Published Jul 12, 2017After enduring the dizzying highs and lows of the music industry, songwriter and vocalist A l l i e is back — wiser, stronger — and ready to hit us with official debut Nightshade, out independently on July 21; the ten-track project is equal parts R&B, electro-groove and cosmic soul. Creating music in a fickle industry has been a learning process — and she's evolved both personally and professionally as a result.
"There's bullshit and false promises in the industry and it really got to me — I can't take all of this fake shit," she tells Exclaim! "I think it wasn't until I finished my last project [2015's Moonlust EP] that I realized how badly I really wanted [to succeed]. I was still finding myself and my sound and I was insecure and wanting outside validation. I learned quickly that it wasn't going to do it for me. It had to come from somewhere else."
Somewhere else, for A l l i e, came from within. The Toronto native (born Allison Lee) reveals that previous musical outings — namely the well-received Strange Creature (2013) and aforementioned Moonlust — only scratched the surface in fulfilling the totality of her aural aspirations. She's part of a new wave of Toronto-based groove-oriented artists — Harrison, Charlotte Day Wilson, River Tiber — and calls those artists both collaborators and friends; Nightshade features production by Harrison and River Tiber, while Wilson is featured on single "Take Me There."
"I feel that I've lived so many lives within this one life and that's fascinating to me: the evolution of being human and these little deaths throughout your life," she says. "These old selves that you have to put to rest and bury in order to move on. That definitely became a grander theme for the project."
Here are four things you need to know about A l l i e.
1. Born and raised in Toronto, the city has informed both her spirituality and her "layered" musical approach.
"I grew up in Toronto: my dad's a Rastafarian and my mom is a Christian. I didn't find my spirituality until later on, but I had a lot of free reign to explore what's right for me. There are infinite ways to do that, but this is the way that I'm choosing now and a way that feels really natural. What separates me is that my intention behind it is about connecting with something much greater than myself."
2. Nightshade was conceived in her home studio and took two years to create; it's a DIY approach to everything that's gotten her this far.
"I never wanted to rush with music. I don't like to rush things. And when it comes to the creative process, that's twofold. At first I didn't know what it was going to be and I was kind of like — I tried to take on the role of the observer and the vessel. To just like be there and be present and just wait and see what wanted to come through. I recorded in my studio: recorded, arranged and edited all the main vocals, and then I mixed them to the furthest point that I could take them before handing them off for mixing."
3. Getting to work with like-minded Toronto-based creatives is "the best thing" about Nightshade.
"I was at a point where I was really frustrated with all the industry shit and with collaborations that felt forced. I was like, 'I just want to work with my friends. I want to make a project with my friends and not think about the end result and think about how everything looks and all that shit.' Tom [River Tiber] and Charlotte have been good friends for a couple of years now. The same with Harrison. It just came together really naturally. We just have a mutual respect for what each other does. It was just easy."
4. The visual and aural aesthetic for Nightshade focuses on meditation, spirituality and feminine divinity, concepts that are central to her worldview.
"I was meditating a lot on the feminine and feminine divinity and on breaking out of those belief systems that have been engrained in me — [specifically] shame around being a woman and someone who's connected to her sexuality. That became the driving theme — exploring this feminine divinity that we all have, whether you are a man or a woman, we all have that masculine and feminine within us. How can I express that and take on this role of a powerful woman in an industry that is super sexist and a world that is super sexist? Because the industry is just a reflection of the state of the world. That became a driving theme; I got really into my mediation practice. Meditating on life and death and just that life-death-life cycle."
Check out "Bad Habits," the first single from Nightshade, below: