When British pop singer Arlissa cheerfully tells us that “nothing too incredible has happened” in her budding music career, we assume she’s being modest. Only 20, Arlissa recently signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, joining a carefully curated roster that includes J. Cole, Rita Ora, Jay Electronica, Willow Smith, Rihanna, M.I.A., Shakira, Meek Mill, Solange Knowles, and Calvin Harris. With her first official single, “Sticks and Stones,” set to come out next month and still shy of her 21st birthday, Arlissa’s already collaborated with Nas on the song “Hard to Love Somebody.” Twice her age, Nas risks looking like a creepy uncle next to her—but it’s a charmed introduction to the music industry nonetheless.
The eldest child of a German father and an American mother, Arlissa grew up in London. We recently spoke with the singer via phone about Abercrombie and Fitch and Nas.
CURRENT ACTIVITY: I’m currently eating Lucky Charms and it’s the best day of my life. They’re doing an American range in [British supermarket] Tesco.
ON HER GERMAN AND AMERICAN PARENTS: It’s quite random. My mother, well, her mum was in the military, and they got stationed in Germany and that’s how she met my dad. Who would have thought? They were living in Germany for a bit and I think [my dad] just realized there were a lot more opportunities in London, so he decided to set up work here, which was hugely beneficial to me. Well done, Daddy! [laughs]
STYLE OF MUSIC: My influences are people like the Crystal Fighters and Vampire Weekend, along with Peter Gabriel. I wanted the music to be as organic as possible, so I used a lot of big drums and real sounds, as opposed to artificial ones. I’m quite proud of the sound we have created.
KIDS TODAY: I have a seven-month-old brother, who is a little ball of fun, and I have a 16-year-old brother and a 13-year-old sister. My brother likes to say, “Oh my god! I can’t believe your sang with Nas!” but I reckon he knows one song and it’s probably “Hard to Love Somebody.” LOL. [laughs] He likes to pretend. I don’t think he knows that much Nas music. My sister, not at all.
MUSICAL BACKGROUND: I do come from a musical family. My mum sings a lot and my dad, he’s really weird, he’s never learned how to play a single instrument in his life, yet somehow you set him on a piano and he’ll be able to play it incredibly. And the guitar as well. I play the piano. I can accompany myself on the guitar to an extent, but the piano is definitely my main musical instrument. I haven’t yet played on stage—I’m still so nervous on stage, bringing a piano into it might freak me out.
FIRST SONGS: I remember the first song I had ever written, which was hilarious because it was so bad. It was called “Falling for You.” I was 14 and I had my first boyfriend. I wasn’t falling for him at all, I just thought, “Oh, this is the time when you write a song about your boyfriend.” So I gave it a go. I had been listening to a lot of Regina Spektor at the time, so I tried to write like her. When I was 14, I thought I was so much cooler than I actually was—I tried to listen to loads of indie music and unheard-of music just so I could be like, “Oh yeah, this artist and this artist.”
DANCING: My label did ask me in the very beginning, “Are you a dancer? Can you dance?” I’m way too lanky to dance—I’m five foot ten and a half. Me dancing just looks ridiculous. I look like a spider, so I don’t think that’s going work for me. [laughs] I’ll do a little bit of hip movements but nothing else.
BIG STAGE, SMALL PERSON: I did Bestival, and that was my second festival ever, and that was quite a large crowd. It was on the second-biggest stage—the big drop stage—so that was pretty terrifying. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know where to move. I tried to move and then I was like, “Nah, I’m not gonna move, I’m just gonna stay still.” [laughs] When I left the stage I was like, “Oh my god, clearly I’m not cut out for the music business. I can’t do this, it’s way too scary.”
Now I’ve been playing a lot of smaller venues, but all the venues that quite famous people started off doing, which is really awesome. Like Adele and Ed Sheeran. I feel like it’s going okay. Nothing too incredible or whatever has happened. I’m still at the very, very early stages of my career.
FAVORITE NON-FICTIONAL PERSON: Matt Corby. He’s this amazing Australian artist who I’m in love with. Definitely him. [laughs]
CHILDHOOD HERO: When I was a child I loved watching Pokémon, so probably Ash from Pokémon was my childhood hero. My favorite Pokémon? Jigglypuff. I loved singing the song [starts to sing] “Jigglypuff.” I’m so happy I remember that. [laughs]
WORKING WITH NAS: He’s really cool. When I went to LA to shoot the video with him and watch him he was just really nice. He was there with his little buds and we really had a nice conversation. There was nothing serious about it. Did he feel a lot older then me? Not really. He’s really good-looking, and he looks so much younger than he is. We could have passed for the same age. Maybe not, I don’t know. [laughs]
I LIKE GIRLS WHO WEAR ABERCROMBIE AND FITCH: I’ve got a lot of friends who model or who are musicians or who are actors. I think it’s because of where I used to work, which is Abercrombie. I know, hilarious. It’s not a big deal in the US, but in London it’s a huge deal, because there’s only one store. You don’t have to have a set schedule or anything, you just show up to work whenever, so there’s lots of actors because they’ve got loads of auditions to go to. When I got signed, I quit straight away, because I kind of hated it. [laughs] What was the worst thing about it? Being sent to the back room when you looked awful—they’d be like, “To the back!” [laughs]
FIVE-YEAR PLAN: I basically just want write and sing and when it’s all over I’ll hopefully write for other people. It would be a joke if I could write a song for Rihanna; that would be awesome. I like writing music for people who are the complete opposite to me because then you get in a completely different headspace.
ARLISSA’S FIRST SINGLE, “STICKS AND STONES,” COMES OUT ON MARCH 3. FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO WATCH THE VIDEO, VISIT ARLISSA’S WEBSITE.