by Roman Mitz, Open Spaces
“It’s Alee, sounds like Sally.” Edmonton singer-songwriter Alee is emphasizing just where the emphasis goes when pronouncing her name. She is very forthright when it comes to all aspects of her career and this includes having a hand in writing all of the songs for her just-released sophomore country album ‘Bad Habit. If there is one track on the album that could serve as her theme song it’s ‘Only The Strong Survive’ which preceded the album as Alee’s first single for her new label.
“That track makes the biggest statement,” says Alee, who is phoning in from her hometown. “The song was written in a room with a couple of girls. I was crying at some point and we were laughing at others. Every single lyric in it was something that came out of our mouths and there’s something so genuine and true about it. It’s amazing how many situations that song lends itself to and how many fans have written to me to say that that number got them through the day. Just being able to reach out to people and change their mood with the melody and lyrics, that’s what the whole journey is about for me.”
Only the Strong Survive was one of three songs Alee includes on Bad Habit that first appeared on her 2015 EP ‘Say Hello To Goodbye’. She felt it was important to include them as they had all cracked country radio’s Top 40 and she wanted fans to hear something they were familiar with. It also allows her to complete the story of the last four years of her life and begin a new chapter. One of the old songs, ‘Moonshine’, may be the most touching number on the album as Alee reminisces about her grandfather.
“Yeah, that song is about my grandad,” she begins. “Andrew Hyatt and I were new signings to our label and we were thrown in a room together and told not to come out until we had something. We struggled to come up with something that we were both passionate about. It wasn’t until I started scrolling through my phone that it came to me that I wanted to write a song about my grandad. Andrew had just returned from Nashville where he had bought some moonshine off of a truck. He cracked the bottle in Sudbury the night before and came up with the first line, “Moonshine, strong as Hell.” I loved that line because it was exactly what we needed to start off the song. Fast forward a couple of months and I was in Hawaii with my grandmother and something caught my eye as she was flipping through some photos. Surely enough it was a picture of my grandad making moonshine when he was about my age. The song turned out to be a perfect tribute to him, and was one of those moments where everything was meant to be.”
While in the studio, Alee brought in a song she was working on for another artist that she was “stuck on”. Things began to come together for her and ‘Bad Habit’ ended up being the up-tempo number the album needed, drawing all of the other songs together in the process and thus becoming the title track. This song, as well as ‘Deal With It’ and her latest single ‘When I Do’ are about fractured relationships, and throughout the album this subject matter certainly takes precedence over any ‘Moon in June’ love songs.
“I always find myself struggling to write traditional love songs because I haven’t really felt that yet,” she says. “I love going back and writing genuine songs that I can relate to. You’re always forced to dive into emotions. Sometimes I don’t even know how invested I am in songs until I listen back to them. Hopefully in the next couple of years I’ll have more love songs.”
While Bad Habit is classified as a country album, there’s no shortage of musical snippets from other disparate genres. ‘Don’t Wait’ starts off with a keyboard riff that recalls the Human League while ‘Deal With It’ kicks off with a ZZ Top-like guitar lick that would have Billy Gibbons grinning from ear to ear. You can chalk up this musical potpourri to the various artists that influenced Alee during her formative years.
“I didn’t really grow up surrounded by country music,” she admits. ‘I grew up with Nickelback and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and my first concert, if you can believe it, was Yanni. I had the full gamut of music when I was growing up. More recently, with the passing of Prince, I found a lot of that stuff coming back into my life both in my music and writing. It was neat going into this album not necessarily worried about creating music for a certain genre, but creating who I am as an artist and bringing that to life. It was also great to work with people who were willing to take chances and leaps of faith, and it shows on songs like Don’t Wait.”
There’s also a bit of a connection to the current Top 40 when it comes to the artwork for the When I Do single. The raven-haired singer’s pose is similar to the one struck by Selena Gomez on the jacket of her ‘Revival’ album, although Alee rocks a black jacket while Gomez goes au naturel.
“For sure there’s a little more fabric in mine,” she laughs. “The unusual part was that we actually did the photos for the album before we started the writing process. That was a very neat way to get into it because I got the visual for who I wanted to be as an artist and what I wanted the music to sound like. That made the writing process a lot easier. I’m a very artistic person and I grew up loving the visual side of things just as much as I loved the music. Being able to have a say in the images was very important.”
Speaking of nice pics, there’s a great shot of Alee on her website sporting a ‘Jim and Jack and Hank’ t-shirt, promoting the Alan Jackson single. Although she’s had a wide range of musical influences and covers a lot of different musical ground on Bad Habit, at the end of the day she has classic country in her veins.
“My mom is from small town Saskatchewan so without diving into it early on I was brought into classic country by my surroundings,” she says. My grandma still plays the AM radio station. Country music is evolving and changing, but you have to look back to some of those first few people who really made an impact and evolved the music to where it is now. They played such a crucial part in it. I still listen to the classics and look up to those artists and writers in terms of what I’m doing. Having that love of the classics is important.”
So what’s next for Alee? Taking her Bad Habit on tour. “I just can’t wait to get out there and show everyone what I’m so proud of. Getting on the road and getting to meet the fans is a huge part of it.” https://www.facebook.com/roman.mitz