Alecia Elliott was country music’s answer to the female teen pop wave of the late 90s. It sucks that you have to begin every story about her with that, but it’s an elephant in the room that absolutely can’t be ignored. Not that she’s ignoring it. She embraces it. That just isn’t the person that Alecia is now.
“I’m Diggin’ It” was the catchy, MCA Nashville country answer to Britney Spears. She had a short-lived teen comedy on NBC. Then, she was gone. She and I talked much more in depth about all of that in my first book, The Muscle Shoals Legacy of FAME.
Alecia is the rare soul that is actually from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, not the “idea” of Muscle Shoals. Not the surrounding communities that identify as “Muscle Shoals” because that’s the thing that resonates with people. Alecia went to Muscle Shoals, that is, until Tony Brown of MCA (you know, the guy that signed George Strait, Reba McEntire and half of the 80s and 90s country canon) found her.
But now she’s found her own sound. And last week, somewhat by surprise, she dropped her first collection of new music in 20 years. She and I decided to call it “goth Americana.” Whatever you decide to call it, it’s good. We talked about it and how she has grown from a “singer” into a “singer-songwriter.” Alecia wrote three of the four new tracks alone (one was a co-write), and she co-produced the album.
I love what you’ve done on VooDoo.
It’s been a long time coming! I finally got a sound that I thought was original, and that’s what I’ve been looking for – my sound. I’m pretty excited about it. It’s like I went fishing.
Tell me about that “long time coming.” When did you get it in your head that you wanted to record again and do this thing?
On and off, I’ve been writing and recording, here and there.
I know you released a single a couple of years ago, “What Love Can Do.”
Yeah! I know you know Ava Aldridge. I was really close to Ava growing up. As a kid, she was a mentor, almost like a second mom to me. She was very helpful with my music career; she taught me how to write songs. When I was a teenager, she and I and Mike Curtis wrote that song. Mike came to me and asked if I was interested in putting it out. In a time like we’re living, he thought, this will just be something good to give back to people. I decided that was a good idea; the sound wasn’t what I was going for as an artist, but it was such a beautiful message that we put it out. I was honored to be a part of it, and to see something that I did with Ava out there.
Before that, I was just kind of looking for a sound, and that’s what I meant by “long time coming.” I never really felt like I found the sound I was looking for, and then, here it is.
There was one co-write on the EP, but the rest of the songs were written by me. I was just sitting in my bedroom and I started writing on my own. I wrote “Don’t Need No Daddy” with Jim Gaines, Sandy Carroll and Stephanie Brown. “VooDoo,” “9mm” and “Madness of Love” I wrote on my own.
I went to Sound Emporium in Nashville to record these. It’s a “Part One,” because I’m planning on putting out a “Part Two.” I’m hard at work on that already; writing new stuff. But I was ready to go ahead and put out what I had. I went to Sound Emporium and recorded them, and I knew I had found the sound. I wanted it to be unique and I wanted it to be me. I didn’t want to sing something that somebody else thought I’d sound good singing.
I guess if you put that into a “genre” it’s “Americana.” And I know that there was a long period in your adult life that you were influenced by kind of a goth rock thing; an Evanescence, if you will. How did you evolve from there to this sound?
I was heavily influenced by goth rock and soul music. So I was mixing the two. I was doing a harder version – like what you’re saying, “goth rock” – but I still sounded like a soul singer when I sang it. It stood on it’s own, but it wasn’t quite there. Somehow, when I sat down with a guitar – and I’m not a guitar player, but I use one to write – I wrote “9mm.” That’s when I knew, “This is what I’ve got to do.” I like it not being so hard because I want people to hear what I’m saying. I like telling a story, and I want to talk about my feelings. I want to be heard.
There was something about the mellow sound being there and still having an edge. It was very soul and rock to me, so I labeled it “Americana.” You can do that nowadays.
When you don’t know where to put the record, it’s “Americana,” right?
[laughs] Yeah! All the unique stuff goes in “Americana.” And there’s so many different sounds within “Americana.” But I think it’s just a mix of rock and soul. It’s an old sound and a new sound. I like old things. I like old music. I like old cars. I like old homes. There’s something about doing that with my music – almost like what Amy Winehouse was doing with her music. This is nothing like that, but she still somehow managed to capture an old feel and make it new. I feel like I captured an old vibe with this new stuff, but I wanted it to be new, as well.
