Interview: Jocelyn Alice

During Jocelyn Alice's last visit to her hometown of Calgary, we had the chance to sit down and chat with her about all things Calgary - from the Stampede, to the music scene, as well as what it's like to be signed to a label and the high stakes of breaking into the American music industry.


How does it feel to be back home?

It feels really special this time. I always get a little bit nervous to come home because more people know who I am here than anywhere else, and sometimes the attention is difficult for me, but I kind of just embraced it this time. Being on the Stampede stage two years after I had played twice a day, every day - I worked with the same crew last night. They had told me two years ago, “you’re gonna have your own show here one day and it’s gonna be amazing!” So here I am. I was very excited for this trip.

How was having your own show on the Coca Cola Stage at the Stampede?

Euphoric. I honestly felt like I could do no wrong. I did anything, or said anything and [the crowd] were just like “Woo!” It’s a pretty powerful feeling. It’s a nice reminder - being in America for as long as I have and trying to build something from scratch - coming back and being reminded that I have a career here and that people care still, it’s lovely.

What prompted your move to America, was it to try and build your career?

Yeah, I had signed with a label in New York, and assumed I would move there, but they were like “no, you gotta be in L.A.” That’s where all the songwriters are, and I’m a songwriter first and foremost, that’s kinda the root of everything I do and the reason for everything. It was a scary move, and it’s still scary. It’s a very big city and it’s lonely, I miss my family and friends, but I kind of understand it’s a sacrifice I’m making right now and it’s really paying off. The songs are really good, I hope. I’m excited. I was talking to a friend of mine today who’s known me for many years, and he was asking: "is your life really that different than it was a year ago?” and it’s utterly different. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for two years, I haven’t had a home for two years, I’ve been in more places in the last 6 months than I’ve been in my whole life, and I’m making music that I’ve always dreamt of making, and it’s all thanks to this one song. It’s a real testament, in my opinion, to sharing your art and trusting that you’ve worked hard enough that it will connect with people. 

You’ve had a lot of Canadian and Calgary artists back you up as well.

Yeah, I’ve been meeting a lot of really cool people in the last little while. The coolest part is that the Canadian gigs I’ve been playing, it’s kind of always the same artists - I’ve played three shows with Shawn Hook. It’s cool to just see the band and it’s like this little family. 

I feel like there's definitely that bubble of Canadian artists as it's really hard to break into the American scene.

Part of me feels like, of course I want to share my music with as many people as I can, that’s the goal. If I only continue to have a career here and it doesn’t work [in America] then I’m really okay with that because this country is incredible and I’m very proud of the career I’ve had here. We’re chasing this thing and it’s a lot of work, it’s exciting and there’s a lot happening, but I’m not really attached to any of that. If it happens, it happens.

How did you get into music?

I had this music teacher in elementary school, I had a hard time with teachers - I was a real handful. She would make me do solos in the choir instead of punishing me. It was the first time in my life where I was like wow, all this energy that I’ve struggled with - that I’ve been told was a negative, kind of a downfall of my personality - is now the opposite and is a way that I can use it instead of being used by it. I spent the next 15 years singing and playing cover shows - I was on a reality TV show when I was 16 and had some really great success and it was a really cool time in my life, I learned a lot, but I wasn’t songwriting. I stopped singing because I was never that person that just loved to sing, it was always disconnected for me, so I took a few years off - I didn’t open my mouth, I almost got married when I was 18 and went through this whole weird phase of my life and then I joined a band and started writing and that was where it was really like, “oh.” If I write the music and get to say what I wanna say, then I like to sing. If I don’t, then I don’t really wanna sing. Knowing that has grounded me in some incredible ways.

When did you decide you wanted to pursue it as more of a full time job?

