Alison Carney came dangerously close to donning an ultra-conservative pantsuit and standing before a judge as her life’s trade. Lucky for us, she came to her creative senses and chose to be a funky, electro-soul singer over stuffy litigator. Since that fateful day, the DC native has been following her own set of laws as an artist, and over time she’s grown enough to birth AlisonWonderland this year. Carney’s newest project is vastly different from her first body of work released back in 2007. A few years ago, Carney played it safe as an R&B singer, allowing her silken voice to weave throughout jazzy production and familiar lyricism. Her voice has always been beautifully textured and full but nowadays, the singer/songwriter strays even further from her structured R&B Soul roots, bringing listeners an audio sample of what freedom sounds like. Inspired by everyone from Little Dragon and Incubus to Billie Holiday and Prince, Carney dropped Wonderland to serve as an introductory project for her newest fans.
Soul Train had the opportunity to speak with Alison about creating without judgment, choosing a path and why falling down the rabbit hole isn’t so bad.
Soul Train: How did you know that this was your destined path to be an artist?
Alison Carney: I didn’t actually. I thought I was going to be a lawyer [laughs]. Um, when I went to college I had my own plan of what I wanted to do. Once I graduated, I wasn’t necessarily believing in my original path but I wasn’t sure how to get away from it. I went to take my LSATs and within 15 minutes of the test starting I got up and walked out because I knew I just wanted to be an artist and musician and that’s where it all began.
Soul Train: Wow. So you just got up and walked out?
Alison Carney: It was moreso, I just looked around the room and I saw that these people were fulfilling their dreams, but I looked around that room and saw everything that I didn’t want. There wasn’t enough color and effervescence in the room for what I wanted my life to be like. I knew that a life without music–for me–I wouldn’t say is pointless but I can’t imagine not having the time to perform or listen or create.
Soul Train: There seems to be a fusion of inspiration on Wonderland.
Alison Carney: Defining a genre–I understand that it’s something that we have to do as artists in order to fit more of a role of distribution. I would’ve called it soul before, I don’t anymore. I would say it’s an electronic soul almost, if I had to put it in a box. I think that musical boxes are limiting so I think if you had to place me in an iTunes category [laughs], the first word I would say, the word I’d use to describe my music is “honest,” the second would be “electronic,” and the third would be “soul,” and you can just put it all together. I thought that I was limiting myself [before Wonderland]. I wasn’t being as fearless in my artistry as I should’ve been and part of the story of “Alice in Wonderland” is that she more or less finds herself when she frees this fantasy land for herself and it’s not until she can get through certain tasks in this fantasy land where she realizes she wants to changes her life in the real world. That’s kinda what I had to do for myself. Jump from this category–R&B soul–while I grew up on it and I love it and I respect it, it wasn’t as uninhibited as I wanted to go with my music so I had to figuratively jump down the rabbit hole and build a space around myself that would help me create in a different manner that wasn’t R&B and wasn’t exactly soul.
Soul Train: So was this creativity always in you or did it develop during your recording hiatus since 2007?
Alison Carney: I’ve always been an uninhibited person, but I was afraid of judgment, with my personal life, in school, with friends, that was just always how I was. So I think it’s a combination of both of those things it was always in me but I had to just grow into it with the different experiences that I had musically.
Soul Train: Can you talk about the production on this album?
Alison Carney: What I did was essentially create a mixtape in an LP form. It wasn’t like I had conversations with them [the producers]. It was just, obviously, going over their instrumentals, for the more established producers on the records–like a hip-hop artist would do on a DJ mixtape. And then, for the producers that started in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area, they’ve done big things with their careers and they looked out for me. They created original tracks from their own brainchild to put on my project.
Soul Train: You play with rap a little bit on the record as well. Do you think you could’ve been a rapper in another life?
Alison Carney: I don’t know. I don’t really see myself as a rapper or anything. It’s hard to actually do it for me, for whatever reason, melody and rhythm are connected in my brain much more than rhythm alone. But I just think that it’s fun to play with words and fun to experiment. I did a concert last year where they made me rap a whole song for the J Dilla tribute that we had here in DC. I literally rapped the whole song and I was just… It was hard for me and I didn’t necessarily succeed, you know? [laughs] I definitely like to sing over music like a hip-hop artist would. It just shows lyrical diversity a little bit because I’m able to sit down and write a song that particularly wordy or a song that has a few words but the melodies are different.
Soul Train: Did you have plans on touring this album?
Alison Carney: I would love to tour for the project–anywhere I could. I’d love to do it overseas, I’d love to do it here, either way. I just think that getting your music out in a live show is even more fun because you’re actually creating onstage, you’re giving the audience love.
Soul Train: What’s your label situation? Are you signed?
Alison Carney: Oh no, I’m not signed at all. I was on an indie label but I’m actually just a freelance artist right now. I have a publishing company and I’m with a writers’ group but beyond that, I’m self-employed [laughs].
Soul Train: You just released AlisonWonderland, but nowadays artists always have something else waiting in the wings. What’s next for you?
Alison Carney: That’s a great question, because yes, I did just drop this project but the irony of the project for me, is that I spent a lot of time, got a lot of favors, people paid it forward for me to drop this project and so I opted to make it a free download. I look at it more as a mixtape in LP form because it’s not a typical album, but it’s definitely not just a mixtape. But because I released that album for free, the next project I’m working on which is an EP, will be more like, for people who didn’t know me, I’ll show what I can do lyrically and vocally. This is like a little warm-up, and so now we’re working on something to be released on iTunes.
Soul Train: You guys move pretty quickly.
Alison Carney: [laughs] Yeah. They push me, I have a really great team of people.
– Nadine Graham
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Nadine Graham is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, GA. She’s a Hip Hop head who prefers sneakers but can truly appreciate a dope pair of heels, every now and then. She’s also known for expounding on her own random thoughts atwww.twitter.com/MadFreshDaily.