Monday, October 19, 2009

Alyson Greenfield's Sonic Paradise

When I met Alyson Greenfield at the recent Indiegirl Music I was immediately struck by her enthusiasm: for playing music, for people, for everything. It's no surprise that she approaches crafting songs and playing live with the same infectious curiosity. The girl is on fire: having recently moved to New York, Greenfield's musical muse has fueled the release of the well-received Cd 'Tuscaloosa' and garnered a showcase during this week's CMJ Music Marathon.

DC: Where are you from? How did you start writing songs?
AG: I am from Columbus, Ohio originally. I started writing songs in about 5th grade. I had begged my parents for years to take piano lessons (no one in my family did the music thing) and they finally let me! I wasn't so into practicing for my lessons but I loved playing the piano. I would usually sit down to practice and one day I remember putting some of my own chords together and writing a part of a song. Something went off in my brain and I realized, "Wow! This is a whole other thing you can do with this instrument! You can create!"

DC: Has the move to New York changed your music?

AG: I don't know if the move to New York has changed my music, but it has been the first time in my life where I decided to make my own music a priority. In other times in my life I was focused on teaching or being in graduate school, and one of the reasons I moved to New York was to take myself seriously as a musician. Before I moved to New York the main art in my life was writing for the page. Since I have moved to New York, everything in my life has turned to music. I am a Teaching Artist, teaching music and songwriting to kids, I play gigs, I go to see live music, and I engage with all sorts of people in all aspects of the music world. Overall I just live my life more musically. As well as playing shows and writing for my own project, I am collaborating on many other friends' projects and exploring new territory. I think the best thing New York has done for my music is that it has encouraged me to jump off the deep end! To do things I never imagined doing. For instance I never used to play covers, and I never had played the xylophone. Now I am doing a cover of "Gangsta's Paradise" on a xylophone!

DC: I know you've written short stories & have a Creative Writing degree and also act. Do short stories ever turn into songs and vice versa? Do you see a common thread to these forms?
AG: I think my short stories and my songs live in different parts of my brain. Like, they share the same apartment, but they definitely have separate bedrooms! Many people think that one must inform the other, and I do believe that writing and storytelling is just in me, but the inspiration and the process of each seem separate to me. I used to be inspired all the time to write a story and I loved the solace of the process and the calm that it provided for me. Now I feel like I want to live my life out loud! I want to scream from the rooftops artistically and writing music lets me do that, because the entire process is so active.

DC: You write on guitar and keys and other instruments (such as the Rainbow Xylophone) plus you've studied music in Africa. What's your process like?

AG: My process is wacky and individual to each song. Sometimes I am walking home from the train and a song keeps singing itself to me, sometimes I wake up with an idea, sometimes I dream an idea, sometimes an emotion I'm feeling can only be resolved by spilling out into song, sometimes a friend gives me a new instrument and so I must write for it, sometimes I say "I want to try to write a song in _____ genre," and so I try it. I keep acquiring new instruments (which is so fun), so when I have a feeling, I like to see which instrument will provide the best voice for the song. Sometimes I try the song on a few instruments. For instance, I tried the "Gangsta's Paradise" cover on all sorts of instruments before I realized xylophone was the right one. I feel inspired to create a lot, but what is more difficult for me is deciding which ideas I want to really work on and see to fruition. My brain always wants something new, so even when I think I'm going to try and finish a song, I might start writing a whole new song in the middle of that process! I'm trying to give myself some deadlines so I can complete more new songs.

DC: Who do you count as your main influences?
AG: Tori Amos was a huge influence on me. I was introduced to her music when I was about 14 and I had never heard anything like it then. I didn't know there was music where there was this amazingly strong woman rocking out on the piano and just being who she wanted to be. As I got older I was pretty influenced by Kate Bush and Björk. Those two really tap into magical, other worldly qualities for me. Parts of their songs completely transport me into new territory. Peter Gabriel is also a songwriter I really respect. Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, and Björk all have beautiful music that can cross into other worlds, and they also have these amazingly poignant lyrics about what it's like to be a human.
DC: What can we expect at CMJ?
You can expect fun, experimentation with musical genres/instruments, projected film, special musical guests, and a one lady key band! The "one lady key band" is a new experiment where I play piano, Casio synth, chord organ, and toy piano all in one song. I usually write on all of these instruments individually, but for a new song I'm debuting at CMJ, I wanted to expand my horizons and combine my instruments. I'm not using a looper; I just consistently play two instruments at a time and switch the combination of instruments throughout the song. I'm going to try it out and see how it goes. Should be fun!
Alyson plays the TM Promotions Showcase at Crash Mansion, 11/22 at 10:30pm

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