Allie Gonino may be best known for her on-screen roles on television, appearing most recently as Laurel Mercer on the hit ABC Family series, ‘The Lying Game.’ However, she is no one-trick pony. A muli-faceted artist, she is always striving to challenge herself in any creative realm in which she is immersed. A passion of hers since childhood, music serves as the creative lifeblood flowing through her veins.
Gonino first came on the radar in 2007 when The Stunners were signed to Columbia Records initially, then later to Universal Republic. During their run, they released an EP and four music videos (two of which they wrote, directed, and produced themselves – sans record label.) They performed on ‘The Today Show’ and ‘The Wendy Williams Show,’ contributed to Nickelodeon’s iCarly soundtrack, and were played on numerous Top 40 radio stations. In summer 2010, they opened for Justin Bieber. It was also at this time when Allie chose to turn down a starring role on the hit TV show ‘Glee,’ to remain faithful to her music group. However, The Stunners parted ways in 2011 when Allie booked her new TV series ‘The Lying Game.’
Following The Stunners, Allie began writing new music and performing with The Good Mad, an alternative folk trio comprised of Adam Brooks, Andy Fischer-Price and Allie Gonino. Formed in 2011, the band made its commercial debut on the ABC Family original series, The Lying Game, and has since released two EPs, a single, and licensed music to several films and television shows. Though they’ve been fortunate to capture the attention of the film industry, the band intends to do the same with national radio, and tour the world. The Good Mad released their third EP, “Face Your Feels,” in early 2015 with the leading single, “Adelaide.” This EP helped move the band further outside the folk/Americana box, and into a more experimental direction.
Primed and ready in 2015, Allie Gonino is taking her biggest creative leap to date. After consistently working as part of a band, Allie has unleashed her debut solo project, “Hollywood High.” Allie describes the music on her solo project as a blend of sounds that appeal to her. Others have described her sound as folky and bewitching, and have gone on to reference her music to that of Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple and Stevie Nicks. It’s a melting pot of a lot of Allie’s influences, but best described as alternative. It has elements of folk, a little bit of jazz, and some pop in terms of arrangement — but genre-wise it is alternative. Allie wrote all of the music for her debut solo project, because she felt it was important for her fans to hear her stories, and her voice, for the first time. On her lead single “Vamp,” “I chose it to be the first single because it has a sexy groove. It has a naughty, yet triumphant feel to it.”
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Allie Gonino to discuss her musical influences, her journey as an artist, her musical evolution, inspirations and what we can expect from her in the near future!
Let’s start at the beginning. What got you started on your journey into the entertainment industry?
I discovered my passion for music when I was about 4 years old and I had a chance to talk to the Dixie Chicks. I thought Martie Maguire was the coolest person alive and I wanted to play violin. I started taking lessons when I was 7. Around the same time, I started doing ballet. Those were the early stages of my performing career, I guess you could say!
Obviously, music had a big impact on you at an early age. What are some of your early memories of music?
The very first track I remember listening to on repeat as a child was “Will You Be There” by Michael Jackson. It was featured in one of my favorite movies as a kid, “Free Willy.” I just loved that song! I just remember listening to the song on cassette tape over and over and over again! That was certainly an influence. My parents listened to bands like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. I remember listening to a lot of Eagles when I was young. Those were probably my earliest inspirations. I think my biggest inspiration was the Dixie Chicks because they were the ones I gravitated to when I actually started playing music and singing. I listened to a lot of Alanis Morissette around the same time with the “Jagged Little Pill” album. I think, because I did ballet for so many years, Tchaikovsky was a huge influence on me. Obviously, I am not composing ballets or anything yet but I would love to! I also think it helps when I try to score for short films to have that classical foundation. Honestly, my violin teacher, who was a Russian woman, was a huge mentor for me. She always pushed me to practice and become better at my instrument.
Was there a particular point when you knew you wanted to pursue a career in music?
Yes. When I was 8 or 9 years old, the Dixie Chicks released their first album with Natalie Maines. I would sing the songs for fun, along with a lot of Faith Hill around that time as well. Someone had said to my parents, “She really has some talent. She can really sing!” I auditioned for a local opry called The Garland Opry, which I didn’t think was in existence anymore. It was the first place I had ever gotten up on stage and performed. I was really shaky and very nervous but that was the pivotal moment that made me realize I could do this as a profession!
Fast forward to today. You recently released an EP titled “Hollywood High.” While you have been a part of some great projects in the past, you are stepping out on your own with this one. What made now the time for this release and did you have any reservations about exploring the world as a solo artist?
The only reservation I had was that I feared it would take attention away from The Good Mad and the other projects I am doing. I am learning as an artist there is no limit to how much we can create and each project helps the other. I think it was time to put out something that I had the vision for. There are actually four EPs I plan on releasing that go along with “Hollywood High” and kind of complete the picture. It was a passion project for me and a great opportunity for me to get more experience as a producer and songwriter.
