Alyse Black’s résumé isn’t too shabby. Instead of slinging lattés while trying to catch her break, she could previously be found working as an intern for the U.S. House of Representatives and then as a consultant for Deloitte. But behind the skirt-suits and 401k, this redheaded siren was miserable playing desk jockey when there was music to be made. At the time, she lived in Seattle and began playing sets in Pike Place Market where fans adored her smooth, come-hither voice and cleverly spun lyrics. A musician walking through the Market asked her to join his jazz band for a night, and that gig turned into a career. She now lives almost full-time in Austin, but has been on the road playing music festivals and shows across the country. The music industry is abuzz about her; she’s won songwriting awards from Billboard and the Independent Singer-Songwriter Association, among other prestigious nods in favor of her first album, Too Much and Too Lovely. Like a sonic speedball, her smooth-as-butter jazz sensibility mixes with her frisky, spirited voice to produce one helluva listening high. She’s currently writing a new album, scheduled for release early next year, and she will make her Alamo City debut at Luna Saturday, November 22. I caught this singer-songwriter standout for a telephone chat about her recent success, professional jealousy, and picky “jazzers.”
Before your music endeavors you had quite a bit of success in the corporate world, but you grew up playing music. Do you think that music and arts, when experienced young, can help play a part in future success?
I think arts are incredibly important. The effects of accessing the right side of your brain have a huge impact on your life — your mathematical skills, spatial reasoning skills, perspective. In addition to the pure aesthetic value of art, it also has very applicable skills that affect the rest of children’s lives.
I can understand, then how you might be drawn to an artistic and musical city like Austin. What brought about your move to the Lone Star State?
I love experiencing new places. I checked out Austin on a road trip and, on the spot, got my place and moved there. It was entirely impulsive, and I’m so glad I did it.
Austin has a friendly, singer-songwriter feel. It’s certainly welcomed and not at all out of the ordinary to find a singer and a piano or guitar. And I love that, because there’s something special about just a voice and instrument.
I heard you say that if you called yourself a jazz musician, someone might laugh in your face. Why can’t you live in that category?
I feel like jazz people, jazzers, are very particular about their category. I’m not trying to be jazz, I’m just trying to make what’s attractive. I grew up on folk rock and grunge, so the concept of being a jazz musician is almost funny to me. Everything about genre and description is amusing to me. You can call me vocal, singer-songwriter. You can decide. But after this next album, it will be abundantly clear I’m not writing pure jazz.
You’ve said before that you don’t feel any animosity to fellow singer-songwriters. Do you think that happens among young females who play similar styles of music?
I think it does happen sometimes, some places, but in my experience the best way to make things happen is taking cues and inspiration from other female singer-songwriters that are making things happen. With similar artists, it is easy to find a solid support system to bounce off new ideas. And anytime I do feel jealousy, I think to myself, why am I feeling that? and usually realize that they are doing something well, and I can use their success to turn my jealousy into inspiration.
You seem to have no lack of inspiration, lately, as you’ve been cranking out songs —to the tune of almost 25 new demos. What’s enabled you to be so prolific?
As I’ve said, I take my inspiration a lot from other artists, and I find a new one almost every week that floors me. But I’ve always written a lot. The songs that I’m writing now are about living life full-out and a commitment to enjoying everything. I’ve never experienced a real sense of writer’s block. I feel bad saying that, but I’m constantly listening to other people to hear weird turns of phrase, or an interesting topic that gets me thinking.
I understand that your fans get a say in which of these demos make it on your new record.
Yes, I’ve won a couple of recent awards on this fantastic website, OurStage.com, which features a lot of independent artists. People can vote on the artists and the songs that they like in different genres. So I’m using this website to get a feel for which of my new songs people really take to. I post my music, especially my brand-new songs, so I can hear what fans like, and it will help figure out which songs should go on my next album.
So what happens if you disagree with their choices?
Well, I’ll have some volition over this, too, but I can hear what’s getting through to people. I figure that I’ll leave a great portion of the songs to what people like best, but if I have a pet song then I can leave it in the running for the new album. But I wouldn’t put them out there if they didn’t feel that they had some sort of merit.
It seems as though people like you plenty. In fact you’ve won a good number of awards. How much of a bad-ass do you feel like right now?
Considering all that I have to do in the coming months and what I haven’t done yet, I don’t feel quite so bad-ass! No, I feel wonderful that the first album, which I produced on my own and put together on my own, is really coming across well to people. That helps me feel more confident going forward. I’m just hoping for some really good things. •
9pm, Sat, Nov 22
6740 San Pedro