We had the pleasure of chatting to Alcazar’s Tess Merkel ahead of her appearance at this year’s Melodifestivalen. We had a great time hearing about how Tess felt about going solo with her Melfest entry Good Life and how she is on a mission to spread positivity and good vibes through her music. Tess also shared her thoughts on her favourite Alcazar anthems, Sophie Ellis Bextor’s version of Crying at the Discotheque, and some of her favourite Eurovision entries. You can read the transcript below or watch the video above.
Thanks for taking the time to chat Tess! We are hugely excited to see Good Life performed at Semi-Final 4 of Melodifestivalen on the 27th of February.
You can connect with Tess on her Instagram.
Culture Fix: You’re back at Melodifestivalen! That’s so exciting. What is it about Melodifestivalen that appeals to you as an artist?
It’s this huge community of people. Everyone getting together and having fun – although not so many at this time. We can sit in front of the TV, no matter what age you are and everyone can have their own opinion about Melfest. It’s also the different songs which appeal to different people; the diversity of all the songs. It’s just a big party and we need it right now!
Culture Fix: The people watching on TV will be hopefully having as much of a party watching at home this year.
It’s going to be super different. In some years when I participated with Alcazar it was in huge arenas, with all the crowds screaming and balloons everywhere. It was a massive wall of energy. This year the challenging thing is to try to keep that energy in your heart, but your audience is right in that red lamp in the camera. It’s a different vibe this year.
Culture Fix: You had fantastic success at Melfest as part of Alcazar. Does it feel more pressured competing as a solo artist?
Of course. You’re more vulnerable. I’ve been working with Alcazar for twenty years, my whole adult life basically I’ve been working in a group. This is different – it took some time – but I really feel that I’m ready to do this on my own now.
Culture Fix: Have you found as your career has progressed nerves about performing have lessened or will that always be part of the job?
Kenny Solomons (Tess’s Husband!): I can answer that one! She gets very nervous before a performance – you can’t get out of that one!
Tess: Well I do. When you’re on stage – especially at this big, huge Melodifestivalen. You have three minutes to do everything perfectly. You cannot have mistakes or you can’t leave something for later. Every single second of the three minutes that you have must be perfect. You have to rehearse, have every single move right – if I do then I can find the joy and be in the now. Then I know everything is my body: the voice, the singing, the dancing. I just know that I am safe and then I can have fun. That’s the most important thing, if I have fun, it goes out to you. I want you to have fun, I want you to feel safe and I want you to feel the love that I have for my number.
Culture Fix: How would you describe yourself as a solo artist?
Hmmmm. I think it’s 100% me. It took some time for me to just breathe in and out and think back about the joyride with Alcazar and take the bits out of Alcazar that are in my heart and DNA. I took all the things that were me and just made it a little more. Everything, every breath, song, tune, lyrics, it’s all me. I think you will recognise some of the bits – you’re not going to go “Oh my God, this is so far away from Alcazar.” No. I think you will recognise bits and pieces and say “I can dance to this.”
Culture Fix: Obviously things are top secret regarding Good Life at the moment, but can you give us any indication of its sound and the inspiration behind it?
Good Life came out of a tough time. Me, you, the whole world has been through this extreme challenge. We paid a big price. We lost jobs, we lost family members, and we cannot hug the loved ones we are so desperate to. It affected me. I got low and depressed and came to a crisis, a grief. It started with me writing this song which got so darn depressive, it was not helping me at all. So I went back to the studio and said this has got to be fun. Let’s lift this energy and think of all the fun things we have. What do we have that makes us happy? Whether big or small, whatever it is. Just focus on that and that is a good life. We have everything in front of us, even though we used go round the world flying, having friends and family round, going to parties – but we don’t right now, so let’s make the best out of what we have right now. That’s why Good Life became an anthem to a good spirit – you can always celebrate things and the love that you have in your life. It’s an injection of goodness, happiness and hope.
Culture Fix: Will you be getting the chance to do some choreography with your performance?
Oh yes! It’s going to be a show number. You’re gonna have moves in there that everyone can do, parts that everyone can sing. I want you to feel what I feel in my heart and express it to you, so you can be a part of this new positive vibe that is coming through this challenge. We are capable of so much – every single one of us, it’s just a mindset. If I can inspire you to be bigger, to be stronger, to be happier, with just a song and music and dance, that would be my goal.
Culture Fix: Have you got an outfit picked out yet?
Oh yes! It’s just ready to go! I’m so ready. I could go up there now; I’m ready to do this.
Culture Fix: Is it quite tough being in semi-final four and having to wait until your turn?
It’s good because I get the chance to develop my performance, my singing, etc. It’s a good thing but it’s also, you get a little bit *clapping gesture* come on!
Culture Fix: Do you think Good Life will form part of a larger project? An EP or album perhaps?
Of course! This is just the start, the beginning, the kick-start to a new era and new career of sending good vibes and good spirits in my music. It’s going to be 100% good vibes. We’re done with all this depressive stuff now. We need colour, we need party, and we need to feel good. If I can express that and make you guys feel better in my music I will most certainly do that. That’s my mission!
Culture Fix: Have you been able to tune into the first two semi-finals of Melodifestivalen? Is anyone standing out to you so far?
I’ve been watching the whole lot. I love Danny because he’s such a warm and charismatic entertainer. I love his voice and the way he dances. Dotter of course, this powerful voice! Lillasyster was good. The guy who wrote the song was a guy that I write with Palle Hammarlund.
Culture Fix: Alcazar competed at Melodifestivalen five times – Headlines is a particularly favourite for me – are there any entries that you feel are underrated and deserve a bit more love?
Hmmm. I really loved all our songs. The one that I don’t love that much is Headlines! It’s a good song but it’s not my favourite one. I do love Stay the Night. It takes you right away. I also love Alcastar because the message is so simple: everyone can be an Alcastar, everyone is unique and you can be whatever you want to be me.
Culture Fix: It’s been lovely to hear Alcazar’s Crying at the Discotheque all over BBC Radio 2 in the form of the Sophie Ellis Bextor cover. Is it quite strange to hear an iconic Alcazar song in the hands of another artist?
It feels absolutely fantastic. I feel so honoured that that song has had so many lives. After these twenty years, there’s a new revival of our song. Someone like Sophie Ellis-Bextor covering our song is an honour. I do think ours is better! Our version is just fantastic and she does her version very well. It’s a big thing, a great honour.
Culture Fix: Alcazar’s most recent studio album was 2009’s Disco Defenders. Do you think we will ever get another album from the band?
Maybe! You never know. The love for Alcazar, for all the members, is big. Alcazar is always gonna have a huge space in my heart. You never know. Me and Andreas basically talk every week. You never know!
Culture Fix: There are about eleven days until your semi-final. What do you have planned in the lead-up to the performance?
Rehearsals every day. Yesterday we tried out the costumes. Today I was singing with my vocal coach and tomorrow we’re going to sing and dance more. I’ll set my in-ears and everything. I just want to go into the arena and be fully prepped about everything so I don’t have to think about whether it’s my right or left leg!
Culture Fix: I really hope to see you on the Eurovision stage, but thinking of the contest in recent years and its long history, who are some of your all time favourite Eurovision acts?
I really loved last winner. Duncan Laurence? That was a good one. Of course I loved Helena Paparizou. Loads! Going way way back to ABBA and Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley. Charlotte Perrelli, Carola and Måns Zelmerlöw’s Heroes!