by David Chiu
"I just want this space to grow. I had to go into a bunch of different directions and explore." That assessment by emerging singer/songwriter Alana Davis is indicative of the many musical dimensions on her debut album Blame It On Me.
"[Music] is a variation on therapy," she continues. "It's a place to go as an outlet to express all those deep inner feelings that nobody wants or needs to hear. That's what I'm trying to share - my impression."
When up-and-coming artists emerge, they usually stick to a formula or a particular sound that will prove successful for them. If it works, the same sound or approach might drag on for a few more albums until that runs out of steam. By that time, the artist will be looking for something new, creatively speaking of course.
But Davis is not waiting for the third or fourth album to be really creative. On Blame It On Me, the styles of pop, jazz, and folk are explored - together, they form a unique sound that is all Davis. She says the songs have an underlying jazz base, but that's all there is. "Jazz is more a state of mind," she says. "I think jazz crosses all lines. To me, Joni Mitchell is jazz. Stevie Wonder is jazz. That's a really general heading for all the music I like."
With curly brown-hair and a cherubic smiling face, Alana Davis seems confident yet amazed about her rising success. Her success is due to her dedication and practice of her art - whether it is singing or writing. Davis wrote or co-wrote most of the album's 12 tracks. "Loving, probably more than anything," she says, "inspires me to write because love connects to everything. There was plenty of 'food' for me to write. At the end, it just ended up being a collection of intimate thoughts and expressions."
One of the interesting tracks on the album is the title track. What was the story behind the song? "That's a break-up song. That's a 'I love you and I thank you - it's nothing you did but it's over" song. It's a true story. Good things become habits and they're no good anymore."
She further continues on about the writing process, "I like the overall vibe of all of my songs to be much toward being happy and joyful. Even as I am writing when I am feeling sad, I'm going there to get out of it. Hopefully, the overall vibe will be about transcending it and turning it into something positive."
More telling of Davis' style is her rendition of Ani DiFranco's "32 Flavors," the album's first single. "It's such a good song," Davis explains on why she chose to cover it. "It was so introspective and personal. It touched me really deeply."
Considering Davis' background, it's no wonder music is in her genes. Her father was a jazz pianist and her mother was a professional singer. Music was constantly being played in her Greenwich Village home. Out of that music from her early childhood, Davis' influences range from her idol Stevie Wonder to jazz greats Charlie Parker and Clifford Brown to pioneering women artists like Joni Mitchell and Siouxie Sioux. It was obvious that becoming a singer was the right career path. "I don't think I could've avoided going into this direction," Davis recollects.
But Davis was still searching to find her niche. After a short stint at Mohawk Valley Community College in upstate New York, she decided to make music her full-fledged goal. She started writing and performing her own songs. And in true rock and roll irony, she got signed to a major deal by accident, thanks to a bad demo tape that ended up in the hands of an understanding A&R guy who saw some potential in her. "He heard that there was something good happening there," Davis remembers, "and he called me in to develop it."
As a performer, Davis has gained valuable career experience due to her recent participation in this past summer's highly-touted Lilith Fair tour. "It was the best pond to wet my feet in," she says with zealousness. "Everyone there really wanted me to succeed. And there's the possibility as I learned with Lilith for an incredible return - an incredible circular flow and validation from people and I really respect that."
Along the way, Davis has met other artists, none of which was more special than Bill Withers whose famous credits include "Lean On Me" and "Ain't No Sunshine." When that fact was brought up, she beamed a smile. "I was excited and absolutely flabbergasted," she says of the encounter. "I brought my guitar, like I was going to sit down and write with him! Silly me! It was beautiful and incredible."
But for this upstart making her mark in the music industry, she acknowledges the challenges ahead, especially since her mother instilled in her some cautionary advice as a reflection of her previous experiences. "For a young sensitive chiquita like me, it can be self-defeating and compromising." She then further says about the business, "I am just beginning to define what it is I'm going to do."
So what is Davis going to do next aside from touring to support the new album? Searching and being creative, of course. She is always looking ahead to broaden her artistic horizons rather than relying on the hit formula and pushing it. "I hope that by this sort of variety that I have on my record," she says, "that I will prepare my 'public' for someone that's going to do a lot of seeking, growing, and changing. That's what I want - freedom to explore."