Alessandra

“Once I started writing it became this anthem of being grateful, rather than feeling sorry for myself”

I discovered Alessandra’s music through her incredible producer and friend Jade, and I have listened to her 20 Something EP regularly throughout the various lockdowns. She is an artist I’ve been really excited to connect with, so it was wonderful to have a chat with her about the development of this work, and also find out a bit more about her background in music

How has lockdown 5 been? I can see the gin in the background so that’s a good sign!

Excellent sign, I’m actually not a huge drinker, but lockdown has been okay! I feel like in the first lockdown I was really productive in Melbourne, but my partner and I relocated to Sydney so we’re just doing the whole thing again. This one has been less eventful, I feel like the first on I kept myself more occupied

It’s hard you know, it’s hard to feel confident to make plans especially for musicians when we rely so much on momentum. It’s a snowballing kind of industry, so when that momentum is constantly being stopped it can be really hard to feel confident to start again and put yourself out there!

Hugely! I only really had one live performance- it wasn’t even my gig, it was my friend Kala Gare who is phenomenal

Oh she’s the best!

Best friend, biggest fan! When I was writing my 20-Something EP, I had spoken to Jade my producer a bit about it, but Kala said I should play a song at the intermission of her gig, so that was the only live performance I’ve had of my original music! I started this in lockdown numero uno, so in terms of live performance I would have LOVED to have had a bit of a launch, but this is the world we live in!

It’s crazy, and even people who have had the opportunity to do launches have had to work around cancellations and rescheduling, and it’s been such a stressful experience. I know what you mean though because I released an EP last year and didn’t get to do a launch either. You feel like you’ve gone through such a big process to get something finished and then you can’t really do this big celebration for it

Absolutely, Jade and Kala and I did a zoom celebration and that was it!

Oh that’s so sweet! How was it working with Jade? She’s such a great person to know

Just ridiculous! It would not have happened without her! She was the easiest person to work with- she could just pick these ideas out of my brain, it was like she was psychic! I knew from the beginning that I wanted to work with a female identifying producer, and have that sense of equality and collaboration on something, and that was found ten fold with Jade

Totally, and bringing on women to collaborate for this first project really sets a tone for what you’re trying to do with your music which is really cool. For a lot of girls when they’re starting out in the industry, It can be really hard to know where to turn to for their music production because women are just so underrepresented in the producing and engineering side of the industry- and even more so women of colour. It can be really daunting when you’re first starting in the music industry and you kind of have to either already know someone who is female identifying, or you have to pick from the massive pool of men who throw their Sound Cloud at you

Yeah, and there are so many phenomenal producers out there of all genders, but this first release was kind of a passion project and I didn’t want my first venture of releasing music into the universe to be an experience where I might have been intimidated into changing something that I really wanted to keep the vibe of because someone had said something that made me feel small. That’s why it was such an awesome experience working with Jade, because this was my first time doing anything like this and she was really willing to listen and help, and bounce ideas back and forth, which is the way that a collaboration should be

That’s so valuable, and it feels like such a simple request! To feel safe in that developmental moment in a project is so important, especially when the process of putting something out is so tiring and expensive- you don’t want to get to the end of it and not even that happy with how it all sounds.

Yeah, and luckily it was the opposite of that! Once we finished I just couldn’t believe that it had all been sitting in our brains, and now its hear in the world and it’s exactly what I wanted

That’s just the best feeling! Well, tell me a bit about how you got started in music

Well, I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember, that old chestnut, and I studied musical theater for four years at Victorian College of the Arts which is where I met Jade. Auditioning and trying to work in theater was always the number one goal, but I’ve been writing for a really long time, since I was probably 12 or 13, and I learned enough guitar to get me by accompanying myself. My partner is a phenomenal guitarist and I’ve really relied on him for the past five or six years, but I just didn’t have the confidence to release anything until last year. I’ve always said, oh yeah, I’ll do this and put it on the backburner because theater is such a world of its own, which is awesome and I love it, but doing your own music is a whole other challenge. So this project is really the first thing I’ve done

I think that’s great. It’s so true that the world of theater is completely different, which people outside of the music world might not really know!

Yeah, she just tap dances too!

Exactly! I think with an industry that requires auditioning and learning other people’s work to an extremely high standard without adding your own flavor to it, do you feel like that helped when releasing your own music?

