Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Alexx Calise is involved in all facets of her music. Everything including music writing, booking her shows and PR work is handled by herself, including personally contacting us for this interview.
On April 10, 2010, Alexx released her second album titled In Avanti, an album that progresses her sound into what she describes as “rocktronica.” We spoke with Alexx about her new material, the role of the web in the life of an up-and-coming musician, and more.
Tell us about your album In Avanti.
Well, it’s drastically different from my last album. Basically, it’s different in that it’s very electronic rock, I guess you could say. My first album was a little more low-fi and straightaway rock, but this one is definitely more in the style of Prodigy or Apollo 440.
Would you say it’s more industrial?
I wouldn’t say industrial. It’s definitely more pop, but its kind of like an Alanis meets Prodigy or a Linkin Park kind of sound.
Why did you feel the need or want to change?
Well, I just wanted to do something a little bit different. In my last record, I did a song called “Give it to Me” with my current producer, and I really just like working with him, so we continued along that trend.
I worked with three different producers on my last record. I worked with one for most of the tracks and a few of the other tracks were with different producers, one of whom I’m working with now. His name is Luigie Gonzalez.
What other projects has he done?
He’s actually Grammy-nominated. He’s worked with everyone from Madonna to Shakira to The Killers to The Veronicas, so he’s got quite a track record. He was nominated for a Grammy in 2005 for Juan Gabriel‘s album, so he’s definitely got a good record for sure.
What is the meaning of In Avanti and what does the title mean to you?
Well, In Avanti is Italian for “onward.” It’s kind of signifying a change in my life and career; moving onward and kind of leaving the past behind me. It’s a very simple title but it’s very poignant and representative of who I am now.
Is the album independently released?
Yeah, I’m doing everything myself. I’ve just found in my experience that you’re just better off doing it yourself and being your own master. I’ve had major label offers in the past and not to say that I would continue to turn them down, it’s just that I find a lot of the offers the record companies are throwing out these days aren’t really artist-friendly, I guess you could say. Unless I come across a label or a contract that’s going to work with me, I’ll just continue to do things myself.
It seems the internet is a gift and a curse to artists. Illegal downloading is a definite curse, but for independent artists such as yourself, it allows you to reach an audience without the budget of a major label backing you. Is that something you have been able to take advantage of?
Oh, the whole internet thing (laughs). I guess you could say it’s good because most of my fan base is overseas. I’ve never been out of the country, but there are people from Poland or the U.K. or Turkey emailing me saying they love the music. I ship out CD’s all the time to all these different countries.
So it’s a blessing. I mean, along with having a large online fan base in the United States, it’s really cool that you get to reach out to people who aren’t even on your side of the pond. That’s a really great, positive aspect of the internet and all these different social networking sites.
So you handle everything from creating the music to the actual shipping of your CDs.
On the whole, it’s mostly me doing everything. I manage my web site, I manage my career, bookings – all the different things. I have a team of people that I go to for certain things like graphic artists and stuff like that, but for the most part, I do everything myself. I find it gets done faster and more efficiently when you do things yourself. That’s not to say that I’m completely independent and I always want to be that way, but for right now it seems to be working out the way it is.
NERD NOTE: Alexx Calise grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She was an avid writer and began playing guitar at age 11 following in the footsteps of her father who is also a musician. Calise began pursuing her professional music career at the age of 14. (Wikipedia).
So if you had a large label offering you’d take it?
Yeah, definitely. I’m not closed-minded at all. It would just have to be something that would work to my advantage because a lot of the deals they’re throwing out these days are 360 deals where the label will take shares of absolutely everything, even your touring and merch sales. So until I find somebody that’s willing to work with me a little bit then I’ll just continue doing it on my own.
How do you feel about digital music downloads?
In terms of illegal downloading, I’m not particularly a huge fan of it. I never have been. I think people just don’t realize the amount of time, energy, and money that goes into making a record. There are so many different facets of it, and sales are an artist’s means of staying alive. That’s our income. So people don’t realize or may not be sensitive to it, but that’s our livelihood.
As an artist, I’ve had to find alternative ways to generate income. I actually own my own business in addition to my music career and I also help to come up with creative things to market and sell because people are just unfortunately not paying for downloads anymore.
It’s a touchy subject.
It is (laughs).
It comes down to stealing, basically.
Yeah. It would be the same thing as hiring a plumber to fix your toilet and not paying him after. It’s a service you’re providing somebody with entertainment and music so you have to support the arts, otherwise, there won’t be any arts to support. But at the same time, I think it’s a positive thing.
Not too long ago I made five of my tracks available for free download for a major file-sharing site called Frostwire and they featured me on the site so in 5 days I generated like 100,000 downloads. Granted they were free downloads, but what it helped to do was generate traffic to my site and I was able to sell some CDs and merchandise.
