alice glass on feminism, fashion and music industry creeps
We present a wide-ranging Q&A with electro-punk icon Alice Glass, taken from the latest issue of AGOLDE's editorial magazine EIGHTY-NINE. As she sets on her solo career following the demise of Crystal Castles, Alice talks about leaving home at 1...
What was your childhood like?
Pretty lonely. I grew up in the suburbs outside Toronto, and both of my parents worked in the city, so I didn't see them very often. I went to Catholic school, and neither of my parents considered themselves Catholic, so it was kind of confusing. I think it was more to appease my grandmother, who was Irish Catholic. She was raised in Ireland, and every time I saw her she would tell me that she was going to pray for my soul. I have a younger sister, but she didn't like me. I spent a lot of time by myself, making up a fantasy world. When I was 12 we moved to the city, and that's when I went to public school and made a group of supportive friends. They really made me feel more loved than I was at home.
Did you listen to music?
When I was a kid I didn't really listen to that much music, besides religious music. I was in a choir. I really liked a lot of the religious songs. I can't really remember them very much, except for a lot of "hallelujahs." Catholic songs are kind of moody, and there are a lot of songs about sacrifice and rebirth, kind of similar to the themes that I'm into right now.
What about your parents?
They liked terrible music. They would make me listen to Tony Bennett sometimes on our Sunday dinner. I hated it. There's a scene in American Beauty that I could really relate to, when the parents make their daughter listen to Tony Bennett. They only had two CDs. It was pretty painful.
When did you realise you had musical talent?
It's not that I realised that I was talented, but that I needed music to be part of my life when I was alone all the time. I would walk around our town and sing melodies to myself. That's something that has remained still—less walking around, but singing melodies in my head.
Did you picture yourself becoming a professional musician?
Honestly, I really didn't picture myself as being anything. I was really depressed growing up and I didn't see myself having a future. It sucked. It's true, though.
When you left home at age 14, was it something you had been contemplating for a while?
It was something that was brewing for a long time and something that I had to do. I feel like if I didn't do that I wouldn't have lasted much longer. I remember one of the first nights that I was staying in a more stable environment, and I just had my own space, and I remember listening to Hole's first album and just crying tears of joy and dancing around. At first I was couch surfing—I'm sure I was annoying some of my friends—but then I got my own place at age 15 or 16. I was still going to school and it was pretty hard, but it was worth it. For a while I was getting money from the government—they have a really great student welfare programme—but I was also selling weed with my friends.
You're an outspoken feminist. When did that become important to you?
I had a group of girlfriends and we were all really into punk, and we knew about all the best local bands that were coming to town. When we started going to shows we were always put in really uncomfortable positions. We were sexually harassed by men more than twice our age all the time. It made us really upset because we had every right to be at those shows without being harassed.
Who are some of the voices you respect in the feminism sphere?
To be honest, I'm not a huge scholar, but I have read The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf and The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future by Riane Eisler. I think now, in 2016, what's so great is that even on Twitter you can find great feminist voices, just because it's so easy to state your opinion and connect with other women all over the world. Listening to Allison Wolfe from [riot grrrl band] Bratmobile—who's now a friend of mine—was also really inspiring growing up, and still is. I can still listen to those records and they're just as important to me as they were when I was a teenager.
You've been very outspoken against sexual abuse and domestic violence. As someone in the public eye, do you feel like it's your responsibility?
I think that talking about my experience has the potential to maybe help someone else who might be entering a similar situation, maybe to think twice and reevaluate the state of their own relationship. Because when I was 14, if I saw a female musician that I admired speaking out about a traumatic experience in their life, maybe I wouldn't have found myself in the same situation that I was in. It was something that I wanted to talk about for a while and I just really had to get over the fear of making myself vulnerable. Once I got over that it became a lot easier.
You've recently branched out as a solo artist for the first time. Why?
It was something that I just felt I needed to do for myself. I wanted to be able to express myself without compromise. To make the best art you need to be able to be vulnerable, and it's hard to find like-minded people who you're even comfortable being vulnerable with.
What matters most to you, the music or the message?
Both. The message is really important to me. I want to be able to express myself, and I want people to feel that I'm being sincere in talking about my situation through music. That's something I'm going to be talking about a lot more on my new record than I've ever done in the past. But also the music needs to be able to support the message that I have, and carry the same type of feeling—so kind of both.
