alina simone

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CoG Interviewed Alina Simone September 15, 2006

The first night I met Alina Simone she was standing outside my house with her drummer, John Lynch; baffled at the fact that she had locked the keys in their touring rental car. After the crisis subsided and doors were unlocked, I was reintroduced to a charming individual who exuded a compelling down to earth charisma and passion for music. I immediately fell for the dark melancholy in the stories she poetically sang over minimalist guitar arrangements as a solo artist. She is currently backed by power hitter, John Lynch and the two of them left their small town of Carrborro, North Carolina and set out on their first tour of the rugged west coast. Their Portland performance was so impressive that two days later I found myself driving 224 miles round trip up to Olympia to talk with Alina about their music project. She had just finished performing to an intimate crowd at a small Olympia dive and together we sat in a small 50's style diner drinking too much coffee for the 2am hour and she enlightened me on her aspirations and musical prowess. She took milk. I took cream.

CoG: Why do you play music?

Alina:I’m compelled to. Ever since I can remember I've always been singing. Ever since I was five years old.

CoG: What did you sing when you were five?

Alina: My grandmother watched a lot of those old movies so I sang Judy Garland songs like "Somewhere over the rainbow" and a lot of cheesy show tunes.

CoG: What about Judy Garland really got to you at such a young age that made you want to sing or play music?

Alina: A lot of the musicals I liked were the magical kind like the Wizard of Oz. I was really into magical things happening. I just wanted the songs the songs to take me to the magical place like it would in the Wizard of Oz. I think there are some people who like listening to new music and are obsessed with finding new music and what came out today and then there are other people that are obsessed with finding more obscure and older music. More and more as I grow older, I am definitely becoming the latter.

CoG: Who are some of your favorite female vocalists and musicians?

Alina: Yanka, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Sinead O’Conner, Sleater Kinney, Cat Power, Mirah, Shannon Wright…the list goes on… old singers like Nina Simone, Janis Joplin, Odetta. These are such powerful women and a lot of them can just really sing. I really like it when women really sing out and are not afraid. Mary Lou Lord was my inspiration to start singing in public. She was a singer-songwriter who ended up on a major label but started out as a street performer in Boston. She sang in the subway and on my way to high school I would see her singing and I bought my first indie rock cassette from her when I was 15. She was this obviously shy girl who said “I’m going to do this”. In the subway in Boston there are all kinds of people on that platform. She was just singing her songs and people would be in tears - even tough guys. It was amazing what she did and how she won everybody over and I just wanted to be her. She’s magic, and I was really struck by her.

Alina Simone & John Lynch
photo by emBROWNLOWe for Church of Girl

CoG: When did you start becoming serious about writing your own music?

Alina: I started when I was 25 but it wasn't until 2 years ago when I became serious. I recorded my only EP, "Prettier in the Dark" and then a week later I went to Siberia for 5 months to work. When I was in Siberia I did a lot of thinking. Good quiet time. At the end of my trip I realized I needed to go home and send the EP out and really try to take it serious. If you want it to be a career you have to work really hard and want it really badly because if you don't it shows. It is a campaign and you have to want it deep inside because all of the industry people that you are trying to convince to invest in you and believe in you will smell it if you don’t 100% believe in what you‘re doing. It will show. They‘ll know. [When I first started] I had horrible stage fright. When I say that I think people may imagine "oh yeah, you were kind of scared" but I had really bad stage fright. You had to be there to see how bad it was. People who knew me couldn’t believe I was on stage. I would be shaking and running off stage. I would just go up alone and play and projected a lot of nervousness. I never did anything in public my whole life. I wasn't in any bands in high school. I wasn't in any plays. I was just kind of shy in public situations. I guess I was just a late bloomer. I'm 31 now and I want to be playing indie rock. I should have had the guts to do it earlier but it doesn't mean I shouldn't do it at all. Then I found my drummer, John Lynch, and he was really awesome and lived three blocks away and I felt a lot more confident and it was a much better live show. Then I started to think I could actually break into the scene. Now we’re building a local following and it is hard work.

