Alessia Cara's music has been years in the making, stewing around in her bedroom in Brampton, Ontario, since the age of 13. That's until someone saw her YouTube covers and plucked her from those four pink walls and into the offices of Def Jam, where she was signed in 2015.
Her Four Pink Walls EP was supposed to reveal her original material to the world on Friday, but after waiting all of her teenage years to show the world her music, she decided to release it early, dropping the five-song project, which includes the breakout hit "Here," on Wednesday.
"It was spontaneous," Alessia told me on the phone on Thursday (August 27). She had shown the Def Jam execs the homemade videos she made for each song, which were set to "private" on her YouTube channel, and sensing her excitement, they gave her the go-ahead. "We were like, let's just do it. I can't do it anymore, I just want to release everything, so I did… I thought it would be cool to surprise everyone and put it out early."
And so, two days before the official release, she made her videos public, unleashing the honest, down-to-earth tracks about growing up, hating parties and falling in love by accident -- everything that we've been through but could never put into words so eloquent.
"It feels good," she said. "I've had these songs for so long, I made them so long ago. The fact that they're out now, finally, and I get to talk about them, sing 'em, it's just really cool."
The songs are produced by Pop & Oak (Nicki Minaj, Usher) and songwriter Sebastian Kole, and precede her debut album, Know It All, coming out in late fall. The title of the album comes from a lyric in "Seventeen," the EP's lead track: “I'm a know-it-all/ I don't know enough" -- meaning that she's throwing us all her thoughts and opinions, but still feels like she has a lot to learn.
This is the sentiment she carries throughout her music. Read track-by-track what the 19-year-old songwriter went through for each Four Pink Walls song:
"I was about to turn 18, and it was a whole bunch of feelings. We got to talking in the studio with my dad and Sebastian -- we all came up with this thing, like, let's write about how life goes by really fast. My dad brought up that idea, and that's why the first line is, 'My daddy says that life comes at you fast.'
"I didn't want to grow up and I started thinking about all the things my parents used to tell me. It's a nostalgic song about my childhood and wishing I could stop growing. As a kid I wished I could grow up so fast, and now you want to stop the time. It's weird how things change when you get older."
"Here" is the track that everyone is talking about (it made our list of Best Pop Songs Of 2015… So Far) and it's just a song about wanting to leave a party full of fake people. But that, Alessia says, is what makes it so likable. This desire to be anti-social is exactly the opposite of today's pop music, which boasts about how much fun you're having and who you're with. "It's crazy that people are connecting with it," she said. "I think that's just a universal thing that everyone goes through."
"I wanted to make it general, so it could be about anyone. It could be about your mom, your dad. It's kind of written as a love song, but you can interpret it in your own way, of course. It's basically about being willing to do anything for somebody. It's like, let's run away from everyone else. Let's just go through it together and you'll never have to be alone because I'm here. Even if you're on the run, if you're running from your troubles, your fears, or other people. I'll be there.
"They'll never understand what we're going through. Using the word 'thieves' is playing off the whole 'Bonnie & Clyde' thing, the criminals. They'll never understand the honor that we have. I don’t care what we do, as long as we're together."
"That one was written in New Jersey, on a curb next to a garbage can, and we just wrote it on a guitar. It started off as a guitar ballad. I always wanted to write a happy love song that wasn't nice -- kind of like an 'eff you' love song. Sometimes falling for someone isn't always that great. Sometimes you were fine the way you were, but you can't help it. I just wanted to play off that feeling: I was perfectly fine, why did you have to ruin it by being perfect and awesome?"
(The video stars her brother in a mustache, if you were wondering.)
'Four Pink Walls'
"I had the idea for it at the beginning of everything, but I wrote a big chunk of it, a riff of it recently, while everything's been happening. I didn't want to wait for the next album or the next project to put it out. I wanted to tell the story while it was happening. I wrote the rest of it on the way to the studio in the car.
"I hope other people can relate to this. This one is more personal to my life and what I went through but anyone who has a dream or a goal can relate.
"When you wake up in a different place every day, you forget where you are sometimes. I used to hate being in my room all the time, but now I wish I could just go back there, so I can just be normal for even a day. It's like bittersweet feelings."