Alice Longyu Gao is a force to be reckoned with, and her dominance on the music industry is just getting started. Having over 250k monthly listeners on Spotify and collaborations spanning from Mura Masa to Laura Les of 100 gecs, Alice is cementing herself as a large presence within the realm of alternative music.
Releasing her first single, “I Want My Hoe Time Back,” in 2018, Alice has now garnered millions in streams with her unique and hard-hitting tracks. Alice just dropped her debut EP, High Dragon and Universe, which has already reached over a million Spotify streams. The project’s opening song, “100 Boyfriends,” gained TikTok virality with thousands of users joining the singer’s forehead counting challenge. Alice is already busy with plans for 2022, as she will be opening for Rebecca Black’s tour at the beginning of next year.
Pop Crave spoke with Alice to discuss her life, High Dragon and Universe, and her future plans with music.
Has music always been something you’ve wanted to do? What inspired you to begin your music career?
When I was four years old, my parents really wanted me to study piano, so I started playing classical piano when I was four, and then I wanted to sing when I was nine. On top of playing piano, I started my soprano training when I was nine. I actually didn’t like playing piano, and I was in very serious and rigorous training every week. Some of my teachers – not all of them – were really harsh on me, and as a kid, it was a lot of questioning yourself about being so bad and feeling scared. Every week, I had to go to my teacher’s house to do my weekly test of playing piano, and my parents are really hard on me. At one point, I wanted to pursue doing music at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music affiliated high school, but I didn’t pass the test because I was not that good… At that point, my music training sort of stopped. I went back to the “normal” route of going to college and studying liberal arts. I actually majored in communication and also philosophy when I was in college. I needed to make money because, you know, you’re an adult now. So I moved to New York, and then I met this British it-girl DJ. Her name is Chelsea Leyland. I was her assistant, and she’s a great party starter DJ. Then I was like, well, I guess I can DJ to make money too. So I started DJing in New York, and I enjoyed that a lot… I always really liked music, but I was just not happy with being punished all the time because I suck at music. I remember when I was young, I would always imagine me being in a music video. I always have so much to say about what’s going on in my life, what’s going on in the world… Writing songs was my medium to express myself, and then here we are… Songs and music are one of the most important mediums for me to express myself and express my opinions, but they’re not necessarily my only medium. I’ve done other projects in different art formats, and I enjoyed that as well.
What do you think specifically draws you to the genre of “hyperpop”?
When I was making music, and also when I later met Dylan Brady, I started working with him and got connected with people like Laura Les and Fraxiom. This was when hyperpop wasn’t even invented as a playlist on Spotify. Honestly, I don’t think about genre too much. And also, I don’t know how to really express how I feel about being categorized, but as far as I can say, I didn’t even know who Dylan Brady was when I first worked with him. I was having a heartbreak that day over this girl I was obsessed with. Usually I’m really professional, so if I’m going to work with someone, I listen to their music and do my little research before I meet them, but that day was just the wrong day. I was so heartbroken, so I didn’t really know who Dylan Brady was, and then I got into the studio with him and was just so blown away by how brilliant he is. Then we put out my songs made by me and Dylan Brady on his record label, Dog Show Records. Their first release was 1000 gecs, and the second, the third, and the fourth were all mine. I guess that’s how everything started, and that’s how I was associated with the scene or the term.
When you’re in the studio, or “Bleeding in the Studio” as I should say, what does writing a song look like for you?
It usually starts with ideas, right? Ideas could be a sound, a line or a conversation. For example, “Bleeding in the Studio,” the song off my new EP, that concept literally started from a text message between me and Wyatt Bernard, who I made the song with. I wanted to work on something that day, and then I got my period, and I was texting him like, “Yo, I gotta go to CVS real quick and get some pads. I don’t want to flood the studio with my blood, you know?” And then I was like, “I don’t want to be bleeding too hard,” and he was like, “When you said ‘bleeding in the studio,’ that’s a very fun, very real concept, and we should go off from there.” The first draft was like 75 BPM – really slow but not singer-songwriter – but ethereal vibes with a lot of bells and all that. It turned out to be a dance track, so the process changed. You have to stick to it, because I can come up with so many ideas every day to make a song – or to make a whole EP – but then sometimes you kind of ditch ideas. That’s when sometimes you listen back to your old demos, and you’ll be like, “Oh my god, this is actually good! Why did I not work on this one? Why did I not stick to it?” I know some people truly just work by themselves. Their whole project is made by them, wrote by them, mixed by them, mastered by them, cover art by them, music video by them… I work with two or three of my close friends or some people I met on this path. I feel like who you surround yourself with is very important, because if you enjoy their company, they enjoy your company, and you guys tend to stick together. That’s helpful for musical concepts or ideas to actually get finished.
“Bleeding in the Studio” really is one of my favorites. As the song discusses, what do you think makes the practice of art and music so therapeutic for you?
