Thursday, May 14, 2020
A Ripple Conversation With Alison Solo
What have been your musical epiphany moments?
There have been plenty of those moments, however, off the top of my head, there are a few that come to mind chronologically. I grew up in a household with parents who grew up in swinging London, England. My earliest recollections were sitting around the television watching the Ed Sullivan show. We listened to Motown and The Beatles, and many of the unheralded groups that came out of Britain during the British Invasion. Those British groups that emerged during the time that The Beatles came out were most likely the conscious and subconscious impetus for me to want to start playing. I loved them as a child (and still do). In my early adolescence into my early teens, I remember hearing “Violet” by Hole, Jimi Hendrix’s version of “Hey Joe” and “Good Times Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin. Those songs made me feel like I had a way to transmute a lot of the depression and loneliness I felt as a child.
Into my later teenage years, Creedence Clearwater Revival did it for me, and then I discovered Alice In Chains (a little late, I might add). Now I find myself re-experiencing those epiphanies traversing back into the 60s and 70s, discovering bands that I never tapped into, and re-exploring some that were subversive to me the first time I heard them.
Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?
I usually just noodle around on the guitar and work off a riff that comes about, or a chord progression. At this point, a melody will typically pop into my head. I’ll “sing it out” so to speak. Words sometimes come out, and sometimes they don’t and it’s just jargon. I’ll usually create the skeleton of the song this way, intuitively, letting everything flow without overthinking it. I’ll then go back and structure it, write new parts if it needs it, refine existing parts, and write the lyrics last; I plug them into the melody. I like to go with the whole Mark Twain approach “Write drunk, edit sober.” FYI these days I always write whilst sober. The same goes if I’m collaborating with someone.
Who has influenced you the most?
I don’t know that it was a “person” who influenced me more than a movement or a wave of something. The British bands from the 60s and 70s and the bands that emerged during the time of the grunge movement influenced me the most. I suppose guitar playing wise, Jerry Cantrell was a big influence for me. He knows how to make a single note sing! And Eric Clapton when he was in Cream.
Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?
I look to the one thing that has been consistent in my life – change. Any new experiences, feelings and revelations from those experiences tend to precipitate ideas and motivation. Having said that, I generally find that I am unable to create whilst undergoing these experiences. I need time to process them! Additionally, I can’t let anything get static, nor can I cease to create small goals for myself if I want to stay inspired. If I get too comfortable with anything, I usually make a change. The inspiration comes in waves, though. Sometimes I don’t write for months and I just have to accept that and set out to create new experiences to draw from. I really like to have someone present in the room and/or place that I am creating in. The person’s presence alone gives me motivation; he/she doesn’t have to be engaged in what I’m doing whatsoever. Experiences inspire me to create music more than listening to music does.
We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?
Interestingly enough, I don’t know that I feel like I have a hometown! I was born in England and uprooted at three. I grew up in the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario, Canada and I moved around a lot, in spurts. I settled in suburbia for almost a good 20 years with only two moves with the family during that time. I suppose that the music reflects both Canadian and British heritage because I literally grew up with both cultures. I had very “adult” and “expansive” experiences considering I lived in suburbia, mainly because I traveled very far by local buses to get to the city a lot of the time, because it was so boring and most of the players lived in downtown Toronto. I am sure that the music is an amalgamation of British rock from my childhood (and from my recent re-visit to England for a year in 2018), and the quintessential Canadian feel-good rock from living in the Greater Toronto area. The drummer and co producer of Plutonian, James Last, is from England, and so is Tony, (key/organ player on Plutonian). So, in a nutshell, there is a lot of British rock influence.
Where'd the band name come from?
The band name “Alison Solo” is actually my real, legal name. I wish I had a more interesting answer!
You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?
The Joker sequel.
You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?). You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?
