"I’m not sure I’ve ever done an interview without answering a question about yodelling" We chat with Alice Wallace
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In 2015 Alice Wallace released her breakthrough record, Memories, Music & Price. It got high praise from critics and introduced to her listeners on the UK side of the Atlantic too. Over the last three years plenty has happened to the Californian singer-singwriter, including recording (but not releasing, yet) a new album. Alice found some time in her schedule to have a chat with us about that, her new single 'Elephant', and yodelling.
Hey Alice, how’re you doing?
Doing very well! Thank you!
Where are you right now?
I’m sitting in Los Angeles at a friend’s home.
And what have you been up to today?
Had a nice brunch (because breakfast almost never happens!) in Highland Park, and now just working on my laptop. I’m flying to Nashville tomorrow for a week of shows and writing appointments, so just getting some last minute things done before I go!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Well, I live in southern California. I grew up in Florida, but now California definitely feels like home after being here about 10 years. My mom grew up here so I have lots of family here. I quit my job about six years ago to do music full-time and have spent much of my time on the road in those six years - exploring so many different parts of this country and sharing my songs and stories along the way. It’s a lifestyle that I never expected to live, but I am so happy to have found my way here.
Your last record came out in 2015, what’s the best thing that you’ve experienced since then?
So many great things! I’ve gotten to play some incredible shows: opening for The Band Perry to 5,500 people at the Pacific Amphitheater in Orange County, and also sharing the stage with artists I strongly admire like Lee Ann Womack, Wynonna Judd, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Billy Joe Shaver. This past December, I was named Female Vocalist of the Year at the first annual California Country Awards. But more than anything, I have made some incredible friends and fans along the way while touring to support that album.
How are you going about writing and choosing which songs to record for your upcoming album?
We will be releasing my newest album in early 2019, but all of the songs are already written. In fact, they are already recorded, as well. But this album did come together much differently than my previous ones. I did a lot of co-writing for this album, which is something I’ve never done before. I was really struggling to write for this album, and reaching out to a couple talented friends to help get my creative juices flowing helped immensely. I feel like I take my job as a songwriter more seriously than I ever have, and that’s what got me a little stuck for this new one. I have met such incredible songwriters in the past few years and have really learned the power of a well-crafted song. So I want to make sure that if I put a song into the world, it’s the best song it can be.
Several of the songs on the album were written with my good friend - and incredible songwriter - Andrew Delaney from Dallas. He and I met at a songwriting competition outside of Austin and quickly became friends. His songs can make me cry even after hearing them 30 times. And I think the songs we have written for the album are some of the strongest. He has an incredible way with words. I also wrote a song with my producer and good friend KP Hawthorn that I think is spectacular. She really helped me branch out musically on that one, and it’s a great, hard-hitting song that will actually be the first track on the new album.
And not only did I branch out in the writing process for these new songs, but the topics have also changed over time. My background is actually in journalism. I worked in newspapers for several years after college, and it has taken me some time to come around to the fact that telling stories through my songs is what I want to do. Many of these songs are like vignettes - little glimpses into a moment in time or a certain situation. I tried to tell some important stories with these songs - songs about being a woman, songs about some of the social and environmental issues we are facing. There are some big stories to be told right now, and I couldn’t help but think about them as I was writing these songs.
What can you tell us about your recent single ‘Elephants’?
'Elephants' will be on the new album, but we decided to release it early due to the timely nature of its subject. It is the one song on the album that I had no hand in writing. It was written by friend Andrew Delaney, who has co-written several others for my album. It was one of the first songs I ever heard Andrew sing and it absolutely stunned me the first time I heard it. The song is so powerful and moving and I knew immediately that I wanted to record it. The words are so simple, yet so striking. It’s a song about being a woman. It’s a song about the compromises women learn to make to stay safe in the world. And it’s a song I think everyone needs to hear.
The video for 'Elephants' is pretty powerful, how did you come up with the concept?
The video concept really came from the director, Jeremy Christensen. As soon as he heard ‘Elephants’, he was so enthusiastic about bringing it to life. He immediately felt that we needed to have many women join me for the video. And it soon turned into the idea you see in the video, with me flanked by my friends (who are mostly women, but we did include one man since women aren’t the only ones who deal with harassment), who each hold large cards with derogatory words aimed at women that have become a regular part of our vocabulary.
