Heartbreak, Insomnia, And The Italian Mentality – An Interview With Pop Star Alessia Cara

Not too long ago, the Italian-Canadian pop star Alessia Cara released two new songs “Sweet Dream” and “Shapeshifter”. With that came two great music videos, in which Alessia has proven her artistic talent, musically and visually. Her slight change in style and sound may come from the work together with producer Salaam Remi, who previously collaborated with musicians, like Amy Winehouse, Fergie, and The Fugees.

©Shervin Lainez

Both songs are very different from each other and to her previous releases, like “Scars To Your Beautiful”, or “Stay”. They are upbeat, yet lyrically fulfilling, and very well produced. Alessia’s new songs offer great insight into her personality and feel very true to herself. In our interview, we were fortunate enough to get all our burning questions answered. So, keep reading if you’d like to hear about Alessia’s concept behind her music videos, her troubles going to sleep, or her advice for the heartbroken.

The outbreak of the pandemic has been challenging for everybody in different ways, what was your lockdown experience like? Did it have an impact on your creativity?

It was tough, but thankfully, in the middle and towards the end I really got to be creative. I wrote down a lot of my feelings, and I healed a lot. I also got to spend time with my family, which is also on the plus side of things. What happened was so awful for many people, but for me personally, it was great to at least spend time with my loved ones and slow down.

Coming from a family with Italian roots, do you miss Italy and your family?

My parents and my brother are here in Canada, but all of my mom’s side and a lot of my Dad’s family too is over in Italy. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see them, but I hope to visit them as soon as things calm down further.

What is the biggest difference between the Italian and the Canadian mentality?

Oh wow, that’s a great question. I think that Canada is much like America. I feel like all of North America is very fast-paced and work-oriented. It’s all about what you do for a living and moving in a way that is very timely and very by the book. Whereas Italy and especially the South where my family is from is the complete opposite. It’s slow-paced, work is just whenever. It’s also a lot more chaotic. Whatever happens, happens. That’s how my family back there is, too. They have a lifestyle that feels a lot more laid back and less organized. In Canada, everything sort of runs smoothly. In Italy, not at all.

You’ve recently released two new singles, “Shapeshifter” and “ Sweet Dream” that show your stylistic change. Where do you see the biggest difference between Alessia now and the Alessia who just released “Scars To Your Beautiful” (2016)?

The biggest difference, sonically, is probably that I’m way more experimental. I have way more freedom now to experiment with different sounds and do more lyrically. The older I get the more I get into my songwriting. I feel more comfortable being honest and open and more playful with my songs. So, I am much more experimental and not as afraid to push myself or boundaries. But at the same time, I am still kind of the same person, my values haven’t changed.

In your song “Sweet Dream” you address insomnia. Is that something you’ve experienced before?

Yes, for a lot of my life actually. It’s always been something I’ve struggled with, even now. My relationship with sleep and nighttime has affected me in so many ways, in more ways than I knew. So, I decided to write about it.

What helps you to calm down, relax and eventually sleep?

Surprisingly enough, doing a lot of work during the day makes me more tired. It helps me to exercise or stimulate myself mentally. On a day where I am only relaxing, I can’t get to sleep because my mind just runs. I feel like when I’m mentally tired and worked a lot throughout the day I can turn it off easier at nighttime. But I also do a bunch of other things: I take baths or hot showers right before bed. I wear these awful glasses that are orange, called blue blocker glasses, to adjust my eyes when I look at a screen before going to sleep. 

Both songs come with really great visuals that are connected with the scenes in which you go into the water with a mattress wearing a red dress. How did you come up with this concept? Are you a shapeshifter in your dreams?

Kind of, yes. Dreams have always been so prominent in my life. When I finally do get to sleep, I actually don’t sleep deeply and I dream a lot. In the past months, I didn’t even know what is reality. I have dreams about little, simple things, where I’m like: ‘Was that a dream, or did that really happen?’ And because both songs are so different I wanted to tie them together in a way so they feel connected instead of two separate works. I thought it would be cool to shapeshift myself and make it a dream at the end, and have a little plot twist. 

“Shapeshifter” also is a story about a break-up with a bittersweet conclusion. What advice whould give someone going through a break-up right now?

I mean everybody deals with it differently. But what helps me is knowing that time is the ultimate healer. Where you are now is surely not where you’re going to be in a week from now, or a month, or a year. And I promise, it feels so consuming right now, but one day you’re going to wake up and it’s going to hurt less. And every day after that it’s going to feel less and less. Just stay occupied, stay distracted, don’t look at their social media. Don’t look at old photos, because you’re going to get right back there and you’ll forget why you broke up in the first place. Our brain likes to pretend it doesn’t remember the bad stuff. Always remember why you broke up and focus on yourself and know that time is the ultimate healer. 

A “Shapeshifter” is someone that is able to change form and identity at will. Since we emphasize being true to yourself and your True Identity at TITLE Mag, we wanted to ask: Have you found your True Identity? How would you describe it?

I think I definitely have a good sense of self. And I’m very fortunate that since I was very young I knew who was and who I wasn’t. This has been super helpful for me because that’s not the case for everybody. I feel lucky that I have always stood my ground for who I am. But I also think it’s always changing. There have also been times where I felt so lost like I lost who I was and didn’t know where I was going. But I think that’s a normal part of life. You kind of have to lose yourself to rediscover who you are now. It’s always changing and I allow myself to grow. But at the same time, I feel like I’m in a good place now, where I know who I am and I’m happy with that. I am accepting of who I am. 

©Shervin Lainez

For your new songs, you’ve worked with producer Salaam Remi. Did you enjoy working side by side? What was the best part of working together?

He’s a huge deal! I’ve always wanted to work with him since I’m such a huge Amy Winehouse fan. So many of the names that I’ve looked up to all my life, he’s attached to, production and songwriting-wise. So, working with him was such a wonderful experience and so nice to know that someone you look up to is actually really nice in person. He’s such a good guy and such a talented producer, writer, and instrumentalist. And he pushes me a lot, which is great. He pushes me to try new things and he doesn’t shut down my ideas, or if I have something that feels weird, he’s just so for it and pushes me to make it even weirder. He’s great with that. It was an amazing experience. 

What can we expect from your upcoming album release? Is there a song on the album you feel most connected to that you can’t wait for the world to hear?

This whole album feels like the best stuff I’ve ever made. I’m so proud of it. I can’t wait for it to be out. It can’t come out soon enough for me. There are so many songs I’m just so excited to share. Just expect more new music and hopefully more new videos that go along with the songs. I’d love to do more visuals, but we’ll see. 

What are you looking forward to in the near future?

In life, I’m just excited to see people again and tour again. Even just things as simple as going for lunch. We took these things for granted so much. Traveling again, being in different countries, and experiencing the world. That’s just all I want to do. I’m very excited about that.

And of course, I can’t wait to perform all my new stuff, sing “Sweet Dream”, and “Shapeshifter” life. Hearing everybody sing the lyrics back is going to be so fulfilling. There are so many great songs on the album that feel up-tempo and they’re going to be so fun.