Thoughts on writing

by Ali Sperry

I think about writing a lot so might as well write about writing. Been feeling a little stuck in the writing department lately so I'm trying to spin it and use it as an opportunity to become adept at writing when I don't feel like I have any burning need to express anything in particular in a song. I suppose waiting til inspiration comes back around is an option, but one that I'm not really willing to entertain since I am attempting to truly make a livelihood as a songwriter, and I don't want that to be dependent on "chasing the muse", as they say.

So here are a few tools that come to mind to help with this blockage: memory, imagination, and observation. Maybe I don't feel so inspired to write about something I am experiencing at this particular moment, or something I've been struggling with lately--but I have lived 32 years of emotions, experiences, struggles, reflections and I have surely not mined all of those for their full song potential. I can remember the times I was truly touched and inspired in a way that brought about the bubbling up inside that wants to come out and become something. Just remembering that bubbling makes it feel alive again. And not just memories of what I've lived so far, but imaginings of what I've yet to live and experience. Imagination is limitless. When I was little it was so easy for me to literally free-style, to just walk around recording improvised songs. I grew up as an only child until I was in my early teens, and I think in a way that helped foster my imagination. I could entertain myself endlessly by playing make believe. I would improvise lyrics like "Did you ever know the moon is the princess of the sky/Did you ever know the sun is the king of the whole world/". Ha! Good stuff, little Ali.

Observation is another big one. Not all songs have to be directly personally to be poignant and good. I read an article recently about Jason Isbell's latest record in which he was describing how he used observations and musings about other people's lives as fodder for his latest batch of songs. He was saying how he's observed many songwriters in their 30s do this more and more since they get to a point where writing about their own life experiences starts to feel limiting and old hat (I'm completely paraphrasing, but that was the idea). I like this and have found that it feels like a fun and liberating exercise to write about other people's lives and inner workings. Whether we are putting our own selves in a song or writing about someone else, it boils down to characters in a story.

Lastly, I find that the simple step of taking action is such a good tool for me. Just try. Pick up your guitar, free write, listen to music that inspires you (and by "you" I mean my advice to myself). Just shake off the waiting. Stir things up. The inspiration can come when it comes but I will keep carving out that time and space and singing those same couple words or playing that damn chord progression over and over til something emerges. And if it doesn't that's ok. But it always comes around eventually. It helps me to think about how when a baby is learning to crawl or walk, they get so frustrated. They cry and grunt and you can tell they are struggling. But instead of just giving up they keep trying, they keep deliberately taking themselves out of their comfort zone. Because they know that they are learning to do something that they absolutely were born to do. Something that is hard at first but eventually completely accessible. To grow is hard and frustrating and uncomfortable. It actually requires being uncomfortable because you are stepping into the unfamiliar where it is scary and you don't quite know how to operate yourself. But it is necessary. It is basically why we are here I think.

Music City For Real

by Ali Sperry

First of all I just have to say I am terribly embarrassed that it has been so long since my last blog post. I know you'll believe it when you see it, but I'm ready to bring the blog back! So be prepared to hear from me...and often.

Okay, glad we got that out of the way.

Today I'd like to talk about living in Nashville. Real talk: there are times where it can feel hard to live in this town where you are surrounded by people that are ferociously going after their dreams, which are pretty much the exact same dreams you have. And we all know it's not a direct competition, but yes, sometimes it feels competitive. I hate it when it happens, but in my lowest moments, when I am feeling bummed about something that I am unsatisfied with in myself or my career, hearing about somebody else's latest victory (so-and-so's headlining this show, she booked this festival, she got this incredible write up in the Scene, blah blah blah) can feel...just crappy. And then of course I get mad at myself for reacting in a begrudging way to someone's triumph, someone that is probably even a friend on some level. So then I try to take a step back, take a breath, and remind myself that we're all just here trying to make some good music and really let's just chill out and have a sense of humor about it, Ali.

BUT the majority of my days in this town don't feel disheartening and competitive in that way at all and they do feel a little bit like a magical music summer camp where no one has real jobs and everyone writes songs, plays instruments and records music all day and then goes to shows to support and play with their friends at night. I mean, it's kind of ridiculous and it doesn't escape me how fortunate we all are to be here doing what we're doing, what we love, struggles and all. Just take yesterday for example, a random Sunday, this was my day: Have coffee with two best girlfriends while rehearsing harmony vocals for show that night, dress up and sit outside drinking a mint julep while "acting" in a friend's music video, babysit for a couple hours for the cute kiddos of two dear buddies (one of which I also get to sing in a band with) so they could go see some music, , go to 3rd and Lindsley for previously mentioned show and perform with people I love. Go home, watch Netflix, sleep. Not a bad Sunday. Not a bad life.

I turned 32 last week and I feel great about that. When I turned 30 I had this "uh-oh, I have to grow up and get my shit together" kind of anxiety hit me all of a sudden. And 31 felt a little bit like "oh boy, I'm a year deep and my shit is not yet even remotely together." For some reason, so far at least, 32 has a kind of calm to it. I was thinking about this in the shower yesterday (where lots of powerful thoughts occur) and thought, "Ohhh...this is all part of it. Everything I've done so far, all my experiences, everything I've put energy and effort into, it's all part of who I am. It's setting me up for what the rest of my life is going to be like. It's not just wasting time before my real having-shit-together portion of life suddenly and miraculously begins. What I'm doing now and what I've been doing is all part of a greater whole that I am slowly molding." The choice to go for making a living as a musician is a scary one sometimes. It's choosing a life without a ton of security or stability, without a clear path to success or ladder to climb. But I'm learning to gauge it by the small victories, and above all, by the continued quest to make art--to make music that I believe in and that moves me and represents my perception of life. If I can make something, and it makes me feel alive and joyful, and might make someone else feel alive and joyful, that is the job I seek to do.