Linking to that, there’s obviously a lot of talk about equality in general life at the moment, have you ever felt you were treated differently as a woman in your industry?
Though it is rarely blatant, I find a lot of venue owners and bookers find subtle ways to show you that they don’t take you as seriously as a female artist. A majority of bookers are men, and men make up the majority of the acts that are booked at major festivals. The sexism does exist. Some countries are taking steps to demand that festivals book 50% women. I hope the U.S. will follow suit.
And what’s your take on the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements?
I think it’s tragic we need to have movements like Time’s Up and Me Too, but I’m glad they are finally happening. Of course, the news coverage and chatter about it has slowed since the initial story surrounding Harvey Weinstein that really acted as the catalyst for it, so we need to keep the conversation at the forefront. I play ‘Elephants’ at every show. And at every show, I get an incredible response from everyone in the crowd - men and women. And I hope they take that feeling with them and share the song with someone when they get home.
Do you find yourself viewed any differently making country music in California as opposed to Nashville?
California country music has rich tradition dating back to the dust bowl, and I’m proud to represent it. Of course, I do have the unique perspective of growing up in Florida and then moving out here about 10 years ago. But even while growing up in Florida, one of the staples of my childhood years was Gram Parsons thanks to my parents. And Parsons helped shape California country music strongly in the 70s. And so far, I don’t feel as though my music is judged harshly in comparison to Nashville country. But I am also not aiming for modern country radio or trying to fit into the “Nashville” format, per se. If anything, the grittier, alternative country coming out of east Nashville is more my style. I feel like those artists come closer to embodying the spirit of country music than anything coming from Music Row these days.
When was the last time you were starstruck?
That’s a tough one! I get to meet some pretty great people on a regular basis. Probably the most recent one was when I got to sit about five feet from Carlene Carter during a show where she was paying tribute to Rose Maddox, who was one of the earliest California Country singers. Carlene was just incredible, and she was singing with an all-star band that included John Jorgenson. I got to chat with her after the show and tell her about my favorite songs of hers - including “Easy From Now On” that she wrote with Susanna Clark, which was recorded by Emmylou Harris. It was a memorable night!
What music are you listening to at the moment?
I’m a big fan of the new Kacey Musgraves album. And the new one from Brandi Carlile. Aaron Lee Tasjan released one single from his album coming out in August and it sounds great. His last album Silver Tears is probably the album I have played the most in the past couple years. It’s such a fresh approach to Americana and I just can’t get enough of it. I also still regularly play Sara Watkins’ 2016 release Young In All the Wrong Ways. That’s another of my favorites from the last couple years. Just an incredible album.
What are your plans for the rest of 2018?
We’ve got a lot of work to do on preparing the new album release, but I’ll also be doing some more touring, as well. I’ll be headed to Nashville in September to take part in some of the festivities around AmericanaFest and doing some touring in that region, plus probably some trips back through Texas and up the West Coast. But a lot of it will be spent getting this new album ready. It’s the most amazing project I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s so exciting to think of sharing it with the world in a few months!
If you could recommend one song to hear this week, what would it be?
Because I can’t say enough about my songwriter friend Andrew Delaney, go listen to his song 'Lina'. It will break your heart, but it’s amazing.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
Well, I’m not sure I’ve ever done an interview without answering a question about yodeling, so that would probably be it! I taught myself to yodel in college, and it has become a signature part of my set. I love keeping the tradition alive. I’m always looking for new ways to highlight the all-but-abandoned vocal technique, and my song 'Echo Canyon' is one that I wrote with Andrew to bring it into the modern era. But I also do some more classic yodels from artists like Patsy Montana back in the 30s, all the way up to Texas’ 'Pavarotti of the Plains' Don Walser in the 80s and 90s.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
I take it as espresso if I can. A double shot over ice with a little soy milk. Perfection!
To find out more about Alice you can visit her website. You can also see what she's thinking on Twitter or like her on Facebook.
If you've not heard Alice's brilliant album Memories, Music & Pride, you can stream it from all services now, including Tidal below.