London-based, Italian born, musician Alice Pisano has never had any doubts about her love affair with music. She has said that it has been her ‘great passion’ from a very early age. With minimal productions, a piano and guitar and an ability to convey pure emotion with some well crafted songs in the last twelve months or so, Pisano is enjoying a budding renaissance in London’s thriving music scene, especially with the singles off her Celebrate Life EP. Moreover, boasted by the array of interest and support from the likes of BBC Radio London, BBC Introducing, National Dutch Radio NPO Radio 2 and Spotify, Alice has attracted the attention of music lovers in places she never dreamt of.
Picking up on everything I’ve almost overnight come to really like about Pisano, the one thing that standouts about this musician is her fearless attitude to rework and cover some of the most well-known songs of all time. Recently, Pisano dared to release her own version of the iconic Take On Me by Norwegian pop sensations A-ha with wonderful results. That said, I recently caught up with Alice to talk about her music interests and that exciting new cover version of Take On Me.
Take On Me is a curious choice as a cover song to want to record. For me it is such an iconic song with its infectious beat and synths. It’s indicative of what was good and bad about 80s pop. But I have to say I really like what you have done with your reimagined acoustic version of it. How did it all come about Alice?
The truth is a bit cheesy… it’s my mum’s favourite song! I grew up listening to it so I think I ended up interiorising it, and I felt the need to do a stripped back version that would capture the essence of it. Despite the original being an upbeat song, I always perceived it as rather melancholic and so it felt natural to slow it down and make the melody and lyrics take centre stage.
Still on the subject of cover songs, you also did your own interpretation of the Counting Crows single American Girls. Tell us what was it like to receive praise from the band about it via social media?
It was a little surreal… I couldn’t believe it when I opened my Instagram and saw a message from Counting Crows! It was Adam Duritz saying his girlfriend had turned him onto my version of their song and that he loved it! He even said it had given him ideas for an acoustic version of their own. It felt so special to have his blessing.
Your wonderful debut Celebrate Life has hit an instant accord with audiences easier this year. What do you think it is about that song that speak so much to people’s sensibilities?
I think it’s the theme of hope and self-acceptance that people connected with. That you don’t need to be perfect, life never is… but that no matter how hard things can get, there is always something good to look at and to be grateful for. I think people need to hear positive messages these days.
I’m always interested in how songwriters approach songwriting. Of course everyone is different. Interestingly, I understand Bob Dylan is a huge inspiration to you. His approach to storytelling is second to none. How do you go about finding inspiration for your song ideas?
I often draw from personal experiences, people I’ve met, emotions I felt… I find that when I’m writing about something I’m going through or that I experienced in the past, that’s when the song is going to sound the most authentic, and there’s a bigger chance of people connecting to it. So ultimately there’s always something personal in my songs, but the inspiration can come from anywhere. Sometimes it can just be a word or an image that gives me the idea for a lyric, a book I’m reading, a film or just something that someone says…
Was the piano the first instrument you learned to play? I’m hoping you might have a great story about your early beginnings?
Yes the piano was my first instrument, I’ve been playing it since I was seven, when my dad brought home a piano. He played too and asked me if I wanted to try. I started taking classical lessons and loved it straightaway, I remember the first few weeks I’d wake up in the morning and run to the piano first thing before school. I started singing even earlier though, music has always been my one great passion.
What eventually led you to pick up the guitar and how has it changed how you write and perform?
I picked up the guitar when I was 15, during my second year of high school. At that time I think I had lost interest in classical piano, I wanted to try something different and most of all I wanted to play the music I was listening to, which was mainly indie and pop English music. So I took a break from the piano for a couple of years. And I loved that I could bring my guitar everywhere. But it wasn’t until I was 18 that I started writing songs, initially in a band I was in and then with my own project. I’ve always really enjoyed being able to switch between piano and guitar, there are times when I prefer writing on guitar and vice versa, it just helps keep things interesting.
Alice, what are you listening to currently that might surprise me?
The new album by Dermot Kennedy, “Without Fear’ has been on repeat. Current favourites are also Wildwood Kin, a great pop folk band, and Elina, a Swedish pop singer-songwriter.
I’m working on a top 10 list of 2010s album that have influenced my listening habits. Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die is an instant classic that will undoubtedly feature on my list. What would your top 5 list look like? And why?
I love that album, Lana Del Rey is one of my favourite artists ever! I couldn’t pick 5… so my top 6 would be (not necessarily in this order):
- Bon Iver – Bon Iver (self-titled album)
- Of Monsters and Men – My Head is an animal
- Florence + The Machine – How big, how blue, how beautiful
- Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More
- Mylo Xyloto – Coldplay
- Gabrielle Aplin – English Rain
Bon Iver, I had this album on repeat during one of my worst breakups in high school, it was a cold winter and these songs were the perfect soundtrack…
Of Monsters and Men, that’s forever my summer album. I never get tired of listening to it, every single year. It reminds me of the mountains, the heat and the sun, it’s such a feel good album.
Florence and the machine, that’s such a masterpiece. Every single song is amazing. The songwriting, production and her vocals are just incredible.
Mumford and Sons introduced me to the circuit of pop-folk, and later to Passenger, Gabrielle Aplin, Of Monsters and Men.
Coldplay are one of my favourite bands ever. I love all their music but this album in particular. This is my favourite winter album, probably because it came out in the winter. Paradise is one of my fav songs and I love the music video with the elephant!
English Rain by Gabrielle Aplin is another album I never get tired of listening to. This album influenced my songwriting hugely.
I’m fascinated by your journey from Italy to London. Do you ever miss Italy? And what do you love about London?
I think what I miss the most about Italy is my family.. not my hometown in itself, although it’s nice to be back for a while to recharge, I wouldn’t want to move back. I come from a smallish town and the rhythm of life is slow, and it just ends up making me sleepy. I love London, it’s a city that makes me feel alive, it’s a very stimulating place to be for music. The fact that there’s so many creative people and artists, I don’t see it negatively as competition.. it’s always been a great incentive for me to work harder and improve myself. It’s not always easy.. but it’s worth it.
Finally, what new projects are you working on? Can we expect a new EP in 2020?
I’m just about to go in the studio to record new material… there will very likely be a new single earlier next year and ultimately an EP too!
Great interview Robert. You ask the best questions of any music interviewer I follow. Alice is a lovely woman with a voice to match.
Thank you for your kind words Jeff. It’s very much appreciated.