Who do you look to for musical inspiration?
Anyone that's able to put themselves out there and be vulnerable and sincere about things that really matter to them. I recently got into Tori Amos, and she's amazing. Also bands like Crisis and Dystopia, who are trying to open people's eyes to political scenarios and situations that you might not know exist, and talking openly about things that people would rather sweep under a rug sometimes.
What is your songwriting process like?
Sometimes I'll just write little bits of poetry that I can save for later that can maybe be applied to the right melody and song, but other times it just comes out of me, because I'm a lot more comfortable writing now than I've ever been before. It's cool to just get into a trance-like state with the music and let myself go. That's something that I haven't really done before.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
Cleopatra. Her mix of charisma and intelligence—it could be hypnotic if she did sing or write melodies.
You're known for your intense, energy-fuelled performances. Do you feel like yourself when you're on stage, or do you take on a different persona?
I feel like both—it's like a mix of coming face-to-face with the problems in my life, but also them going away at the same time. Everything is heightened, but I'm able to just think of the moment in a strange way. It's like everything and nothing.
Why do you think you have such a strong following?
I think that all my fans can feel me being sincere through everything. I think no matter what, that's all you have as an artist, and if you're not honest with yourself it's going to show sooner or later.
What is your advice to young girls looking to have a career in the music industry?
Your artistic expression is just as valid as any man's.
What are your goals as an artist?
To be able to express myself, my emotions and experiences as clearly as I can, and make it as powerful as I can.
And what matters to you most in life?
Not letting the past control my future, or ruin my future. Spending time with people that I love, and standing up for what I believe is right.
Alice Glass is a name you gave yourself. Where did it come from?
My birth name is Margaret, but no one ever called me that. My parents called me Margo, because I think they thought it was more sophisticated and French. I wanted to be called Maggie for a couple of years, but I didn't feel connected to that either. When you start to be more in the punk community you change your name, and I didn't feel as hardcore as some of the other girls, who had names like "Bunny" or "Puppy." One day my friend and I were at Shoppers Drug Mart, and there were these little pins that had your name on them. I shoplifted one that said "Alice" and she had one that was "Betty." Later on we were smoking a joint somewhere downtown and these cops came up and asked what we were doing, and I said that my name was Alice and I didn't have any identification on me. I had an ounce of weed and an ounce of mushrooms in the breast pocket of my friend's motorcycle jacket. I remember trying so hard not to sweat, and they bought it, so I felt like it was a really lucky name. I stuck with it. And Glass is based off a comic-book character that I really love, Hopey Glass, of Love and Rockets.
You were in Alexander Wang's spring campaign. How did that come about, and do you see yourself getting more involved in fashion?
He reached out to me. I think he liked my music, and I always really liked his clothes. Being part of the fashion world is something that I never really thought would happen to me. I always did like fashion, but I was kind of in denial about it, because it's not punk—but I do. I think he appreciates the models for their personalities and doesn't see them as being blank canvases, so that's cool. In the future I would love to design my own stage outfits.
You have a very particular aesthetic. What is it inspired by?
I've always been really into horror movies, and I've always been the weird girl throughout my life. I'm kind of experimenting right now, because in my old band, there was a kind of uniform of T-shirts and skirts, and it just got really boring to me.
What are some of the biggest challenges you currently face as a musician?
I'm in a great place right now because it's all about being creative. I wake up and all I get to think about is one song in particular and be obsessed with it for a week and then moving on to the next one. I haven't really gotten to that stage where there's anything bureaucratic slowing me down. Months from now I'm sure that will change, but right now I'm just really into a creative space.
What do you love most about the music industry?
That it's a place to support weirdos.
What do you hate about the music industry?
The creeps. Not every man in the music industry is a rapist or someone who exploits and disrespects people.But it's just that I think that there are more super rats that are drawn into it because there's a lot of younger, more novice people who are vulnerable and probably won't see manipulation coming.
What do you wish people understood more about you?
That I'm not always the way that I am on stage. It's a way for me to express my anger, but it's not something I am all the time. That would make me very one-dimensional. I feel like people knew me only as this one-dimensional character for the majority of my career. I'm trying to shed that image.
Text Lesley McKenzie
Photography Rafael Pulido
Styling Sean Knight
Make-up Natasha Severino
Hair Johnnie Sapong