d be amazing. We’d either come up with a really chill, beautiful ballad or a cool upbeat vibe like Don’t. Maybe a diss track! I’d love to have Pharrell produce me and writing a song with Frank Ocean would be insane. His producer Malay worked on my record, so I should ask him to hook us up.
Loaded: Do you feel like an overnight sensation?
Alessia: To me, it’s been a long journey. I started my own YouTube channel at 13, doing cover versions, and I didn’t get discovered until I was 16. I got signed at 18, so it’s taken me a while to get somewhere with all this.
Loaded: Taylor Swift says she sees you as a potential role model for other teenagers. Are you conscious that people are starting to look up to you?
Alessia: That’s difficult, as I feel like the people who listen to me are my age, if not older. So it’s strange if they think I’m someone who’s smarter or wiser than they are! I’m just speaking for what girls think anyway, but who don’t have the platform to say it.
The thing is, if you have three minutes to say something in a song, you might as well say something worth saying.
Loaded: There’s a Bonnie & Clyde style song called Outlaws on the album. Who’d be your dream person to run away with?
Alessia: Amy Winehouse, if she was still with us. I love her, she’s my idol. We’d have made songs and talked about life forever.
“It’s not hard to stay in touch with friends. I didn’t have many to begin with”
Loaded: Have you seen the Amy documentary?
Alessia: Three times. I really resonated with Amy’s fears about fame. I’ve never been interested in fame, and what happened to Amy was such a cautionary tale. The film showed I need to stay focused and keep the right people around me.
Loaded: How easy is to stay normal now?
Alessia: I keep my family around me, and I just want people who genuinely care about me. Knowing when to shut the music industry off and keep a sense of normality around is important. I read when I can, I eat cheeseburgers, even things like going outside from my hotel for a walk helps. It’s not that hard to stay in touch with friends as I didn’t have many to begin with! I text them every single day and FaceTime when I can.
Loaded: Your dad quit his job to accompany you on tour and your promo. Do you wind each other up?
Alessia: Oh, of course. We frustrate each other so much! But that father/daughter thing of “Why are you doing this?” “Arghhhh!” would have happened regardless of me being a singer or not. Dad’s just here to be my dad, not make money or feed off what I’m doing. (Loaded meets former welder Vince Cara in the hotel lobby after our interview. A short, sharply-dressed smiley guy, he looks like Danny DeVito at his most amiable.)
Loaded: Is there enough rebellion in pop right now?
“Meeting Alicia Keys was insane. I thought ‘Am I talking to Alicia Keys right now?!”
Alessia: Definitely. Teens have thought these things for a while – these topics aren’t new and teenage life has always been this way. But, since Lorde, more and more of us are having chance to have our say.
Loaded: Is it a headmelt that you’ve got such stellar support as Lorde and Taylor Swift?
Alessia: Every day! There isn’t a day when I don’t think “Really? This is happening to me?” I’ve been a fan forever of these people, and there’s nothing more flattering that I’m considered one of them now. Meeting Alicia Keys was insane. I thought “Am I talking to Alicia Keys right now? Does she really know who I am?”
Loaded: Does that mean you understand if a fan loses it when they meet you?
Alessia: I guess so. If I’d met Amy Winehouse, I’d have been crying and excited. I’d sit in my bedroom singing along to her music, crying to it. So if people do that to my music, I totally understand why meeting me would be both awesome and scary.
Loaded: What is it about you and Sebastian Kole that works so well together?
Alessia: Honestly, I have no idea. He’s a 33-year-old guy from Alabama. So, as a 19-year-old girl from Canada, we have soooo much in common! But Sebastian is great at jumping into other people’s minds. When we were writing, I’d vent at him all the time and he’d know exactly what I meant.
Loaded: How good are you at jumping into other people’s minds?
Alessia: My music very much comes at me. But I wrote short stories as a kid, even before I began making music. I like to write about old men, pulling stories out of the air. I’d love to release a book of my stories one day.
Alessia Cara’s album Know-It-All is out now and new single Wild Things is on April 24. She tours next week at London Brixton Electric (March 23), Manchester Sound Control (24) and Birmingham Institute (25).
Loaded’s deputy editor John Earls has covered entertainment and sport across a range of national newspapers, plus several football and music magazines, since 1990. Follow him on Twitter at @EarlsJohn