So in that regard, if you give up a little bit, it’s kind of like that whole principle that you’ve got to spend money to make money. If you give up a little bit then people will keep coming back for more. It’s kind of like being a coke dealer or a crack dealer (laughs). Give somebody a little bit of a sample, and they’ll get hooked and keep coming back.
And music is like crack to some people.
(laughs) It is, yeah. For sure.
How do you find social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter helpful?
In terms of social networking, I think it’s great because you can connect with all these different people all over the world and friends. It’s great to post your show information on there. Obviously, I know a lot of people from out here in L.A., and whenever I go on tour and unfortunately I can’t reach all of them individually. So using a social networking site like Facebook or Twitter or MySpace, you just put something out there and all these different people see it. It’s a great form of free advertising.
NERD NOTE: You can follow Alexx Calise on Twitter here: @AlexxCalise
Are there any other sites you use?
I keep up most often with my official website, AlexxCalise.net, just because I find that as an artist you need to have a home base. All these different social networking sites increase and decrease in popularity. For example, MySpace just a few years ago was booming. I don’t want to say it’s on the out now because it’s still prominent, but it’s not nearly as prominent as say Twitter or Facebook now. So you kind of need a home base, and I find that my official website is never going to go out of style unless I decide to take it off.
I think MySpace is good for musicians, but unfortunately what has happened is that only musicians are on it now. There are no fans, just artists.
Yeah, I agree and I don’t even know how many thousands of fans I have just because I got on MySpace right when it was coming out. I’ve been on there for quite a while so I was able to generate a lot of friends.
But now I can’t even open up my MySpace mailbox or go on any notifications anymore because I get bombarded with shit, like 10,000 different ads saying “come see my band here” and this and that. So I don’t even want to go on it anymore.
Your YouTube channel features videos of yourself performing at a middle school. What’s that about?
I was involved with an organization called P.A.C.E. – Promoting Academics through Creative Expression. They’re based in L.A. and we would go around to all of these different middle schools, especially in lower-income areas of L.A. County, to provide the kids with positive entertainment. Following the performances, there would be a slideshow illustrating the importance of staying in school. It’s a really fantastic program that I feel is underfunded, but it’s a great way to reach out to young kids and also promote your music as well.
Alexx Calise on 3.20.09 performing “Falling” for the P.A.C.E. Program at Fulton Prep Middle School.
Where do you perform mostly?
I play a lot around L.A. I do a lot of acoustic shows when I’m not touring and we’ll do some full band stuff. Once this album is released I’m going to be doing some extensive touring after I’m done with all the P.R. stuff and wood-shedding. The fact of the matter is that people are just not spending money on your album anymore so most of your income these days is generated from touring and merch sales and stuff like that, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on.
Do you know where you’ll be touring next?
Well, I’ve had some offers to do some U.K. shows. I’m not entirely sure where just yet, and I’ll be doing some U.S. stuff as well. I’m actually a Florida native, I guess you could say, so I’ll probably be doing some shows there and along the east coast as well.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you onstage?
Oh gosh (laughs). There are quite a few things. I was 16 at the time and I was playing a talent show or something. I was wearing a skirt and the stage was elevated. It was pretty high up as I remember, and I played my songs and everything and I got roaring applause. I’m like, “Awesome, these people really like my music!” My mom was actually in the audience and she’s like, “You want to know why you got such a roaring applause?” And I’m like, “Well, I’m assuming it’s because they like my stuff.” And mom was like, “No, your underwear was completely showing.” So being 16 and kind of an introverted person, I’d say that was pretty frickin’ embarrassing.
(laughs) Sounds like a pretty perverted audience.
Yeah, it was mostly guys so I guess they liked that.
You said “quite a few things.” What other embarrassing stories do you have?
I was actually playing a show in Hollywood and my hair is really, really long so I do a lot thrashing around onstage – I wouldn’t say headbanging – but just really getting into it. I threw my head back and my hair got caught in my other guitar player’s tuning keys. So it completely detuned his guitar and we were trying to play through the song. Not only did it sound like shit, but I spent most of the song trying to get my hair out of his guitar.
Is this on film anywhere?
Um, actually oddly enough it’s not the first time it happened. It has happened twice and one of the instances I do have on tape.
So I assume you’re not going to be releasing that.
You know, maybe one day I will. I’m kind of shy when it comes to that stuff, so maybe eventually.
Finish this sentence: I want all of my fans to…
I guess check out the new album and buy it please (laughs). It is available through my website right now. I’m still in the process of getting some stuff done as far as album artwork and everything like that, but as soon as all that is done you can get it at any major online retailer like iTunes or Amazon. But for right now it’s on AlexxCalise.net exclusively.
Toronto-based writer. Star Wars, sharks and shawarma.