Alison Faith Levy is a rock star! She has had a prolific music career in both the kids and adult genres, touring national stages with each band she has been in. Alison first entered the kids’ music scene with the Bay Area band, The Sippy Cups, a kids’ rock band filled with sounds that harken back to the 60’s and 70’s.
The Sippy’s ended up taking a hiatus and Alison continued on, releasing two solo albums. Her debut, World of Wonder, was released in 2012 and is the main inspiration for the play she has been developing.
Recently, Alison released her second solo album, The Start of Things, which showcases her powerful voice and songwriting skills. Many of the songs encourage self-expression and empower kids to reach for their dreams. It’s a wonderful record, and I love how it feels as though Alison is sharing pieces of wisdom and whimsy from her own personal experiences. The Start of Things brings us closer to Alison as a musician and a person, striving to bring the best out of herself and others. If you can imagine classic rock icons like Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane or Carole King singing for kids then you’ve got some insight into the soulful sounds of Alison Faith Levy.
I have come across many women who rock in the Kindie genre, who are also moms, and their ability to find a balance between work and home life has always inspired me. Alison is one of those rockin’ mamas. She also happens to have a 13-year-old son who has already been in the press, including NPR, for his artistic talent.
In the interview below, Alison graciously offers some insight into her time as a touring musician with her adult band and then with her Kindie band, The Sippy Cups), how family has influenced and inspired her, and what’s next on the horizon – including the production of her play.
KCG: You have had a long career in music, what are some significant things that stick out from your career as a woman in music throughout the years?
AFL: I spent most of my early career in music being the only woman in the band. I actually enjoyed that, since from a very early age I felt like I could really talk music so much more with the guys, and that the girls I knew didn’t really want to dig that deep and “geek out” with me in quite that way. Of course, now I have so many amazing women friends who are musicians and music lovers who can geek out with the best of them, and I’ve played with some really awesome women in bands. It just took me a long time to find them!
KCG: What was your previous experience with adult music?
AFL: I have been playing in bands since I was in college. I was in two or three little indie bands before I started making solo albums – very piano/singer-songwriter/chanteuse kind of stuff. As I was working on my solo career and starting to play more shows, I was asked to join The Loud Family, a band I was a huge fan of already. I made two albums with them, and we did two national tours, which was amazing. After the second tour, my husband and I decided to have a baby, and so I took some time off from music to be a mom.
KCG: When did you change to Kindie music?
AFL: After I had my son Henry, I wasn’t sure what my next move would be in regards to music. I was enjoying the breather, and not really knowing. Henry and I started taking Music Together classes with Paul Godwin, who said he really wanted to start a cool psychedelic rock band for kids called The Sippy Cups. I was like “I am all about that!” And the rest is history!
KCG: How has your process changed from making music for adults vs Sippy Cups vs solo?
AFL: After being in the Loud Family, which had a very definite bandleader/songwriter (Scott Miller), I came into the Sippy Cups which was a bit more open and just developing their identity. Originally we just played covers (Beatles, Pink Floyd, T. Rex) and at some point I came in with a song I had written, Magic Toast, and from then on we started writing our own songs. It was very collaborative as a project, which was so cool. We were really building something big and unique together – both musically and theatrically – and it took off so quickly! After several years of touring and working together, we all needed to spend more time with our families so we agreed to take an extended hiatus.
I wasn’t sure if I would continue with kids’ music, as I had already started my new “grown-up” band, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, with my friend Victor Krummenacher of Camper Van Beethoven. We toured with Cracker, and opened for Rosanne Cash – it was going pretty well. But I missed playing for the kids, and started writing kids’ songs again. I remember a very emotional conversation with my wonderful friend Charity Kahn, where I expressed my anxiety about jumping back into the children’s music world after The Sippy Cups, and wondering if people would respond to me as a solo artist. She was instrumental in building my confidence and making me feel like it would be okay. She convinced me that if I felt strongly that I still had something to say with children’s music, then I should say it. I’m so glad I listened to her!
KCG: You just released a new album, how much of a reflection is on that on where you are in your career now?
AFL: When I released World of Wonder in 2012, I was just getting back into playing music for kids again, and was still figuring out my identity as a solo artist. With this new album – I have been playing shows with my Big Time Tot Rock band for a few years now, as well as teaching music to preschoolers, so I feel very comfortable with my place in the genre of children’s music. I know so much more what I want to say, and what kids relate to, and what kind of music I want to make. This album really achieves that in a big way.
KCG: What does this album mean to you?
AFL: I have always wanted to make a children’s album that reflects the kind of music I loved as a child – really well-written pop songs, with great arrangements and production, that came from an honest, emotional place. Not necessarily kids’ music, but fully-realized music that crosses the generations. That was my goal with this album – to write great songs from an honest place that expressed my truth, and spoke to kids on their level, too. It’s a tall order, but that was my intention and I’m really happy with how it turned out. There is some silliness too, of course – because you gotta get silly sometimes with kids!
