Known for her vulnerable lyrics and fierce performances, Irish/South African songwriter Alanna Joy has performed extensively around South Africa, sharing stages with the likes of Craig Lucas, Majozi and Hezron Chetty to name a few.
A shift in sound: ‘Tell Me’ represents a shift in sound for the Cape Town based musician.
After forming her four-piece band in early 2019, the group began to move away from Alanna’s previous folk/pop sound to something a little darker and heavier. Maintaining the honest and vulnerable lyricism Alanna has become known for, the group introduced nostalgic rock elements to create an alternative rock sound that has secured their place on the Cape Town music scene.
The band’s latest single, ‘Tell Me’, is fierce and relatable. With themes that are perhaps even more relevant now, during the current global crisis, the song discusses emotional vulnerability and talking openly about mental health issues.
We chat to Alanna Joy about the latest single, life in lockdown and everything in between.
You have performed solo and in bands around the Western Cape over the years, which acts and performances have been some of your favourite?
I think every show I’ve played at Mercury Live (RIP) has been a favourite, the venue just made the shows feel even more electric.
My favourite show with another act has to be when we shared a stage with the legendary Robin Auld. We had one rehearsal before-hand and we decided to do an entire set together, so we learnt a few of his songs and he learnt a few of ours. The set was so much fun because it was mostly improvised and we all played off of each other’s energy. The guitar solo battles between Robin and Faghri (our lead guitarist) were epic.
Any funny tour/ festival stories?
A lot of our funniest stories are a little incriminating… But I’ll tell you about the time we drove up to Durban for Splashy Fen.
So we decided to drive with our friend Steve Jarvis (who was also playing Splashy as a solo artist as well as alongside our friend Frances Clare) and he booked us a gig at SSS in Grahamstown as a little stop on the way. We were staying at his girlfriend’s house and we were under the impression that they would leave early in the morning to make Frances’ set on time, but that we could sleep in a little and leave later that day. It was the first show of our first ‘tour’ so we wanted to kick it off with a bang and we opened a few too many bottles after the show.
At about 1am (and three wine bottles in), Steve tells us that we have to leave with them at 3am because he didn’t have space for his bass in his girlfriend’s car….We later learnt they had like 5 tents in their car for some reason. I mean I love the dude, but do you really need that many tents?
Fast forward a few hours and we’re on the very dark and misty road. At about 5am, my hangover hit me. We were driving over the rural roads with pot holes and speed bumps, with my head out the window. Splashing all the way to Splashy…
6 hours and many attempts at eating petrol station food along the way, I recovered enough to be a functional human being again. We got stuck behind an impossibly long line of trucks on the way and we arrived at Splashy 30 min late and Steve missed his performance with Fran. Moral of the story, plan your tours properly and never drink all your wine at the first show.
You released a new single “Tell Me” in collaboration with Matt Carstens on 15 May, can you tell us a little about the creative process of this track?
The writing process began with me being an emotional wreck at home one night (as most of my songs do). I wrote the song about the feeling of wanting to reach out to someone when you’re in a dark place, but not knowing how to and not wanting to burden them.
I took it to the band a few days later and they immediately locked onto the vibe. I didn’t have to tell them anything, they just got it.
I wrote the bridge at some event at Kill City Blues. Everyone was jamming out and having fun and I just got a little in my head and realised I had to add some sort of resolution to the song. I found an empty rehearsal room and just sang what I felt.
We knew it had to be a duet, but we weren’t sure who to ask to collaborate on the track until one day Charlie (our bassist) and I were listening to Matt Carstens and he suddenly looks at me and says “sing along quick?”. I knew what he was onto and I improvised some harmonies over Matt’s track ‘Somebody Else’. We knew immediately that he was the one for the project.
I guess the rest is history.
Will there be more new releases to expect later in the year?
Definitely! We’ve had to delay our upcoming EP because all our funding went out the window when our gigs were cancelled due to Covid-19, but we are still working on content.
We are planning to release a little ode to our live shows on the 12th of June, so keep an eye out for that. It’s something we recorded a while ago, but we thought we’d release it now, because we’re really missing everyone at the live shows and it’s a track that we love.
You are the founder and host of Rust Jam Sessions. Can you tell us a bit about the aim of these events?
Ah, the Rust Jam Sessions. They are (or were) these magical nights, every Wednesday at Rust Café in Observatory. They have obviously been put on hold, but they were usually the highlight of my week.
Essentially it’s got the structure of an open mic night with elements of a jam session. It started as a fundraiser for an AFDA student film and then I loved the vibe so much that I continued doing it every week. It’s really come a long way from when it started. In the beginning there would often be nights when it was just me doing a little set by myself or with some friends, but it quickly turned into this full-house event that hosts 10-15 amazing acts that jam out together. We’ve seen people kick start their music careers there, bands form there, collaborations come together and we even shot part of our music video for ‘Hard To Handle’ there.
It’s become synonymous with the band and we usually open the show with a few numbers. At this point, it’s essentially a musical family that meets up once a week and welcomes newbies in with open arms.
How was the pandemic affected your livelihood and how are you keeping busy?
Because the majority of our income as musicians came from live shows and events, the pandemic has pretty much left us with no income. We have been hosting the occasional live stream and we are really grateful for the donations from fans, but it can’t really compare to the income we saw beforehand. I think we are all really lucky to have family and friends that have kept us afloat and fed during this time.
A lot of my time during lockdown has revolved around learning new skills in terms of technology and online platforms. I think it’s been an important shift for us. For a long time, live shows were the main focus, because they brought in the money and of course they are a little more fun and intimate than the online realm. But now we have this opportunity to grow online and connect with people from outside of our usual live show fanbase, which has been really great.
I’ve also started dabbling in video editing, which has been cool. The editor/videographer of our music video was swamped with work before our launch, so he didn’t have time to make the teaser videos for ‘Tell Me’, so I got a free trial of Final Cut Pro and have been slowly learning how to edit.
It’s been a shitty time, but I’m happy to be learning new skills and working on myself.
Favorite shows/ movies/doccies you’ve watched during lockdown and recommend to your fans?
Hmmm…I’ve watched a lot of nonsense during this time. I think comedies have helped me get through this time to be honest. Watching shows like Modern Family and Community have been a great way to tune out the negativity of the news. But I also watched the entirety of Breaking Bad which was really interesting.
If I can recommend one documentary to my fans, it would be SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock. Every time I watch it, I feel so inspired. It’s a look at Mick Rock’s life. He is an amazing photographer that shot David Bowie, Joan Jett and nearly every other famous musician.
Words of advice for aspiring local musicians?
Something that I think a lot of creatives don’t wanna hear (I certainly didn’t), is that if you want to make a successful career out of music, you need to learn how to do the music admin and business aspects too….Or find someone to do it for you. But in this day and age, the chances of some record label A&R finding you at an open mic and signing you, are really slim. You need to make it happen for yourself, which means finding and booking the gigs, sending the invoices, being the content creator and the social media manager and the PR agent all in one. Obviously one day you want to hire people to do all those things for you, but when you’re starting out you probably won’t be making enough to support yourself let alone a management team. Finding the balance between the creativity and the business side can be really difficult and at times really frustrating (because all you really want to do is play music), but it’s important if you want to turn music into a career.