A few hours prior to her music video debut of “Mama Said Knock You Out” at the Church for All Nations on the Upper West Side, Alyson Greenfield works with music engineers and her drummer, Van Alexander on a sound check. Afterward, Alyson, Van, her make-up artist Seevon Chau, hair-stylist Gloria Espinoza, and I travel downstairs below the church to an educational playroom. Here Seevon and Gloria help Alyson get ready while I interview her for my Music Historian blog, Hear; Don’t Listen.
Surrounded by baby blue walls and preschool décor, Alyson multitasked on a few things like communicating with her industry representatives on her cell phone; cooperating with her stylists as they prepare her for the show; and answering my questions.
I personally know individuals who would get frustrated with this kind of hype, but not Alyson. During my interview, I learned that Alyson has years of experience working several jobs as an artist; and I initially assumed it was this experience that taught her to be comfortable in these situations. Slowly however, I realized that her kindness and flexibility might be the result of her personal development rather than professional.
“I NEVER said to myself “music is the only thing I want to do in my life.”
Alyson Greenfield is a woman of several talents and she happens to be a musician. For Alyson, music is not just a career. It is also plays a great part in her journey to discover her full potential as an individual artist and a member of a collective artistic community.
“I have never said to myself “this [music] is the only thing I want to do in my life.” Nor did I think “If I don’t do this, I’m going to crumble!” I just feel that right now, being a musician is calling to me,” explains Alyson.
“I moved to New York City three years ago to focus on music. In addition to composing and performing music, I started an organization called Tinderbox Arts, and my other jobs included being a teaching artist in drama and dance at different elementary schools. It wasn’t until May of last year that I realized I didn’t have the time or energy for several jobs, and that’s when I decided to only run Tinderbox Arts and perform music.”
Alyson proves that working in the music and performing arts industry can be trying. Working multiple jobs is an obstacle – one which can overwhelm even the most organized and talented worker. So how does Alyson keep going when the going got tough? She says:
“I ask myself questions like ‘do I still want to do this’; ‘do I have something to say’; ‘do I have something different to offer’; ‘do I have time for this’?
“At the moment, I am focusing on meditation and yoga to really help me find a sense of calm and peace within myself, and ultimately help transform whatever I am doing into something that will help me become a whole person.”
These words really struck a chord with me and raised these questions: what did Alyson mean by being a whole person, and how could music help? I found my answers as I listened to Alyson talk about her greatest musical influences and her attraction to electronic music.
“Their songs are about fear and seeing love from different angles…”
“Tori Amos was the first person to really influence me. Her original compositions and her passion for music touched me. I also liked Radiohead, Bjork, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush for their use of electronic sounds in their music, which I found really epic and moving.
“Their songs are also about fear and seeing love from different angles. Their songs deviate from the storybook love and heartbreaks. For example, in his song, “Digging in the Dirt,” Peter Gabriel reflects on the feelings he has about his past: he puts his feelings upfront and addresses them.”
Alyson continues, “In this instance, some of the emotions you bring out in music are not always going to be pretty, but expressing them is part of being human.”
One of her songs in which I can detect this openness and fearlessness is “Understand the Sky.” In this song, Alyson openly reveals her curiosities about the physical world. She sings, Get it into your head that I live in a bubble globe… Get it into your head that I am an adventurer… ‘Cause I think I touch you like the sky touches the ocean… but up close, I know I’d have to keep swimming to try and touch the sky. Alyson tells her story behind this song.
“While I was living in Alabama, I had discovered my Casio keyboard could make dreamy sounds. One day, I was in my studio in my apartment, and I just started playing a few chords. The melody simultaneously seemed to come right out of me.
“I wrote about the sky because one day, I was looking up at it and I realized there’s so much I don’t understand about the realm I live in, like where it beings and ends. I also thought the subject of the lyrics would fit very well with the chords I composed.”
“I think electronic instruments transcend time and space in a certain way.”
One can easily interpret “Understand the Sky” as an acceptance or an understanding of how we might never understand the mysteries of the space in which we exist. The electronic harmonies and her immaculate vocals help transform Alyson’s thoughts and words into complete songs.
“I think electronic instruments transcend time and space in a certain way. I also think they help me get over my fear of things I don’t understand, and just help me push forward and get into making music.
“As for singing, I don’t think I’ve ever lived a day without singing. I’ve been writing melodies since I was a kid, and I feel like I always have to write something.”
This inner need for singing enabled Alyson to create a cover of Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise.”
“I feel the covers kind of pick me. I just start singing these songs in my home and then sing them in my own way.
“I’ve always loved “Gangster’s Paradise,” and always found it very moving. When I sung it in my own head, I realized I wanted to turn it into a cover song. So, I tried several instruments for the cover like piano, the guitar, a few synths, and then, I found the glockenspiel, which seemed to be the best instrument.”
Anybody can listen to or watch the music video of “Gangster’s Paradise” on Alyson Greenfield’s website. What you will not find on her website are the songs she performed this past Saturday on the stage at The Church for All Nations.
“All the songs I am playing tonight are all new and they’re not recorded. So, that will be one of my projects. I am also releasing a single of a song I recorded at the Converse Studio in Brooklyn last spring, and I will start work on a music video for that single too. My overall goals are to record music and share it with people.”
“I look forward to sharing more spaces like this with people and other musicians.”
Aside from sharing her music with her listeners, Alyson also looks forward to sharing her performance space with musicians, as well as work with other artists.
“One of my favorite parts of being a musician is interacting and collaborating with other musicians. I have collaborated with people on music videos as well as artists in other realms. I enjoy this work because I learn a lot and I feel like I am part of a community.”
While Alyson will still write songs and perform them by herself, she is more excited about the communal experiences that arise with being a musician; like performing with musicians in a space like The Church for All Nations.
“It’s important for me to perform in a space like this, and I am looking forward to sharing more spaces like this with people and other musicians.”
The right place, the right time
Leaving the Church of All Nations that night, I reflected on my interview with Alyson and realized the following: We all too often hear that a composer’s or musician’s success is based on being in the right place at the right time within the industry. Yet, several musicians rarely think about whether music is calling to them at the right time and place in their lives. Alyson is one musician that carefully examined her circumstances, and listened to her reasoning and her inner voice before fully-pursuing a career in both music and the performing arts.
Alyson is definitely not a musician that acts without thinking or out of pure impulse. Making music is perhaps the only instance where she surrenders her mental toughness, logic and control. The end result includes intriguing instrumentation and harmonies; whimsical and sometimes existential messages; and a voice that anchors all these elements down into one song.