It’s eleven days before the release of Alice Merton’s debut album Mint, and the German-born singer-songwriter is taking a moment to discuss everything from her breakout hit “No Roots” to the challenges of writing an album while balancing a demanding travel schedule.
“The studio I work at is in Berlin, so it wasn’t always easy doing that. We’d have two months of shows in the U.S., [then] I’d fly back for five days to be at the studio in Europe and then go back to touring,” Merton tells Billboard by phone. “The writing happened a lot during touring, and even before we knew it was going to be an album.”
Merton describes Mint as a series of reminders to have no fear, that her home was never in one place and so much more. These messages are weaved into danceable tracks such “Why So Serious?,” where she sings, “With every mistake there comes a lesson learned/ So someone tell me/ Why so serious?/ Why are we so serious?”
Merton’s debut project, out Friday (Jan. 18), serves as an authentic introduction to the person and artist. Below, she unpacks Mint, talks touring and shares who she’s excited to see at Coachella.
How has your life changed since “No Roots” has taken off?
We definitely traveled a lot in the last two years. We’ve been to so many different countries and have been so lucky to play in front of audiences that actually know the music. It’s been incredible, we’ve had so many great opportunities and experiences along the way.
Since the song is based on your reality of moving so much, do you feel like you’ve found more of a home on the road?
Definitely. I think the biggest place that I’ve found my home is in the music, whether it’s on the road or with people who really support my music. It’s definitely also with fans. Seeing them sing the songs, knowing the lyrics and seeing how the song has influenced them is so incredible and it makes me feel at home. I think that’s what I love so much about touring. I miss certain people but I never actually miss being at home.
Which songs on Mint are particularly meaningful to you, or have a compelling or funny backstory?
Every story feels unique. For example, “Why So Serious” came from a place where I was feeling pressure from people, but it was silly in the end because even after releasing “No Roots,” there’s an expectation to bring out the next biggest thing and I didn’t want that. I really wanted to focus on releasing music that I love and writing messages that are kind of like reminders. It’s like when you put a reminder on your fridge that says, “hey, don’t forget to buy milk” — all of this album is like a reminder for me. With “No Roots” it’s like, “hey, don’t forget that your home was never in one place, it was with people you love.” With “Why So Serious,” it’s like “don’t forget to take life less seriously, enjoy the ride, enjoy every single moment that’s happening.” “Learn to Live,” the first song on the album, reminds me to face my fears and not be scared of everything. It reminds me that if you’re scared of everything in life, you’re not actually gonna live. You’re not gonna enjoy what’s happening and it took me a really long time to understand that. That’s what I really like about this album. On one side, it’s an introduction to myself and on the other side it’s really telling people that this is my day-to-day life, it’s how I live and cope with everything.
Going back to “No Roots,” a lot of people said they wanted to change the way it sounded — what advice would you give to up and coming musicians hearing those same criticisms?
I would definitely say to do what they think is best for themselves. If you don’t feel like someone they’re working with is really supporting your dream and vision, there’s no point in working with that person. Whatever decision you make in the end, whether it’s to work with a major label or start your own label, you have to feel comfortable with it. At the end of the day, you’re the face of the project. I know myself, I know I could never play or deliver a song that’s not me. Just be very true to yourself, understand what you want and separate that from what others want from you.
Congratulations on playing Coachella. Who else on the lineup are you excited about?
I’m really excited to see Ariana Grande. I’ve never seen her live but I think she has a really incredible voice and she’s headlining on the day we’re there. I’d also love to see Dermot Kennedy, Childish Gambino, and Kid Cudi.
What do you hope fans take away from Mint?
I want them to have a little bit of insight as to what I’ve been going through for the last 3 years and what I’ve been up to when I haven’t been on stage. I just want them to enjoy the music and see as I see it, maybe it’s a reminder or a feeling to them, but also just let the messages speak for themselves. The music basically mirrors who I am and what I stand for. It’s a way for them to get to know me a little bit better.
You’re touring before and after Coachella. How will touring the album be different from other shows you’ve played?
I’m really excited to play the new songs, and now I can really talk openly about those songs and what I’ve been feeling with them. For Europe, we’ll have new stage designs and outfits. It won’t be the same structure as before, I wanna create a different atmosphere for this tour.