I like listening to The Eagles, but I also love a lot of old soul music. Those things influenced me greatly. I think that comes out in this new stuff. I can hear it because I know what I’ve listened to so much. That was pleasing to me. I feel like i found me. It’s a mixture of things that kind of led me there. It’s been a long time coming finding a true sound that I can say, “This is me.” And I feel good about that.
In the past, a lot of people would step in and say, “You’ll sound good doing this.” So we’d try it, and I liked a lot of different things. I don’t have a favorite kind of music; I like it all. But when it comes to me singing, this is my favorite thing to sing. It’s very “me.”
Obviously when you started out 20 years ago, you were handed things that worked for your voice. The voice was the thing. And since, you’ve grown into a songwriter. How did you become a songwriter? Do you credit a lot of that to Ava?
I do credit it to Ava first, because she taught me about songwriting. Now, I wasn’t a good songwriter. [laughs[ I just had the structure of how to write a song. She definitely planted a seed.
The older I got, the more I had to write about. I went through a lot of things. I grew up very quickly. I lived in Los Angeles when I was 17. I lived in Atlanta after that for a little while. There was a lot of living; a lot of adventure; a lot of ups and downs. So it gave me a lot to write about. And in between then and now – having a family – it gave me another side of life to write about.
Even though I went through a lot things, there were things that people around me were going through that I watched. That gave me a lot of things. I think once I settled down here in Alabama with my family, I became a better writer as all of that came back to my memory. I knew I could use that and hit people where things are real. As a listener, I want to hear real stuff. I like hearing stories; I like hearing emotion. I like things that make my mouth drop open in shock. I started thinking, “What would I want to hear?” I took from my experiences and started writing. That’s what made me a better writer, and I feel like I’ve been better recently because I’ve gone back and taken a look at my life and sifted through those memories and those things. I think it’s important as a writer to realize that you don’t want every song to be about a great love. People love those songs, but you want to tell stories; you want to capture the audience and their attention. I thought, “What would I want to hear?” And I think that’s made me a better writer.Over the past few years, I feel like I’m finally fully happy with my writing.
How prolifically are you writing right now? How many songs are in the can for the “Part Two” of VooDoo?
I did more than four the first time, but I didn’t like the way it fit, so I crossed it out. I want everything to have the same vibe. I’m hoping to get at least five or six more for the VooDoo thing. And I’ll continue working after that, because I’m not happy unless I’m doing it. And I love the sound I’ve found. I think I can keep shooting for that and pulling it out of myself.
I feel like if we’re trying hard to pin this into a genre, it’s “goth Americana.”
Exactly! That’s exactly what it is. That’s a good thing to label it. Maybe that’s what I’ll start telling people.
I think that’s kind of what DBT was doing 20 years ago with The Dirty South. Maybe that’s a nice bridge for what you’ve found for yourself.
I’m cool with that. Yeah.
As you look toward playing music in front of people again, do you deliberately want to shed that version of you from 20 years ago? Or do you embrace it? Do you play some of those old songs?
I’m definitely not going to dismiss anything. I’m proud of all of that because it’s what got me started. I’m grateful that I had a chance to do that. It was a great honor to work with Tony Brown and MCA Nashville. I don’t know how well it’d work with what I’m doing now, onstage. But there may be certain times where it’s appropriate and other where I might not do it. I don’t see why I can’t say, “Hey, this is how I started out, and some of y’all might know this…” Why wouldn’t I perform it? There might be times that I feel like it’s appropriate to do it. I’m definitely still proud of it. I’d never not be proud of where I came from.
That was a great album. A lot of hard work went into it. A lot of great people were a part of it.
Obviously, no one is playing right now. But is there a point where you hope that you can take this material out on the road a bit?
Of course! I’d love to – I want to go to New Orleans and do it! I’ve got to sing it there. It would be nice to play these songs there. Maybe by the time I get “Part Two” out, things will be a little more mellow and I can get out.
VooDoo is available where all music can be found.