I think I have a quite unique background. I’m a foreigner in America. Some people think I’m an American-born Asian and I’m not. I was born in China. I came to America when I was 17. I lived in Japan. My host family, when I was studying in Japan, we became really close. They’re my second parents, kind of. I’m the only child, and my birth family are really conservative and strict. I am old enough to feel like I am able to cope with my trauma growing up, but sometimes they still influence me and haunt me in my nightmares. I posted this little demo with Fraxiom and Umru on my Instagram, and there’s a line that says, “I love to stay in but catch me going out.” I am a very “stay in” person… That comes from my insecurity with not having someone to rely on and not having my family be around me ever. I haven’t seen my grandmas in over half a decade. And also, I guess I’m different. I dress different. I talk different. I mean, I also didn’t realize I dress different and talk different until I grew up and until I came to America and graduated from college. It’s been a slow realization for me, so that made me have all this challenge in my life. Some people tend to misunderstand me and that makes me upset. I love people, I would love to be with them, and I would love to talk to them, but at the same time, I feel so insecure. The cognitive dissonance in my life really just drives me insane. If I could turn those things into some songs or some art projects, that’s helpful for me to cope with it and digest.
By being in one of your group chats, I have experienced it myself that you have a very close relationship with your fans. How important is that artist-to-fan connection for you?
Oh, thank you! I have to admit that I have very low self-esteem. I love connecting with people, and shout out Internet! We all grew up on the Internet. It’s truly amazing for me mental health wise, because what I do draws all these people to talk to me. They are willing to share their world with me, and that’s very special. I think those people in my group chats, they’re just my people. I just feel so happy and very like, “Fuck, yeah! Everybody loves me! I love everybody! Let’s go!” I don’t have to try hard to get people to like me, and I feel like in real life, 90% of the time I’m trying to please other people and trying to get them to like me… I think it’s just amazing that all these people are willing to talk to me… 98% of the time, if I’m not working or if I’m not obligated to go outside, I’m just in my room. I love Internet and I love talking to everyone.
High Dragon and Universe is such an amazing body of work. Do you have a personal favorite on the EP or a certain moment on the record that sticks out to you as something that you’re really proud of?
Definitely I have to say “Bleeding in the Studio” because I personally love dance music. Last year with COVID and quarantine, every night I’m just dancing in my apartment by myself. I love dance music, and that piece of music is very thoroughly and thoughtfully arranged. The lyrics go really hard and it’s not just some surface level of self expression. It’s really deep, you know?
Also “Never Coming Back.” I loved Avril Lavigne when I was young, and she famously said, “I think it’s more punk if you don’t say you’re punk.” And going back to the “hyperpunk” concept, hyperpunk literally was invented by Sam Stubbings, who is Mura Masa’s manager. He’s a marketing genius. When I put out my song “She Abunai” with Mura Masa and bülow earlier this year, he was like, “This is hyperpunk because I’ve never heard any music like this,” and it’s a very thoughtfully, brilliantly arranged piece of music. Most of the time I feel that aggression or angriness in my blood, and “Never Coming Back” as one of the focus tracks on my EP, I love it. As an Asian woman, I didn’t realize until I lived overseas in America or when I used to go to Europe during my winter breaks, just to open my eyes and realize there is those stereotypes being put on us Asian women. A lot of the time people think we’re exotic or submissive and all that. I’m not Suzie Wong. I’m not Miss Saigon. It’s 2021. I realize sometimes that I do experience those very strange treatments from people. I’m like, you know what? I’m not that little Asian girl having her heartbreaks over some white boys. I mean I did experience that, but like, fuck that. I’m not Miss Saigon. I’m not Suzie Wong, so fucking fight back. I love “Never Coming Back” and “Bleeding in the Studio.”
Are there any artists you feel really inspired by at the moment, and is there anyone you see yourself possibly wanting to work with in the future?
I don’t actually listen to a lot of music if I’m being honest. I listen to a lot of my friends’ music. Obviously 100 gecs is my biggest idol. They are icons for a lot of people. They are inspirational, and I was really lucky to meet Dylan and Laura when I was starting out with doing music. Dylan really opened the door for me to this alternative world and helped me reimagine how music could be. I opened for them during their “Secret Tour,” and that was their first tour. I would love to go on tour with them again!
I know you’re currently on a mini tour with Fraxiom, and you’re also preparing to open for Rebecca Black’s tour in early 2022. What have you enjoyed about the touring experience so far?
Yeah, I actually just got back from tour yesterday. We just finished the little mini tour. Again, I have very low self esteem. I could be really toxic to myself because I’d be thinking, “Oh my god, everybody hates me! No one likes me,” and it’s just all these really toxic thoughts in my head, but if I’m playing a show and if I’m on tour, people bought tickets to see me. They already kind of like me and I don’t have to try too hard. And they bring me little gifts! Someone made this High Dragon and Universe bracelet for me and gave it to me at my Atlanta show. That’s really special because for me, it’s insane. It feels insane to think, “Oh my god, there are some people that like me! Like, they fuck with me. They think I’m cool.” That’s an insane concept.
Finally, are there any upcoming projects that we can anticipate from you in the near future?
I’m going to put out two more singles in January and February, I think. That leads up to my second debut EP. I was actually putting together the tracklist this morning, even though I don’t know when my second debut EP will come out. I do have some great music… Other than the Rebecca Black tour, I’m actually doing another big tour with another very exciting artist in Spring 2022. They haven’t announced yet, so I’m not gonna say.
I hope I can play some music festivals in 2022 and just overall survive. I cry a lot. I’m not gonna not empower myself, so I hope I can just stay positive to be honest. If I could stay alive, then there’s so much more I could do. So staying alive and staying healthy are the most important things.
Alice Longyu Gao’s debut EP, High Dragon and Universe, is out now.