Whether playing an intimate solo set or working with a band, Alicia Wiley acquits herself as a siren songbird of the first order. Her track record is, to say the least, enviable. You could, as Yogi Berra used to say, look it up. She has won multiple Minnesota Music Awards, appeared on KARE-11, WCCO-TV and done countless appearances headlining around the Twin Cities (the Fine Line, Hell’s Kitchen, Varsity Theater) with each of her albums garnering more critical acclaim than the last.
There’s something of a duality to the lady. Without going so far as to say Wiley is a Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, the friendly, unassuming personality she shows when you meet her and when she sits still long enough for a conversation is nowhere to be seen (rather heard) in her music. It’s moody, reflective jazz-tinged fare with lyrics that range from wry, dry-witted musings to downright cold-hearted cynicism.
Wiley has taken, for her brand new release Both Sides, a distinct leap into something other than a sweetness-and-light sensibility—even for her. Starting with the cover done up as sort of an Alicia-riding-hood affair with a sinister looking stranger lurking in the background. A verse sample from “Dangerous” goes, “It’s hide and seek/ Curiosity/ Your echo takes on a new shape/ Look left, look right/ While your wings are wide/ I still love your face/ Though it has many sides” with the chorus, “Is it really so good/ Is it really so good to keep looking out for me/ You say I’m all you need to stay dangerous.”
Catching Alicia Wiley in performance is something I try not to miss any time I can help it. She’ll be at First Avenue’s 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis Thursday, December 2, at 8:00 p.m. God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll get an early start and hustle on down there before her fans begin filling up the place. In between rehearsing, gigging, and writing material for the next album, Wiley (who, I’m pleased to say, appears on my own recent single “End It All Over Again”) was kind enough to squeeze in a brief e-mail interview.
Soon as Halfway Home was released you were already recording Both Sides. Both Sides is barely released and you’re writing new songs for the next album. Do you go by a credo along the lines of “I compose therefore I am”?
I have a hard time staying away for too long. What more can I say: I love it! I am a studio junkie.
The songs on Both Sides are yet another evolution in your style. It’s still distinctly you but new. The same thing only different, the saying goes. Would you say a little something about that?
I think that Both Sides represents where I’m at right now creatively. I try to live as in the now as I possibly can and want to reflect that in my songs.
Has there been a change in your writing too?
Absolutely. I’m always want to grow and move forward. I hope that my music reflects my life as it changes. There would be nothing worse than feeling like I’m putting the same thing out there recording after recording.
What is with that cover on Both Sides now? You wanna talk dark, that’s dark.
Thanks! I think it represents the stories behind the songs. The general idea of a haunting, out-in-the-wilderness cover popped in my mind after I heard the first mixes.
You’ve been sitting in with other musicians a bit more often these days. Which ones, where and how are you enjoying the experience?
James Buckley plays bass on the record. It’s about time I recorded with him, since we’ve played together for so many years. He’s a good friend and a wonderful player. Luke Anderson is a new addition. He is one of the most creative musicians I have ever known. Jacob Hanson is featured so well on this CD. I have always been in love with his playing. He plays the things you want to hear before you knew you wanted to hear them. Molly Dean is a good friend of mine. We’ve shared man bills together in the past. I thought it would be really great to have her do some harmonies. Also had to include my longtime friend Yohannes [Tona], who is nothing short of amazing. Lastly, J.T. Bates. First time we’ve recorded together, hopefully not the last. Ridiculous player. I am blessed to have all of these amazing artists and friends on this recording.
What’s next after Both Sides? Yeah, I know, another album—what else?
Good question. I need a vacation.