Alice Howe’s clear, vibrant voice is both brand new and old and familiar at the same time. It’s exhilarating to hear her music because it becomes instantly memorable in a strange but comfortable way. Try listening to a song or two of hers and you’ll be humming and singing them all day long. Alice’s sound is reminiscent of the late great Kate Wolf. The songs on her newest EP You’ve Been Away So Long are hauntingly beautiful and that voice—that voice is a treasure!
To learn more about Alice, visit her website.
Here’s a video of Alice singing “Nothing But You.”
Your bio says that you’ve got a great fondness for 1960s folk and 1970s southern California songwriters. What is it about this era of music that caught your attention?
I was fortunate to grow up in a family that placed great value on music. My parents had a formidable vinyl collection, and I was brought up on their favorite artists. In particular, my father loved Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell, two musicians that to me exemplify that 60s-70s California folk. I am drawn to those songwriters for their clear, soulful, voices and poignant, intelligent lyrics. They have served as an enormous source of inspiration for me from a young age.
Are there any other specific artists who have influenced you in terms of lyrics or music?
Yes! Another crucial one is Joan Baez. Her interpretations of old English ballads and all manner of traditional folk songs was my foundation for storytelling through song. Those songs were like fairy tales for me, in the way that they paint a picture of life as it really is, with the good and the bad. I’ve always adored Tracy Chapman as well. I have always had an innate ability to memorize lyrics and melodies, so as a child I essentially taught myself to sing my mimicking my favorite musicians, and Tracy’s voice was my guide for many years.
You spent some time in the Northwest. How would you describe the music scene there? I’m assuming that grunge has passed and there’s a new vibe these days.
I lived in Seattle for three years, and can honestly say that it is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever lived in. It was an inspiring place for me, and I appreciated the opportunity to go outside my New England comfort zone. I definitely honed my chops as a performer and songwriter out there. There is a strong acoustic music community in the Northwest, and also a very strong band presence, both rock and bluegrass.
How does that scene compare with the Boston music scene?
I was excited to come back to the Boston area because there is such a long history here of listening rooms devoted to acoustic music (like the me&thee!). In a way it felt challenging as a solo artist in Seattle to find spaces that drew audiences who expected to sit and listen. Places like that certainly exist in the Northwest, but the cool thing about Boston is that it’s so close to many other vibrant musical cities. You can hop over to New York, Vermont, or Western Mass in just a few hours.
What’s your songwriting process like? Do you wait for the muse to visit or do you work at it day in and day out?
The songwriting process has evolved for me over the years. I used to wait for a bolt of inspiration, but over time I’ve found that some of my best work happens when I just sit with my guitar and sing and wait until something starts to take shape. There’s an improvisational element to it. I’ll be singing to myself, trying to let ideas flow as freely as I can, and I’ll strike gold.
You’ve recorded several CDs. What have you learned about yourself and your music during the recording process?
The recording process is interesting. On the one hand, I love it, because it’s fun to be in the studio and later to hear the finished product and share it with audiences. On the other hand, there is this frustration that many musicians feel when an album is complete and by the time you have the CD printed, you’re already thinking about the next project! It’s hard to keep up with your own writing, perhaps especially when, like myself, you are growing and emerging as an artist. That being said, I love that I have albums stretching back to my senior year of high school, because it’s like volumes in an autobiography, a record of who I am as a singer and a songwriter.
Tell us about your forthcoming recording!
My new EP is called You’ve Been Away So Long, and it features five original songs that I wrote and recorded in Seattle. What makes this project really important is that I feel it truthfully represents me where I am as a singer-songwriter today. I am playing these songs at all my shows, and I’m excited for folks to get to take them home. For this project, I worked with the fantastic Seattle multi-instrumentalist Jeff Fielder, who accompanies me with electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and dobro.
Do you have other creative outlets apart from your music?
I am a writer at heart, and I do occasionally enjoy creative writing outside the confines of a song. I also like to draw and paint, although I’m no expert. These are all things that fall into the “I wish I did that more” category!