AUGUST 2, 2008
5:00PM (PST)




Back in 2006, ALYSSA GRAHAM had the jazz world on its ear with the release of her debut CD 'WHAT LOVE IS'- an intimate re-working of jazz standards recorded in her one bedroom apartment in the Upper West Side of New York City. Recorded with the assistance of her husband/guitarist DOUG GRAHAM, ALYSSA gave songs such as 'EASY LIVING', 'YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT LOVE IS', and 'ONE MORE FOR MY BABY' a personal touch that was likely to draw the inevitable comparison to NORAH JONES. However, my money has got to rest with ALYSSA. I almost didn't even mention JONES' name.

Two years later, ALYSSA GRAHAM is on the verge of releasing her follow up CD 'ECHO' (SUNNYSIDE RECORDS). This time around, ALYSSA's earthy coo showcases original material composed by husband DOUG GRAHAM, producer JON COWHERD, and longtime friend, BRYAN McCANN.  "JON COWHERD wrote all of the music for the original tracks. DOUG GRAHAM and BRYAN McCANN write the lyrics." specifies GRAHAM.  "I like to say that I'm the muse. I think that DOUG as a songwriter comes from a perspective that is very specific to our life together since we've been together for so long. He will constantly make references to real things that have happened in our life, and I tend to think that the first and best ingredient in a song is honesty."

Sure, 'ECHO boasts original material this time around, but that doesn't mean that GRAHAM has put aside her incredible gift for interpretation. This time, she's chosen to cover more modern material from songwriters such as PAUL SIMON ('AMERICA') and STING ('I BURN FOR YOU'). "I always connected with that song." says GRAHAM of the former. "So when JON COWHERD and I sat down and talked about what cover songs  we wanted to do for this album, he had a similar experience growing up with that song and it was just a natural for this album, because it really sets the stage for a journey."

ROCKWIRED spoke with ALYSSA as she was in the backyard of friends house minding their dogs and enjoying the beautiful weather. Here is how it went.

'ECHO' is going to be released at the end of July. You must be excited.
I am.

What's different this time around as opposed to the release of your first album a couple of years back?
It's very different actually. The album 'WHAT LOVE IS', came about after I had finished music school and we were really excited to do a standards record even though we did throw in a nice NEIL YOUNG song on that album. As much as I enjoyed exploring the classics and emotionally connecting with those songs, this album 'ECHO ' feels much more personal. It's more of a very personal journey that I have taken along with my partner-in-crime DOUG GRAHAM, who is also one of the great lyricists on the album. The album just explores my whole story of growing up  and becoming a woman and falling in love and all of the trials and tribulations of being in a love affair - a successful love affair. So it feels very personal this time and I got to explore these stories with some musicians that I have the utmost respect for and to have JON COWHERD produce the project, was amazing. This project was very exciting and very different from my first album.

At the top of your answer you had mentioned that "we were excited to record jazz standards". Who is "we"?
I'm sorry about that! DOUG and I have been together for almost twenty years. We've known each other since we were kids. We grew up together. After I had gotten out of the New England Conservatory, DOUG and I wanted to explore these songs on tape and see where it would take us. DOUG has been my partner for as long as I can remember.

What drew you to music in the beginning?
I came from a family of music lovers.  My parents were not musicians, but they had a passion for music. I would come home from wherever I was when I was a kid and they had this big bureau filled with a collection of records. Whenever I'd walk into the house, there would always be THE BEATLES playing, or BILLIE HOLLIDAY, or FRANK SINATRA. I think this music was absorbed into me every moment of my life that I lived with my parents. My dad would call me down from my room and say "hey, listen to this part of the song!" and he would sing it at the top of his lungs and he would take me to shows in New York City, but I think the defining moment was when I picked up the guitar when I was about fourteen or fifteen. I took guitar lessons because I wanted to learn some of the songs that I would walk around singing with my dad. As soon as I started learning a few chords on the guitar, I started writing songs, and I think that was what hooked me. As soon as I was able to have an outlet to express myself like that, I was hooked and I pretty much knew from then that this was what I wanted to do. Fortunately, my parents were extremely supportive of the arts and couldn't imagine me doing anything but being a musician. My brother is an author and he just came out with a book that's all over the place now, so I think that my parents instilled in us this love of the arts. I went towards music and my brother went towards writing, so there you have it.

