Saturday, February 4, 2012

Interview with Ali Isabella




New To You.... Ali Isabella

Recently The International Festival of Country Music announced that Ali Isabella will be performing on the Wembley stage in London and will become the youngest ever to appear at the festival. Ali started vocal training at 14 and was recording her music, in a local studio within a year. Since then she has grabbed the opportunity to record songs in both New York and Nashville. She has worked with top recording engineers and has written songs collaborating with talented writers and producers. She is just 16 years old with only one professional singing gig under her belt (at NYC's legendary Bitter End last year), but Westchester County singer/songwriter is now gearing up to make her global performance debut in a few weeks time at the Wembley Arena on February 26, 2012 ! To read more - http://festivalofcountrymusic.com/Latest/
I am performing at Wembley Arena this February at the International Festival of Country Music in the UK!  How crazy is this?! I am beyond excited! This is a dream come true for me! said an ecstatic Ali.

Eager to find out more about her background, this surprise announcement, her forthcoming album and interests I was afforded the privilege to conduct this interview with Ali

Were you born and raised in New York?

I was born in New York City and lived in New Jersey until I was almost 3 years old. Then we moved to New York to Westchester County where I live now and go to school.

What were your first musical influences and what was it that made you want to become a singer-songwriter?

I grew up singing to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett in the car with my dad. When I was little my dad listened to all the great Jazz artists and we would spend Friday nights as a family singing to all the great songbooks from Sinatra to Disney. My parents had a lot of fun with me and my brother making up songs about everything, even really funny bedtime stories. Bedtime was always so much fun because it usually meant getting to make up a new song about one of my favorite princesses! I always knew I wanted to sing but it wasn’t until about a few years ago that I realized that I really liked the writing piece of music too.

It must be manic as a 16-year old combining your studies with music? How difficult is it to balance the two?

It’s really hard and some days I get really stressed out with all the schoolwork. I’m a junior this year and there is so much homework! I love music so much though that I can’t imagine my life without it so I find the time, especially on the weekends to write my songs and perform whenever I can. On my school breaks too is when I can get a lot of writing done and recording in the studio. If I could I would just focus on music but school is really important too.

Do you intend to study music at college/University?

Yes, I do want to go to college and I want to major in music. I love Nashville and I’ve been to visit Belmont University so I’m hoping to move to Nashville after high school so I can write music with other writers, perform and record my songs and take classes in song writing and music at Belmont.

That is incredible from playing one professional gig in New York to getting a call inviting you to join the line up for The Wembley International Festival of Country Music.
Can I ask how did that come about?

My manager was in the right place at the right time! I am so excited to have this opportunity and I can’t believe it is really happening. It’s a dream come true to have everyone hear my music and like my songs as much as I do!

Will you playing the other festival dates in Belfast, Zurich and Mannheim?

I would love to play the other festival dates! But so far I am just doing London and I can’t wait!

Will country fans get the chance to meet you and have signings?

Yes I’m going to have a booth at the festival where I will get to meet fans and sign autographs. My album is coming out too so I’m looking forward to signing my new album for everyone that buys it!

What will it be like sharing the same stage as Reba McEntire?
She may need a duet partner for her smash hit “Does He Love You” Would you be up for it if asked? - It would great on you CV!

It’s going to be so awesome to share the same stage as Reba and all the other great country stars that will be there! I’ve admired everybody for so long and I am so grateful to get this chance. A duet would be so cool, I can’t imagine but if I was asked I would love every moment of it! I’ve been listening to and singing along to Reba’s music for quite a while now.

Wembley is a big challenge and a massive step up for you.
Will you do a “Hunter Hayes” and write lyrics on select pieces of your set just in case you feel nervous on the day and need some handy prompts? LOL

LOL, First off, I love Hunter Hayes music! I think he is really cute too! Second, I don’t think I would forget the lyrics to my songs because I’ve been singing them so much that I know them by heart!

Will you have a full band at Wembley?

Yes, I am so excited! My guitar player that I work with in New York, Ray DeTone is coming with me from New York and we are going to Bristol to meet up with the rest of my band before we come to Wembley. Anton Mullan who I have been writing with and is a good friend is going to play bass for me, Charlie Parker is going to play the drums, Dave MacMullan is playing keyboards and Tim Fish is playing pedal steel. My band is a bunch of old time musicians who have been around forever and are coming together to join me in my debut at Wembley. Everyone is so nice and fun and I am so happy they will be on stage with me. I am really lucky to have such a great band to perform with at Wembley.

What was the experience like playing NYC's legendary Bitter End as your first professional singing gig?

It was really fun, I was a little nervous at first but once I got on stage with Ray and Susan Ruth from Nashville I forgot all about being nervous! It was a great moment to be in New York singing in a club where so many famous people before me sang.

I read you play piano and are learning the guitar. Do you play live or play on your new album?

Not on this album but I hope to on my next album.

As a listener I always find ballads played at the piano to be the most engaging and intimate, is that what you experience from your audience?

I do like the ballads because I like to tell stories and that’s what a ballad is to me, a personal and special story. This is why I love songwriting so much, the stories. I have great memories growing up listening to ballads being played on the piano. I love quiet times when I can just sit at the piano and put chords together for a new song.

Have you self penned songs for your new album? How have you made contacts with your co-writers, have you met them all in person?

On my album I wrote 3 of the songs on my own and 4 of the songs with co-writers. I co-wrote these songs in person with the other artists in Nashville and on Skype with Anton in London (see photo). It’s fun to skype but I met everybody in person too because I wanted to have a personal connection with everyone I wrote with. I got introduced to all of the writers through my manager John.

Have you attended songwriting sessions in Nashville and England?

Not in England yet but I’ve had some sessions in Nashville and they are a lot of fun. I love meeting everybody and sharing ideas.

