Del Osei-Owusu interviews ALT BLK ERA.
Congratulations on making the BBC Introducing Mixtape on Monday 23rd January, how did it feel?
We’ve been making music for just over a year, but from early on we learnt that being played on the BBC Introducing Mixtape was a big deal. We don’t take that achievement lightly. This is our second single to be recognised by the Mixtape team and they are both significant, standout moments for us.
You did it with your song Off With Their Heads, what’s the story behind it?
We wanted to create a song where we could go all out and express a female energy that is raw and unrestricted. We also wanted to share that same energy we have with our listeners to empower them to be completely unconfined and free. Using the character, Queen of Hearts who is totally unhinged, we were able to bring in the villain side. We had so much fun exploring her character and expressing her delusional state of grandeur.
It combines hip hop beats, guitars and heavy metal to make a very powerful sound. What was the easiest and hardest part of writing it?
Creating this cross of sounds comes easily. It’s just us and our self-expression. It feels so cathartic to get it out of our heads and into life. Being so outside of the box, we feel that’s why our fans relate so closely to us because we represent what they are. Different.
We have a fantastic producer, Natt from Rat Cat Studios and after a year of working together, he totally gets us and the vibe we want to put out there.
The hardest part of creating our sound comes from trying to describe and categorise it. We didn’t even know what kind of music we had created. Even now, we literally conduct market research and ask our followers to tell us where our music best fits. And still, there is no one answer that comes through. We may have created a whole new genre!!!
You’re a duo from Nottingham, how did ALT BLK ERA begin?
We’re sisters who have been singing together and writing songs since we were knee high. During lockdown we started making covers and posting them on YouTube. Our mom then told us to take the opportunity of being out of school, to learn as much about the music business as possible and release our own tracks if we truly wanted to make a career out of it – so we did! ALT BLK ERA came from that.
What did you listen to growing up?
We grew up listening to reggae and R&B and artists such as Lauryn Hill, Etana and Erykah Badu that my mom listened to. When we started choosing our own music it was Rihanna, Leona Lewis, Alicia Keys and Beyonce.
Your sound is a combination of multiple styles, who are your top three MCs?
Nyrobi: One of my favourite rappers is Skepta – I really love the old school grime genre in general. His flow, the heavy basslines, the high pitched melody in contrast to his bassy voice, really resonates with me. When I’m rapping, even though it’s over a Metal sound, I’m taking the grime flow with me to give it a raw edge!
Chaya: I honestly don’t listen to rap music — only when my sister’s blasting it out! I listen to 90s R&B, Goth and Indie music. I love artists such as H.E.R., Tyrese and Bauhaus.
Who are your top three guitarists?
We have fallen in love with metal – but it’s not what we grew up on. We’re totally new and are still discovering and learning about the genre which is so exciting. We’re like kids in a sweetie shop!
Nyrobi: It was incredible to discover Jimi Hendrix and learn about his iconic influence on today’s music. He is such an incredible guitarist, and how he fuses Blues/Funk with his wild guitar solos is so special.
Chaya: I love the guitarist from The Prodigy, and we also follow this amazing bassist on Instagram called April Kae.
You’ve had a pretty fantastic couple of years to say the least, what’s been a highlight for you?
It’s been just over a year since we formed, and the highlight has to be our first appearance on the iconic Rock City stage, where we won the Future Sound of Nottingham. That crowd reaction and the total thrill we got from performing with our band blew away any doubts about the sound we had created. Shout out to Sam and Josh – our drummer and guitarist.
You opened the main stage at Splendour Festival, July 2022, what was that like?
Splendour was amazing. It was our first experience performing at a festival and that’s another moment that will stand out for us. Nottingham has shown us so much love and support and at Splendour we could see young and old appreciating our music.
Your music is in your own words difficult to define, how does a writing session begin for you?
Nyrobi: Sometimes I start with a beat. Sometimes I start with a phrase. Sometimes I start with a feeling that I want to express. When I’m in the zone it all flows beautifully. If I come to a block – I don’t fight it – I’ll move to the next flow and continue. Chaya is always part of that process – helping to refine and guide my songwriting and the music behind it.
The SOLAR songs really come out as a burst of powerful energy and I can sometimes freestyle the whole thing with my sister to create a strong base.
The LUNAR songs however have a much deeper and serious meaning, so I like to take my time to make sure I articulate my thoughts in a beautiful yet powerful way. With our upcoming song Rockstar: LUNAR we’ve made it tell a deep story. One that our listeners can feel, understand and/or relate to.
COVID impacted the creative industry in a big way, what kept you motivated?
We started taking our music seriously during the pandemic. It was the way our mom helped distract us from the fear and horror that was gripping the world at the time. As my mom would say, we took lemons and made lemonade.
The last few years have been a time to reflect, what did you learn about yourselves?
We’re 19 and 15. The biggest thing we’ve learnt over this last year is that we want music our life. We also respect that outside of the creativity aspect, it is a business it’s hard work. We’ve learnt that we are up for the challenge!
Did you pick up any new skills?
We’ve learnt so much! Mostly business related. We’re learning about the law, marketing, maintaining websites and our accounts! Who knew all that was part of it too!!?
What are you listening to at the moment?
We have a really really broad music taste between us with a lot of the songs we listen coming from musicians outside of the western world. From Russian Melodic Rap to K-Pop to Heavy Metal to Afro-beats to Japanese Metal to UK Grime – we thoroughly love music.
Our favourite artists are The Prodigy, Dimash Qudaibergen, Slipknot, Ateez, Skepta, Tekno, Melanie Martinez, Dadaroma, Navai, Bring me the Horizon & Billie Eilish.
What’s next for you?
We’re working towards putting on our first headline show at the Bodega in Nottingham 31st March. We’re in the studio working on our EP which will be dropping in September. We’re really excited about this project and it again brings a combination of styles together.
We’re also looking forward to more live shows after recently signing with Marshal Live Agency.
ALT BLK ERA’s next single Rockstar: LUNAR, will be released Friday 24th February 2023 on all main digital streaming platforms.