So you studied music formally?
I did. Actually, as an undergraduate I went to Ithaca College to study anthropology which, believe it or not, does tie into my musical exploration as well. I studied anthropology and really focused on ethnomusicology, which is the study of musical traditions around the world. Ithaca College also has a fantastic musical conservatory, so I spent the other fifty percent of my time studying music. While in college I co-founded and performed with a band that was all original music. Music was a large part of my studies, but it wasn't the only thing that I was studying and I think that it contributed to my journey today as an artist. The anthropology increased my passion of traveling and in looking into and finding out about different musical traditions throughout the world. A couple years after college, I lived down in Mexico for a while and then went to a conservatory to study jazz and contemporary improvisation.

A little side note here, you are the second person that I've interviewed since I've done ROCKWIRED that was an Anthropology major.
You're kidding, who is the other one?

I've heard of SHAUNA BURNS. You don't meet many of us in general and you don't meet many of us in the music world, I don't think.

No you don't. I only know two of you.
I think part of the thing that drove me to anthropology and then combining my love of culture with  my love of musical traditions stems from my parents. My parents were extremely passionate about traveling. At any time we could, we could go away as a family to places like Central America. My dad was in the PEACE CORPS in Venezuela  back when the PEACE CORPS first started back in the sixties, so he has this love for that part of the world. I think that has a lot to do with why I went off on this direction.

He exposed me at a very young age to all of these different cultures  and traditions and ways of life and when you're studying music and writing music, you should be able to bring all of those elements in and it gives you free range to do whatever you want as a musician. You're aren't pin-pointed into one genre of music and this whole world of beauty is opened up to you.

How did it feel leaving the conservatory and then being in the process of making your first album?
It felt scary! I don't think that music school was the greatest experience for me. It was very competitive and I felt like I was being judged and I think that music school is supposed to be this welcoming place where you go on these different musical journeys and people go on this journey with you and support you and I didn't feel like that was the case in music school. I felt like I was always being compared to other people and I was always trying to step out and be myself but at the same time you had to do certain things. When I got out of music school, I was very excited to do an album by myself and yet it's always scary to do an album of other peoples songs because you're constantly going to be compared to the greats that recorded these songs in the past. But I found that outside of music school, that people are very receptive to any way that you would want to interpret a song, and they're very willing to listen to your version of it and see what kind of story you have to tell and what kind of viewpoint you have on that song. After I recorded the album, I felt much better because although I was nervous about recording it, I did have my own viewpoints when I was singing songs like 'EASY LIVING', 'SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN', and 'ONE MORE FOR MY BABY'. These are classics that have been recorded hundreds of times, but I felt like I was able to connect with them and tell my own story. It started out as a scary experience but the experience ended up shedding some light on me and where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do as a vocalist.

For ECHO, you picked PAUL SIMON's 'AMERICA' and STING's 'I BURN FOR YOU'. What compelled you to record those songs?
'AMERICA' is one of those classic PAUL SIMON songs. I remember BOOKENDS when I was a kid. That was one of those albums like THE BEATLES 'HELP' or 'SGT. PEPPER', that was playing in my house all of the time. I remember hearing 'AMERICA' when I was very young and thinking 'Wow! That is so exciting! These two lovers are getting on a bus and exploring the country and gaining freedom and growing up and exploring new territory away from their families!" I always connected with that song. So when JON COWHERD and I sat down and talked about what cover songs  we wanted to do for this album, he had a similar experience growing up with that song, and it was just a natural for this album because it really sets the stage for a journey. The album is a travelogue  and 'AMERICA' being the first track sort of sets the stage.  'BURN FOR YOU' was a song that JON had arranged with BRIAN BLADE. He was really excited about presenting the song to me. I obviously knew the tune but when he played me the arrangement, I just fell in love with it. There is just something so sensual and passionate about the lyrics, and there is a longing in the lyrics that is so beautiful and luscious. The minute I heard JON's arrangement, I just had to sing it.