How does “Hollywood High” compare to what listeners may be familiar with you doing in the past?
For fans who may know me from The Good Mad, this particular piece of music doesn’t focus so much on harmonies, which is obviously something we love in The Good Mad. I think this is still alternative folk music but I would say it has more of a mysterious darkness to this project, where as the music with The Good Mad is a little more straightforward.
Was it difficult to find the sound you were looking for with this particular project, this EP and the ones still to come? What can you tell us about developing your sound?
Honestly. it wasn’t really hard once I got into selection process. I wrote the songs on a different instrument, except for “Hollywood High,” which I wrote a cappella. I love alternative folk music and live instruments. I knew right away that I wanted a horn section and a string section on a couple of songs. The main aim of the EP was to take things as raw as possible but balance them with a contemporary, radio friendly sound.
What can you tell us about your songwriting process and where you look for inspiration these days?
When it comes to “Hollywood High,” I wrote a lot of songs on location when I was filming and away from my family and friends in Los Angeles. I draw a lot of inspiration from other people in my life. I believe the people in my life are a reflection of different aspects of my own personality. Songwriting is a way for me to communicate with myself. I think the people and experiences that I encounter inspire me in different ways to create.
Did you have any particular goals or expectations when starting out in the process?
I was going through a depression during the songwriting process of the “Hollywood High” EP. I wanted these songs to be a way for people to connect with the songs. I wanted to provide a safe place to grieve or accept things about themselves. Music is about liberation. I want to liberate myself by making music and it is my hope and goal to create something people can connect with that liberates them as well.
“Hollywood High” is out now. Looking back on the process, what was the biggest challenge in bringing it to life and when might we expect the other EPs?
It costs money to make music, along with time. With my acting career, I don’t always have time to record. I also have The Good Mad and I am promoting that. That is definitely a challenge. It would be great if I could produce the next EP sometime this year and then release it sometime early in 2016 or possibly earlier. It all depends on how my summer pans out. I have to manage my money and make sure I have enough money to invest in the music. It is a challenge just like any creative endeavor.
What is the biggest thing you learned about yourself during the creative process?
The biggest thing I learned was that I still have so much to learn! [laughs] I learned that I can get through difficult times and use my crazy madness for creating. I look forward to learning from people who are so much more experienced from me. Everything is a stepping stone, so I am taking it one step at a time.
How have you most evolved as an artist since starting out?
I think my songwriting has improved immensely from the time I first started writing around the age of 15. That is probably the biggest leap in my career, that I have become a much stronger songwriter.
Looking forward to the future, is there any musical ground you are excited to explore in the short or long term?
Yes. I want to produce but I also want to learn all I can to produce better. It is difficult, with two careers, to find time to sit down and learn something from an experienced source. I have considered going to University for music but I don’t know if that will happen. I am really excited for the future and excited to see what it brings.
What can we expect from you in the realm of videos in support of the “Hollywood High” EP?
The music video for “Vamp” is on the way. I just got the final cut of it yesterday and I am so excited about it. I think we will be releasing it around the first week of June!
As you mentioned, you are balancing two worlds with a career in acting and music. How does the world of acting compare to the world of music?
The parallels of the two worlds are that you have to work with different personalities all the time and are constantly creating something new. Both acting and music boil down to storytelling and communicating.
What is up next for you when it comes to acting? Any chance we will see the worlds of acting and music collide again soon?
I just finished a movie called “The Preacher’s Confession.” I am actually in Ottawa right now and we just wrapped this morning. That will be out in September. I don’t know when the worlds of acting and music will collide again. I feel like I have been doing both for so long that it is a part of who I am. I am sure an opportunity for a musical or something like that will come around soon.
You are certainly a busy woman but you still find time to give back. What can you tell us about your work with The Thirst Project?
The Thirst Project is a non-profit organization that raises funds to develop wells in developing countries where there is little to no access to clean water. My friend and co-star on “The Lying Game,” Charisma Carpenter, introduced me to their CEO, Seth Maxwell, a few years ago. I was looking for a water charity to get involved with and he suggested The Thirst Project. I went and saw him speak in Santa Monica that day and got involved right away. The Thirst Project is 100% non-profit and we have a really awesome board of amazing individuals who take care of the administrative aspects, so 100% of what is donated to the organization goes directly to building or repairing a well somewhere in the world. I think the thing I like the most about The Thirst Project is that we really work to get young people involved and focused on something meaningful. Kids have so much energy and passion! It has been really inspiring to see how many kids in America care about this issue and devote their time, energy and resources to help making the world a better place.
It is cool to see so many lending a voice to a great cause! We will certainly help spread the word! Thank you so much for your time today, Allie! I am a big fan of this EP, so I can’t wait to see what you do next!
Thank you, Jason! Thanks for listening, it means a lot to me! Talk to you again soon!
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.