Whether it’s through her three albums of scathing rock n’ roll, her numerous appearances on television (from Guitar Center commercials to a Discovery Channel documentary) or her now-famous single “Cry” (whose music video has amassed over 1 million views on YouTube), chances are you know the name Alexx Calise one way or another.
MEB editor Joe Ballard recently had the chance to pose her some questions as they discussed her upcoming fourth studio album, how her love of acting got started, the touching effects that “Cry” has had on people all over the world, and much more.
MEB: Thanks so much for taking some time out to talk, Alexx! How’s your day going so far?
Alexx Calise: It’s excellent, thank you! Just boxing up all of my stuff and getting ready to move into my new place!
Your musical influences include the likes of Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots and Marilyn Manson, but as you’ve managed to create a vocal style that is all your own it begs the question: who are your biggest inspirations/influences vocally?
Well thank you! As you can probably tell from my vibrato (haha), I’ve always loved Daniel Johns from Silverchair, Josh Todd from Buckcherry, Chris Cornell, Steven Tyler, Janis Joplin, Johnny Lang, and Noah Hunt from Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band…as far as vocals go, I want to hear whiskey-soaked, heartfelt, and emotive singing, haha.
Listening to your lyrics always makes me feel like music isn’t something you do just for the love of it. Would you say it’s also a form of release, a way to get out all your pent-up thoughts and emotions?
Absolutely. Music is extremely cathartic for me, and a way to get all that bad energy out. I can always tell when I’m not being “musical” enough, because it starts to affect everything I do and this “darkness” infiltrates most every aspect of my life. I think most every artist can attest to that feeling of darkness, and the only way to quash it is to create; allow a phoenix to rise from the ashes, so to speak.
In addition to music, you’ve also forged an acting career, appearing in everything from Guitar Center commercials to Discovery Channel’s “The Science of Sex Appeal”. What made you decide to pursue acting along with making music?
I’ve always had a bit of an interest in acting. When I was a kid, I went to theater camp and I even tried to do a little modeling (I don’t think I had a thick enough skin for it at the time, however). I’m doing it now for fun, and also because it’s another creative outlet for me aside from my music. I just like the feeling of being on stage and performing, no matter what capacity. In particular, I like playing darker roles, like junkies, street urchins, gangsters, villains…it’s way more fun and challenging!
If you had a choice between starring in a movie alongside your favorite actor or going on tour with your favorite band, which would you choose and who would it be?
I’d definitely go on tour with my favorite band, which would be Silverchair, because it’s always been a dream of mine and I think I could do that very comfortably based on my experience. I’ve played my whole life, I’ve toured, I’ve written umpteen songs for myself and others…I don’t think I’m at that stage now in my acting career where I’d be 100 percent comfortable and uninhibited. I know a lot of extremely talented actors being that live in LA, and I don’t think I’m that good yet. I’m just having fun with it for now and seeing where it takes me. I think I’d probably be sweating bullets if I had to act alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins or Kevin Spacey or any of my favorite actors. It’s not to say that I couldn’t do it, but it would be a bit nerve wracking to say the least!
What’s the most memorable live show you’ve ever played and what made it so special for you?
I’ve played several of those. I’ve had some crazy Viper Room shows where I was thrashing around on stage and beating the crap out of myself (involuntarily) with my guitar, and when we pulled the entire audience up on stage with us when we were playing. I always have such a good time on stage, that each show seems to top the one before it. It’s hard to say which one was my most memorable. Ask me when I play Madison Square Garden, haha.
Your single “Cry” has exploded in popularity, appearing in the Lifetime show Dance Moms and garnering over 1 million views on YouTube. I’ve seen tons of covers and even some dance routines performed to it. But most touchingly, the comments on the music video are filled with people who have said the song has helped them through rough times in their life. How do those messages make you feel and did you ever imagine the song would receive such a huge reaction?
The coolest thing in the world is knowing that a song I wrote as a means to express myself caused such an astounding reaction. It’s one thing for someone to enjoy your song; it’s another thing entirely for them to write you and tell you that it evoked something within them and helped them through a trying time. That’s not something I take lightly. I’m so honored that people care that much about it, and it’s surreal every time I get a message or read the comments on the “Cry” video. I’m extraordinarily grateful.
The video for “Cry” features Dance Moms star Maddie Ziegler performing a very uplifting dance routine, which is in stark contrast to your more serious complexion as well as the song’s lyrics. What was the idea behind such a contrast and is it meant to send out a specific message to the viewers?
We kind of let Maddie do her own thing actually, and we wanted her to dance however the song spoke to her. I like the contrast of Maddie and I because she’s wearing this beautiful light blue outfit, and she’s got this thousand-watt smile, and I’m wearing the more dark, muted colors, looking forlorn and pained. I wish I could say that there is some kind of deeper meaning (haha), like Maddie is hinting to a better time in my life, when things were simpler, or that there is a light to every dark and a yin to every yang. At the end of the day though, we both just did our own things and we ended up bringing two totally different worlds to the video. I think it turned out absolutely perfect.
