Interview: Athalia

Buzz-garnering young Melbourne singer Athalia caught up with Mladen from The Find Mag to discuss her upcoming début Thoughtcrimes EP,  her love of underground hiphop, working with international beat-makers, and the story behind that MF Doom mask! Athalia’s sultry style is poised to make an impact on the futurebeat scene when the Thoughtcrimes EP lands May 14th.

We covered your first two preview tracks, ‘Betterthings’ and ‘Blackrainbows’ earlier this week, how has the reaction been to the two tracks you’ve released?

Its really crazy. I think its been officially seven days since I dropped it, and I hadn’t really told anyone yet, and the reaction simply from people picking it up purely because it was released on Bandcamp, it was really surreal. Even The Find Mag, I’ve always been a huge fan and to be able to go from a fan to be featured on these blogs and magazines has been breathtaking, I’m so honoured. I didn’t expect any of this. I remember saying that I would be happy if I got twenty likes on my Facebook page, that’s enough for me. If I got one fan that’s enough for me, but its been surreal to see so many people contacting me and giving me these opportunities, I really appreciate it.

Especially for a first release, it must be great for the confidence, but you’ve now got a lot of people expecting Thoughtcrimes to come out on time!

Yeah, exactly! I’m starting to feel the pressure because if it doesn’t come on time [May 14th], I’m not going to hear the end of it! You don’t really expect these sorts of things when they happen, you don’t expect people to love your music! I went from thinking maybe people are not going to like this genre. I know people like futurebeat, but do they like singers on futurebeat? Do they like soft singers? It was a massive risk. And I’m so relieved that people to do like it! Thats the biggest thing of all!

So what kind of singers are your influences?

I prefer singers that are quite effortless. I don’t really like the singers that’ll try to do crazy lines or anything, the ones that try and prove that they can sing, if that makes sense. I can appreciate that type of music, Beyonce, she’s got a great voice, but I can’t go through two songs after one another without starting to feel a bit sick. (Laughs) For me I’m attracted to the kind of vocalists that don’t really try. There’s this sort of mystery to them. I really admire a singer called Ahu who has worked with Grooveman Spot and a couple of others.

You’ve got quite a few producers working on Thoughtcrimes, Taku, Elequent, Insightful, Jazzo & Melodiesinfonie, & 3LLL that you’ve mentioned. Are the collaboration with them tailor-made, are they coming to you with beats specifically for you, or are you coming to them with an idea for a track?

Its really a mix. A few of them have been offered to me, but with the other ones I’ve looked through the catalogues of beat-makers and found things that really speak to me. People have been really open to working with me. I was quite scared when I started, I didn’t know what people’s reaction would be to my style of singing over their beats but its actually been really great. I’ve been honoured to work with so many beatmakers that I listen to on a daily basis. The fact that they were keen on working with me was just… I think that was a lot of the motivation that I got for the EP.

I made ‘Black Rainbows’ with Jazzo & Melodiesinfonie from Switzerland. They’re amazing, these guys are going to make it so far and they’re quite young as well, which was really refreshing. I really hope to work on a few more tracks with them, its just that they’re really, really busy (laughs). They’re really sought after! Plus I think they live quite far away from each other, so its hard for them to be in the same place as each other as well.

There’s going to be around seven to eight tracks on this ep, and a different producer for each of them. The whole soundcloud and internet thing means it doesn’t really matter where anyone is from. I understand that back in the day you used to work with people in your area and people you were close to, but right now the technology means if I’m working with a beat-maker from the other side of the world they can send me the stems, I can send me the vocals, and we send them to somewhere else to mix. Its going all over the world right now.

You mentioned a lot of them are quite young, and that seems to be something that’s been coming out with Soundcloud and Bandcamp. There’s a lot more opportunity for independent, unsigned singers, songwriters, producers and beatmakers to get their stuff heard. Are your plans to stay unsigned, or are you looking for a label?

That’s something that I’ve been having to discuss with my manager a lot lately. I’ve had a few offers but its just really hard. I guess it would be great to be able to be signed to a label but I don’t think that’s my priority right now. But I am definitely considering it. It was something that I wasn’t even thinking about when I started doing music it was just about doing it for the love of it. But then on the second and the third day I started getting a few emails here and there with a few offers. I’m not sure if I want to get involved in that side so quickly only because it will get quite serious too soon. Once contracts get involved I feel like the stress and the anxiety will take over the love of the music.

Especially if they expect you to deliver a certain kind of material and you find you’re moving on somewhere else while finding your sound.