KCG: You’re in the process developing a play. Was there crossover between developing the play and writing/producing the record?
AFL: Yes, the song “Little Dreamer” was actually written for the show (World of Wonder: The Musical), but I thought it fit really well into this batch of songs and decided to record it for the album. The musical has been in development for awhile – we’ve taken it so far as a reading with actors, and a feedback session with a theater company that is interested in producing. It takes a long time to get a musical off the ground, though, so I just keep plugging away at it!
KCG: I really love “Rainbow Tunnel.” Can you talk about your inspiration for this song?
AFL: The Rainbow Tunnel is actually called The Waldo Tunnel, and runs between the Golden Gate Bridge and Sausalito. It’s a regular old tunnel but has a rainbow painted around the edge of it, which makes it instantly magical! You drive through it to get from San Francisco to Marin – and I have such vivid memories of driving through it as a child, watching the fog dissipate as you crossed over into sunny Marin county. We were driving through it about a year ago and I thought – I should write a song about this! So my producer Allen Clapp and I collaborated on the song, and decided it give it a very Burt Bacharach “Do You Know the Way To San Jose?” kind of vibe. I love the song, and it seems to be a lot of people’s favorite track on the album. The Waldo Tunnel is going to be re-named The Robin Williams Tunnel, which is such a sweet and wonderful thing.
KCG: As a mom and a musician did you or have you ever felt/feel a challenge between filling the role of the two identities?
AFL: Yes, for sure. When I was in The Sippy Cups, it was extremely challenging and hard on my family. I was traveling a lot, and Henry was only 5 or so years old. And when I wasn’t traveling, my life was 100% Sippy Cups all the time. It was a very hard thing to balance. After that experience, I have been able to set much more realistic goals and boundaries for my solo career, and it has worked out really well for my family. I play shows mostly in the Bay Area, I teach at local preschools, and I make sure to be available and home for my son as much as possible. It has made a huge difference. My family is everything to me – so they always come first. I am just getting ready to do a little touring, which is exciting, but I am going to be very careful and choosy about where and when I travel for work. It has to be worthwhile on all fronts. I am excited, though, to finally have worked my way back to that position of being able to play out of town shows!
KCG: Henry is also involved in music. Did you involve him with The Sippy Cups or other musical endeavors?
AFL: When I was in The Sippy Cups, Henry was really little, and pretty much every song I wrote was based on a conversation I had had with him! He was always interested in the weirdest, funniest things, and he really inspired me to see things from that whimsical perspective.
Now that he’s 13, and an extremely accomplished musician in his own right, I play new songs I’m working on for him, and get his feedback. He loves to listen to mixes and make comments on the production – he is always spot on.
KCG: What does Henry think of your role as a family/Kindie musician? How do you think Henry has been influenced by seeing his mom as a career musician?
AFL: Henry is definitely on his own path as a musician and an artist. He has always made music, and done his own home recording, and found his own way in his tastes and style. I think that seeing his mom play music professionally, and his dad make films and teach, has given him a feel for what living a creative life can look like. That’s always been important to us, but we never really specifically said “You will be an artist.” He just came by it naturally and organically, which is really nice.
KCG: Do you have creative conversations with your son?
AFL: Oh yes, constantly. That’s pretty much all we do. Dissect music and film and television and art and scientific and philosophical ideas. The best times are our drive to school – it takes about 15 minutes to get to his school and we have the deepest, most interesting conversations in the car. Henry loves to talk and question and debate – it’s awesome.
KCG: Do you learn from each other creatively?
AFL: Henry is so beyond me now, I really do believe. His music comes from such a pure and mysterious place – when I hear him sit down at the piano and just improvise, I can’t even believe what’s happening. He is truly gifted in a way that takes my breath away. I just write pop songs. 😉
KCG: Now that your album is out, what’s on the horizon for you? Or is there any other creative endeavors you’d like to engage or try?
AFL: I am proud to have gotten to where I am right now, on my own terms. I really love what I’ve created for myself as an artist, and I feel like the kids and families that I teach and perform for really appreciate and value what I do. I get so much love every single day of my life. Hugs and high fives and little kids shrieking “Teacher Alison!” joyfully when I walk in the door. It’s wonderful.
I would like to move into more large scale original theatrical productions for children – really getting the musical off the ground is my biggest priority. To see my show produced in a fully realized theatrical setting with top-notch production values – that would be the ultimate!
Other than that, I did kind of start writing a YA thriller, but it’s a daunting task. I work on it every once in awhile, but I have no idea what I’m doing!
I also dream of starting a big, gritty soul band, with a horn section, and just ripping it up and belting it out like Tina Turner or Sharon Jones. A gal can dream…