Female solo artists with big voices and jazzy stage-names seem to be ten-a-penny these days. So what can Alice Gold, the 28-year-old London-based singer-songwriter, add to a market with so much already on offer?
Quite a bit, it turns out. As well as her onstage sass and formidable guitar skills, Gold brings life-experience to her music. Hers is a back-story that includes the sensible (a business studies degree), the tragic (the death of her mother when she was 22), the romantic (winning a Winnebago in a card game and taking it on a road trip across America) and the bizarre (she once tutored the son of the Grand Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg, and lived in their castle).
With her powerfully raw voice and music – think pop-rock with big choruses and a psychedelic edge – you can see why there is such a buzz around Gold. And when we meet in a cafe in east London she appears both excited and relieved that her debut album, Seven Rainbows, is about to be released. After all, she has had to fight to get here.
"It's a very honest record," she enthuses. "It's written very accessibly and transparently – that's the kind of pop side – but I wanted the production to be edgy and have that sprit of the Sixties because that's just how I feel. The record has a lot of warmth to it. The songs that I sing and the music that I make needs experience to sing them the way I want. They've never been that sugar-coated and it couldn't really come from a 22-year-old."
A bubbly and open character, Gold's chat is peppered with raucous laughter and silly voices. But her life has been touched with tragedy, and her mother's death sent her on a journey of self-exploration that led to Seven Rainbows. The title refers to Gold witnessing a magnificent rainbow when she left the hospital after her mother died, and found herself in tears driving around an enormous roundabout seven times to catch a glimpse of it again. "But that was a long time ago," she adds. "And the whole album is all the songs written since then and that journey."
Using money that her mother left her, Gold travelled to Nashville with the aim of working on her music. She won the Winnebago, which would take her on her solitary road trip, from a man who knew what she was trying to do and wanted to help. "I still keep in touch with him, I made life-long friends on that trip," she says. "It was a really special time; I don't think I realised what a special time it was. I was in my early twenties and didn't have any responsibilities so I could just do it. As you get older it gets harder to give everything up like that."
After returning to London she was signed to EMI, but it was in the throes of a takeover and an album set to be released under her real name, Alice McLaughlin, never surfaced. It was a nasty experience but one she relishes all the same. "Because I've gone through that I sort of knew what I wanted the second time around. I knew how to A&R my own record with my producer and I knew what song sequence to have; the fact that they need a certain number of singles."
She persuaded producer Dan Carey, who has worked with the likes of The Kills, Lily Allen and CSS, to work with her, despite her having "no manager, no record company, just a bunch of songs that I really believed in and couldn't let go of". He agreed to waive his initial fee and they went into the studio two years ago. "When I played the songs to him, he loved them much more than I think he thought he would and it started from there," she recalls. She had supported herself with a number of jobs, including a photographer's assistant and the aforementioned tutor to a Prince. After playing the songs to Jim Chancellor of Fiction Records at a specially set-up dinner, Gold was signed.
Influenced by artists such as Pixies, Janis Joplin, Fleetwood Mac and Crosby, Stills & Nash, Gold knew she didn't intend to be your typical bubblegum pop star, and chose her moniker after deciding she wanted a fresh start after the EMI fiasco.
"I wanted a name that was simple and strong, memorable and psychedelic and it just couldn't have been anything else," she says. "With my hair as well, it was simple. There was never meant to be any mystery around it, if you know what I mean."
She has been touring heavily, and even opened the Other Stage at Glastonbury last Saturday. Next up is the Cornbury festival this weekend. "I'm really looking forward to it; I've never been before but it sounds really wholesome and nice. I love playing festivals because sometimes I get a bit squashed on smaller stages. I quite like moving around and there are a lot of trippy bits in our set and lots of messing around. I'm definitely a live artist; I don't know what happens but something takes over when I get on stage and I love the feeling."
But endlessly performing a bunch of songs based on such trying circumstances must take its toll eventually. Like so many artists who use their personal pain in their storytelling, it can be difficult to relive events through some of the more poignant songs such as "Sadness is Coming" and "How Long Can These Streets Be Empty?" night after night.
"It is hard sometimes but what makes it easier, I think, is that you're playing it to other people and so it becomes about their lives. It's not about you. You put it out there and you share it."
One thing that doesn't bother her though is trying to compete in a music market saturated with female solo artists. When I suggest that it must be hard to stand out with so many great women around, she looks nonplussed.
"You've just got to do your own thing and slowly build up a fanbase. There are so many female artists that it can be hard to stand out but it's something to be celebrated really. I'm not doing this for world domination. I've only ever wanted to get my music released and to be able to make another album. That's what I want to do and that's what my struggle has been. I can't really think about how it's received or how many sales it has because that's not the reason I'm doing it. I think people like Beyoncé and Rihanna are so amazing because they're so hungry, it's incredible. It's like a superhuman focus there. But you've got to come at it at your own pace and your own angle. Just do your own thing really." And do her own thing she has.
'Seven Rainbows' is out on Monday on Fiction Records (see Andy Gill's review on page 20). Alice Gold plays the Cornbury Festival on Sunday (www.cornburyfestival.com)