Hugely, mostly because I am someone who gravitates towards a more contemporary style, so I love stuff that’s influenced by Pop and R&B. I actually did my honors in music theatre, which was my fourth year of study, and I did my thesis and dissertation on riffing in theatre and vocal licks. That’s kind of the opposite of doing things as it’s written, it’s all about giving it a flavor, and I think that that was a really cool and different way to look at the craft which I really enjoyed. Translating that back into my own stuff really helped with creating ‘Thank you’ because it had all that R&B influence

I think all of the tracks definitely have roots in R&B, and I really like the different flavors across the tracks and how some of the songs are a lot more stripped back so they really showcase you as a singer and as a great vocalist. The ones with more production have such a cool extra flavor to it. How was it deciding with Jade what you wanted to add production to and what you thought should be left stripped back?

The songs that I felt had heavier lyrics like ‘Thank You’, I decided to just go all in and I was kind of scared to! It’s scary to dare to dream making a big track and thinking I’m going to make an absolute fool of myself, to put something into the universe that I would want to hear in the Top 40. The first time I heard it I freaked out because it was like nothing I’ve ever done before! So the tracks that were more heavily produced were really terrifying at first, but I really enjoyed that process

That’s awesome, and a song like ‘Thank You’ has that darker feeling to it and the vocoder is such a cool effect on the vocals, it really brings that power.

Yeah, and when I heard that for the first time, wow, I shed some tears it was just so cool!

How nice is it when a producer can elevate what you’re doing! That’s such a great experience to have.

Image by Laura Strobech

Let’s go through the songs! So ‘20 Something’ is super relatable, and it feels like a song that can speak to a whole generation of people who feel kind of lost. It’s such a term, 20 something, to describe this millennial/gen z that’s just trying to figure it all out. Why do you think our generation is like that?

Absolutely no idea! And I think that’s the fun of it. But yeah, I think it is really relatable, the whole just figuring this adult thing out. I feel like I’ve been writing a lot that caters to that kind of idea of finding oneself. It’s such a constant process of learning and growing and being a part of the school of life, and in some ways I don’t want that to end. I would like to be an adult who continues to be open and willing, and learning to fumble through it all

It’s nice to listen to a song that’s so honest about how strange it is being 20 something and how everyone is kind of different. You always feel a little bit out of the loop with people around you, it’s this weird experience of feeling like no one really gets you, but then no one really gets anyone.

Hundred percent

I really like the lyric,

I’ll see you at 10 a.m

So I’m that person that really, really tells myself, you’re going to get up and you’re going to go for a walk and it’s going to be an eight a.m start. But it never happens! I’m so bad, I’m really not a morning person!

I’m the same! And alarms just make it worse. Every day in lockdown I’ve set like six alarms from seven o’clock to 9 o’clock, and I tell myself, I’m going to make something of today, I’m going to get up and do something and it never happens, so I’ve stopped setting alarms and I just let myself get up naturally, and it’s way better that waking up already disappointed!

My partner started back at Uni today and I thought, oh, you’re going to get up and you’re going to go and get him a coffee before he starts, and I didn’t do it! He woke me up and asked, do you want a coffee? Noo!! I was going to do that for you!!  

You win some you lose some! Let’s talk a bit about September. Where is this song coming from? What are you trying to communicate with it?

This one is a first-love story, so it’s completely backed by truth and is about a guy that I- well we didn’t exactly ‘date’ because we were only in year five or six! The song is steeped in a very, very sweet truth, and it was roughly at that age that I started writing so I had about a thousand really awful songs about this person, so I thought it was time to finally write a good one. I recently got engaged, and I feel like there’s only so many songs you can write about being happy with your life partner! I thought, well I’ve got all of this stuff sitting in a little archive somewhere and it’s time to write something that I was really happy with.

I really think that it’s important for songwriters to reflect on what they’ve done in the past and work on it, because if you’re someone who’s writing all the time, there’s so much material you can work with but it just gets lost. I don’t think writers often go through the hundreds of notepads and voice memos they’ve made over the years! I think it’s great to keep being inspired by the things we’ve worked on a long time ago

Yeah, exactly. My partner helped come up with the music for that one, and for pretty much every track! For me, it was more about crafting that lyric in the way that I wanted. My number one priority is the lyric, and I feel like I’m more of a lyricist than a musician. So yeah, I spent a lot of time crafting that one.