JON and DOUG are the chief songwriters on this album. Were you in anyway involved with the evolution
of the original material?

There are actually three main songwriters on the album. JON COWHERD wrote all of the music for the original tracks. DOUG GRAHAM and BRYAN McCANN - who has been a apart of our songwriting team for years - write the lyrics. I like to say that I'm the muse. I think that DOUG as a songwriter comes from a perspective that is very specific to our life together since we've been together for so long. He will constantly make references to real things that have happened in our life, and I tend to think that the first and best ingredient in a song is honesty. When he writes a song he'll jot down some lyrics with a melody and then wake me up in the middle of the night and say "Hey, this is really good! What do you think of it?" and I'll wake up groggy and listen to it and then often cry because he writes these amazingly beautiful lyrics. Then we'll work a little bit on the lyrics here and there, but basically I'm the muse and he's the writer. With BRYAN McCANN, we share so many experiences together as children and as adults. When he writes a song, I think that he's working in trying to tell a story that he knows I've experienced and can relate to. BRYAN also brings in a Brazilian aspect to the work. He actually teaches Brazilian History at Georgetown University and we spent a great deal of time with him in Brazil and he exposed us to all of this amazing music while we were down there. That was part of the inspiration for the Brazilian theme running through the record. Of course JON is this incredible songwriter. He's got this vision and amazing capability to take lyrics from both BRYAN or DOUG  and keep the sentiment yet turn them into these incredible pieces of art and music. I really think that this partnership is really unique and special.

And of the songs that came out of this process are there any that standout for you in particular?
That's a tough question! Obviously I'm very connected to all of the songs and I love each and everyone of them for very different reasons. I think the the one that really stands out to me as one that speaks to my heart is the song 'BUTTERFLIES'. There is actually a very funny story to that song. I think I've told the story live, but I've never told it to any interviewer.

Please do.
Several years ago, me and DOUG had gotten into some huge fight and I think we spent several hours working out our differences and talking about what was going wrong. So we worked everything out and it was about four in the morning and I said to him, "I love you and I understand where you're coming from, but before you come to bed, you have to write me a love song." At about seven in the morning, he wrote me the most exquisite love song. It can bring anybody tears, but if you knew DOUG and I and, you know the story behind it.  It's just got so much heart, honesty, and passion. The song is like a dream. It's sort of like faerie tale and when I listen to it I feel like something magical happens. So, I'd have to say that that song is very special to me.

What do you hope someone will walk away with after hearing ECHO?
Several things. I first want them to come away with a sense of hopefulness. I want them to come away with a sense that they had gotten to know me on a personal level because every song on this album is a personal story and a personal journey and I think that it's an insight into who I am. I want them to come away thinking that they've been on a musical journey that has taken them to different parts of the world and exposed them to different traditions of music, old and new. I want them to come away singing the melodies and come away thinking how amazing the musicians that played on this album were and how they were able to contribute their own stories to the project. I want them to walk away with a sense that they heard a fantastic love story with all of it's ups and downs and sadness and triumph. Most importantly, I would like them to come away with a sense of hopefulness in a time where true love is often hard to come by and in this day and age. Relationships aren't always a success story , so I'd like for them to come away thinking of love as being successful.

Good answer!
It's very true. DOUG and I have been together since as long as I can remember without giving away my age. We've been together for so long and we've gone through it all. We've been through everything that a couple can be through and yet we just have this incredible connection with each other and it is rare for people in this day and age to stay together and have a sense of hope. I really want that to come across in the album. I truly believe that. I don't think that any project can be successful unless its truthful.