The following short interview with Allison Scola gives you a pretty clear snapshot of her personality. She’s vibrant and so is her music. She is passionate and so is her music. She’s compassionate and so is her music. Allison and her friends in Chicks with Dip use their assorted talents to translate the music of one of the most innovative and strikingly unique musical artists of the past 50 years, Joni Mitchell. Their interpretations of the songs on Joni’s fourth album, Blue. are tender and true. All the Chicks also sing their own songs when they tour as a group. If Chicks with Dip come to a town near you, do the proverbial RUN and don’t WALK thing…
To learn more about Allison, visit her website.
Here’s a taste of the Allison Scola Project.
I’m fascinated by the bio on your webpage in which you talk about your transition from what sounds like a frenetically paced life in the New York advertising agency world to your life as a singer-songwriter. So, tell us the skinny about those days in advertising: Is it like Mad Men? Or is it worse? LOL
I have to admit, I don’t watch Mad Men, although many people say I should! I don’t watch much TV at all, and the TV shows I do watch now are Italian or about Italian culture, but I digress. What I will say about working at the ad agency was that it was work, work, work, all day and night, and if I wasn’t at the office, I felt guilty that I wasn’t at the office. Now, if I had been really passionate about agency-life and my product (which was diapers), that would have been great, but I wasn’t. So there wasn’t much pay-off for me personally. At the time, I wasn’t making very much money; so it occurred to me: If I’m going to be working like a dog and making little money, I might as well pursue what I love, which is music! And when I realized that I was walking by the Brill Building every day–and this is a true story–I really did think that it was a sign. Today, I still do work in marketing, communications, and public relations, but I work towards a mission that I care about–education. In this “office-professional” role, I think of myself as an artist as well… so my artistry extends itself beyond being a musician. It extends to how I live every aspect of my life. Approaching everything I do as an artist makes every day joyful and makes me a better performer and songwriter.
You’ve won many songwriting competitions over the years. Do you have any interesting stories to recall about any of those contests? Any that are particularly meaningful to you?
I think the most memorable was SolarFest in 2005. Part of the contest was performing for the judges. The performance was on my birthday, and more so, it was in Vermont, a place I love, so it was a win-win situation. Furthermore, the people were, of course, environmentalists! I care deeply about Mother Earth, so I felt very close to the mission of the festival… and I got to meet Dar Williams who also performed that day, so that was a bonus!
In 2009 I received an honorable mention from the Billboard World Song Competition for “My Naked Heart.” That is neat because it’s Billboard, and having been a big fan as a kid of “Casey Kasem’s American Top 40,” which is based on the Billboard Hot 100, it made me feel like I’d made it!
How did you get involved with the Chicks with Dip? You share a song with Anna Dagmar and not only sing but play your Italian tanburrello and give “This Flight Tonight” a very cool treatment.
I am a founding member of Chicks with Dip. In fact, back in January 2003, I hosted at my apartment what I suppose one could call our first “official” meet-up. It all started because a few of us women who regularly attended an open mic at The C-Note, an Alphabet City hang, wanted to become better songwriters and desired a support community–boy-free! It was very organic how it started and grew over the years. What I want to emphasis is just how blessed I feel to be part of a group of women who are so supportive, strong, and individually talented and beautiful.
Working with Anna Dagmar has been wonderful. I’m glad you think that our take on “This Flight Tonight” is cool! At first we both looked at each other and thought, “OK…? How are we gonna tackle this one?” But we discussed it, and we thought, “Let’s make it our own. Let’s reflect what we do.”
It’s probably because we both studied at Eastman School of Music (plug for Upstate New York!) that we took it apart, analyzed it, and put it back together like engineers. As alumnae from University of Rochester, it’s in our nature to push the envelope!
Was Joni Mitchell an influence with your own music? What other musicians have you grown to appreciate since you’ve devoted your life to making music?
Joni was a huge influence on me, as was Carole King, Kate Bush, Aretha Franklin, and Laura Nyro. Traditionally, I write songs on piano, hence these piano-powerhouses. I also claim The Beatles, Madonna, Al Green, everything from Motown, and Cole Porter as influences. And in more recent years I’ve been absorbing large doses of Italian artists such as Lucilla Galeazzi, Carmen Consoli, Nando Citarella, Alessandra Belloni, Eugenio Bennato, and Gianmaria Testa.
You’ve made a concerted effort to incorporate your Italian roots into your original music. How would you best describe Italian music to those who are unfamiliar with it?
The Italian music that I’m into has elements that we can all relate to: rhythm and melody, and then once you get into translating the lyrics, it’s extremely poetic in a more romantic way than American or English folk/rock lyrics are allowed to be. Much like American music, our ears immediately lock into the rhythm and melody, but the Italian music I listen to has a different sensibility.
The basic tarantella dance rhythm pervades much of traditional southern Italian music. There are different types of tarantellas, which I won’t get into, but the bottom line is that it’s simple folk music just like the music of our contra dancing or square dancing. The objective is to make you move in a celebration of life. It may sound corny, but I just love folk dancing! It is vibrant and passionate and joyful, and of course, so is the music. And I just immediately took to this music when I started listening to it: It’s inherently programmed into me. I love the drum technique (i.e., the tamburello/tambourine that I play on “This Flight Tonight”), and I love the dances, which traditionally, going back to SolarFest that I mentioned above, are intended to celebrate Mother Earth. I now teach tarantella clinics whenever I can because I love the joy and community it engenders.
Regarding melodies, artists like Lucilla Galeazzi and Carmen Consoli exploit wonderful melodies. Of course in American music we have beautiful melodies as well, but we often get caught up in the lyrics. Before I started to understand their lyrics, I fell in love with Galeazzi and Consoli’s melodies because that’s what I understood. The melodies are haunting and passionate all at once. They are unapologetically dramatic. And then, once I started to translate the lyrics and really understood the poetry behind their meanings… it really began to challenge my own lyric writing. I think it probably goes back to the operatic tradition, but Italians just have license to exude dramatic imagery that American music doesn’t allow because it’s not cool. (Well, I will say, Joni Mitchell could do it, and she was exceptional at making it cool too!) Well, when I hear Gianmaria Testa sing about the bridges of Rome or comparing a failing relationship to the flight of a hot air balloon or his descriptions of the moon through a cracked window, the imagery in Italian is just so beautiful it makes me gasp.
My labor of love takes all of these influences–from Stevie Wonder to Lucilla Galeazzi–and creates something that is my voice. I’m at work on a new song project now, and I am loving every chance I have to craft it! Little by little, the sounds and the stories that go with them are coming to life. I look forward to sharing them with the world when they’re ready. Just like Italian folk music and dance, my objective is to make passionate, joyful music that engenders community, and like Joni’s music in our native language, paints beautiful, provoking images. I look forward to sharing it with you soon!
Chicks with Dip will be appearing at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on Friday, March 8.