'80s - Alannah Myles (2010)
'Still Myles to Go'
Alannah Myles grew up splitting her time between studying to be an artist at a vocational school for graphic arts in Toronto and in the little northern town of Buckhorn, Ontario on her family’s ranch riding horses and later competing in equestrian horse shows until she decided to make a full time career of performing.
Myles spent her commercial acting income on demo tapes in order to find a record deal until joining creative forces with songwriter Christopher Ward. Ward penned her now legendary 'Black Velvet' which won Myles a Grammy for Best Rock Vocalist after producing a special on The Life Of Elvis Presley for Canada’s Much Music.
Together with Christopher’s songs and financing and David Tyson’s production they secured Myles an eight album recording contract with Atlantic Records in New York. After the sale of nearly eight million records worldwide of her first self-titled record, she concluded her alliance of only three records with Atlantic and signed on with Miles Copeland’s Ark 21 Records.
After an eight year songwriting hiatus Alannah re-emerged, energized, with a new album, Black Velvet - containing all brand new studio recordings, in order to re-connect with her millions of fans.
Today she is working on her new album, entitled A Work In Blue, a collection of 1930-40's blues based songs penned by Myles and her collaborators.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Alannah Myles about the origins of 'Black Velvet,' about Canadian poet Robert Priest, of her involvement with Swedish band Kee Marcello's K2, and, of course ... penguins!
Taking it from the top, and you first began performing in Southern Ontario at the tender age of just 16. What kind of places let a 16 year-old sing - and what was the money like? "There weren't many places for a young girl to play other than coffee houses, talent contests or cafes but I would take almost any opportunity that came my way to gain experience. Having written songs very early on, it wasn't until I was 18 that I found myself aggressively pursuing an actual career, performing my songs with favourite cover songs I liked."
"There were many years of playing clubs with my band, acting auditions for TV commercials and modelling to pay for music demos to try and interest a record label in Canada but I was constantly rejected for various reasons. One of which was because it was perceived that women were not a viable investment and would opt out of a recording career to "get married and produce babies", or because it could not be envisioned that I was a serious singer from the constant national exposure I was receiving for my TV acting."
But then, come 1989, and it was your debut self-titled album that produced a string of hit singles - including, the number-one, worldwide hit 'Black Velvet.' Indeed, it went on to be the most played song on radio for that year, and won you a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Performance AND several Juno Awards! What was it like to be you back then, bathing in the fame spotlight, money coming in like never before? "There may have been alot of money pouring in from sold out shows but it was quickly absconded by plotting tour managers who collected the pay and doled out salaries to my band and employees. My first tour manager was fired for hiring minions to sell cocaine with my profits and for the loss of $60,000 in missing fees."
"My attention was focused elsewhere as it was a constant, every day mission to get from one place to the next by tour bus or plane while shooting 5 consecutive high budget videos, constantly on tour. It was a lonely period for me because I was exposed to the constant adulation from concert goers and over amped fans. All I really cared about was singing my songs, promoting and selling records."
Where was the most memorable place, or perhaps what was the most memorable occasion that you performed 'Black Velvet' live during its whirlwind exposure? "Though there were many highlights of having sung 'Black Velvet' during 1990, The last Johnnie Carson show to promote Lover Of Mine being one of them, my band & I were performing a benefit somewhere in the midwestern states with many thousands in the audience supporting Eagles member, Don Henley where freedom of speech was being protested in America on behalf of songwriters."
"In the middle of performing 'Black Velvet' the power went down and I could hear only the music coming through my stage monitors but nothing through the speaker cabinets to the audience. Rather than stop, we barrelled through the song, I fell to my knees, arms outstretched to implore the audience for their vocal help and they sang the rest of the song en masse with me. It was almost a religious experience for everyone involved. It truly is the people's song."
And with regard the song itself, where were you when you wrote it - mind, body and soul - and how easy did it all come together? "That's a loaded question. It was written for my voice to sing by my songwriting partner who was producing a special on the life of Elvis Presley while on a bus full of Elvis fans celebrating a vigil for the 10th anniversary of his passing. He returned with beautiful, poetic imagery and put the life story of Elvis and the effect he had on the world into a shuffle groove and played it for me & my producer while we were in pre-pro for the record."
