From time to time you discover an artist who is not only insanely talented and destined to be a star but truly inspires you with their dedication to their craft. Such is the case with singer/guitarist/songwriter Alexx Calise. She is a multi-faceted artist who is not afraid to pour every precious ounce of her heart and soul into her music and share it worth the world. She brings a sound that is both fresh and uniquely her own, combining crunchy rock riffs with probing lyrics and hooky pop melodies. Told throughout most of her career to not play guitar as much or at all, and to pursue a more “proven” musical direction, Calise instead chose to focus even more so on her instrument, practicing some 5-6 hours a day, and follow the only direction she knew how to—her own.
Countless film and TV placements and millions of Youtube hits later, Calise has proven that her torchy vocals, impressive guitar chops and heart-and-soul lyrics are enough to make an incredible international impact, even as a completely independent artist. Calise’s hit song “Cry”–which became a web phenomenon almost overnight (spawning hundreds of covers, tributes and dance routines) after it appeared on the Lifetime show “Dance Moms”—-has gone on to sell well over 42,000 downloads independently and charted at #64 on the iTunes rock chart. Its official video features “Dance Moms” star, Maddie Ziegler, who danced to the song in several episodes of the show. Calise also recently performed her song “Survive” from her latest “AC3” EP on both “Dance Moms,” and its spinoff show, “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition”.
Calise’s music has appeared on a multitude of different shows such as “Dance Moms” (Lifetime), “Dance Moms: Miami” (Lifetime), “Last Call With Carson Daly” (NBC), “The Voice” (NBC), Audrina” (Vh1), “Tough Love” (Vh1), “NY Ink” (TLC), “Next” (MTV), “10 on Top” (MTV), “One Tree Hill” (CW), “Texas Women” (CMT) and in the upcoming feature film, “LA, I Hate You” starring Malcolm McDowell and William Forsythe.
In addition to music, Calise is also pursuing an acting career, and has appeared in a series of national Guitar Center commercials, a Disney “Science of Imagineering” DVD series, and in a Discovery Channel documentary entitled “The Science of Sex Appeal”. Ever-growing and ever-changing, the effervescent Calise is continuing to make waves one small step at a time, currently penning songs for a variety of major artists and writing songs toward her next album. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Alexx Calise to discuss her musical roots and influences, her process for bringing a song to life, her career milestones and what the future may hold for this artist on the rise!
Take us back to your earlier years. What are your first memories of music in your life?
I was lucky enough to grow up in a very musical household. For as long as I can remember, my parents always had music on in the house. They’d play anything from Beethoven to Huey Lewis & The News. My dad would also play “Rocky Raccoon” or “Knights in White Satin” on his acoustic guitar for my brother and I, and we just thought it was the coolest thing. I think that’s why I have a pretty eclectic taste in music and why it’s so engrained in me. It’s all I’ve ever known.
Who were your biggest influences as a musician and performer?
My father, who is also a great musician, inspired me to pick up the guitar. I wanted to be just like him, so it was only natural. I’ve also been inspired by a lot of blues and grunge artists like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Silverchair, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots and The Toadies. I just love raw talent and energy. I’ve always been a sucker for crunchy guitars and throaty, wailing vocals.
They say a career in music isn’t a journey for the faint of heart. What made you take the plunge and pursue a career in the music industry?
It’s not really a choice. There really isn’t anything else that would make me happy. I notice that whenever I’m not playing, or whenever I’m not immersed in music, I become a miserable, loathsome person that even I don’t want to be around. Music is my therapy, and one of the few things that keeps me afloat. Believe me, I wish it wasn’t the case sometimes. It’s a life fraught with financial hardship, pain and sacrifice. It’s not as glamorous as you think it would be. But hey, it’s all I know how to do and do well.
For those who may not be familiar with your work quite yet, what can they expect sonically?
I like a lot of different genres of music, and I think that’s easy to hear whenever you listen to my material. It’s definitely pop rock, but I think the unifying element is my voice, because it’s definitely got its own thing. It’s very vibrato heavy and has a bit of a different timbre. One thing that’s always consistent with every song is the lyrical content. When it comes to words, I don’t skimp on quality or content. I take my music very seriously and I don’t write for the sake of writing. Every element is very thought out and agonized over! [laughs]
What can you tell us about your songwriting process and how you bring a tune to life?
