Alana Davis – Interview

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alana davis

After accidentally hanging up on Alana, we finally got on track with me apologizing.

Sorry about that.

I was sitting there blabbing on and then I was like, ‘Hello?’. (laughs)

How long has Fortune Cookie been in the works?

Twenty three years. (laughs) No, but it’s been forever. I started it a long time ago but unfortunately I changed my vibe and things I’m into a lot. I saw that I wasn’t going to finish the record. I scrapped it for new stuff. After a certain time the songs got old quickly and my favorite song is the one I’m working on. So, unfortunately, I didn’t have the right band, right producer, and the project just wasn’t getting finished so I was in this place. But now the album is done, it’s finished, and I don’t listen to it. (laughs)

Does it drive you crazy that the record labels sit on albums for so long?

It drives me fricking crazy. They take so long, but I do have to be thankful because there are artists on our label that finished their albums two years ago and they haven’t been released yet. It’d be like, ‘Here’s my wrist, here is a razor.’ (laughs)

Doing a lot of interviews I find that a lot of artists say they have another album already begun or finished and here we are talking about what amounts to old news for them. It’s a weird place for me as a writer because I sympathize but my job is to talk about the album at hand, although my curiosity now lies in the new project.

I hear you. It’s funny because I was talking to my manager and asked her how long before I could record a new record, because I have so much new material. Even the old stuff I don’t want to listen to, stuff I wrote a year ago, might even be new again.

Does that make you envy an artist like Ani Difranco who can whip them out as they come?

Yes, I hate her. She is so lucky it makes me sick. She has so much control and I have none.

Are you in the middle of planning your future or are you still looking at the present like touring?

I really need to play badly. My label didn’t want me to tour between records and now I haven’t played in like two years. It’ll be like playing for the first time. My knees will be knocking, but it’s good to have that excitement again. But on the road I can work out some new stuff. I hope people will let me play for like three hours. (laughs)

With what you said before, everything has changed so quickly. Are you in a different place from where you were when you wrote these songs?

Yes. There are a couple songs about a relationship, but the relationship was already over for a year and at this point I can barely remember the guy’s name. (laughs) I still want to explain where I was at, but it’s hard because it was so long ago. But there are songs that I wrote the week I recorded so some are very fresh. Some of the ideas are like ‘Do I still feel like that?’ and I do still feel like that.

Which tracks?

“A Chance With You”. Since I wrote it and listened back, I was like ‘Oh, yeah.’ It’s funny because, like you, I get to interpret my own stuff which keeps them fresh. Also “When You Became King”, which was written when I was totally in love, which I’m not right now, but I listened to it and reminds me that I’m a mush. It reminds me that I can fall in love and fall for someone.

How do you keep your songs together without losing them? A four-track?

I actually have a sixteen-track, but funny you should say four-track because that is about as many tracks as I use. (we both laugh) I’m not a great engineer, and the more I record the more I want to save, and some of it is just mediocre. I also have a little Sony handheld tape recorder that I use religiously. I also have a memo book where I’ll jot down a lyric.

Do you ever lose tapes and can’t find them? Or stumble on them and are like ‘Wow!’?

All the time? That is the coolest thing about being a bachelorette, I never mark anything. New tapes look like old tapes. I picked up a tape once that wasn’t marked and just happened to push play and realized something was on there. So, no, I have to push play before I ever press record. I discover things all the time that luckily I still have. Sometimes I don’t finish a song and leave it, but I don’t like to push myself. There are little ideas that I have and often it’s that little piece of idea that gets me going and makes me want to play.

When do you pick up the guitar?

Usually when I’m not in a great mood and I want to get out of it. (laughs)

Are there any artists that you listen to that make you want to write a song?

Stevie Wonder always makes me feel like I need to go and work. He makes me think that I have miles to go. Although I’m healed by my tunes, there are tunes of his that I continue to listen to and discover. I hear new things on his records still. Songs In The Key Of Life is from ’78 and I can still discover things. He reminds me of the vast and beautiful thing music can be. I don’t think I can ever write anything that good, but at least I know he inspires other musicians like me to write great music in my own voice and let it be what it is. Also Joni Mitchell. I haven’t listened to her in a while, but in college she was a big inspiration. She was like the first female who wrote and sang. But she gets that terrible tag as a folk singer. I swear she is jazz. I don’t listen to folk and I don’t like it. She is so not folk music and it hurts her.

Do you feel unfairly tagged yourself as a folk singer?

Yes! Every time I hear it from someone I’m like, ‘You dipstick, you can’t get past the guitar?’ I use the acoustic because I don’t want to plug it in. I just want to pick it up and play and it’s a natural instrument to me. I like electric guitars, but acoustic is what sounds good to me. I don’t discredit it because as a style of music it’s inspired many people. It’s a very communicative music as opposed to entertainment, which I’m opposed to. I like to be made to think. Folk is another four letter word. (we both laugh) People think it’s just devoid of melody.

Or it’s preachy.

Exactly.

What is happening to music? Are categories a bad thing?

Sometimes, but we all do it. If we try to get a friend into a group, we’ll say this group sounds like so-and-so. But I think music is supposed to be good because of the way it’s different from everything else, not the way it’s like everything else. If music doesn’t progress, I don’t know if culture can progress. They are so tied into each other.

Can you believe how much music has changed since your first album?

(makes a funny noise) I know.

It feels more like a decade than a few years.

I fell like I’m sixty-five. ‘What are you doing? These kids. Oy!’ (we both laugh) These pop-tarts are driving me crazy. There needs something more to offer than a cute belly ring. I mean, when I was growing up, the pop artists were sort of different, but it’s so lightweight and watered down now.

Now it seems really petty, but back in the day it was Michael Jackson.

Exactly. I have to hope that kids will wake up and tell us they deserve better. I see a lot of people taking what they are given. I never did that. Maybe it’s because I was a bit of an outcast. Me and my crew would listen to other stuff just to be different. And I found all kinds of cool stuff that wasn’t on the radio.

I did that, too.

Luckily there will always be people who do that. But for all these pop records to sell so much, you have to believe kids are just taking what they are given and they don’t know there is other good music out there. I give them the benefit of the doubt, they take what is given and because it’s easy. I figure there is a pendulum in there and it’s swung as far as it can and is swinging back. Things change and it almost has to be for the better, doesn’t it?

Um, I hope. But I always feel bad for kids that seemingly have nothing to discover. I used to think as a kid that my friends and I were the only ones listening to this music, like Black Flag or Public Enemy. But there is no way it’s possible for them to think NSYNC is just theirs.

I know, and that is what made you an individual. How can you feel like an individual? Music is such an important part of growing up. I mean, it effects how you dress, who you hang out with, all of that. If you listen to the same music everyone else does, are you going to act the same? Are you going to be the same as them? How can you be yourself? It’s a little scary.

+ charlie craine