Alice Wallace: ‘Right from the start, I had the urge to put my own words to a melody rather than sing the words of someone else”

[By Monica Harris]

I’ve been a fan of Alice Wallace for quite a while and was pleased when she debuted her first album Sweet Madness. I was doubly-pleased when she earned a nomination for an Orange County Music Award. Wallace has a fresh quality to her voice – strong and gutsy yet velvety soft. She recorded Sweet Madness with help from Anthony Arvizu at The Compound Studio in Long Beach. The album’s 9 songs depict Wallace’s personal feelings, set against folk, country and rock melodies. We talk to Alice about her album and inspirations.

When did you begin playing guitar and writing music?

I was 15 or 16 when I picked up the guitar and started writing songs, though it was a gradual process to build up to that point. I grew up in a household with two parents who sang and played guitar, and so I had learned a few chords on the guitar by the time I was about 10. But it wasn’t until high school when I started to make an honest attempt to learn to play competently. And I found that once I had learned the very basics of chord structure, I immediately wanted to write my own songs. I won’t say they were great songs, but right from the start, I had the urge to put my own words to a melody rather than sing the words of someone else.
When are you at your most creative?
I find I write my best lyrics when I’m lying in bed at night. In the dark and the quiet, I’m able to think a lot more clearly. I can just lie there, turning a phrase over and over in my head, looking for the best way to say what it is I want to say. There are no distractions. Though it’s certainly a hazardous way to write songs, because as I get sleepier, I don’t want to get up and write down the lyrics I come up with. I can’t count how many times I’ve let myself go to sleep, feeling certain that I’ll remember what I just came up with because it just seems too perfect to forget. And then I wake up the next morning and…nothing. I think I’ve finally learned my lesson on that one and make myself wake up and write down the lyrics before they’re gone.
Tell us about the creation of your current album Sweet Madness.
I released my debut album in late 2011, so I’d really like to start recording my next one this year. I have plenty of new material, it’s just a matter of funding and timing. But I think by the fall, I will be ready to record again. And I feel like this album will be much more focused than my debut was. On my first album, “Sweet Madness,” I took songs from many different periods of my life and put them together. It wasn’t necessarily a cohesive album, but more a compilation of songs from almost 10 years of songwriting. The songs I’ve written in the past year since the release of that album have mostly revolved around emotional and relationship topics. I’ve learned a lot about relationships, and myself, in the last year, and it is reflected in the songs. I keep joking that this will be my “breakup album,” but it’s more than that. Each time a relationship ends, I think it can be the best opportunity for you to grow as a person – to look back at the way things unfolded and learn a little more about how to treat other people, and how to stay true to yourself. I’ve also been listening much more heavily to folk and blues artists than I ever have, and so I think even the tone of the album will be more consistent than my first. I honestly can’t wait to get into the studio and see what we come up with considering the new batch of songs I have ready to go.
How does it feel to be nominated for an OC music award? (And congratulations!)
I was so thrilled when I found out I had been chosen to compete in the Best Live Band competition this year. Being included in that lineup of musicians has helped me to get so much exposure that I may never have received without the opportunity to play in one of those showcases. Even though we didn’t get chosen to advance into the finals, I am so happy we got the chance to perform for the judges, as well as the great music community here in Orange County. There is so much talent in Orange County that it truly is an honor just to be nominated. That’s cliche, I know, but true!
Who do you feel is your biggest influence?
I’m not sure I could pick just one person as my biggest influence. If I had to choose the artist who influenced me to want to become an artist myself, I would have to say Jewel. I was in high school when her album “Pieces of You” came out with her first big hits, and that had a huge impact on my idea of what a professional musician could be. Musically, I tend to gravitate more heavily toward female artists for my inspiration: classic songwriters like Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell and Dolly Parton; and modern, folky songwriters like Patty Griffin, Dar Williams and Brandi Carlile. And of course there are plenty of male songwriters I admire, as well as just great bands of any genre. I love a lot of different music, and sometimes I have a hard time keeping my music in a similar vein because of that. But I always tend to end up back with folk, blues, and other rootsy music and my main source of inspiration. It has a quality that feels natural to me.
Any interesting or funny stories from the stage?
Just your typical broken strings, power outage, type stuff. I broke a string once in my yodeling song. I wrote a song about teaching myself how to yodel, and there is a part where it gets really frantic at the end as I yodel faster and faster. So of course, I eventually broke a string in that song. And of course, I was on stage at the Coach House in front of a few hundred people. But at least because the song is naturally frantic and chaotic, it almost seemed planned. The crowd loved it. Perhaps I’ll purposely try to break strings more often. ~
Alice Wallace will be performing live at the Pint House on February 28 and March 2, and the Pelican Isle on March 8. She will also be touring the southwest this year.

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