One of your older songs, “Morning Pill”, has also appeared on CW’s One Tree Hill. Being an independent musician, how did you go about setting up these TV collaborations and how does it feel hearing your music on national television?
I belong with several music licensing agencies that help to place artists’ music into film and television. That’s how I’ve gotten some of those great placements, like in Dance Moms and One Tree Hill. It’s always very weird and surreal hearing my music on TV. Sometimes I’ll just be watching a show and I’ll hear a song in the background and think “hey, that sounds familiar!” Then I realize it’s my own song and I feel like an idiot, haha.
Of everything you’ve accomplished to this point, perhaps the most amazing thing is that despite label interest, you’ve done it all while choosing to remain an independent artist. Do you plan to stay indie for your entire career or has the right partnership just not come along yet?
I just haven’t found the right partnership. I’ve had offers, but they haven’t been all that fair, or worth giving up a significant percentage of my publishing. I have so many friends on major labels that have been dropped or shelved, and I’m deathly afraid of that happening to me. You really need to have someone behind you championing your cause, otherwise you risk getting lost in the shuffle. That being said, I’d never cut off my nose to spite my face. I’d sign with someone if they adequately promoted me and got me out on the road. It’s quite a load doing everything yourself, I’d love a helping hand, haha.
It’s a great but rare thing to see a female vocalist/guitarist have so much success in both hard rock and television. What advice do you have for young female singers and guitarists hoping to carve out careers in the rock n’ roll world?
I’d say stick to your guns, and do whatever it is you love to do with conviction, and no apologies. If you are at all unsure or don’t know what you want, people will try to steer you in whatever direction they think you should go in. Tell people. Show them. Make yourself indispensible. Also, make sure you’re absolutely amazing at what you do and be ready for that call. That confidence you need comes with practice and mastery of your craft.
I’d also say try to get noticed in unconventional ways—go through the back door! I’ve done that my entire career. That way you have no competition. Maybe try to get some write-ups in lifestyle magazines versus music magazines (everybody’s already trying for that), or if you believe strongly in a particular cause, maybe try getting involved with a charity or non-profit organization with your same views/stance and be their poster child. The old methods of promotion are no longer working, so roll with the tide and be different.
Moving on to your forthcoming album, 2011’s In Avanti had a lot of pop-rock and electronic aspects to it, whereas 2012’s AC3 featured heavier guitar riffs and more of a rock n’ roll direction. With your well-known love of so many different genres, what can fans expect from album number four?
The new album is a bit of a mixture between my first record, Morning Pill, and the AC3 EP. It’s definitely very raw and rockin’ like you heard in AC3, but I’ve gone back to my roots a bit and wrote a few more lighthearted songs in the vain of the Morning Pill record. As is the case with most of my material, you’ll hear a lot of ‘50s and ‘60s elements, introspective lyrics, and some pretty sick guitar solos!
I’m working again with producer/engineer, Wes Michener [AC3], and we’re having a blast with this one. The songs are absolutely incredible, and I’ve actually just laid down two songs I’ve had in the vault for about seven years. It meant a lot to me to finally bring those songs to light and produce them up. They just didn’t fit unfortunately on any of my previous records, and now they finally will have a home.
How has the songwriting process for this album been different from previous efforts, if at all?
It’s been a pretty difficult year or so. I went through a pretty intense breakup, and I stopped playing out so much because I lost some band members. I was bumming about a lot of things, and I had to find myself again. As sad as it all was, I was forced to take a personal journey that I really should have taken a long time ago. This new album is about that whole process; the good, the bad, the ugly. It’s funny, sometimes the worse your life appears to be, the better your art is, haha.
Any chance you can reveal the exact release date or the album title?
I don’t want to reveal too much just yet, but I do have a title swirling around now, and we plan to release the last week of August!
Each of your albums is loaded with various types of rock songs, yet you always make room for a few softer, acoustic-based tunes. With your angsty, heart-on-sleeve lyrics always present, how do you know when a song should be acoustic as opposed to all-out rock?
You don’t always know that until you try it. It’s a matter of production, and that can make or break a song. For example, my song “Survive” from the AC3 EP had three different incarnations. We finally settled on the acoustic version you hear now because it had the most character and it just sounded right. You can’t force a song; the song has to tell you what it’s going to be.
Once the album is finished, what are your plans for the rest of the year? Are there any new tour plans in the works?
Once the album is finished, we plan to make a music video for the lead single, heavily promote and license the record, and do some select touring throughout the US.
Somehow we’re already getting close to being halfway through 2014, so what have been some of your favorite albums released so far this year?
You’re going to hate me, but I’m more of an old school music listener. I have my ‘90s stations on iTunes Radio and XM, and I love blues and classic rock. I think the last contemporary album I bought was Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox, and I absolutely loved it. I’m a huge Bruno fan, perhaps because he’s pretty old school too! I’m open to suggestion, so please let me know if I’m missing out on some awesome new artists…I’m sure there are tons out there I just haven’t heard!
And finally, any last words for your adoring fans all over the world?
Yes, THANK YOU! I couldn’t do all of this and be where I am now without your continued love and support. You make all of this WORTH IT and for that I love and appreciate each and every one of you!