Yeah exactly. I don’t want to get tied down too quickly. It is tempting though if you get a really great offer. Its actually been really hard for us to put it off and remember the bigger picture! I guess right now I really just want to find myself, as weird as that sounds, to find out what is this thing that I’m doing right now. I’ll be honest with you, I only started recording a few weeks ago and before then I had no clue whatsoever the direction I was going! It was actually really messy, and I was looking at this EP thinking, ‘this is not going to work!’. Whoever likes one track was not going to like the rest, it was going to be this massive mess of everything from jazz to soul to everything.

I think I’ve narrowed it down now, but I’ve got, gosh, twenty different ideas of styles I wanted to do! I remember talking to my manager a few weeks ago, and every week I was asking him to source different beats. I feel really bad for him, he got to a point where he said, “You need to choose what you want right now!” I said, “I know! But its just so hard!”

I’ve always been a listener and I listen to so many different types and styles of music, so for me it feels like having to say ‘no’. On the Thoughtcrime EP there’s going to be a lot in a similar style to ‘Betterthings’ and ‘Blackrainbows’ but there’s also going to be some post-dub, really gritty tracks as well, as well as pretty upbeat ones. That might come as a bit of a shock, but I’m hoping it works.

Everyone around me has been really surprised that I’ve gone to the more electronic side of things, including my family. They’re shocked, because I’ve grown up my whole life listening to hiphop. A Tribe Called Quest, Pharcyde, and of course the underground stuff right now, Blu, Versis. I’ve always really liked jazz-influenced hiphop, De La Soul, Digable Planets, the Roots, that side of music. But I can’t recreate the music that I’m into, even if it takes up 80% of the music I’m into.

What goes in doesn’t necessarily have to come out.

Exactly. Its still a mix, I feel its still in me. Even though I’m not being a hiphop artist, I’m still using so much of what I’ve learned from hiphop to put into my music. Even just in terms of lyricism. A lot of what I’ve learned, and a lot of the flow and rhythm that I want to create, the way that I sing, it all comes from the hiphop artists I listen to. People like Mos Def, even offbeat rappers like Talib Kweli that have always had that kind of quirkiness to them where they don’t rhyme on beat but it works!

Mentioning all of these emcees, its nice to hear the singer at the forefront. A lot of the time the singer might just be doing the hook or chorus on a track. Is that something you’d like to get involved with, or are you keeping it solo?

I think I’m sticking to the solo-artist thing. I love to collaborate. To be honest, all of the ‘label’ sort of stuff, that comes second. The first thing I want to do is collaborate. I want to work with everyone and anyone to be honest. When I started making music that was the first thing I enjoyed, getting a beat-maker or a singer and saying, you know what, we could do something crazy on this. I do have a collaborative spirit, but I don’t think I’m going to be focusing on getting on hooks for other emcees, I’m not going to go in that direction.

What are the plans for the Thoughtcrime EP release?

The last two days there has been some talk about limited vinyl release to be happening in mid May when it drops. If that does happen that would be great, but I can’t really confirm right now. Everything is still pretty early. I don’t want to promise a lot of things and then have to go back on my word… I’m working with Kanye, guys! (laughs)

Exclusives for The Find! I guess one last quick question… The MF Doom mask in all of your press photos…

(Laughs) Well… I don’t understand why its… okay, I guess it DOES look like the MF Doom mask, but its actually the ‘Gladiator’ mask. I didn’t intend on doing it as a reference to MF Doom. I guess I just don’t want to be an artist that shows their face. It would be cool to be unknown like that. A lot of people said to me “you look really tough with the mask. I don’t think that’s going to appeal to a lot of people.” But I’m not gonna lie, I’m a huge Doom fan, I’ve got a signed t-shirt by Doom! I’ve got everything he’s ever made! But it wasn’t supposed to be something towards him. I’ve heard that going around recently on a few blogs, “this chick, she wears a doom mask”.

Not quite the calculated result?

It wasn’t! It wasn’t supposed to be something like, “Hey guys, I’m fully into Doom, yo!” I just don’t want you guys to know what I look like! Maybe I just don’t have a nose or something!

Hideous facial deformities. So we won’t see the mask in any live shows?

I have actually been thinking about that for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been like, CRAP, I’ve already presented this image! If I do a live show and I’m not wearing something, then the fun is out of it. And I’m having quite a good time with it! I’m now having to think about live shows, music videos, press photos, so that question is going to come up. I think I’ll find a way to work around it. So I think, no, definitely nobody is going to be seeing my face any time soon! This is permanent.

You’re stuck with it now!

Oh yeah! I’m just going to have to think of a way to… Because right now they’re not actual masks, they’re just images. I have a Darth Vader one, which was supposed to be a joke! But its everywhere now, and I can’t really take it back!

Athalia: Bandcamp / Facebook / Soundcloud