You know her from her collaborations with Snoop Dogg, P Reign, Jesse Labelle, and Virginia To Vegas, and from her other million-selling radio hits like “Satisfaction Guaranteed” and “Dangerous” – but Alyssa Reid’s new album, Phoenix, breaks away from the radio-friendly pop mold.
In our new interview, Alyssa spoke to us about letting go of her pop music roots to instead focus on raw, emotional storytelling, why she loves collaborating with other artists, what it means to be a Canadian singer-songwriter, and the struggles of translating emotional songs to a live performance.
It’s said that Phoenix will be presenting your music in a way that we’ve never heard before. I checked out “Tomorrow” and it was a pleasant surprise to my ears. Will that strong, powerful and rawly emotional sound be consistent throughout the album?
For a lot of songs yeah, [but] there are still those songs that are very vulnerable and very soft as well.
The story in “Tomorrow” was very moving and relatable. Is it a story of personal experience, someone you know, or one that you just wrote?
The chorus is meant to be more of bringing the two verses together, but each verse is about specific situations of people that I know, or family members. They’re definitely written about very real situations, but the chorus was written to bring them together. The song will be a very uplifting, positive song, even though those verses are about very difficult times.
How would you compare the new songs to your last record? How do you think you’ve evolved and what’s different in the new music?
Well this is an interesting record, because some of the songs were written specifically for this record, but a few of them were songs that I’ve written for other artists and I put my version of [them] on the record. Some of these songs were actually written years ago, some as much as four years ago.
I definitely feel that the songs I’ve written most recently are evolving in my abilities and what I’m able to convey emotionally. For example, “Suffocate”, I feel like that’s one of my favourite songs on the album and I feel that there’s just something about that song that really connects with people. Even [when] the album [had] only been out for a matter of hours, everyone [kept] messaging me freaking out about that song specifically and I feel very proud of it, because it’s one that I’ve written very recently.
Do you think your fans will react to the switch from your classic pop tunes to a more emotional and heartfelt sound? Do you think you’ll gain a new audience from that shift?
I hope so. I have in the past two albums, the songs that people have told me they love the most are always those very stripped down, very raw, emotional songs. So I think as far as my fans, an entire album of that, hopefully they’ll receive well. What I love about this style of music, is that it appeals to a much more broad audience, so I’m hoping that people of all ages and walks of life will be able to listen to the album and relate to it in some way.
What made you decide to take a break from the pop singles and dive more into the sound you’re exploring now? Can we expect this to be a forever change?
It’s the stuff that I love to write. It’s really fun writing for radio and I do enjoy it, but I really put my heart into those really sappy, emotional ballads. It’s where all my passion is. It’s the songs that I write at 4 o’clock in the morning when I can’t sleep and I’m having a tough day or when something happens and I need to convey my emotions in some way. Those [are the] songs that I write, not the catchy pop song that repeats the same words 36 times. I’m excited that I get to release something real and honest to who I am.
Are you nervous about performing more heartfelt songs live for the first time?
Absolutely, because you need to convey that exact same emotion live and it’s very hard to be able to tap into every single song, recall memories of that song and what you were feeling when you wrote it. To be able to translate that live as well, people are going to be expecting that at every single show. They’re going to want to go to the show and feel the exact same emotion that they feel when they listen to it.
You write songs for other artists as well. Are there any specific songs or artists that you’ve been most happy with about the outcome of your songs and how do you approach writing for them and finding their voice?
There’s this country duo called Autumn Hill and I love writing with them. Just because I love watching how they transform a song into their own. I think it’s really fun, especially to write a different genre of music than I’m used to. I really enjoyed that process.
You can only do so much when you’re writing the song. You have to hope that with the other writers, or the artist that you’re writing for, that there’s some sort of connectivity in the song for them as well. You can write a song that you absolutely love, that’s about a really profound experience in your life, but then you go to give it to someone and they just don’t feel it. So that connectivity has to be there.
If you had to choose, would you side more with the singing or songwriting? Are there specific aspects of either that make them special to you?
I love both. I love the ability to share my experiences with other people and see where they take that idea, but I also love when there are certain songs that I just really connect with. Suffocated was written for another artist, but I loved it and really felt like it was my song, so I was like you know what, I have to keep this one, I’m sorry. I love both ends of the process.
You said that there will be co-writes from all genres on Phoenix. Could you share some of the featured artists with us and over the years, have you found anyone that you like working with most?
“Can’t Keep Waiting” was a co-write with Autumn Hill and there’s a couple co-writes with Virginia to Vegas. “Beautiful” and “We are Stars” were co-writes, but I may be blanking on a few more. I really enjoy working with Virginia to Vegas, because it’s so pop, but it’s a bit of a different sound than what I’m used to doing for myself. It’s fun to push your comfort level a little bit.
Do you think your Canadian background has any influence on your music and what are some of your other biggest influences musically and personally?
That’s a funny question, because as a songwriter, whenever you write something, everyone has an idea in their mind that a good song sounds American. I feel like there’s a bit of a challenge for Canadian artists because we often take the sideline to America’s music industry and what’s happening there. Every Canadian artist strives to break into the U.S.. I think it helps motivate you, because you want to break through that threshold.
There’s a funny saying about songs that when they’re just not there, they sound Canadian and I don’t know what being Canadian has to do with your abilities. Then you have an artist that breaks through and everyone thinks they’re the exception, but no, Canada just has amazing talent. You can’t blame every single successful Canadian for being the one exception.
I think just being in the room with so many different people, working with different producers and songwriters, I think that’s what has the biggest influence on me. I’m in the studio literally every single day, so all I really ever have time to focus on is the songwriting and music. I really love watching other people, seeing how they work, what their process is and what they bring to the table that other people don’t. That’s definitely what I take from it.