The personal as political: Alpha Maid on the post-punk & industrial crossover of neofolk on CHUCKLE—a surreal EP for an extraordinary time

, 11 May 2021

“I fit in well, I reckon,” writes Alpha Maid (aka Leisha Thomas) via email about what she calls the “dark minded, twisted tendencies” of London label C.A.N.V.A.S, the latest to release Thomas’s music—cheeky humor, and all. Released on March 19, CHUCKLE is the follow-up to 2019’s Spy and is the embodiment of a chaotic contemporary moment where the public and personal naturally have been bleeding into one another more than ever. The EP’s creeping social and political sentiments (sprinkled with a healthy dose of mischief) lead toward a sonically enigmatic project that twists and contorts into an amalgam of neofolk, post-punk, and industrial sounds. Audibly and conceptually, the record fittingly positions itself within the space of what Thomas calls an “open-minded, nonhierarchical energy”. It’s a notion that’s reflective of both the London-based musician’s present label dwelling, as well as the previous CURL, each offering unconstrained possibilities for Thomas’s artistically-challenging praxis.  

Alpha Maid, CHUCKLE (2021). Cover artwork by F. Lamb. Coutesy C.A.N.V.A.S., London.

CHUCKLE clearly finds Alpha Maid at her folksiest sonic approach to date as she enlists her beat-up acoustic guitar to soundtrack introspective impulses. Lead track ‘MILD WEATHER’ is driven by sparse, jarring guitar inflections that propel a forthright sensibility, while ‘NEWLY WOKE & THOUGHT PROVOKED’ provides a sneakily melodic twist to her clashing atmospherics. Blending tactile riffs with a post-punk ethos, ‘SUM1’ fuses glitchy percussion and reverberating vocals, enhanced by a subtle jazzy disposition. That single’s accompanying music video is also driven by forward-thinking visual elements that further enhance the innovative dissonance of the core Alpha Maid aesthetic. Directed and edited with collaborator Adrian Aldihni in London’s Sydenham Woods, its cryptic, nonlinear storytelling is driven by a hazy creative process behind the song, and a strange year as a whole. Along with F. Lamb’s cover artwork, it fits the EP’s surreal composite of motley of images and music mirroring a baffling era in a multifaceted approach to to a full-scale appreciation of what’s happened and what’s to come. 

**CHUCKLE seems to have a more folksy feel than Spy, while maintaining the overarching feeling of dissonance—was this a conscious choice in your artistic evolution? How did you go about crafting this project as a whole?

Leisha Thomas: Yeah totally, it’s folk inspired. That’s how I set it in my mind as I wrote it. My own way of doing something stripped back was what I wanted to create—something honest and pure, in that respect. It’s similar to punk for me. That’s why I connected with neofolk. The crossover with post-punk and industrial styles is really cool. I discovered some proper neofolk gems at the same time I was writing CHUCKLE and that did influence me further. I was conscious not to try and replicate, though. I don’t like to restrict myself too much. even if it’s for an artistic revamp. Vocal delivery and use of the flute, trumpet and my old beat up acoustic guitar were the biggest, conscious ways I crafted it to be folksy sounding. If I’m writing with loose influences in mind and a particular mindset, then that’s enough to have it drip into the songs so I can land in an interesting ball park. The whole project came together pretty naturally. Once I finished one track, I rolled to the next, writing the journey I wanted it to take. I see the whole project as one whole track, more than individuals. It works best together like that for me.

**The name of ‘NEWLY WOKE & THOUGHT PROVOKED’ suggests a distinctly political context. What are you working with here, and does that political focus seep into the other songs on the EP?

LT: It’s an observational song mostly. I think the majority of things are political, even if it’s not intentional. If it involves people, then it’s political. I wouldn’t say CHUCKLE is any more political than Spy though.

**What’s the significance behind the “I knew the figures” soundbite on ‘WOWOWOW’? It’s fascinating how the sample briefly enters and exits your world before being absorbed back into a wall of sound.

LT: It can be interpreted in a lot of ways and that I found it entertaining. The sharp accents in a sludgy doom track feels wrong. If you can tell who’s speaking and the narrative/context behind where it’s taken from, then it’ll probably have different meanings than if you can’t. Working on ‘WOWOWOW’, I would find that soundbite really funny, and then to go straight into such a dark sounding track, I’d feel kind of sinister for finding it amusing. I liked that that felt a bit naughty.

Alpha Maid, ‘SUM 1’ (2021) directed by Adrian Aldihni. Video still. Courtesy C.A.N.V.A.S., London.

**You mentioned that you wanted the ‘SUM1’ video to be nonlinear and surreal. What informed this narrative approach, and would you say that ethos applies to your music as well?

LT: The narrative approach for the video was my own sporadic thinking. The first version of ‘SUM1’ was written when I was a teenager. It’s the first song I wrote actually. For me, the whole EP feels a bit like leaving the house without an essential, then reaching back for it to then carry on. Like how I put on my shoes. In many ways it feels like this should have been my first release, but life isn’t this neat narrative, so it makes a lot more sense that it isn’t. I wanted to reflect this nonlinear timeline in the video. Then, yeah, it’s surreal to reflect how out-of-the-ordinary the past year has been. It’s strange to try and answer questions about the process because it genuinely all feels blurry having written it during that time!

**F. Lamb’s artwork for CHUCKLE is beautiful—how did you connect with her? And what was your collaborative process like?

LT: Fen is one of my best and oldest friends, we met studying on the same course at uni, coming up to 10 years ago now. The process was so easy and comfortable because we know each other really well. Fen painted the cover, taking reference from some pictures of me, which I sent along with the EP for her to get the general vibe. The second version she sent back within a couple of days of sending the first draft was bang on. She captured it so perfectly.**

Alpha Maid’s CHUCKLE EP was released via London’s C.A.N.V.A.S on March 19, 2021.