For most of the songs, did you find you were coming to it from a vocalist/songwriter perspective rather than with chords and everything in mind?

One hundred percent. For me the lyric always comes first, and I’m a huge listener and reader of poetry, so I think it comes from that place. I’ve always been a very wordsy person, so that’s always where I start. It’s really interesting when you ask musicians ‘what do you hear first when you listen to a song?’, and for my partner, it’s never the lyric , it’s the bass or the rhythm, and it’s so interesting to me because all I hear is words!

Yeah, I’m exactly the same. It’s so weird to me when people don’t hear or notice the lyrics when that’s all I really focus on!

Exactly, and so I feel like I’ve always been a lyricist, and everything else is what I’m trying to grow in

It’s great that your partner can bring that musicianship foundation to the music, and I think that your lyrics are a real highlight of the whole project.

Let’s talk about ‘Welcome’, I think the production on this is really cool and you were saying how this one has got a bit of production because it’s got a slightly darker tone, so tell me a little bit about what this song is about

So this one is about my grandparents immigration to Australia. My Yi-ya- which is the Greek word for grandmother- and my Nonni- which is the Italian word for grandparents- moved over in the fifties and sixties. It was incredibly special because some of Jade’s grandparents also moved over from Italy in the same era, so we’re both second-gen Italians and I’m also second gen Greek. This song is mostly questions that I should have asked them, I’m lucky that I have all of my grandparents still around, but I have questions that I just haven’t asked them and I don’t know why. I love hearing stories about when they moved over here, and it makes me feel so incredibly stupidly lucky that they did because their sacrifices meant that I have the most wonderful life here. We’ve had conversations about the racism and the harassment that they experienced moving over here, and obviously we live in a really different time now where I haven’t experienced even half of the racism and profiling and name calling that they experienced. I’m really grateful because I know that it happens for so many people of color and culturally diverse people today, but I’m well aware that my grandparents took the brunt of that for me. This song is a bit of a thank you to them, and questions I should ask. They say they listen to it every morning

Oh my god that’s so sweet!

It’s very beautiful!

I feel like the message behind this song has a real weight to it, and it’s a really important thing for second generation or first generation Australians to know and think about the sacrifices that it took for their family to be able to have the life that they have. Did you feel like this was difficult for you to put into a song, or did you have so much to say that it was a straightforward process?

I feel like it was straightforward. It was almost scary releasing this song because I’m so aware of the privilege that they’ve given me to even put it into words and into a song that goes out into the universe. This was the song that I had the most people contact me about; immigrants and first and second generation people, all saying ‘you’ve got no idea how much I relate to this!’ So after getting past that fear and putting it on the EP and realizing how much people resonated with it, I was so happy! With this one, I literally had the lyrics and the melody and nothing else. Jade was absolutely phenomenal on this track and came up with everything. There’s a sound of a boat right at the beginning and the end because they all sailed here, which was really cool. I love that she came up with that.

That’s really beautiful!  And I’m sure that she felt really privileged to be able to be a part of a song that she can also relate to as well. I think this is a really great story and I think it’s really important to have more music that shows the diversity of people’s experiences and their ancestry. It’s obvious that not many songs talk about this kind of thing, so I think that’s great for you to start your project and your releases with a song like this.

Yeah, I was so glad by the end that that I had it on there.

Well, let’s talk a little bit about the Stevie cover, ‘For Once In My Life’. It’s such a great song choice, it’s one of those songs that every musician loves

So true

What made you want to cover this song?

I’ve always been a huge Stevie fan, I grew up listening to a lot of eighties music, I pretty much only listened to Luther Vandross which was the best upbringing ever! So I wanted to fuse that with the acoustic vibe that is more me, and it felt like a really fun challenge. My partner played guitar on this one as well and sang the duet with me after much begging. He’s just the most talented person ever and I just wanted something really joyful and something that I could share with him

That’s so cute, especially when it’s such a sweet love song, to perform that with your partner is lovely

Yeah! And Jade put all the brass in the background which was my favorite thing ever! When I heard the first demo I was like, oh my god!

Do you feel like there was pressure for you for this kind of song, considering that it’s so famous and iconic?