"I immediately knew it was a contender for my record even though it was like nothing else on it. In fact I was overwhelmed with fear that someone else might beat me to the punch by grabbing the song for themselves. It was almost as if I coveted the song as my own."
"Though I sang vocals for it on many sessions, the most successful were when it was a humid, 99 degrees in Toronto which gave my voice a subdued quality as if I were singing somewhere in the Mississippi."
You then followed that up with 1992's Rockinghorse, which not only contained some hit singles of its own, but also brought you another Grammy nomination and three Juno Awards! One of the songs, 'Song Instead Of A Kiss' was inspired by English poet Robert John Priest - but why; what was your lyrical connection to him? "Canadian poet Robert Priest (who has a #1 selling book on amazon.com this week with his latest poetry compilation, 'Reading the Bible Backwards') is a friend of mine who was introduced to me by my long time collaborator Nancy Simmonds in Toronto. (I stole the guitarist, Kurt Schefter from his band to play on my first record and he's remained with me to this day)."
"We took a songwriting trip to Barbadoes to write for the Rockinghorse record but my heart was elsewhere and nothing would come until one day Nancy placed Robert's poem on my lap and suddenly, like some volcanic eruption, out came the melody exactly as it is on the record with Nancy ambling along as fast as she could writing the chords. The melody seemed to be automatic, somehow spirited to me and I am to this day, extremely proud of us all when I here it or watch the beautiful and passionate video."
1995 brought us A-lan-nah, and 1997 gave us Arrival, but neither fared as well re: hit singles or awards. What was going on around that two year timeframe that could perhaps explain this? "By the time A Lan Nah was released Atlantic Record had gone through some extreme changes in the executive positions. One of which was my own manager Danny Goldberg retiring from his enormous management company that managed some of history's greatest rock & pop artists to become the V.P. and later the CEO of Atlantic. This posed a conflict of interest from which my career could never recover."
"A reputable manager, Gary Borman was unable to revive it and was seemingly boycotted from gaining support because I had not remained with my original management company, still supervised by Mr. Goldberg who had released me from our original agreement. Clearly, it was internal politics that fuelled the success of my radio career."
"Miles Copeland came into my life to manage my third CD A Lan Nah but it was too late and the best he could do was to pull me out of a 7-8 year album contract with Atlantic and release A Rival. After the demise of his IRS Records, I signed on with his newly formed label, Ark 21 which could not survive the new indie status that managed to quash all labels at that time when the music industry revolution first began around 1997."
You, together with the Swedish band Kee Marcello's K2, then ventured into the third semi-final of Melodifestivalen, the Swedish national selection for the Eurovision Song Contest with, 'We Got It All.' How was that experience for you? "Thank you for corroborating on that fact. It has never been widely (or correctly) publicised until now exactly what my involvement was for the Swedish Songwriting Festival. I was asked by Kee Marcello to join in a duet so that the festival could bring international awareness to the contest. And though we were doomed never to win, pitted against the Abba pop music culture in Sweden with a rock styled track, we were still the most exciting performance that year."
"We created newspaper headlines about everything from the short length of my dress to the "alleged use of drug taking" causing me to retire from the press box to retain a sense of dignified reserve and to protect myself from any potential lawsuits for illicit slander. It was great fun and I enjoyed working with Kee & his band immensely."
And so, after eight years away from the business, 2008 gave us your last album, Black Velvet - but, and as we're not called Exclusive Magazine for nothing, are you recording a new album? And does it have a working title yet, perhaps? "I spent almost every week for 8 years on "songwriting mondays" with my collaborator Tony Dggan Smith who co-wrote Prime Of My Life with me on my current Black Velvet CD. During this period I successfully managed to glean both an apology and an out of court settlement from a Canadian publication which I spent executive producing my own well crafted CD which has been in staggered release by indie label, Linus Entertainment globally for the past 2 years."
