Alana Davis is a singer-songwriter whose music is as multi-layered and as soulful as her voice. From the broken-heart balm that is “Free” (‘But I guess that your heart was free / Free to take the best part of me / And leave a hole where my heart should be’) to the soaring self-determination of “Create” (‘I’m going to plant roses of my own’), over three albums she’s produced a trove of great music that’s not quite like anything else out there. And wouldn’t you know it? She’s a little bit undersung–just not in this interview.
One of the things that always struck me about your albums was the theme of struggling in a world that was often disappointing, and that was made especially difficult when you seemed to have this really high ideal of what love is—or could be. The optimism woven throughout always seemed richer for that.
You’re right … I do write about love with a high ideal, and how in a relationship we often fall short of that, yet it’s the ideal that keeps you truthful, keeps you open for communication and eager to grow… The search never stops, does it?! Someone once told me if you’re not writing about love, you’re not in the music business! I laughed at the thought and looked at some of my non-love songs and realized, aw damn, these are about love too! Love of humanity, love of flaws, love of the search….
I guess I think that that combination—one that involves some positive outlook that doesn’t paint over reality—is at the heart of soul. Soul has been at the heart of rhythm and blues long before it got shifted over into designated genres like rock and roll and r&b, often with less of a connection. So, you had a lot of breakthrough success with your “32 Flavors” cover, which was probably the most refined pop experience on an album in the vein mentioned above. And then you did Fortune Cookies, which was, altogether I think, a really refined and soulful bit of everything. At the time that came out, in what way did that become a weakness to getting it out there? Do you think the same hurdles are there today?
I have always found it ironic that I’ve received more radio play for my less emotional pop music than for the more soulful songs … But, yes, I do think that has something to do with how a record is received … For me, my experience was that the more “soul” songs I turned in, the more pop songs they wanted to counter with! It was ridiculous and ultimately I believe I ended up with a record that just had too many flavors (if you will!) for them to categorize … and if a record has no category then it has no perceived market, so they didn’t have a clue how to sell Fortune Cookies. Plus 9/11 going down the month I planned to release the record did not help; everyone’s priorities shifted, and with good reason…
Records with many vibes will always have a harder time being sold, until we regard variety is its own genre … I think anyone who’s been listening is bound to have many influences these days—I mean, there is just so much out there!! The industry clings to the labels but musicians must be themselves and redefine those labels …but it takes time.
The industry clings to the labels but musicians must be themselves and redefine those labels …but it takes time.
My music has always paralleled the rest of my life. I’m born of many influences and my music reflects it. That has always made marketing me a bit of a head scratcher. Luckily for me, you can’t stop a rock rolling down the hill. Whether I have a machine pushing me or not, I will be making music.
They say no one gets paid what they deserve in the music industry; we are all overpaid or underpaid … So far I have been one of the underpaid, but I hope to be overpaid at some point in my life! lol
Recently I made a choice to stay home with my daughter and raise her by hand, rather than giving her to helpers and juggling work and missing so much of these precious early years with her, and because of it, well, I am just too poor to even go out to dinner, let alone pay musicians to go with me into the studio!!! That’s just my reality right now… (and I bet there are fans who think I just don’t write anymore 😦 ) But I am always living, loving, taking it in and spitting it out; it is a process I hope to be involved in until the day I die. And one day I hope to have a vehicle to share it again, as I miss the soul connection of knowing someone else feels what I feel … Meanwhile my daughter is growing beautifully, so I can’t complain.
I think your struggle as a musician is one that writers can relate to in a similar way. Are there any books (or comic books) that are helping to keep you going these days?
I wish I could say I have time to read, but I seldom do—not since motherhood! But I do have a couple of books in the queue, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. I know, another singer who smokes?!?! Yes I am, and this year I plan to quit … Meanwhile, haven’t started the book yet! I also have a deck of cards I occasionally draw from for vibe or perspective on an issue. They are an oracle deck; this one is called “Earth Magick.” It’s beautiful. Unlike the tarot, it parallels us to the earthly elements and movements …I am an earthy chick so it connects with me well. 🙂
In addition to being a great songwriter, you’re also one of the masters of the cover. “Friends” really is just great–it’s one of those cases where the cover may surpass the original. And beyond Whodini, you’ve done excellent renditions of Blue Oyster Cult and some obscure guy by the name of Marley. Any other reworkings swimming around in your head?
Thanks for your compliment regarding my efforts covering songs … I don’t have any covers planned for the next record, but I bet there will be one in there! There are so many AMAZING tunes out there that beg to be interpreted again and again … Actually, my mother recorded some very beautiful songs on her Atlantic release in 1964. I may actually cover one of those next time around ….
Thanks to Alana for her time.