I almost didn’t think about it because coming from theater, I’m so often doing someone else’s material. I was way more frightened about putting my own stuff out, the cover was almost the easy part! I didn’t feel as scared because I know how good that song is and I love that song. Once I heard what we did, I was really happy with it and I actually had a lot of confidence in it

It sounds like it would have been a lot of fun! I really hope you do it at all of your shows because it would just be so fun to watch

Noted, I’ll take on stage!

Well let’s talk about ‘Thank You’. The vocals absolutely go off on this track, like it’s insane. This song really showcases you as a singer, so tell me a bit about this track

I feel like there needs to be more songs that focus on body image, but in a grateful way. I feel like a lot of the time when people write, it can be so cathartic to write about your own experience with your body and body image and things like that, but it can get really sad really quick! That’s actually how this song initially started, but I didn’t want that to be all that it was. I started writing a little bit more along the lines of being grateful for everything that I do have, and I’m someone personally that struggled hugely with body image and I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which makes my body an absolute whirlwind. So that’s where the content came from. Once I started writing it became this anthem of being grateful, rather than feeling sorry for myself

That’s a really important message because women are already told so much all the time exactly what is wrong with them, where they need to improve, what kind of diets and fitness plans they should be on. I think this is really beautiful in being proud of the person that you are and that you’ve been created to be. In particular I really liked the lyrics,

On the days I don’t wake up and love the marks on my hips
I need a reminder from all the women before me that these stripes are gifts

It’s really gorgeous, and it’s not something that you hear a lot in mainstream songwriting because people like to pretend that we’re all super smooth and airbrushed. I think this track is really nice in this honest and practical way.

Yeah, and that’s what I wanted to do, make it this grateful thank you. I’m someone that really struggles with all of the affirmation stuff, it’s just not my vibe, so writing this was my version of that affirmation

I feel like when you look up body positivity, there’s only so much that can really affect you, because it’s someone else’s words. As much as people can talk about how they love their curves and their marks and freckles or whatever it is, it kind of seems empty until you have that realization yourself that you are created beautifully, and also that just existing and being a person is fine and valid! I like that this song is your personal affirmation of yourself

Yeah exactly!

Lastly we have ‘Safe Love’ which is my favorite song from your EP. It’s so, so cute. It’s such a classic love song, I’d love to hear about how this was developed.

This was a late addition to the EP, and the EP was originally meant to finish with ‘Thank You’. We had settled on the songs and then I wrote this one and just new it had to be added, so I asked Jade if we could fit one more on! It’s like a sixties prom song, like a slow dance, and it’s about how I’m just very grateful to be stuck in lock down with my partner. I know that there are so many people stuck without their partners or single people in lockdown, so I was really lucky to spend all of the lockdown’s with my partner. Like I said earlier, there are only so many songs you can write about being grateful and happy and in love, but this one is one of my favorite songs.

I think it’s so sweet, and this one gets stuck in my head a lot. It gives me very Emily King sort of vibes

Wow a compliment of the highest order!

She’s a star, who are the people that inspire you and have influenced your sound?

For the past five or six years I’ve been a huge fan of Ed Sheeran, who recently led me to Maisie Peters because she’s just signed with his record label ‘Gingerbread Records’. She’s just phenomenal. Dodie is another huge influence

She is awesome!

I think especially in terms of crafting lyrics, she’s a huge idol of mine. Julia Michaels in the same vein. In terms of vocal inspirations, so many people like all of the RnB greats.

You’ve listed some phenomenal songwriters and there’s a reason why they’re so successful because they’re able to really communicate something effectively and beautifully. I think that that is really reflective in your project as well, because it’s not like you’re crowding what you’re saying. You’re saying things how it is and how it makes you feel, and I think that is a sign of someone who’s not afraid to just be honest. Sometimes it’s really easy to crowd stuff in similes and metaphors because actually just saying it is really hard!

Absolutely, and thank you so much for that because it was frickin terrifying

Did you feel like it took you a while to figure out what kind of sound you wanted to start releasing music with, or was it pretty clear?

I think it was pretty clear in that, I really only learned enough guitar to be able to accompany myself, so I feel like I had the skeleton of what I wanted. Knowing how frickin talented Jade was and that I was really safe to be able to communicate what I wanted everything to sound like, and for her to be able to just click onto that so instinctively gave me a lot of confidence.

Do you think your sound will evolve much from this vibe in the EP, or you going to stick to this sort of feeling?