I know I’ll get some slack for saying this because it sounds like a cop-out. I would write a 1,000 word essay on Free Bird (another musical epiphany!) The song always got to me on various levels. Everything from the lyrics to the guitar solo, and even more recently, the bass line! Also, I often associate it with the scene from Forrest Gump when Jenny is standing on the ledge of the balcony about to jump, and Free Bird is playing. Perhaps it is a nostalgia thing, as it brings me back to my childhood.
I used to feel like my entire musical trajectory was one big Spinal Tap moment! It felt like everything was always falling apart. It wasn’t, the stars just weren’t aligned. In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve had one. Yet. Unless playing on a stage with a drummer who was so bad that he couldn’t even play the right song and I kicked him off the stage along with the rest of the band and played the rest of the set on my own counts?
Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans?
My live experience has changed dramatically for me over the past few years. Getting on a stage has always felt like home; albeit, I am not immune to performance anxiety! All I can say is that there was a time when I think I was “taking” from the audience with my own insecurities. My performances these days are more “giving” in the sense that I have faced a lot of those demons, so I feel that I’m not coming from such a “self-centered” place. Essentially, the stage used to be the only place that I felt like I could be myself. Now that I feel more comfortable in my own skin, I don’t look exclusively to the stage anymore to feel at peace. People who have seen me perform have always remarked on my “stage presence.” The performances are usually intense without having to do any crazy acrobatics or contortionist stuff. It has always been a spiritual experience for me and subsequently, my fans hopefully feel some sort of a catharsis, too.
What makes a great song?
Authenticity. To elaborate, I believe that a great song is a song that is written in honesty. As long as it is honest and is not contrived and does some great “emoting,” then it is a great song.
Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?
Without guitar accompaniment, I wrote my first song at eight. I can’t remember that far back. I do however remember the first song I wrote on my first guitar at eleven. I had written it at a family member’s place. I was sitting on the balcony with the family member and his friend. He was trashed and just kept on saying to me “It’s a hit, it’s a hit!” Haha. I even remember the lyrics. They went something along the lines of “Sometimes I feel so all alone. And all my troubles get to me. I always dwell on the past. And all I have is you on my mind.” It was sort of country rock.
What piece of your music are particularly proud of?
I’m really really proud of my new album “Plutonian.” More than anything else I have ever done. It’s probably because it had the most integrity. I did things all on my own terms, the way I wanted them. I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do or how to do them. Specifically, Sister Rosetta Tharpe off the record is the show-stopper for me, for multiple reasons.
Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?
This may sound strange, but I haven’t listened to much music at all for the past year and a half. I know that there are some really great writers out there, yet I incessantly find myself delving into the past when I do listen to music.
Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?
Vinyl. 1000%. I want an album experience.
Whiskey or beer? And defend your choice
I didn’t realize that this needed a defense! Haha. Beer because it tastes great and it lasts longer. You can stay up a lot longer and still speak with clarity and remember everything the next day. Fun fact: These days I opt for good old West Coast H20.
We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?
Toronto is my hometown, or suburbia GTA because I lived there the longest. I recommend Sonic Boom which is right downtown Toronto.
What's next for the band?
Well, we are looking forward to uniting, as James Last (drummer and co producer of Plutonian) and Tony Edwards (key/organ player on Plutonian) reside in England. James will be joining me here in Vancouver, Canada once this lockdown eases. We are also looking forward to meeting Tony! Haha. James and I haven’t even met him yet. I promised him a seat on the big stage, so I guess we’ll have to fly him out. I had planned a vinyl release, and then COVID happened. So, I want to press the record on vinyl and then get this band on the road! We’ll need a bass player. Wink wink 😉
Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?
My new release “Plutonian” was recorded in England and Canada. It was mixed by the legendary Ron Nevison (The Who, Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, Chicago, UFO, and many more!) I think we have settled on a genre, as it is a cross genre album. It is most commonly referred to as “Classic Psychedelic Blues Rock.” You can find it exclusively at www.alisonsolo.bandcamp.com and I am working on getting it onto vinyl. Final thought: Do everything with integrity.