CoG: Has there been any barriers you’ve encountered while pursuing your dreams?

Alina: In my town everyone was really white-bred. Everyone wanted to be either a doctor or a lawyer. If you said "I wanted to be a singer" people would look at you like you're really irresponsible or you shouldn't have these weird dreams even if you're in fifth grade. You should do something that will make money and be a responsible adult. I think this is why we're brave and awesome because with everything else in life there really is a certain way to do it. Indie rock is a very vague and uncertain road. There is no map or rules or application procedure. It's not like if you want to be a veterinarian so you apply to grad school and so on. It's obvious and totally clear. And how well you need to do is totally clear. You need to pass a test and get good grades and it's all mapped out and you don't need to think too much how to do just have to do it. I’m sure you’d have to work really hard to get good grades but you don't have to sit around figuring out how to become what you want to become. Indie rock is not like that. People who aren't involved don't seem to know how hard it is. It is very vague.

CoG: Describe your song writing process.

Alina: I write a lot of songs in my head while taking walks. I just start walking and look at the houses and the trees and watching people and things come into my head. Sometimes if I have an ‘emergency idea,’ I call my cell phone and I sing my ideas on my messages. Sometimes I just sit with a guitar and come up with ideas right there. It is really random. So those are the two ways I write. I write melodies much faster than I write lyrics. It takes a long time to write words that I really like. I need a story so it takes me a really long time.

CoG: Are these stories extracted from your personal experience or are they more like works of fiction?

Alina: Sometimes they're inspired by real life but I would say they are mostly fiction. There are a couple examples where I may have this person in mind but I still wouldn't say it is literal or fact. It is just sort of based loosely. A lot of the songs are unhappy or are in a minor key or have a sad aura but I wouldn't say I'm a sad person.

CoG: Your songs are sort of sad. I feel like they are very poetic and emotional either through the way you express your voice or the words you are singing. Why do you choose to write in this specific mood?

Alina: ike things people can relate to and I want people to be able to understand my music as American stories. Even if they're written from a certain perspective I feel like everyone has experience with the kind of things I write about...fucked up relationships or moving from place to place or not knowing who you are...It is kind of universal and that is what I strive for.

CoG: Does any place inspire you to write?

Alina: A lot of my songs are about New York and living in New York. New York is just a very inspirational place. It’s so diverse and feels like it has so many different countries within it. You can just take the train and 10 minutes you’re in a totally other world; economically, socially, ethically, culturally, geographically, just the way it looks. Everything just changes really fast. So you can constantly get new ideas and stories in your head. There are so many weird influences floating around the music scene. It’s addictive.

Alina Simone in Olympia WA
photo by emBROWNLOWe for Church of Girl

CoG: Describe the worldly folk instruments you have picked up.

Alina: I’ve incorporated a lot of new instruments into my live set: strumstick, electric chord organ and autoharp. Mostly, I’ve chosen these instruments because I fell in love with their unique, otherworldly sound and they were all easy enough to learn how to play in a basic enough way. Since I’m such a limited guitar player, it’s also a good way for me to stretch as a songwriter and try out new chords or arrangements I wouldn’t have thought of on guitar. I’m pushing into new territory too – electric drum machines and possibly a concertina are on the way!

CoG: What are your goals for your music?

Alina: I want to be a touring musician. I want to release the album that I recorded a few months ago. I’ve come to realize that you have to take every opportunity that comes your way, whereas I used to be very timid about following up on things. For me the most important thing is to try [to succeed] as opposed to just sitting around wishing someone would come and save me. Honestly, that way, even if you fail at whatever you are trying to do, you’ve put honest work into it and there is absolutely no reason to feel regret.


Listen to music and learn more about Alina Simone online:
By emBROWNLOWe + Church of Girl
Published 1 October 2006