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In Conversation with Alannah Myles

This week we had the pleasure of interviewing Alannah Myles, the 1991 Grammy winner for best female rock vocal performance for her outstanding vocal abilities for the well known song ‘Black Velvet’.

Hello, from Sussex Alannah. It is a great honour to be interviewing one of the voices that touched me from the very first time that I heard your music. Your unique vibrato and mesmerizing voice always amazed me. What have you been up to? Do you still ride horses?

Hello, I’m honoured to be your featured artist for the publication. I’ve always felt a deep down sense that the UK is where my home has always been. I’ve been busy managing my music and writing new material to record. Haven’t had money or time for horses since my last album release, ’85bpm’.

You stated many times your displeasure for the music industry and that you have horror stories to tell as well as you wished you could remember it as a more enjoyable experience. How did the industry affect your life and what advice would you give to a young artist?

Things are very different now than they were 30 years ago when I decided it would be my fate to become a female rock star. Firstly, there are no more female rock stars, we’re now dinosaurs in the music industry. Perhaps that’s why my music is so revered around the world.

Secondly, back then artists developed by record companies were groomed for stardom, encouraged to write and / or record hits or at least songs whose recorded outcome may be awarded with accolades befitting the quality of their music. Now its pretty much a meat factory of baby voices, warbling little birdies with hiccups and in the USA, venomously angry gesticulating, crotch grabbing rappers. Music seems to have become secondary. However with the exception of the UK where IMAO singers can sing and are promoted and praised for having the talent to do so.

I have seen that you are being very active on Facebook, in a recent comment a fan asked for new music and you responded ‘I’m making it, just not ready to record yet’. What is holding you back?

I love my fan base on Facebook and the support group they have formed for my music. Somehow it’s understood by everyone that trashing others’ music and especially their looks (including mine) are discouraged. I ‘uphold a three strikes your out; mentality and if you can’t be nice you’re blocked.

In answer to your question about what’s been holding me back, there’s a simple answer and one you can find as a repeated thread throughout …Money! I’m not about to invest my hard won royalty income until I’ve chosen the right, committed producer for the track. The fact that I must record remotely from my home has contributed but not halted the process. A broken leg has temporarily delayed my progress. It’s a 24/7 job managing my existing catalogue and keeps me extremely busy. In the last 10 days I have given 4 interviews.

The music since the 80s era has changed dramatically. What do you think of today’s role models? Do you ever feel nostalgic looking back at your music?

Role models today are few and far between. One artist may come along in a decade whose talent and charisma has found its way to the hearts of the masses but that is a rare occurrence. We will never see another Michael Jackson, just like we’ll never hear another Elvis Presley or Aretha Franklyn. Those artists are gone with their era. Real, raw talent and the direction to know what to do with it is a rarity.

I feel nostalgic in the sense that I may long for that real raw talent to show itself but it rarely does for very long. Music in the 21st century has become much like fast food.

Is the emotion in the lyrics, the music or the performance?

All of them. Christopher Ward, who wrote Black Velvet for my voice to sing was often awed as he put it, that I was able to load such pain into simple, one word verses like ‘Who Loves You’ to create layers of emotion. I can hear it still in the choruses of Black Velvet, Lover Of Mine, Sonny Say You Will, Irish Rain and especially in Song Instead Of A Kiss. I’d have to say emotion emanates from just the right combination of all three. People recognize it. It helps them delve more deeply into their own emotions when they hear the trigger being pulled.

Even though you have never used autotune, I am amazed not only by your exceptional vocal skills but by how excellent breath control you have. Most of the songs that you have recorded have challenging leaps (family secret, trouble, weapons) some of them reaching a high register of even E6. Which of the songs that you have performed did you find particularly difficult to record?

Oh I’ve used plenty of autotune on my vocals, just never to the point where it’s a hook in the song, or that it’s altered the tone in my voice. I remember Christopher and producer, co-writer, David Tyson betting that I would ‘thumbs down’ certain of their abrupt bridge departures when instead, I made it my challenge to treat the line they’d so carefully crafted with the poignancy it required before bellowing out a long note. It’s all about setting up the hole or holding back for the pay off in the song vocally. Count the number of beats in the space between “Black Velvet…..and, if you please…” . You’ll note they’re all uneven numbers, intentionally. I sang either a 5/4 bar or a 6/4 bar to where the listener would not expect because the length of the hole felt right for me to land or start in an odd place to create pathos or tension then a pay off. I treat live performance like theatre and recorded performance like a method actor.

I was influenced by Lowell George (drummer and singer) from the Atlanta band, Little Feat. Odd bar counts all over the place. It drove everyone crazy, they thought I couldn’t count to four until they heard the results.

Talking about autotune, can we say that it is the reason why artists today are having difficulties performing their songs live as well as having issues with intonation?

Artists today have an extremely short shelf life because most are unable to sing their way out of a brown paper bag.

Nowadays music making is extremely easy and everything can be edited in the studio. If it is to take into consideration key and time signature do you think that technology destroys creativity as well as being responsible that songs today are easily forgotten over time?

Nothing can destroy creativity. Technical equipment and intelligently educated engineers and producers are there to enhance the outcome but if you have a solid idea and you can connect it with your soul and just the right song it only takes a beautifully sung vocal to pull off a hit so powerful you can’t top it and the ill informed music industry writes you off as a “one hit wonder”.

Your music is very influential especially to young people who listen to your music and make covers of your songs. Have you ever watched any of these covers and how does being inspirational to youth make you feel?

I gaze upon some of them. Mostly when fans post a cover song of mine on my page. I’m too critical to opine but I usually don’t watch.  Sorry folks.

Considering your skills as an artist, do you see yourself as a vocal teacher in the future or a judge in a talent show?

I’ve never really felt I had the acumen to become a vocal teacher and I’m far too opinionated and brutally critical of my own voice to ever critique another’s but I suppose I’d have to agree, this page of verbosity it’s apparent I’m interested in sharing my technique with anyone who’ll listen. So thanks for asking a bunch of great questions and for caring to ask. I have resisted all career choices to sit as a music judge on TV panels because I know my opinions and my expectation of musical quality and my blunt honesty would cause me to become more despised than Simon Cowell! As a joke my dad used to announce in front of a private audience that “I must never quit my day job”. Guess what dad? Music IS my day job. LOL~

What does make a good musician?

Practice, dedication and above all. love what you do!

Photo Credit: Joe Lambie

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