MUSIC | Singer-songwriter Alison Scott: “Small beans” no more


Veteran singer-songsmith Alison Scott has a strong signature: smart, dyed-in-the-wool pop with a driving rock edge. 

Her debut Wish on the Moon is an impressive disc. She turns in solid originals like the gospel-tinged “Saturated” and nasty sweet R&B rocker “Little Bit,” with serviceable covers of Sly Stone (“If You Want Me To Stay”) and Carole King (“I Feel The Earth Move”). All told, a damned good first foot forward. Hiding Under the Covers is a collection of Scott singing songs by other artists, including a nice take on Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Home.” Her latest offering, the DVD Alison Scott Live at the Dakota, doesn’t only deliver fine music, right there on stage—it’s an engaging, entertaining look behind the scenes at Scott and her musicians.

That’s guitarist-singer Kevin Bowe who produces her CDs and produced Alison Scott Live at the Dakota along with Steve Price (bass, vocals), Peter Anderson (drums, percussion), Tommy Barbarella (Hammond B-3 organ), and Walter Chancellor (sax). The performances are tight, including Bob Dylan’s re-gendered “You’re a Big Boy Now” from Hiding Under The Covers, a handful of numbers from Wish on the Moon, and a bunch of new stuff like the poignant “I Stay Anyway” and “When the Needle Hits the Groove,” an incredibly sexy joint harking back to the days of when The Chiffons did “He’s So Fine.” It can’t be denied, Alison Scott knows what’s she’s doing.

Scott took time to answer some e-mail questions about her craft.

What moved you to do an album of covers?
As much as I love writing, sometimes it’s fun to take something old and make it new. That way I get to focus on the vocals more than anything. We tried to put our own thing on each one of the songs.

How’d you go about picking these artists?
Every one is a household name but some of the songs that we picked are a little more obscure. I like using songs by artists that have influenced me, but if I pick songs I know like the back of my hand, its not as easy to change them. A lot of these songs I fell in love with the first couple times I heard them and then I made a point not to listen to them again until we had worked out the song our way.

Carole King, clearly, is an influence. Anyone else?
Oh, the list goes on. I grew up listening to my parents’ music. I was a little behind the curve and I didn’t get into current music until high school. Lucky for me that meant I got to spend most of my childhood listening to the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Simon and Garfunkel, Randy Newman, etc. As uncool as I may have been in sixth grade for not caring about the New Kids on the Block, I’m thankful for it now.

How did you get into writing songs?
In college, I was studying vocal performance. I had taken piano as a kid, but had given it up for about ten years. However, I found myself needing to play an instrument so I could accompany myself while practicing. So, I picked it back up, and put all the theory I learned there to good use. It felt like a pretty natural transition from there to songwriting for me.

Any difference between performing live and recording in the studio?
Definitely! When you play live you need to put on a show. You can’t just sit there quietly and play your tunes and expect for people to be into it. You have to make them believe you. I had a lot of stage fright when I first started this project. I was so scared of making a mistake or singing out of tune, I would barely move. But we’ve played about 1,000 gigs and I’ve grown into having lots of fun on stage, and our overall performance has definitely benefited from that. The studio was always a little easier for me. It’s 100% about good songs, and good delivery. That’s it. I still had my reasons to be intimidated there as well. Walking into a room with someone like Kevin Bowe as my producer, and some of the biggest heavy hitters on the Minneapolis scene, I felt like small beans. That too has changed: now I like to be all bitchy and bossy in the studio. Well, maybe just a little.

What’s next?
Album number three! And thank God for that! We have put so much work into this next album, and we will not rest until we’re all totally happy with it. We’re wrapping it up in the next few months.

Alison Scott is performing at Glitter Ball 2010: A Tribute to the 80s, a benefit for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities. Music Box Theatre, January 29, doors at 6:30, music at 8:00 p.m. Tickets ($15 advance, $20 door) can be purchased online at