Dashing quickly to a food counter then back across the foyer to where I am sat, a charmingly nervous 19 year old girl introduces herself: “I’m sorry for being so rude, I just can’t really talk when I’m hungry. would you like a peanut?”. Welcome to the world of Alessi Laurent-Marke.
“I kind of like the thought of music as a friend, someone you walk around with thinking about things and taking in your surroundings together,” she explains a while later, having spent about ten minutes trying to open a bag of previously mentioned peanuts and apologising for her ill-timed hunger. Behind the hopelessly disarming smile, daydream eyes and fairytale voice however, there is a vastly creative mind and ambition not to be underestimated. Speaking of her recent move from major label Virgin to the independent Bella Union, Alessi tells me “It was very easy and calm, without much pressure really. I had the idea for [The Soul Proprietor EP] whilst I was still on Virgin, I wrote ‘The Robot’ whilst I was recording the album in Omaha, and the rest are a bit newer but I’ve not been forced into producing anything. They were just songs I had around which I wanted people to hear really”. This idea continues when we discuss her debut album, ‘Notes From The Treehouse’, and the recording process which went into it. “I was initially looking at a 15 or 16 track record and Virgin wanted a more classic 10 songs so we had to compromise,” she says before laughing, looking disastrously nervous and adding, “oh but I don’t mean I was upset with them! I feel lucky to be in this position and I know many other people would want to be, but I like all my music to be available and I want people to hear as much of it as possible”.
To have the potential to record such an album when she was only 18 takes something special. A creative and influential household included TV producing father Alan Marke (credited with introducing his daughter to The Jam, Lynyrd Skynyrd and prog), a mother who is now her manager (“huge Bowie fan”) and the sister who provided Alessi with a back catalogue of soul inspirations, represented in the lyrics of ‘The Robot’: “he doesn’t care for Otis Redding / doesn’t like being at the dock of the bay”. As a minor in the US at the time, she describes the support provided for her by her mother / manager and the people around her. “It was all very comfortable, I was made to feel safe and allowed to get on with recording. Mike [Mogis, producer] was brilliant at helping me adjust things where I needed to but it was always a relaxed and helpful atmosphere, and Conor would come in and help out with things”. I ask her what it was like to work with such experienced musicians and she pauses, as if every teenager works with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes and has his bandmate and Rilo Kiley producer Mike Mogis producing their own record. But the occasional moments of dizziness are nothing in similarity to aloofness or arrogance, adding that recording in Omaha was an “amazing experience” whilst clearly reliving the time in her mind.
So, onto this tour. A high profile support slot with Laura Marling, but what exactly do two intimidatingly talented young ladies get up to out on the road? “Oh,” she laughs, “you’re very kind! I feel honoured to be here though, this is a great tour for Laura and everyone can see that she’s going to keep getting better. I feel a bit like this little girl following her around but she’s very supportive and a great person to be around. Plus, I think that people see something special in her and it’s always great to be around an artist who’s going to do big things like that”. Thus, typically, Alessi diverts the attention away from herself, and shyly steps back from the limelight. A quiet “Ok thanks” or an uncomfortable laugh follow each song she performs later as she has no intention to draw attention to herself. Get her on a subject she wants to talk about, however….. “I want music to be like escapism, getting out into another world. I’m used to living in London, so I create this space in my head where I’m on a journey, like out on a train to the countryside, and I can just take people out with me and explore”. This desire to share experience led the 14 year-old Alessi to create a fanzine called ‘Brain Bulletin’ whilst still at school which is now continued as a blog. “It was just for me and my passion for music really, and to talk to other people about it and put my ideas down. But then people started writing letters in! And poems! It was loads of fun really and it’s just so nice when people join in like that and you get involved.”
She continues with her plans for the summer, a small tour with Rachel Dadd and a second album to be recorded and released sometime around January 2011, but I push her towards the private life of Alessi, the other plans in her own world. “I must see my family, my grandpa!” she exclaims, with a certain amount of concern, “and I’m planning on making music for a book, and continuing to draw which I love [she also did the artwork for ‘Notes From The Treehouse’]. The priority is tour! And I’m going to keep making rucksacks and stuff…”
(Having put the slightly Churchill-esque announcement and finger pointing of her “the priority is to tour!” statement to one side, I can’t help but to interrupt at this point.)
“…ha, erm, oh yes. Well I suppose they’re like little embroidered bags which we sell at the shows. I like making them, and it’s quite relaxing to do it”. She smiles self-contentedly. I remain confused but completely won over by a mixture of completely sincere charm and slightly tempered insanity. This, however, brings us onto the Ark.
“Well, initially, we were just looking for a name. There’s a ’70s act called The Alessi Brothers who were worried about us getting confused with them and there’s an Italian company who make fridges or something, I was named after them actually, so my mu suggested Alessi’s Ark. I think it promotes quite a nice image of having lots of people involved, like Mike and Laura and Mumford & Sons etc. who you can share music with and appreciate each other. Laura’s great especially because she really champions the music for us and I’m very grateful. It’s also comfortable to get behind a blanket like a name so you can take a step back once in a while.”
That is Alessi’s Ark, the mission statement. A beautiful album followed up by an intriguing, if very short, EP, this girl has a huge amount more to offer. In a world of self-righteous assuredness in musicians it is more than refreshing to hear someone tell you that they simply want to be creative and are not very involved with being a big star. The world created around her is one of dreams and based in comfort; a supportive family and group of musical friends providing strong artistic support for her success. In the general malaise which becomes apparent in a commercially run country, Alessi’s world is a relief, and long may it continue to grow.
Soul Proprietor EP, Alessi’s latest release, is out now on Virgin. You can watch the video for her track ‘Over The Hill’ below.