SXSW Artist Spotlight: Alice Skye
360°Sound caught up with Alice Skye, an up-and-coming Aboriginal artist based in Melbourne, Australia. When we spoke with the 25-year-old singer-songwriter via Zoom, she had just wrapped a tour with legendary Australian rock band Midnight Oil, best known stateside for their 1987 smash “Beds Are Burning.” Skye features on the song “Terror Australia” from Midnight Oil’s 2020 album The Makarrata Project.
In 2018, Skye released her debut LP, Friends With Feelings, which has garnered more than 1.5 million Spotify streams. She won the Emerging Artist Award at the 2019 Australian Women in Music Awards. Skye’s second LP, I Feel Better But I Don’t Feel Good, will be released later this year. In this exclusive interview, Skye talks about touring with Midnight Oil, the plight of the Aboriginal people, songwriting, and more.
360°: How’d the tour with Midnight Oil go?
Alice Skye: It was great. Touring with a band that’s been around for 40 years is amazing to watch. They clearly are so in love with playing music, so it’s exciting to be around. My aunties and uncles listened to them. It kind of feels like a family occasion, too. Because we played in Victoria, which is the state that we’re from, we had lots of family and friends come. I think after missing live music for so long it’s kind of special to have those moments.
The crowds have been amazing. [Midnight Oil] draw a really beautiful crowd of such a wide age range. Victoria had the longest lockdown compared to the other states in Australia. We had months of lockdown. You could feel it in the crowd. The people were so happy to be there.
I understand you are a Wergaia/Wemba Wemba woman. Please give us a little insight into your background and the plight of the Aborigines.
My family, the Wergaia, is from Western Victoria. There’s no way for it not to make its way into my music because I’m always going to represent my family. Having a community is important to me. I just do my best to make my family and my community proud of my music.
In Australia, we still have a long way to go in terms of acknowledging the way this country was founded. We’ve never signed a treaty or anything. I think colonization is still being healed and still being worked through here. I think people talk about it like it was a thing of the past. But we’ve very much still in the after-effects of it at all. It’s real encouraging to have a band like Midnight Oil still push that message and acknowledge that we do have a long way to go.
A lot of the problem is people feel uncomfortable about talking about it. I think the more honest and open discussions we have about it the better. I’ve only been to America once. Even meeting with the indigenous community [at the International Indigenous Music Summit in New Orleans] it’s very much the same shared experiences in terms of still working through the effects of colonization, trying to have land reclaimed and culture reclaimed. I just don’t think there can be a music industry without those voices. Here in Australia, Aborigines have been singing and telling stories for tens of thousands of years. It’s important to keep doing that.
You are signed with Bad Apples Music, a label that celebrates and prioritizes the Indigenous. Tell us a little about that.
Bad Apples is a label started by Briggs, an Aboriginal rapper. He co-runs the label as well as releases music through it. It’s a way to have our own advocacy and agency over what we do. Obviously, the music industry isn’t designed with First Nations people in mind. There’s not always cultural awareness or cultural safety when you’re playing shows, so it’s nice to have a label that understands that and looks after you.
How’d your SXSW Online performance go?
It was nice to be given the opportunity to film a set at somewhere of our choosing. I grew up in the country. My dad was a shearer, so we decided to film the set in the shearing shed. It was nice. Seeing all the other people from the Sounds of Australia showcase doing it in different locations it was really special. I’m not even really the biggest fan of online performances but this was a nice one for sure.
What can we expect from your second album?
It’s coming out in a couple months. The first single we released is the title track, “I Feel Better But I Don’t Feel Good.” Friends With Feelings was a collection of songs I wrote when I was about 16 to 19. It focuses a lot on my family and my home and feelings obviously. I get really fascinated with my feelings and learning from them and navigating them. A lot of I Feel Better But I Don’t Feel Good is still figuring a lot of that stuff out, but I think a little more confidently than when I was 16.
It was also the first album I got to record with my band, they’re twin brothers I’ve known my whole life. Friends With Feelings I did with session musicians and it’s a very different environment to have your friends in the room with you. We had an amazing producer, Jen Cloher, who’s a local Melbourne artist and incredible songwriter. I really wanted the producer to be another songwriter. I just like the way their brains work. It was fun to play around with different production than we had before. There were live band moments, but we also got to play around with some synths.
I understand you’ve been writing songs since you were a child. What inspires you as a songwriter?
Yeah, I loved writing things and writing stories as a kid. I was into the drama of songs. I loved really emotional songs as a kid. I thought it was cool that you could do that in a song form. I don’t think people are very inclined to express their emotions very often. It’s embarrassing or it’s uncomfortable or too hard. I love having a way to do that somewhere else. I think that’s what I loved about music too. I used it kind of as a coping mechanism or as a way to process things. That’s what I would turn to writing and music for. I think that plays a huge role in why I like playing music.
I think anything can inspire a song in the moment. Being in lockdown I think some artists were really in the zone, locked themselves away and wrote heaps of music. But I couldn’t really do that in lockdown. I think I need to be out and about doing things because I’m usually existing very much in my head all the time.