Looking at your Facebook pages I notice a photo taken with you and songwriter Bruce Wallace who I recognise as someone who has written songs for Katie Armiger (she’s great isn’t she).
Have you written songs with him for your new album?  

Bruce is so much fun! I wrote Out of Tune Guitar with him and Susan Ruth in Nashville. I love the songs he writes and the artists that sing his songs like Katie. Bruce was part of the group I performed with too recently in Nashville at The Listening Room. Some of his song lyrics are really funny.

How many songs have you recorded in New York and was all the recording and mixing done there?

I recorded my first 3 songs in New York and then I did some of the vocal tracks as well to other songs at Nola Studios in the city where Barbara Streisand and Ella Fitzgerald recorded their first albums. I was so awestruck standing in the same booth as these legends when I was recording my own songs. I can’t believe I got to sing where all these famous people did! I also recorded a song in Nashville and most everything ended up being mixed in Nashville. Some really great people like Greg Lattimer and Josh Foster worked really hard on my songs to get them ready for my album. Ray DeTone also mixed one of my songs in New York too.

What was the studio experience like? Did you feel comfortable, did it come naturally?

Being in the studio is really easy for me, it’s like I was always meant to do it. I like to have input on all my songs and I feel so at home behind the microphone. I love working with the engineers, everyone is so nice and fun to work with.

How would you describe your sound?

My sound is very unique to me; I’m a singer/songwriter with pop and country influences. I love to tell the stories in my songs. That’s why I like country music and I like working with the artists and writers in Nashville.

What will be the name of your new album and how many tracks do you intend to put on it?

My album is called “Say You’ll Be Mine” and there are 9 tracks on the album

Will you make tracks available as digital downloads?

All the tracks will be available on ITunes on February 20th (worldwide) and can be purchased as an album or as individual downloads.

Will the album be a Digi-pac package with photos and lyrics? Will there be any specifically designed for Wembley?

The album will be a Digi-pac with photos and credits but no lyrics. The album is being released for sale at Wembley only and on iTunes. I can’t wait for everyone to see it!

Will the album have different styles? Mix of up-tempo and ballads? Which do you prefer?

There is a mix of up-tempo and ballads on the album. I love the ballads most as the songs and messages are really important to me.

Will all the songs be original ones or have you cut a cover?

All of the songs are original on the album and all but 2 are either written by me or by me with other writers.

What do you hope to achieve with the album?

I hope that people will be able to connect to the songs just as much as I do. I really want people to hear them as real life experiences and understand all the ups and downs you have to go through being a teenager. I hope to that even if you are not a teenager, you can identify with the messages in a meaningful way.

What inspires you to write songs?

I am most inspired by things in my everyday life like school, friends, my horse, and my animals, things that happen to me, and boys, of course!

What music are you currently listening to?

I listen to other artists like Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Hunter Hayes, Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, …a lot of country! But, I also like Colbie Caillat, Hot Chelle Rae and Jesse McCartney just to name a few

I hear an influence of Taylor Swift in your music is she someone you look up and do you think the younger artists like: Taylor, Carrie Underwood, The Band Perry, Lauren Alaina and Lady Antebellum help to open up media doors for someone like you?

Yes, I think Taylor Swift is such an amazing songwriter. Younger artists definitely help open up media doors and they are such an inspiration!

Do you have any favourite country songs and were there any that inspired you to be a country music artiste?

My all time favorite song is “I’d Lie: by Taylor Swift. I love the lyrics to this song. These types of songs inspire me to write my own story-telling songs.

Congratulations on your awards as an equestrian rider, you really are a country girl, you should stay on to take part in the London Olympics! How do you find the time to ride, please tell us about your horse?

I usually ride on the weekends now if I’m not too busy with music. Princess is the horse I ride now and she is the sweetest and cutest bay mare. Her favorite treat is carrots! (see Facebook photo)

Does this love of the outdoors and respect for animals enable you to use imagery in the songs you write?

Yes! 100 percent! Animals especially amaze me and allow me to view the world differently. I am able to write songs that reflect that imagery because of this.

Do you get more nervous riding than performing your music?

I get more nervous riding! Especially when you are jumping really high, that can be nerve racking!! You never know what your horse is going to do, sometimes they may just want to buck you off or if you see the distance wrong the horse may stop short right in front of the jump and that usually means you end up face first in the dirt! LOL

QUICK-FIRE Questions

If invited onto CMT Crossroads (which pairs country artists with someone from another genre) who would you pick?

Jesse McCartney

Who would be a dream male duet partner?

Hunter Hayes

Favourite Food?

Pasta

Favourite Colour?

Pink

Favourite TV Show?

Switched At Birth

Favourite Magazine?

People

Favourite clothes, make-up?

Clothes – BCBG, Alice & Olivia and Guess
Make up – Bare Minerals – I love shopping in Sephora

Favourite concert?

Justin Bieber My World 2.0

Favourite Time of Year?  

Summer

Favourite Country to visit apart from England?

Italy

Plans and dreams after Wembley?

I want to keep performing as much as I can and I want to write songs with more people! I have a couple of new songs that I just wrote too and I am dying to get back into the recording studio and start working on my next album! Also, I want to meet Hunter Hayes

THANKS - I would like to thank Ali for spending some of her precious time to answer all the questions and to John Velasco on her management team at dba:direction by appointment (website) for helping to set it up.
Best Wishes to Ali, good luck at the festival and for the future.

Photo used courtesy of aliisabella.com

YOUTUBE - Ali Isabella Live at The Bitter End 11-10-2011 - Link
LISTEN - Check out her songs “Crazy Beautiful Life”, “Falling” and “What If” at festivalofcountrymusic.com

Livewire ( February 1, 2012)

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