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Allison Crowe

Artist Spotlight Archive - Mar. 2004
Allison Crowe may not be well-known now but this young woman has the voice and talent to be the next Alanis or Norah. The raw emotions in her hauntingly beautiful rendition of "Angel" should convince you of her potential.

Born and raised in Nanaimo, B.C., this small harbour city on Vancouver Island has a strong musical heritage and is home to the oldest continuous community band in Canada.

» Allison Crowe :: Official Web Site
» Buy Allison's CDs

"I grew up surrounded by music. There was a lot of jazz, classical and rock, in both my immediate and my extended families," says Crowe, now 22. Her first public performance was at age six - belting out a big hit of the Jazz age, Ja-da (Ja-da Jing Jing Jing!).

In her pre-teens, Allison Crowe heard Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald albums spinning at home and carried this music into her school band and music theatre studies. She found a coach to help harness her vocal instrument and teachers to encourage her playing on piano, flute, bass and drums. By then, her parents' rock albums had been joined by her own collection, making for an eclecticism evident today in her music.

By age 15, Allison Crowe was playing to growing crowds in coffee-houses and bars up and down her island. "I love singing for people," she says. "It's a way to connect and share with others, which I think is very generally important for emotional survival. Communication is crucial. Just being able to do what I do, to write and sing and perform, makes me feel not only alive, but incredibly lucky, knowing at any moment everything could change, so that I don't take one second for granted."

In 1998, she won the VIEX Island Songbird Competition, topping 17 other vocalists. Her growth in the years since has been steady and remarkable. In 2002, the same year she completed her first national concert tour, she was a featured guest artist on the website of multi-platinum recording artist Jewel. Jewel's site stated: "Beautifully moody or riotously rocking, Allison Crowe creates piano-based music of transcendent quality."

Combining classical virtuosity with the improvisational qualities of jazz and the power and energy of gospel and rock at its most visceral, she's been called "a force of nature" by critics who've found her original voice impossible to pigeonhole. As one newspaper reviewer said of Crowe's sound: "Make your own comparisons, then forget them."

Music is as elemental to Allison Crowe as breathing. And she's grateful for the opportunities that music provides her - to contribute to the global causes of peace and justice, and to aid community-based groups dealing with various issues including mental health, anti-violence, cancer and MS.

» "Whether I'm Wrong" by Allison Crowe Band
» "Angel" by Allison Crowe Band

Exclusive Q And A
Q:  What does "peace" mean to you?
A:  Peace means a certain sense of quiet. No violence. Using your brain instead of reacting with your fists. A state of mind and a statement of humanity.

Q:  You're from Nanaimo, BC, Canada... home to another great Canadian talent, Diana Krall. Ever bump into her on the streets?
A:  Can't say I've ever bumped into Diana, no! Though I did share a stage with her a couple of years ago for a television station opening concert/celebration, and that was really cool. I was the supporting act. And we do share a birthday, November 16th. I found that out by going online on my birthday and checking out the "famous birthdays". It was a bit shocking!

Q:  At 22, you're probably one of the youngest songwriters/artists we have featured on our web site. I believe our oldest is Jane Heald at 72 years young. Do you think you'll be singing and writing songs 50 years from now?
A:  I don't think that I have a choice in the matter. Barring unforeseen circumstances, I most definitely will be singing and writing songs 50 years from now. Whether it's just for myself or still for a living, I have to make music. It keeps me (somewhat) sane.

Q:  What do you hope to achieve in your musical career?
A:  I hope to be able to travel and see the world, and get to sing and play for people while doing it. I also hope to show that you can succeed by being yourself and not being afraid to take a stand. I also hope to be able to help people in need. I hope to give people something to relate to in my lyrics, to give them a voice.

Q:  Last year, you walked away from a very lucrative record deal with a major recording company. What happened there?
A:  We were in talks with a record company up until August of last year. Negotiations had started almost a year before. Near the end, it became apparent that they wanted to change my music, change me, and get rid of my band and manager. And I wasn't about to do that. So I basically said "no, thank you" and walked away. If someone wants me to be me, I'm happy to work with them. It didn't end with a deal but without exploring it, we would always have wondered if it could have worked. So, it was good experience.

Q:  Who influenced you musically in your younger years and who do you look to for inspiration now?
A:  I've studied classical piano and voice (and still do) but my original songs are based on a wide range of popular music genres. Beethoven is one of my favourite musicians (with a messed up life) and Leonard Cohen writes awesome lyrics. In my younger years, I listened to a lot of the same people that I do now; Tori Amos, Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Ani DiFranco. While in my REALLY younger years, I listened to Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits and Elton John as well; the rock that my parents listened to.

I'd say that Ani is a huge inspiration to me. I see her as a model of what I'd like to do with my career and how I'd like to do it. She has succeeded commercially while maintaining her autonomy and integrity. I've been told her case is the exception, not the rule in today's music industry but what if it was the rule? How great would that be?

Q:  You had your own hour-long TV special on some Canadian channels a few months ago. What was that experience like?
A:  In a word, it was SCARY. It was also completely amazing that the New VI (part of the CHUM media network) did that for us. We are so lucky and have been given so many great opportunities that it baffles my mind sometimes. The production experience was great as it helped us learn what to do and what not to do in the future. It was really great camera experience - something I don't have a lot of!

Q:  You recently contributed a solo rendition of "Let It Be" to the "It Was 40 Years Ago Today" Beatles tribute compilation album and you recorded it in a single take. Are you a huge Beatles fan and is that your favourite Beatles song?
A:  I am a huge Beatles fan but I'd have to say that, while it is one of my favourite Beatles songs, I don't think I could choose any one song as my favourite. I like the feeling of calm around "Let It Be". I'm also a fan of "Norwegian Wood", "I Am the Walrus" and "Across the Universe".

I like the Beatles because they were, basically, all great writers and their music is so universal. As an aside, one of my favourite songs when I was little was "I've Got My Mind Set On You" which I didn't realize was by George Harrison until just recently!

Q:  As a treat to our readers, can you tell us something that you've never publicly admitted to before?
A:  Dolphins and polar bears are my favourite animals. And at certain points of my life when I get stressed out, I wish I could be either of those. I also have a love for teddy bears; in particular, Care Bears and Sleepy Time Bear. And a favourite Ben and Jerry's ice-cream flavour is mint chocolate cookie.

I don't think I've ever publicly admitted to any of these things before but, I must say, I feel a lot better. And hungrier.

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