The last time I talked to Alyssa Graham, she had just gotten back from walking her dog and told me she’d heard that Radiohead was about to do a free concert for a Wall Street protest… That was September 30th… I’m pretty sure neither of us had the sense that potential revolution was in the air (Unfortunately, both the promise of Radiohead and the promise of Revolution went unrealized.) During the course of the hour-long interview, things quickly shifted from professional, journalistic “interrogation” to something far more friendly. By the ten-minute mark we were chatting like new, barroom pals who would likely go on to be life-long cohorts. I hope that Alyssa and myself remain friends and this can serve as the cutesy story of our first encounter.
This Friday, December 16th, Alyssa and I will hopefully get a chance to catch up when she makes a stop in Philthy for a gig at the Tin Angel. This past August Alyssa released The Lock, Stock & Soul EP on Sunnyside Records, a “sneak peak of the new sound,” which will be found on her upcoming LP (to be released next month). “It’s us crossing over,” she tells me, “There’s a transition happening.” She describes the sound as “Singer/songwriter, folk pop-oriented,” while her debut, Echo, was actually a jazz record.
“To Doug [Graham, musical-and-life partner of Alyssa] and I, we’ve always been singer/songwriters,” Alyssa tells me, explaining that the whole Jazz thing came from experimenting with Jazz musicians after attending the New England Conservatory of Music… which was a sort of “experiment” of sorts for Alyssa. Asking her to reflect upon it, she proclaims “The quick answer is: ‘It sucked’.” The decision to attend the conservatory came after years of Alyssa haphazardly making her way in the indie music scene, telling me that it all started with a rock band with people who were simply friends of hers: “ I just jumped in because I could sing. To me, growing up, music was about friends sitting around and sharing.” She said that she went to the conservatory because she wanted to understand music theory and explore jazz… although, at this point, she admits that she wouldn’t do it again.
So, for Alyssa Graham, The Lock, Stock & Soul EP is a bit of a return to a form that many of her early fans may not have realized she had. The EP boasts an impressive and surprising backing band, including contributions from Me’Shell Ndegeocello and David Garza: “This is the band on the album [the upcoming LP]. Most of them were or are members of Me’Shell Ndegeocello’s band. They agreed to do it and liked the music.”
“I love you for knowing David [Garza]” she tells me: “Garza has become Doug and I’s pretty much favorite person on the planet.” David Garza is an Austin music legend who, alongside his solo output, has also worked with Juliana Hatfield, Alejandro Escovedo, Rhett Miller, Hanson, Fiona Apple, Blues Traveler, and Revolting Cocks (I’m pretty sure he will be, for all of history, the only individual to collaborate with Hanson and Revolting Cocks.) Alyssa and Doug (who I could hear in the background, as I interviewed Alyssa in their “small, one bedroom apt. in NYC.”) apparently first heard David on an iPod… which they are convinced that the producer of their latest, Grammy-winner Craig Street, had purposefully orchestrated.
The backing band’s influence is plenty apparent on the EP. The release is ineffably delicate and sparse, but less in a traditionally folky way, and more in the most minimalistic of 90s indie pop: a little bit country, a history of rock’n’roll (which seems to have left the room a day or so ago), and a soul that has been circumstantially subdued. It’s not a million miles from Tanya Donelly at her most melancholy or Me’Shell Ndegeocello at her most restrained. If you haven’t pulled up her music in another window by now, check her out at Facebook, Twitter, and AlyssaGraham.com.
And Alyssa has quite a fondness for the Tin Angel and the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. She appreciates the Tin Angel’s intimate dinner theatre setting: “The first time I played there, there were 40 or 50 people there who were very appreciative. You don’t get that in a lot of pop/rock venues. They’re not there to hear the music, they’re there to drink.” She tells me she’s “Really excited to go back.” and that she’ll be previewing songs from the new album. And as for Philly, she tells me:
“I love the city. It’s just such an underrated city. Philly has that sort of dark underbelly. It’s got the history and the vibe and the grit!”