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Escape Velocity

A Room Of One’s Own: Alice Low Interviewed
Alex Rigotti , April 24th, 2023 09:37

On the release of her new EP Transatlantic Sugar, Alice Low speaks to Alex Rigotti about trans beauty, the tumult of growing up in Thailand and Swindon, and her horde of as-yet-unreleased albums

Photo by Huw Evans

Right now, Alice Low is into the idea of trans beauty: specifically, the golden glamour of Old Hollywood. “When I make an album, I get a picture from Google to go with it on iTunes to listen to demos. I had this picture of this trans lady from the sixties, and she’s got this ball gown on and she’s holding a Chihuahua.” Usually, she’ll turn on the TV, sit with a guitar in her lap, and wait for the songs to appear.

Low has just released Transatlantic Sugar, an EP that deals with her transition as a transgender woman. Raised in Thailand and Swindon, Low eventually settled in Cardiff around 2020. Formerly known as Low’s Museum, she has been experimenting with music since she was sixteen years old.

“I used to sell homemade tapes,” she tells tQ over Zoom. “I made loads of records, upwards of ten albums in that time. I hope one day people get to hear them because some of them are quite good, but they're also just interesting in charting the story from the beginning to now, because stylistically, still, even though every album is different, it leads to this new record. And I hope one day that people can hear that journey.”

Now approaching the end of her twenties, Low’s music has morphed into a collision of Kate Bush yelps, flecks of Todd Rundgren and a David Bowie swagger that ripples throughout the duration of Transatlantic Sugar. Though she’s happy the EP is coming out, if she’s being totally honest, Alice is ready to move onto a proper album: “I just have an obsession with albums. I just love them so much and I love the bad songs. The permission to do something that isn't perfect because it's leading somewhere. You can't do that with an EP in the same way.”

Talk us through your obsession with albums. What was the first thing that got you into the practise of listening to albums?

Alice Low: As somebody who was growing up in a small town – and before a small town in England, I was growing up in Thailand – the culture around music is very different to a cosmopolitan city. There wasn't much access to the broad music world, so every discovery that I made felt really personal. Nobody I knew at that time knew who Echo And The Bunnymen were, even though they’re considered one of the most iconic bands ever – it felt like it was mine! The album had songs that weren't perfect and maybe weren't even good on it. It led somewhere, and it took you on this journey.

How did you land in Thailand?

AL: My dad worked there; my mum became a teacher and I went to an international school. There were no Thai kids there,; they were in the school across the road, which looked like it was falling apart. It's like, I was living in this paradise, but I was also, for lack of a better phrase, stealing that paradise. But I miss the heat, and Thai people are so friendly. I love the UK, but it's very different – especially Swindon. I moved there when I was thirteen. It was like beaches and Bangkok and then… Swindon. I'm not going to sit here and just slander Swindon, but that was fucking awful. An awful place to live.

Why was your experience growing up in Swindon so bad?

AL: Imagine an industrial estate, but they've converted all of the warehouses into homes for families. And all of the families think that's normal. There's always a car on the road and it's always going to work, it doesn't matter what time of day or night. Swindon has a lot of difficulty with poverty; these places that are just left behind. When a population of nearly 300,000 people are left in this place, it feels like a ruin. Margaret Thatcher had a dream, and it was a fucking nightmare of a dream. Now it's just a violent and dark place. Even on a sunny day, it's grey. And there's no art there.

I hate to talk shit on Swindon because I met a lot of great people there and everyone's trying. But being in the closet and being someone who wanted to dedicate their life to art-making, it was a really difficult place to be because I had no peers. People don't come out and dedicate their life to art in Swindon.

I feel sad that my music doesn't celebrate my queerness for how beautiful it is. In Swindon, I was abused by people for even being feminine. I wasn't even out yet, you know, and I am still affected by that. I still walk around thinking people are going to treat me that way. It's not a good place, but it's not the fault of the place. It's just the way it is.

How did you first realise you were queer, and then trans?

I didn’t really come out as gay or bisexual until I came out as trans because I just lived that way. Everybody just knew. I came out when I was 26, so late. All of my music from the age of 16 was just obsessed with gender. As I got older and more confident in my writing, by 24, it was so explicit, the way I was talking about gender. And what's funny is I thought I wasn't talking about myself. Then I wrote this album called Joe, which is an album about this person who is really struggling with internal homophobia and refuses to accept that they're gay. And then by the end, they realise that they're a gay woman. I thought that I was just telling a story. I listen to the album now and I'm like, ‘wow, babes. Come on now.’ It was one day I looked at my partner at the time and I said to them, ‘You know, I think I'm a woman.’ And then that became ‘I am a woman’.

How do you navigate being a trans artist under our current government?

AL: It gives my work purpose. My music doesn't adhere to any sort of dogma of gender binary. I don't even think my work is feminine – the music is being sung in a masculine register, you know the way a man might enter a room? I totally use that patriarchal privilege to just own – I'm owning the room. That's what I'm trying to do with my music, but using that as a tool to infiltrate ideas about how it feels to be trans and queer and make those ideas universal.

My voice is really deep; I'm not going to lie to myself and try to sing like a [cisgender] woman. But a lot of people who go to gigs and who listen to new music, they're not the most bigoted, prejudicial people. If you're going to see an artist called Alice Low, who looks the way that I do, but sings the way that I do, you're not going to be someone who's transphobic. I've had a few people who were like, I love your music, but what the fuck is this? There was a woman on my Twitter who wrote this long TERF-y rant at me – then she was like, but I loved your gig. How did you love the gig?

You mentioned you’d made albums when you were 16 - what happened to all that music?

AL: So when I was 16 until 21 I was in a band, but I was also recording demos on my own. I had a really dark mental health period at 21, and I didn't want to be on stage anymore. I said to myself, the only time I'm going to get back on stage now is if I have an agent that books cool shows and takes that off my hands. I took seven years off, and that was great. I just focussed on nurturing my craft. Now I feel like it's very fully formed, even though it's early on to most people.

You’ve had so much space to explore your ideas – what future can you see for your music?

AL: I want to be given money to make and release albums. I can't really get away with recording at home, and with the cost of living in the country, I can't really afford to scrounge by and go to the studio every week. So now I'm like, okay, somebody come and offer the opportunity to really make the first finished record. It’s there, I can hear it in my brain. I've written like three albums and I just love making records. It just makes me feel so good.

Alice Low's new EP Transatlantic Sugar is released on May 9