Graham Reid | | 5 min read
One of the great pleasures of music, that which makes it a life-long and rewarding passion, is there's always something new to discover: a new genre emerges, new music appears from a part of the world you hadn't heard from previously, new technology allows for innovation and creativity . . . and, of course, new artists.
“Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts,” said Paul Simon on Graceland.
But it isn't always the heroes who get your attention, it can be a new name with music which just pulls you in.
And those artists can come from anywhere, will have their own story and . . .
That brings us to Alayna Powley whose debut album Self Portrait of a Woman Unravelling which enchanted Elsewhere's ears and we went on to learn about her time in New York with producers who worked with Demi Lovato, Santigold, Billie Eilish and others.
Not bad for a girl from . . .
Well, let her tell you.
Where did you grow up, and with who?
I grew up in Hamurana, Rotorua. With my family - my parents and my two brothers.
Was music an important part of your childhood?
Yes, my Dad is a musician so there was music playing everywhere and always. He taught me a lot of songs growing up which I presume I subconsciously learnt a lot about singing and songwriting from.
What are your earliest childhood memories of music which really affected you . . .
My first CD was Hayley Westenra I think. I remember playing it a lot on my CD player. I also started singing when I was 6 years old, so I’d sing at local talent shows or events or family weddings. I was a small kid so I see photos of this tiny little thing singing infant of heaps of people. I was super shy though so all I could do was stand still and sing and then walk off.
Was there a time when you felt it was going to be music and nothing else?
When I was able to record a song I wrote for Play It Strange in Auckland in a proper recording studio. I was about 15 or 16 at the time loved the whole experience and realised that it was all I could see myself doing. It lit a bit of a fire in my bones and still one of my favourite places to be is in the studio recording my vocals.
When you started on your music career were people around you supportive or did you have to find those people?
I was so lucky to have support right from the beginning. My family has always been incredibly encouraging, driving me around to all my shows and performances. I never once heard a “..so what’s your back up plan?”
My family, and the friends and creatives I’ve encountered since starting on this path have become the people I’ve been able to lean on and help push me along when I’ve needed it. I truly believe a longterm career cannot be done alone, and there’s many times I was too clouded in self-doubt where I only kept carrying on because my people around me believed in me. I’m very grateful for everyone who has been, and is, a part of my journey.
The first song of yours which you really felt proud of was . . .? And why that one?
I wrote a song ‘Bliss’. It came out on my first EP but I had an earlier version of it that I’d written about 10 years ago while studying music at MAINZ. I’d written quite a few different songs but this was one that felt like I’d finally begun to craft songs that actually felt like me and my experience, and the way I’d love to write lyrics. I still love the melodies and I still feel so proud of it.
Any one person you'd call a mentor, angel on your shoulder or invaluable fellow traveller?
Cherie Mathieson would be one of my greatest mentors in music. She is an incredible vocalist, performer and just generally someone I admire. How she moves through the industry with such grace and beautiful energy I’ll always be in awe of. I have many angels on my shoulder I think too.
Where and when was the first time you went on stage as a paid performer?
As a paid performer was probably for someone’s wedding. I’d sang for so many years just for love and to help people out so it felt crazy getting some money for it! It still does really. Although all the preparation and organisation is a lot of work, when I start singing, it doesn’t feel like work.
Ever had stage fright or just a serious failure of nerve before going on stage?
I often get exceptionally nervous before I perform. And it’s usually weeks leading up to the performance where I struggle to concentrate on pretty much anything else. I’ve definitely blanked before on stage but I find the hardest part is just all beforehand. As soon as I close my eyes and begin to sing it pretty much all melts away.
As a songwriter, do you carry a notebook or have a phone right there constantly to grab ideas they come? Or is your method something different?
I never go anywhere without a journal or notebook because I’m always writing/scribbling/journaling anything. I have countless voice memos on my phone of little ideas as well.
I often get the best ideas out somewhere else when I’m busy or driving, that I can bring up in a writing session later. Every song happens differently too, and I love walking into a studio with absolutely nothing on my mind and being curious to see what comes up that day.
What unfashionable album do you love as a guilty pleasure?
I don’t know if I pay enough attention to what is unfashionable or not! Nothing guilty, all pleasure.
Any piece of advice you were given which you look back on which really meant something?
Cherie mentioned to me a long time ago to always make sure you learn the live sound tech’s name wherever you play. They are the vital reason you’re going to sound like anything at all, and it’s a whole science in live sound which requires so much skill. It’s also a pretty thankless job usually, so it’s important they know that they’re appreciated.
It's after a performance/concert and you are in a hotel room or back at home, what happens then?
I usually feel so relieved. I get so nervous before performing that the night afterward feels the closest to bliss and relief if it all goes well. I like to usually just be alone or with a loved one, or my band and debrief on how it went, and truly let myself relax.
Is there any fellow artist you admire for professional and/or personal reasons?
I’m a huge fan of TEEKS. I think he’s an incredible musician and artist, but I also just admire how he moves through in his own lane. There seems to be so much intention and heart in his work and artistry.
And finally, where to from here for you do you think?
Honestly, right now, fresh off releasing the album - I have no idea. And that feels so damn exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds and where my heart will take me. Musically, creatively and personally.
You can hear and buy Alayna's debut album at bandcamp here