Allysha Joy - The power of lyricism, diversity in music and 'Light it Again' (Feature Interview)
Allysha Joy is a soul-infused singer-songwriter based in Melbourne, best known for her work with the 30/70 Collective. Having recently released her EP 'Light It Again' with First Word Records (produced by Hiatus Kaiyote's Clever Austin), Ally sat down with Allysha to talk about the project, the power of lyricism, diversity in the music industry and the thriving Melbourne scene.
Allysha Joy – singer, poet and creative – is one of the central figures of the contemporary Melbourne scene. Mirroring the new wave soul-jazz sound of the city, her utterly distinctive husky vocals guide the way with the 30/70 Collective, in addition to her solo work. As I recently touched upon with Horatio Luna – one of Allysha’s close musical allies - the Melbourne scene is bursting with originality, facilitated by a close-knit creative community, one which allows Allysha to artistically thrive. “The musicians in Melbourne are so incredibly talented and hardworking,” Allysha tells me, “and especially in 30/70, I've had the absolute honour pleasure to work with the same crew of people for like four or five years, and really build a way of communicating musically together, that has made collaborating like just kind of effortless. We are all on the same page in a way that has enabled us to make some really incredible art…I’m just so grateful for those opportunities.”
Like with all musicians and creatives, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to challenges, but also opportunities. Thinking about 2020, Allysha reveals “I've always been really deep in the live scene like that's been a large part of my identity. As an artist and as a human that's where I want to be, I want to be interacting with people in the moment and sharing in a visceral way, like feeling the energy and the response of the audience. But at the same time, it has been so refreshing to take a break. And to just cool out for a moment, I've been working really hard for the past, like, five years with 30/70 and with my own project. And, I think, a little bit, I needed permission to slow down.”
As an artist based in Melbourne, Allysha has established a remarkable connection to the UK and London scene, even planning to move to the UK once the balance of the world has settled. 30/70 released their first Rhythm Section project at the tail end of 2017, with Allysha releasing her debut album the following the year via Manchester’s Gondwana Records, before going on to command a key role in Brownswood Records’ Sunny Side Up. Revealing the origins of her ties to the UK, Allysha explains “we signed to Rhythm Section and at the time, that was such a huge goal of ours to be on a label with Bradley Zero and to get our music beyond the Australian audience. I think is really huge for musicians in this scene, because it is more insular. It's harder to connect with a global market like Australia is quite isolated in that way…And then and now I feel like I have one foot in each door. I just love being a part of the UK scene. I love the music that's coming out. I feel so blessed as well to have radio shows on Reform Radio and on Worldwide FM and to be presenting Australian music and to kind of strengthen that connection, because it means so much for Australian musicians to get their music heard by a global market…It's amazing as musicians to be able to, to speak and to engage with a wider pool of people and to kind of just connect”
Despite playing such a key role within 30/70, Allysha’s solo projects present a different opportunity, admitting that “in so many ways, it's been really liberating”. Developing this, she says “I think, especially as a female artist, being able to really represent myself on stage and off stage is incredibly empowering, and also incredibly challenging. I'm really grateful for that opportunity. But it also makes me more grateful of how much the guys in 30/70 have my back, because I think as, as a female artist in the industry, sometimes I feel like I have to work like twice as hard...For that reason, and just having the support of everyone around. But at the same time, in my own project, I'm able to write songs that maybe go a little bit deeper into the female experience or my own personal experience, tracks like ‘Orbit’ (Sunny Side Up) that are about menstruation and periods and cycles and tracks like ‘Light It Again’, which is really based within my own female experience of mental health. I feel like I'm able to offer a more personal view on feminine experiences, which, yes, is really is really empowering. I hope it's empowering to listen to for others than for other musicians to see the women in the industry, playing an instrument and touring. Like, I tour a lot of the time I do it on my own. I produce. It's empowering for me to see other women do that. So, I hope that it's empowering for in the same way for other women to see myself do that. I think that's why I've pushed through the struggle, to hope that it will be received in that way that it will be empowering for others.”
The course of 2020 led many to stop and think about the world around us. With events such as the wave of Black Lives Matters protests, many of us have become even more aware of the imbalances within society and the industries we operate in. Reflecting on the music industry over the past few years, Allysha signifies that “there's definitely been an increase in diversity within the scene. And I think of course there's more work to be done. There's definitely more work to be done. It feels like, for me, we're at this stage where a lot of it can be performative. And there needs to be a focus equally on what's happening behind the scenes as to what's happening… I would love to be working with more female record label managers, more female managers, more female publishers and are not a non-binary and, you know, to see that diversity happen behind what you receive as the listener because that would really change the experience for the artists. I think part of the problem is that I experienced it myself. Sometimes, I just get kind of bogged down in the experience of being an artist, that it kind of becomes too challenging to participate, because that isn't the support that's necessary happening behind the scenes. So, I think that's a lot where the change needs to happen now.”
