bill bodkin interviews soulful songbird Allison Tartalia as a part of the MAD Wednesday series …
When I Perform Live, My Band Consists Of: I do a lot of touring solo by necessity, since it’s very expensive to travel with a band, but I do perform locally with a band. The current lineup includes drums, upright bass, cello, and myself on vocals, keys, and sometimes guitar and ukulele.
I’ve Been Performing in the Music Scene Since: 2002.
I’m Based Out Of: Astoria, N.Y.
Any Records Coming Out Soon: My new EP, Sweet And Vicious, will be released on July 27.
You’ve Seen Me Before In Other Bands Like: I haven’t been a regular fixture in other bands, though I’ve done side work as a pianist for a number of other singer-songwriters, and I sing as part of Petra Haden’s Sellouts when she performs on the East Coast.
My Sound Has Been Likened To: Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Rufus Wainwright, Rickie Lee Jones, Fiona Apple.
Famous/Awesome Musicans/Bands I’ve Performed With: I’ve performed with Petra Haden as part of The Sellouts. I’m also playing Black Potatoe Festival in Clinton, N.J., this Friday night, where the headliner is Chris Barron of The Spin Doctors.
Pop-Break: The piano seems to be your instrument of choice. How long have you been playing, and what is it about this instrument that has made you want to incorporate it into your music?
Allison Tartalia: I’ve been playing piano since I was about 5, so in terms of writing, it’s the instrument I know best, and I suppose I have the deepest emotional connection to the piano. When emotions are too consuming for words, I sit at the piano and play.
PB: Outside of developing music for yourself, you’ve also been tapped to score musicals and film and you were recently nominated for your musical work on the documentary 5,000 Miles From Home. Talk about the difference between writing original music for yourself and scoring films and musicals.
AT: In a way, writing for theater and film is easier, because there are parameters. Things like character, period and mood give you limitations, which also forces you to be more inventive within those limitations. Whenever I write for projects like that, I always write a some music that utterly surprises me and broadens my perception of what I can do. I appreciate the opportunity to take on projects that require me to stretch and do new things. With my singer-songwriter material, I have a blank slate, which is great in some ways, but sometimes means that it takes longer. Musical ideas come to me all the time, but I have to wrestle with the lyrics because shaping words to fit the music in my head can be tricky.
PB: You’ll be performing tonight as a part of The Downtown’s Music, Arts and Drafts series. Have you played here before, and how do you feeling performing on one of the most important original music showcases in the state?
AT: I haven’t performed there before, but I’m very excited about it. I feel fortunate to be invited into a scene that really supports original music.
PB: There are tons of musicians out there for people to discover. What is about your sound that makes you stand out from everyone else?
AT: Wow, that’s a tough question. I try to be really honest in my music, even if the emotions I’m expressing aren’t very pretty, because I think we all need that catharsis. I come from a theater background, and I’m often told that there’s a lot of theatricality to my music. I love a lot of different musical styles, from hard rock to jazz to classical and world, so I try to just do what excites me and not worry about what genre I’m in or how others will label it. My hope is that if the music makes an emotional connection it will come across even if it’s hard to classify.
PB:What can we expect from you in 2011?
AT: I’ll be touring as much as I can to support Sweet And Vicious. I’m also writing and demoing new material. There are a lot of songs in progress, some of which I’m writing on different instruments. I do a lot of composing in my head when I drive, so I’m looking forward to all the travel and time to work out new songs.