I think I would like to stick to it but go deeper. It can be really intimidating going ‘all in’ and saying I want to make something that I would hear on the top 40, but that is something I’m capable of! I want to push myself to do that, and fingers crossed that I can get there!

Half the battle is being confident and knowing that you can do those sorts of things. I think that so many musicians get washed up in in self-doubt and comparisons with other people, if you have a clear vision of your goal and what you want to be doing, that’s a huge leg up!

Yeah, for sure, like the first time I heard the vocoder for instance, I was like, oh my God, this is way too cool for me! It was just the coolest thing ever, and I think it’s about getting more confident with things that sound larger than just my isolated vocal, which is what I’m so used to, and I really look forward to doing more of that kind of thing

Do you feel like it gives you the confidence to sing about certain ideas? I feel like when you can hear yourself in that produced world, you can feel motivated to write differently to what you’re used to, have you found that?

Hugely, absolutely! When I heard ‘Thank You’ finished for the first time, I was like, I can do anything!

Do you feel like you’re inspired by things outside of music and singing when it comes to your writing?

Yeah, my family would be one, especially with a song like ‘Welcome’. I feel like I get a lot of my inspiration from relationships too- good, bad, ugly, intimate

Yeah, and you were saying as well that you read a lot of poetry, which I’m sure influences the way that your lyrics develop

Yeah, and it’s something that I’ve only really started to love in the past year, but just the way that people can manipulate language is just phenomenal.

It sounds simple, but I think more songwriters should invest in understanding and reading poetry more because it’s just such an elevated form of communication. It’s hard to have the same sort of poetic essence in songs when the music kind of sets you up for certain cadences or phrasing, so poetry is such a special and powerful tool

Yeah, and I think that’s also reflected in rap which is another genre I really love to listen to. Chika is easily my favorite rapper and the way that she crafts words into absolute weapons is incredible. So yeah, aspiring to lyricism like that is the height of everything!

What do you feel like you’re hoping to communicate as a whole with this EP, and what do you want people to walk away feeling?

I want them to walk away feeling like it is absolutely fine to be worried about everything! I feel like ‘20 Something’ and ‘Thank You’ especially are the songs that communicate the cliché feeling that you’re not alone- that several people are having these thoughts. I want them to walk away feeling a little bit of sunshine after having listened to songs like ‘September’ and the Stevie cover. So, yeah, a little bit of comfort

I think that that’s definitely communicated, even in your press photography with all the flowers and the yellow, you can’t help but feel so light and happy!

If I can give anyone an audio hug then that would be great!

Image by Laura Strobech

And finally, what’s next for you?

Well, I’m actually a quarter of the way through my master’s of speech and language pathology, because as fabulous as it is being a singer songwriter, I feel like It’s important to have some financial stability. I did my honors, and thought, screw it, I’m going to go in with a medical eye to the voice and do my Masters! So that is the priority at the moment, but I’m looking forward to definitely working with Jade again in the future and hopefully collaborating with Kala as well.

Oh my gosh, that would be explosive.

Look, crossing all of the fingers! But it’s just this really fine line that I feel like so many musicians walk; how can I stay fulfilled but also have the level of employment that makes me feel secure? So I’ll let this Masters play out first, and then hopefully that will give me a lot of freedom to make music more once I have something else in my back pocket

I think that’s really realistic and important, and it’s hard for musicians to always express just how financially difficult it can be. This industry requires so much time, energy and effort, and that is not always reciprocated with financial stability in the way that other careers are. Focusing on something else and then coming back to music is the right decision for a lot of people!

Yeah, and I’ve been so lucky to be incredibly supported in doing study and music. If I wanted to take a break from that study I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I could. I genuinely am really loving it as well! I’ve been a singing teacher for a hot minute, and I’m kind of going into this medical side of everything. I’m a huge voice nerd so it’s been a really cool thing to explore

It sounds awesome, and even if this EP project and your original music isn’t what you pursue for the next little while, I think it’s really great that you have this body of work that can snapshot this moment in time and be something for people to look at when they want to find out more about you. Music is so personal and emotional, but we have this pressure to immediately monetize it and turn it into this big capitalist venture, it’s kind of nice to just release stuff and have it exist for people to enjoy

Yeah absolutely, like a little time capsule from lockdown! But yeah, there will definitely be more music on the way, I just gotta juggle all those plates!

Listen to the 20 Something EP on Spotify, and connect with Alessandra on Instagram

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