New beginnings

by Ali Sperry

I love the month of January. I love the rush of energy that a new year brings, an opportunity for a fresh start. There's always an excitement about it for me--knowing that the year ahead will bring all sorts of things that I can't even conceive of yet, and all sorts of things that I can conceive of and have the power to create myself. I have always loved new years resolutions. Even when I was young, there were several years in a row where i made it a habit to write 100 desires and goals for the coming year. I'm a little less extreme these days, but it still does help me to bring into focus where I am now and where I hope to be by this time next year. 

2014 was a very good one. I got to tour in the Midwest, Northeast and Colorado, as well as some very fun Nashville shows and an LA show. I did my first solo tour and proved to myself that I am capable of doing that and having an excellent time doing so. I digitally released "Comes and Goes" and released my first ver music video! I wrote some new songs and wrote with some new people. And in general, I had an enormous amount of FUN. 

So what's up this year? One of my main goals is to write more than I ever have in my life and by this time next year I plan to be going into the studio to record my second full length record. I'd like to have about 30 songs to choose from by next January so that I can truly pick songs that fit together and have something to say as a cohesive album. 

Second, I plan to tour more than ever this year too. Solo, with a band, with a friend, venues, festivals, house shows, you name it. I am hungry to just be out there in the musical wilderness! I know there might come a time in my life where I'm not as eager to tour, so I want to seize this desire and run with it while it is strong. 

My third major musical goal of 2015 is to get songs placed in Movies or TV shows. I really believe in some of the songs I have recorded being a good fit with the film/tv world and that is something I plan on pursuing wholeheartedly. 

And then of course there's the daily stuff like continue to get better at guitar, be more disciplined with my yoga practice, be beter at keeping in touch with friends/family far away, take dance classes, and the list goes on. 

So, i'll keep you posted on how it goes. Especially the writing part because that is something that i really need to hold myself accountable for and I could use your help and support on that!

Peace and love,


Solo Tour Day 20!

by Ali Sperry

Whaaaaaat?! LAST SHOW?! How can it possibly be??! But, it is. And here I am, having a final moment of solitude at the Hilton hotel that is just a short walk away from the venue I'll be playing my last show of this tour tonight. I feel so happy right now. These three weeks have been everything I hoped they would be. It's been exciting, challenging, fun, full of surprises, empowering and liberating. There have been lows (crying on the phone to my mom while I soaked in a baking-soda bath to try to relieve cat-allergy-induced hives all over my weary bod) and many many highs (all the friends I've reconnected with, feeling more confident with every show, nights of music and laughter, beautiful, scenic drives), and even the harder times just made me feel more capable of getting through shit and knowing I can handle it. 

Had a fantastic and very festive night on Thursday night with Rebekah Jean and the kind folks who hosted us. It was such an enthusiastic bunch of music and dance lovers. There was a serious drum circle/jam/dance party that ensued immediately after we stopped playing. Then a couple total chill days in Middletown with John and Paula which felt deeply relaxing and nourishing. And then played last night in the gorgeous, historic home of Kate, Amy, Chris and Alex in Cincinnati. A truly wonderful audience and beautiful night.

Which brings me up to today. I better get ready!

Thank you to everyone who let me stay with them, who fed me, who hosted a show, who bought a CD or a ticket and listened to my music, who said they were proud of me or who said that a song touched them in some way. I am grateful to the very core. This has honestly been a time of my life that I shall not forget!

Solo Tour Day 15!

by Ali Sperry

All is well here in my little world as I sit in a coffee shop in Ithaca with an almond-milk latte, catching up on life on the www. This tour is over half-way done and I'm feeling a wave of peace as I'm comin down the homestretch. Still have approximately 890 miles to drive and 4 (or possibly 5--the Dayton show is questionable at the moment) shows, so don't get me wrong, the fun is far from over. But I just have a sense of "I got this" at this point and there's nothing coming up that I feel nervous or worried about. Gonna enjoy this wild solo ride and milk it for all the memories, joy, insight, discoveries and growth I can. 

Had a super fun time in Goshen with the Sperry-Fromms. Was very grateful to connect with Grandmama Gladys (who told me maybe I'm old enough now to just call her Gladys, but I told her nope, she'll always be my grandmama). She's a pretty remarkable lady who has traveled all over the world playing cello, is a horseback-rider and a carpenter and even built her own house. Also so good to be with Marc and Beth and Leni. Aunt Beth and I had an epic wine-drinking catch up session the night before I left. Aunts are the best!

Yesterday was the prettiest drive yet of this tour--from Western Mass, through the Berkshires to Syracuse and then Ithaca. Sooooo pretty out here with the big hills and wind-y roads and the leaves are already turning colors I discovered that almond butter on ricecakes should really be removed from the "cleared" list of solo tour snacks--much too messy to consume while operating a moving vehicle! Was also grateful to chat with my mom, my dad, Doc and Jamie on the drive yesterday. After two weeks of traveling solo, I really haven't felt lonely. Feeling the love and company of the sweet peeps in my life everywhere I go. 

Was also a blast from the past to stop and have lunch and a wander around Syracuse yesterday, my alma mater. Haven't been back there in about ten years and just walking down Marshall street stirred up a flood of memories. Funny how a place you haven't been in so long can be that deeply familiar. 

Had a beautiful dinner and catch-up with my friend Michelle here in Ithaca last night. Today's been a completely leisurely day of laundry, a run, a sunbathing/lazy-yoga session on Michelle's gorgeous porch, and now coffee-shop hang. Maybe I'll get my tush to one of the waterfalls around here this afternoon. 

Sending love out to you all! Thank you for all of the encouragement and support on this journey!