"As a result of "songwriting mondays" I have over 30 new songs completed for my next CD which I am ready to record, entitled 'A Work In Blue', a collection of 1930-40's blues based songs I intend to record with a jug band to pick up where Trouble (last song on my current CD - 'Black Velvet') leaves off."
"I am mid production for a video of Trouble to be released on my Youtube account www.youtbe/com/85bpm. I would love to be able to register my own name to make it easy for fans to find me on Youtube but it has been usurped by some Swedish fan who has not visited the account in 2 years nor will he respond to my requests to delete his illegal account to return my rightful name. Something Myspace has been successful with but alas Youtube has failed miserably."
You were once quoted as saying, 'God put me on this planet to accomplish a certain amount of things. Right now, I'm so far behind, I can never die!' Are you still that far behind, and just what do you have left to accomplish on your personal bucket list? "Experience has taught me never to divulge my wish list. You can be assured, as an artist, the world is not done with me, nor I with it. Sometimes the earth needs to be burnt to the ground, the soil culled of all impurity for the seeds of the future to bear new fruit."
Fun Five - OK, it's now time to fire off some quick questions - to allow those that think they know Alannah Myles to perhaps think again!
a) Being someone that was born on Christmas Day, did you resent that fact growing up - or did you, literally, get double the amount of gifts that day?! "Never resented Christmas day, but have never celebrated a birthday. Somehow due to the stiff competition of the date my day of birth was cancelled out. I don't mind now that I am getting older as I don't have to celebrate a number but I do forget the importance of birthdays to others. My attitude has developed into one where they just don't matter. I've had a long lost wish to work on Christmas day but it is the only official holiday for musicians."
b) Is there one of your songs that you look back on and would today change the title to, or a line/lyric from it - and if so, which one, and why?! "One would think that after the amount of time I put into making my music, if I couldn't recognize something that could have been improved upon, then I should stop making it. But I do wish we had mastered my third (first & only) live off the floor studio record, 'A Lan Nah' at a different mastering facility so it would be on par with all of my other records. The lack of sonic quality stands out like a sore thumb."
"We mastered my forth, 'A Rival' at Abbey Road Studios in London and it made all the difference in the world. I do however regret certain dumb songs I recorded to help salvage my career in the eyes of the industry. What others think is best for me doesn't work for me. My fans appreciate my unique originality. Live & learn."
c) Do you have a recurring nightmare or dream - and if so, how does it usually end? "If I did it wouldn't be something I'd like to share!"
d) What is your sweetest, guiltiest pleasure (food wise!) late at night? "Though I don't eat anything in excess, I love dark Swiss chocolate. I also love rhubarb pie and strawberries with real whipped cream but I'm too lazy to make it. It is my firm belief that a true rock & roller must appear as though they need a meal. Just look at all remaining members of the Rolling Stones."
e) If you could meet any deceased celebrity, who would it be - and what would be the first question you would ask them? "Probably John Lennon whom I'd ask, did you love your life while you were struggling to make others see the importance of love? Did God make an example of your death as a karmic comeback for having boasted of the Beatles being "bigger than Jesus"?"
What other musical/non-musical projects are you currently working on that you can tell us about? "There are too many to divulge. But the power of being a mystery lies ultimately in being mysterious."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today...and why? "I would never spend valuable time and money recording anything cheesy. It's just not in my character. I have too much respect for my God given talent. I would however, like to one day do a collection of favourite cover songs which of course shall remain secret for now and possibly a profoundly silly children's album under the guise of a cartoon character whose skin is the colour of midnight."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins (the flightless bird, not the hockey team or chocolate bar!) ...do you? "Penguins are cute."
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
So, if you would like to win a SIGNED copy of an Alannah Myles CD, and you think you know all there is to know about the lady and her music, just answer this easy question: In 1997, Alannah released Arrival, which was written and recorded by Myles, Desmond Child and Eric Bazilian at Copeland's castle songwriting retreat ... located in which city in which country?!
Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these wonderful SIGNED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before July 1st with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: ALANNAH MYLES SIGNED CDs to: email@example.com