Those who are familiar with Allysha’s work understand what a powerful lyricist she is. Allysha’s emotive lyrics cover many subjects and Light It Again certainly reflects this, covering messages of mental health, love, power, desire and hope for change. “I've thought so much about lyricism and poetry and art in general,” she reveals. The act of writing these lyrics offers a level of solace. “It's the healing that I receive from being able to express and organise my thoughts and the catharsis of it flowing out of me and creating something new. And then the next stage of sharing that art, whatever it is that you've created, I've come to the conclusion now that I hope that that is where it is healing for the listener. And in that, I always feel like I don't want to give away too much about the personal experience behind what is written because I want the listener to interpret it in a way that's meaningful for them. And in a way, that will allow them to incorporate their own personal experience and their understanding of life and to share in this way feels like the most healing that it can be. I think poetry and writing, for me now, is just about facilitating a conversation between my soul and the listener's soul and speaking at that level.” Underlining this, Allysha explains “I find myself gravitating towards this kind of message-based music and really speaking to something quite deep, a deeper experience.”
Writing and recording such inward-looking themes offers different experiences to artists. Allysha outlines that expressing her thoughts in such a raw manner “can be really emotionally challenging, to be open to, to that energy and to be open to speaking vulnerably and coming to terms with the way that you feel. And that can be emotionally quite draining. And, as a highly sensitive and attuned person, I guess that's why I've come into music because it allows me that space to purge my feelings to have that catharsis and, and that relief. Yeah, and at other times, it feels like the most organic, natural, free and easy experience, and sometimes words just flow and other times words, need to be massaged out into the world.” However, when these songs are finished and when performing her music, Allysha’s words “start to take on their own meaning or they become tied into past memories of performing the songs or they become like healing in a completely new way where I can start to separate myself from the experience. And it just becomes its own sort of little entity that just floats off into the world and you can say goodbye and it's really beautiful.”
One thing you notice when listening to Allysha’s work is her distinguishing ability to deliver her powerful lyrics. Unravelling her approach, she describes that “I grew up listening to a lot of jazz. I grew up listening to people like Charles Mingus, Ella Fitzgerald and Herbie Hancock from quite a young age. And then I got more into Erykah Badu and Jill Scott and Georgia Anne Muldrow.” This strong, jazz-influenced musical background was matched by a spiritual one, having grown up singing in the church through strong familial ties. “I guess that's also really kind of informed the way that I perform,” Allysha tells me. “That's how I think about it now, or a community or the listeners, in a way that it's like speaking to their soul and to their heart. I think a lot of what I hope to do in music and a lot of what's come out of growing up in a church speaking to people, hearts and souls. And that's kind of more of what I want to do and more of what I want to learn how to do effectively.”
Following on from her 2018 album Acadie:Raw, Light It Again has been in the pipeline for a number of years, with Allysha teaming up with Hiatus Kaiyote’s Clever Austin to produce the record. “Perrin Morris (Clever Austin) asked me if I'd like to work on a project, and it's the first time that he has recorded and like, engineered, produced and mixed anything that's not Hiatus Kaiyote or any other band. So, for him, he was quite nervous and excited. And of course, so was I. So, we kind of just really took our time with it and learnt from each other, how to go about the process of collaborating in this way.”
Pondering over the creation of Light It Again, Allysha recounted that Clever Austin “taught me so much about just becoming more confident in being self-taught. That was a really big one because he is self-taught in production and in playing. And just his humility, and owning that and kind of encouraging me to, to go deeper into production and into playing keys and whatever I'm doing, and just figure it out myself and come up with new creative ways to do that is super inspiring.”
Calling upon her regular Melbourne-based cohort of Horatio Luna, Danika Smith, Josh Kelly and Ziggy Zeitgeist, the process of creating Light It Again seemed to be wholly organic, in having “such a strong foundation together, it's enabled us to kind of stretch the limitations and stretch each other and push each other to go harder and learn more and just be more in the moment and listen to each other...we're all really bold musicians, we don't shy away from challenging sounds. So, I think that really made it something special.”
Allysha Joy's 'Light It Again' is out now via First Word Records.
You can buy or stream Light it Again here.
Keep up-to-date with Allysha Joy via her socials and website: