If you’ve tuned in to alternative or rock radio in the past year and a half, chances are you’ve heard Alice Merton’s song “No Roots”: the song hit number 1 on Billboard’s Rock Airplay chart (it also charted on the Hot 100 , Adult Top 40 , Hot Rock Songs , and Mainstream Top 40 ). Now certified gold in the US, “No Roots” has landed several TV placements, including Sunday Night Football on NBC. The song was originally released in late 2016, followed by the No Roots EP in 2017 (re-released in 2018 to include “Lash Out”); this January, Merton released her debut album Mint. Having the album out is “a very relieving feeling”: she’d been carrying the album with her for the past three years. “We’ve been playing these songs live, but every time people would come up afterwards asking, ‘Hey, where can we listen to these songs?’, I had to, unfortunately, disappoint them by saying ‘nowhere,’” she recounts, “so I’m just very happy that it’s out and that I can share it with people.”
As told to Billboard in 2017, “No Roots” was originally the stem from which the other songs branched out. As Mint came to fruition, this changed somewhat, as the various songs “started becoming even more independent than I thought they’d be.” While “No Roots” was still at the core, “there were a lot of other emotions coming from other experiences that I had that were also coming to life”: Merton mentions disagreements with people she’s worked with, as well as the experience of starting her own record label, Paper Plane Records (named for the M.I.A. song, “Paper Planes”), as having shaped the resulting album.
Merton hasn’t always known she wanted to create her own label. Starting Paper Plane Records “was actually a decision we had to make because no one wanted to sign the record,” she explains. New York indie-label Mom + Pop was “the first label that actually really were truly invested in marketing the songs”; before then, every label she’d talked to, “[either] they weren’t interested or they made promises they couldn’t keep and in the end, the deal never went through, so we decided to just do it ourselves, and I’m very thankful that we decided to do that.” Now that she does have her own label, however, having that creative freedom is important – and she wants to start signing other artists. “One of my biggest dreams is to help other artists and give them the chance that I feel like I never got,” she says, “but I still want to make music and enjoy that. I still want to have the label.”
“I’ve got no roots, but my home was never on the ground,” she chants in the chorus of “No Roots.” Born in Germany, Merton moved twelve times growing up, also living in Oakville, ON, London, and New York, among other cities. When it came time to start touring, she felt prepared for the idea of constantly moving from place to place, but adjusting to being away from the people she’s closest to was difficult. “No, I don’t get homesick / But I’m sick when I’m without you,” she sings in “Homesick,” which “talks about realizing that my home was never a place, but it was with people that I love and missing them.”
Right now, Merton lives in Berlin. Rather than continuing to move around regularly, she’d instead like to find a base. At the moment, that’s Berlin, mainly due to “the experiences I’ve had here.” She has been influenced by seeing other people play live, but the bigger influence has been meeting Nicolas Rebscher, the main producer behind Mint, in Berlin, and recording at Funkhaus, which is “this really old, historic building” that played a huge role in the dividing of Berlin into two parts. The city’s atmosphere was key in developing the album’s sound: Berlin’s “dance-y, electro scene” played a role on both Rebscher and Merton, who “loved really cool bass lines.”
Berlin is also where Merton and her manager, Paul Grauwinkel, started Paper Plane Records. The two met at a bus stop on their way to university; Grauwinkel was studying music business, and Merton was studying songwriting and a little bit of music business. Mint’s second track, “2 Kids”, is the story of two kindred spirits meeting, working together, and “figuring things out one step at a time.”
When it comes to writing songs, Merton’s primary goal is to convey a feeling. She doesn’t feel pressure to fit in to any particular genre, though she does find it difficult to define her music “because – depending on the feeling, I try to convey that feeling with music, so some songs will be more upbeat, some will sound more indie, just depending on how I feel when I write the songs.” Similarly, while some songs – like “I Don’t Hold A Grudge”, which was about an experience she had with friends, and “Honeymoon Heartbreak”, which is the only love song on the album – are aimed at people, expressing a certain feeling is her primary goal: “I like to call it aiming at the feeling rather than the person.”
On the album closer, “Why So Serious,” Merton asks herself why she’s taking life so seriously, wondering, “Did we forget about living with no regrets?”. It’s a rather self-aware track, though that wasn’t necessarily on purpose. “I think I just say what’s on my mind,” she says. “I’m very direct and honest in that regard most of the time, and then when it comes to working with people, I always like to be honest.” When it comes to her emotions, “the only time I really feel I’m being honest to myself is when I put it through a song.”
She brings that honesty on stage, too. This spring, Alice Merton will take her headlining tour across Europe and North America, followed by a series of festival performances over the summer. Whether it’s a festival stage, a major club, or a late night TV spot, no matter the venue, Merton’s performances are full of energy from start to finish. Anyone who comes to the show can expect “something that adds another level and gives it another dimension, and just watch the songs come to life.” Visit Alice Merton’s website to see if she’ll be in a city near you.