"Alexx Calise: Alanis Morissette on steriods?" - Interview

About a month ago I got the chance to hear the album “In Avanti” by Alexx Calise. She had emailed me saying she thought I’d like her album, so I took a drive to Milwaukee and thought I had my hands on the next big breakout star’s brand new album. Check out the album review here: "Alexx Calise in 'In Avanti.'" - Music Review. The songs, top to bottom, were pleasing to the ear and the sound was original yet familiar at the same time.

I left the album in my car and my wife got a hold of it and her and my daughter really took a liking to it. One day I’m driving home with my 2 year old daughter and she starts screaming she wants to listen to number 2. I have no idea what that means, so I turn the radio on and “In Avanti” was in the CD player. My daughter screams, “yes, this, number two start it over.” Number 2 was track two entitled “Break Me.” My daughter knew most of the words and I just had to get it on tape. You can view it here:

Recently I got a chance to talk with Alexx Calise about her new album “In Avanti,” her unique sound and her side project Sound of Cancer.

Q – How would you describe your sound?

A - Luigie (my producer) and I like to call it “rocktronica” because it isn’t quite rock, pop, or electronica, but it incorporates a lot those elements. I think my bass player, Jay, said it best when he told me it sounds like “Jagged Little Pill” on steroids.

Q – Which came first, the guitar playing or the singing? What were your early inspirations for both?

A - I’ve been singing since I was a little kid. We had mass every Wednesday at the school I went to, and I always looked forward to singing the hymns (not because I’ve ever been entirely religious or anything, but because it gave me an opportunity to sing). I suppose that’s where I learned to harmonize as well.

I picked up guitar at 11 to emulate my dad, who is an incredible musician. I didn’t have much formal training; I learned pretty much everything I know now from the blues. I would lock myself up in my room for hours and jam on Stevie Ray and Kenny Wayne Shepherd riffs. I’ve had a torrid love affair with my instrument ever since.

Q – When you write a song, do you have to be inspired or can you just hammer something out?

A - Well, because I’m a prolific writer, I can usually bang something out without much of a problem, but I’ve found that some of my best songs were completely agonizing to write. Sometimes, I’ll stare at a blank page for hours before I even come up with one line. But, that’s the price you have to pay if you want to create great art. I don’t ever put anything out that I’m not completely proud of. I want to be able to kick people in the teeth with my music, and instill intense emotion in them, be it love or hate. You can’t do that with mediocre songs.

Q – What is your song writing process in general?

A - More often than not, I usually start off with a vocal melody, and then I build my lyrics and music around that. Usually, I get the itch to write at the most inopportune times, like when I’m driving on the freeway, or when I don’t have a pen. If it weren’t for the voice recorder on my cell phone, a lot of the songs you hear on my records would have gone by the wayside, ha ha!

Q – What was it like working with Grammy-nominated producer Luigie Gonzalez?

A - It’s always fun working with Lu. He and I have been friends for years, and he can actually be credited as the one who gave me my start out here in LA (I slept on his couch for 6 months before I was able to afford my own place).

Lu and I have very different musical backgrounds (I love grunge, blues and hard rock and Lu is a renowned dance/electronica producer), so we’ve managed to create this unique brand of “rocktronica” together that really does a great job of walking the line of pop and avant-garde.

He’s a silly guy just like me, so we’re always making crude jokes and coming up with “alternative” lyrics to my already existing songs. I’ve never seen the guy dressed down either. I think I would die of shock if I ever saw him in a t-shirt.

Q – The video for “Break Me” (you can check the video out here: YouTube - Alexx Calise) turned out very well. Where did the video concept come from?

A - Unfortunately I can’t take credit for the concept. That’s all my director, Ricardo Moreno. He’s one crazy guy, ha ha. In the video, I’m a deranged looking doll searching desperately for my favorite teddy bear.

There’s some symbolism in there for sure. Essentially, I’m searching for real love, but I come to find in the end (when I rip the stuffing out of poor Mr. Bear and realize he’s not real), that it never really existed with the person I was with.

Q – What is the music video process like for you. I’ve heard some people like and others hate it?

A - I’ve filmed a few videos now, and each time it’s been a lot of fun. That’s probably due to the people I work with though. Everyone on my team (my band, director, producer, makeup artist, etc) is considered family, so in between takes we’re usually cracking jokes, throwing things at each other, or acting stupid. However, I can see it being quite sterile and nerve-wracking if you’re uncomfortable being in front of a camera, or around a big crew of people for that matter. I’m just so used to it now, it’s become second nature.

Q – You music has been featured on “One Tree Hill” as well as various MTV/VH1 reality programs. How did those opportunities present themselves?

A - It all depends. Sometimes music supervisors will approach me to use my material, and other times my songs will place in a TV show or film via one of the many licensing agencies I’m affiliated with.

Q –You have another project called Sound of Cancer. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

A - Sound of Cancer is a project I have with my songwriting partner/drummer, Dennis Morehouse. We could easily fit the bill with Portishead, Marilyn Manson, Pink Floyd, Massive Attack, The Cure or Tricky. We incorporate a ton of choral harmonies and ethereal sound scapes, and the lyrical content is of the self-loathing/existential variety. Right now, we’re in the mixing phases of the record. Though the release date keeps getting pushed back, we anticipate being completely finished with it in the upcoming months. All I have to say is, you better be sitting down, ha ha.

Q – Who are some of your early influences?

A - I’ve always had an unhealthy obsession with Silverchair. Actually, I’m wearing one of their shirts right now if that’s any indication. One of the first songs I ever learned on guitar was “Suicidal Dream,” and I ended up playing it at my 7th grade talent show. I scared the hell out of everyone in the auditorium that day to say the very least. If you couldn’t tell by my crazy vibrato and penchant for drop D tuning, I am heavily influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Johnny Lang, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, and Our Lady Peace.

Q – Who are you listening to right now?

A - Right now, I’m listening to a lot of myself because we’ve been rehearsing so much, ha ha! In all seriousness though, I’ve been digging into a lot of Silverchair, Our Lady Peace and Marilyn Manson lately.

Q – What is your most embarrassing on stage moment?

A - There have been several. I think the worst though was when I played a talent competition at age 16. The stage was elevated (actually, it was literally towering over the audience’s heads), and I was sitting down, playing my guitar. It also happened to be the day I chose to wear a skirt. Needless to say I got a roaring applause. However, I’m guessing it wasn’t just over my music.

Q – Thanks for taking the time. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A - Yes! Stay in school, don’t drink and drive, and visit alexxcalise.net, where you can pick up my new album, “In Avanti” and get all your AC news!

Head over to www.alexxcalise.net so you can be one of the first to discover her before she becomes an international rock star, then you can get all pissed off at her and call her a sellout for no other reason than because she’s popular. It’s fun to do. Her album “In Avanti” is great; you should seriously check it out.


Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.

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