I’m mainly a lyrics and melody person, so I usually write the music around that. If you don’t have a good melody, you don’t have a good song, period. Everything else is secondary. I usually start off with melody and write lyrics accordingly. I usually have a lot to say, so I typically employ what I like to call lyrical compression, so I can get the entire idea out while still being melodic about it.
Where do you find yourself looking for inspiration these days?
My songs are all a reflection of me as a human being, and each album signifies a different chapter in my life. I write about and am inspired by the colorful people in my life, my past and present, and my own triumphs and failures.
Looking back on the entire process of bringing it to life, what stands out at as the biggest challenge in creating this EP?
Probably timing. I’m recording the record while also managing my own business (I own a kids party company), pursuing acting, and writing for others, so it’s not coming along as quickly as I’d like just because I always have a lot going on. I’m also incredibly impatient, so I’m sure that doesn’t help.
What is the biggest thing you learned about yourself during this intense process?
I’ve learned to be more patient and take things one step at a time. I tend to become overwhelmed because I usually give myself a lot of tasks (I’m a Type A workaholic), so I’m making a valiant effort to not internalize stress and focus only on the task at hand.
What can fans expect from your live show?
Fans can expect a Sebastian Bach-esque rock show. [laughs] I’m like Jekyll and Hyde when I perform. I’m usually a pretty soft-spoken person by nature, but when I’m on stage, this primal, animalistic side of me comes out and I just lose it. I’m screaming, pumping up the crowd, and flailing myself with my instrument. I had to start wearing a leather wristband because I kept giving myself bruises on my wrists (I beat the crap out of my guitar). I’ve bled all over my guitar from playing so hard, and I’ve thrown my neck out countless times just getting into it on stage. Go big or go home, ya know?
What are your favorite songs to play live these days?
I have a few favorites, “Throw Your Words”, “Morning Pill”, “Why”, “Not Crazy”, and “Break Me”. I love playing my high-energy rock tunes most because they’re so much fun to perform and I get my rocks off musically.
Is there something you hope people come away with after they catch one of your live performances?
I want to leave people with their mouths hanging open. That’s what I’ve always strived for. The way I see it is that people have a lot of different options when it comes to entertainment, so you better put on the most kick ass show they’ve ever seen. You’ve got to make those people want to get off the couch and come see you. They don’t owe you anything, so make that show worth their while.
You released a music video for the song “Cry.” The video has reached over a million views and been included in several notable television shows. What can you tell us about this song and how it has impacted your life as a musician?
I wrote that song in my apartment several years ago. It’s 100 percent unfiltered emotion. I was feeling very lost and alone, and the song just poured out of me. I think people can relate to it because of that. It’s a universal feeling. We all have those periods in our lives when we just feel low, and we want to indulge in that sadness for a moment.
It has greatly impacted my life as a musician because I’ve been able to sustain myself financially from its sales even to this day. It’s sold over 43,000 units independently, it’s gotten me write-ups in Wall Street Journal and other huge publications, and more importantly, it’s touched so many young kids. There are literally hundreds of covers and dances of “Cry”, and kids routinely write me and tell me how much they appreciate the song. That’s something money can’t buy. I’m humbled by it, and it warms my heart more than I can say.
Are there any other video plans in the making?
As soon as the new record is done and a single is selected, I will definitely be filming a music video. Until then, I’m holed up in the studio trying to get this new joint finished!
I understand you are currently working on new music for an album. Where are you in the process?
Right now, we’re about 6 songs deep. We have another 4 or 5 left to track from top to bottom and then we’ll be all done.
When might we expect a release?
We’re hoping for a July 2014 release.
In addition to writing for yourself, you have written music for other artists. What do you find yourself drawn to at the moment musically in terms of genres?
I’m a huge music fan, and I love everything, so I wouldn’t say there’s one specific genre I’m really digging into at the moment. Whenever I write with one of my songwriting partners, Luigie Gonzalez however we usually do a lot of pop and EDM. It’s super fun for me because Dance and EDM have awesome groove, and I step out of my comfort zone a bit. I love to write above all though; the genre can always be dictated later in the production phase.
I know you have been writing with producer Luigie Gonzalez. For those who aren’t familiar, what can you tell us about him and how you came to work together?
