Rapper, poet, and Doctor Who fanatic Alice Short has been smashing Nottingham’s stages and scribbling like there’s no next year. With the blissfully bleak-yet-hopeful album These Small Towns Are Stranger Than Paradise barely under her belt, she’s got a sack of new tunes in the pipeline. We grabbed her for a chat…
What do you get up to day-to-day?
I like to watch documentaries about people, and spend too much time writing. I longboard sometimes too. I’ve been doing that for a few months, so I’m not great at it, I just cruise around. I used to have a day job, but I left. I was an art technician at a school, sorting out clay and cleaning up classrooms. Working with teachers ain’t the one. I swear they don’t know anything. And they’re slobs.
When did you get into hip hop?
I heard Eminem’s Lose Yourself when I was eleven and loved it. I started looking at the people who inspired him, and the people who inspired them… it goes back to eighties hip hop, Jimi Hendrix, stuff like that. I always kept myself to myself until I was about sixteen. School was a bit weird. People seemed to think I shouldn’t be rapping and took the piss a bit, but it was a good thing in a way.
Do you prefer freestyle, writing, typing or…?
Writing, mainly. I’ve got, like, 300 notebooks. I can’t type it, I’ve gotta write it down. People like writing lyrics on their phones, but I can’t do it. My mind goes too quick and I can’t type that fast. Handwriting is better. Until you can’t read the handwriting – that’s the downside.
You did a poem a day for a year last year…
I write every day, so it just channels it into something productive. It’s just whatever’s in my head at the time. I was quite hard on myself about it – I wanted to do it every day and make a thing of it. I’d wake up at half five to do it. I don’t know why, because it only took five minutes.
There are bad situations, but there’s always an edge of hope to it. It sounds awful, but it’s very rare that you’re completely happy.
What other ways do you create lyrics?
The other day I saw a packet of roasted sunflower seeds and I wondered what would rhyme with that, worked out the syllables. That’s just a weird thing I do wandering around. There are some songs I’ve done in literally ten minutes, but then again I tried to write a song on the topic of mental health for three or four years – I didn’t want to make it too personal, but I wanted to tell a story. It finally came together in the form of Who Can Say. You get it in the end with perseverance, which is all you can do really.
Your album These Small Towns are Stranger Than Paradise feels grey, but there’s light coming through the blinds…
There are bad situations, but there’s always an edge of hope to it. It sounds awful, but it’s very rare that you’re completely happy. Let’s say happiness is the white and unhappiness is the black – you’re more or less in between, moving up and down a bit, but you sort of stay in that grey. Things I can’t really say in conversation, I just put in music. I’ve always had a political edge to my music too – I got into conspiracy theories a few years ago. I think about it a lot, but not too much because it just gets me angry.
What is it about the hip hop genre that appeals to you?
You can fit more information into it. In a pop song, a verse is just like four lines of summat, but in hip hop a verse is as wordy and as intricate as you can make it. It’s a beautiful art form, and it’s so interesting to see all the different ways people do it. The great thing about Nottingham is that it’s so diverse – Motormouf’s sound isn’t the same as Youthoracle’s, or Bru-C’s, or Snowy’s, yet everyone builds their own style on the rap foundations.
Have you got any rules for writing a rap?
Not really. A lot of the time, it’s just stream of consciousness. I try not to rewrite anything. I feel like once you’ve written it, that’s what it’s meant to be. If I don't like a couple of lines in a song, I’ll scrap the lyrics and write something new to the beat. I think if you do loads of drafts it becomes over-calculated, you put too much thought into it. It’s music, it’s meant to be emotional.
I think if you do loads of drafts it becomes over-calculated, you put too much thought into it. It’s music, it’s meant to be emotional.
You wrote an awesome poem about Doctor Who…
It’s a massive form of escapism. The idea of time travel really interests me, and the character development has been great to watch over time. The more psychological side of it is interesting to me too. I started writing that poem after listening to the Macklemore song Wings, and the first line of that is “I was seven years old when I got my first pair.” So I thought, “I was nine years old when Doctor Who first aired.”
Going through the song lyrics, I wrote my poem to fit exactly what he said about Doctor Who. It’s a little-known fact people don’t catch onto – I stole that poem. It was a big one for getting confident at performing; the first one I’d memorised and actually performed rather than just reading. When I performed it at JamCafe, everyone was like “This is wicked!” and I was like “Oh OK, that’s nice, that's cool, people like it.”
You've been hitting open mics for longers – what’s the best one to get down to?
Definitely Filthy’s. I go there every week. Everyone’s invited, everyone hangs out. It’s a good vibe. It’s quite diverse, lots of different kinds of people come down. There are singer-songwriters, and then out of the blue you’ll get like a mad jazz guitarist and you’re like “What! Let’s see what happens here then.” You never know what’s gonna happen, it’s brilliant.
What have been your best and worst experiences with gigs?
My best experience was probably supporting Dr Syntax at The Maze. That was a good night. I felt like that was the best energy I’ve had on stage, I just felt pumped for it. My worst experience was at a poetry night, when I was performing the Doctor Who poem. I was listing some of the characters, and someone shouted at me, in the middle of the poem, “What about this person?!” I was like “What are you on about?” I didn’t expect anyone to react aggressively. It’s a relaxed poem about a TV show that we all love. Chill out.
You’re a bit of an illustrator too...
I do draw stuff but I wouldn’t say I’m an illustrator. It’s just summat fun to do, summat to take my mind off everything. When I’m writing, I’m thinking about things, but when I’m drawing I’m just focusing on that one thing. I draw black and white lines. I just draw lines. Sounds awful, boring. Squiggly lines. I bet you’re sat there thinking ‘kinell.
Quite. Aside from Eminem and that, who would you say are your biggest inspirations?
I get compared to Kate Tempest a lot, so probably her really. She inspires me the most when it comes to strength of performance. I like a lot of singer-songwriters, like Johnny Cash, Noel Gallagher, Bob Dylan. I like Patti Smith’s approach to living as an artist, rather than just creating stuff.
What have you got coming up in the future?
My Nusic Future Session video’s coming out soon. That was sick. In 2017, I wanna put out four EPs over the year. I’ve got two of those written already. For the last two, I’m gonna write loads and loads and loads of verses, memorise them all, go into the studio, get some beats and put loads of lyrics down on ‘em.
Nice. I can’t wait to see what comes to fruition.
Neither can I, mate, neither can I.
Catch Alice Short at The 15th Annual Christmas Covers Party, Saturday 17 December, 7pm, The Bodega, £7/£8.50.