Guitar Girl’d: Interview with New York City Country Girl Ali Isabella
I wasn’t sure what to expect from singer/songwriter Ali Isabella.
I met her at her hotel in Los Angeles the day before she was to perform for a showcase I hosted at the ASCAP expo last month for the Women’s International Music Network. I can honestly say I was delighted with everything about her — her smile, her giggle, her infectious music, her strong songwriting, and her energy. Like a breath of fresh air.
At the tender age of 17, Isabella has checked more off her bucket list than some do in a lifetime. She’s opened up for Reba McEntire at Wembley Arena and was the youngest performer to ever appear on that famed stage.
She’s headlined pre-Grammy parties that honored Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder. Her debut single, “New York City Country Girl,” reached No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Sales Chart and was No. 1 for four weeks on the Billboard Country Hot Single Sales charts.
Now Isabella is poised to release her next album, which will include co-writing credits with top writers like Chas Sandford, Susan Ruth, Marty Dodson, Ryan Tyndell and Matt Bednarsky.
Her music has matured into a lovely blend of country-tinged pop songs that showcase her sweet voice and knack for writing those niggling hooks that play over and over in your head. I for one anticipate her star will continue to rise. And I’m usually right about these things!
GUITAR WORLD: Tell me about your background. Why did you start playing guitar and writing songs?
I got into music because of my dad. My grandma lives in Queens, New York, and we lived in Westchester. When we came home from her house, it seemed like a pretty long drive for a little kid. My father would play Frank Sinatra in the car, and those are some of the first songs I learned. I remember my favorite song of his, and it still is today, “My Kind of Town Chicago Is.” I know all the words to it.
You have some country tinges to your music. How did you get into that?
I do like country music. I don’t consider myself a full-on country artist. I definitely have country influences, but the reason I love country music is because a lot of the songwriting is story-telling, and that’s what I love to do with my songs. That’s why country music is so relatable. I really love the story-telling aspect.
I hear you have some new songs you’re going to be releasing.
On my last trip in Nashville, which was a couple of weeks ago, I had this new song, “Stay.” I wrote that with Chas Sanford, and it’s got a bossa nova kind of feel to it. It’s really cool. It’s really different, but it’s really fun. I’m also doing this other song, “Remind My Heart,” which I wrote with Marty Dodson and Ryan Tyndell. Ryan Tyndell, actually, he co-wrote “Springsteen” for Eric Church, so it was really cool. It was awesome.
And you’ll be touring this summer?
Yes! I’m doing Cirque Musica. It has an orchestra and there’s also like trapeze artists. It’s really cool. It’s kind of like Cirque du Soleil. But I’m going to be headlining that for them. I’m going to be singing some songs Debbie Gibson wrote. Then I’m also going to some summer camps and performing there for kids, so that should be a lot of fun.
Can you tell me a little bit about your guitar?
I have a Taylor 814-CE, and it’s really nice. It’s acoustic-electric, and I really love it.
Do you play any other instruments?
Yeah, I play the piano. I really wanna master both of them. I also picked up mandolin. It’s just really fun. And you can take it anywhere, it’s so small. I kind of know ukulele, but not that well.
You're not a ukulele master?
No, I think I know like two chords on that. It’s a cool instrument. It’s just, I don’t know, I really wanna master the guitar and piano first before I start doing that. Also, it doesn’t really help me with my music, but I played French horn for the longest time ever in elementary school and middle school. So I know French horn, and you can’t really use that to sing bu ...
Well, you probably learned how to read music from playing the French horn.
Yeah, I think doing band in middle school and elementary school really helped me.
That’s why there needs to be music in school, right?
Yeah, definitely. And actually, at my school where I am, they didn’t have music before, but a couple of friends and I were suggesting it, and now they do have band and orchestra.
What advice would you give other aspiring musicians if they wanna move ahead with music?
I think it helps a lot if you write your own songs, ‘cause I think by doing that, people are able to relate more to them because you’re telling your own story. I think that’s really important just to have your own music. I just think it’s different if you’re singing a song that someone else wrote for you.
I heard you are involved in a Foundation, can you tell me about that?
Yes! I recently became a creative activist for the Creative Vision Foundation in Malibu. This lady, Kathy Eldon, her son Dan Eldon was the youngest Reuters photographer over in Somalia. There was an international crisis over there, and unfortunately, he was stoned to death when he was 22. But the way that she dealt with this ... her son was really into inspiring people and spreading a positive message, so she created this foundation Creative Vision Foundation. Its goal is to inspire other people to make change to the world through media and art. I recently wrote a theme song for them for their movie. You can find out more about them at creativevisions.org.
What’s the name of the song?
It’s called “All of my Life.” It’s about making change in the world and inspiring other people to be inspired. I think that’s really important, because especially with all these tragedies, to send positive messages out there.
Find out more about this talented singer/songwriter at aliisabella.com.
Laura B. Whitmore is a singer/songwriter based in the San Francisco bay area. A veteran music industry marketer, she has spent over two decades doing marketing, PR and artist relations for several guitar-related brands including Marshall and VOX. Her company, Mad Sun Marketing, represents Dean Markley, Agile Partners, Peavey, Jammit, Notion Music, Guitar World and many more. Laura was instrumental in the launch of the Guitar World Lick of the Day app. She is the founder of the Women's International Music Network at thewimn.com, producer of the Women's Music Summit and the lead singer for the rock band Summer Music Project. More at mad-sun.com.