Luigie and I were introduced by a former manager of mine actually. I was living in Florida at the time and I flew out to LA to work with Lu on a few of my already existing songs. I didn’t really have the intention of moving to LA, but I fell in love with the energy of the place, so I ended up crashing on his couch for about 6 months. The rest is history. Now I’ve been here for over 7 years. Luigie is one of my closest friends, and one of the most talented musicians/producers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. He is absolutely amazing when it comes to scoring, orchestral arrangement, dynamics, you name it. I feel very lucky every time I get the chance to sit down with him and hash out a new tune. I know a lot of people would kill to be in my shoes.
When writing for other artists, do you approach the process differently than when you are writing for yourself?
I approach it like I’d approach my own material. I give it my all and pour my heart and soul into it. At the end of the day, your name is going on that song, so you have to take pride in your work and make it the best that you can. You never know where it may end up. The better the quality, the better caliber of artist it will likely end up with.
What do you consider your biggest milestone so far?
I’d say my biggest milestone is the “Cry” video hitting 1 million views. My dad called me to congratulate me about it, and he really stressed the importance of that 1 million mark. It’s so cool to know that the video has been watched that many times, and that it’s impacted that many people. That’s a staggering amount of people. I didn’t have a PR vehicle behind me, I didn’t have a label, and I didn’t have financial backing. It was the power of the song alone that did that, and for that I feel so blessed and fortunate. I don’t know many people that have had a hit song, or that have been able to support themselves from the sales of their own original music. I thank my lucky stars every day for that.
How do you feel you have evolved as a musician since first starting out?
I’ve evolved tremendously I think. I went from playing guitar merely to facilitate my lyrics and writings to playing solos and leads and doing crazy pedal dances that I never thought I’d be able to do. I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of songs for myself and others, and I’ve stretched my vocal range tremendously from playing hundreds of live shows. If you stop learning and improving, you stop growing. You owe it to yourself to nurture your talents and abilities, and you should always strive to be the very best you can be.
What are some of your musical bucket list items?
I would absolutely love to tour the world, and one day, I want to perform at Madison Square Garden with my dad on bass. That’s always been a dream of ours.
What other performers or bands are out there right now that have made your stand up and take notice?
I’m kind of a musical snob [laughs], but I’ve fallen in love with AWOLNATION and Bruno Mars. When I first heard Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are”, I literally stopped what I was doing and listened to the whole song. Brilliant songwriting. Simple. I absolutely love everything that guy does. AWOLNATION just has that cool factor (but they still have pop sensibility). When I heard “Sail” for the first time, it just sounded devastating. I never heard anything like that, and it rocked me to my core.
Tell us a little about a day in the life of Alexx these days and your worlds inside and outside of music.
I never stop going. Anyone that’s ever known me can vouch for that. I have a fire inside, and a fervor for life and music that simply can’t be extinguished. Usually I start the day off with a long walk, and then I get to work on my company, and then write, record or practice. I like to keep moving and make things happen. I’m a doer, not a dreamer.
What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to someone who wants to pursue a career in music in the industry’s current climate?
Do not do this for anything other than the love of music. Otherwise, you may be sorely disappointed. Like I said before, it’s a life fraught with struggle and sacrifice. There is little that is glamorous about it. Do this only if music is in your bones, and you simply can’t live without it, because at the end of the day that may be all you ever have.
In your opinion, what does the future hold for Alexx Calise?
To be honest, I’m not quite sure. While that’s a very scary thought, it’s also very freeing. What’s great about the entertainment industry is that your whole world can change on a dime. You could meet the right person or be in the right place at the right time, and everything could totally change for you. My whole career has been a combination of right place, right time, luck, stabbing in the dark, and of course blood, sweat and tears. All I know is that I’m seizing absolutely every opportunity that I can, I’m writing up a storm, and I’m positioning myself for a solid, sustainable future and career in music.
You are involved with a very cool charity. What can you tell us about Wear Your Music Foundation, how you got involved and what you have been up to with them?
I actually stumbled upon them a while ago while I was doing some research online. I hit them up and said that I’d love to be involved in some way, and it went from there. They have actually taken my used guitar strings and wound them into really cool bracelets. All proceeds from the sales of the bracelets go to my charity of choice, the Brain Trauma Foundation.
Any projects in the works at the moment we can shine a light on?
I’m always writing for myself or others, so I have a lot of irons in the fire. The biggest thing right now is my 4th solo album. It’s long overdue, so I’m trying to get that out as expeditiously as possible.
Anything you want to tell your fans before I let you go?
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.