I can remember being 20 and just starting to write and play gigs and it’s hard. I knew that it was gonna be a really long road ahead of me. I had this really funny thought of, there’s nothing else I wanna do. And it really was kind of that simple, it wasn’t this big, I’m gonna do this, it was just, I don’t really have any other choices that seem better. Then it kinda turned into this purpose and it made a lot of sense in a lot of different waysfor me, but initially it was just kind of like, I don’t think I wanna do any of those [other] things, so I just started pursuing it. I think it was about when I was 23 or 24, I had some placements in Pretty Little Liars and One Tree Hill and kind of had the taste of being a professional songwriter, and that was where I was like, okay, I’m doing this. And it still took me 4 or 5 years after that to do [music] full time - it’s a tough thing to transition into. I’m feeling very lucky. It’s a cool reminder too at Stampede, because two years ago I got fired from my serving job. I was completely overworked, and I was overtired, and I was honestly just a raging bitch. My attitude was so stank and I deserved to be fired and they gave me this opportunity that I could come back if I needed to, but they wanted to let me go to do the music thing. I probably would have stayed longer than I needed to. Ship & Anchor was a huge jumping off point for me and I’m very lucky to have worked there.

During Reuben and the Dark’s show this week, I know you joined them on stage along with Michael Bernard Fitzgerald and Reuben’s brother. Did you know about these musicians while living in Calgary or did you find out about them later on?

I’ve actually known Michael Bernard Fitzgerald for 7 or 8 years, we met in L.A for the first time oddly enough. He was writing there, I was writing there so we both linked up, and my bass player was his bass player for a long time so we kinda shared bands. Reuben used to curate the music for Market Collective, and Market Collective was the first place where I started to play live with instruments, and he would book me, so I’ve known him for ages. I actually took over that job for him and curated music for a while. It’s been cool to have him and kind of know that there’s someone else in a similar position as me in Calgary. He signed to a label and is chasing this thing and so am I - I had him at my show last night as well. It was nice to just chat about the struggles and the things that no one really hears about. I feel like social media looks a certain way, but in the background, there’s a lot of shit. There’s a lot of work, a lot of long hours, and trying to work with people that you’re frustrated with or trying to work with yourself when you’re frustrated with yourself. I’m very proud of him and excited to see what he’s gonna do in the next little while.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Alberta’s music scene?

I had a really cool experience of gigging initially in Calgary. I played a weekly gig at a place called Classic Jack’s that doesn’t exist anymore, and I played there every Wednesday for two years. It allowed me to learn who I was a a performer and face challenges on stage, and how to handle things - how to handle a crowd, hauling gear every night and doing your own sound - all these extra things that you don’t really think about when you’re doing a show. I think the beautiful thing about Calgary is that there’s more venues than musicians, so there’s so many opportunities to play live. When I moved to Toronto it was devastating to realize that it is incredibly hard to play live in Toronto because there’s so much competition. I think there’s a reason why there’s so many incredible musicians coming out of here, because it’s a breeding ground for being fostered as an artist and I just love coming back here.

Would you say it’s gotten bigger compared to when you were growing up?

I was so disconnected from the live music scene until I was 20. I used to play shows where I would show up with a CD player and karaoke music, and would press play, and I would sing to karaoke tracks - I wasn’t legit. I do know that the Feist’s and Tegan and Sara’s have opened some crazy doors for us. I remember when Tegan and Sara played Coachella a few years ago and I was like, “I’m gonna do that.” Last night, this girl Clea who plays in Raleigh, told me how happy she was for me and to see a Calgarian doing what I’m doing. It’s so nice to have that support. I’ve always felt a lot of love with the artists, but I didn’t really think about it [growing up], I was just in my bedroom practicing as a kid.

Are there any local songwriters you’d like to work with?

I just contacted Danny Vacon (The Dudes) to be on a song of mine. He’s always been my favourite male singer. I’ll always sing along to his songs and our voices sound great together. I’ve been waiting for the right song to approach him and I feel like I have it now, so I’m really excited about that one.

You recently signed with Sony Music affiliate Disruptor Records. How did that come about?

I was very lucky, I had a gold single in Canada before I signed with a label. I was indie forever, and I had a handful of labels after me. I really got to take my time and pick the people I felt the best with. I really didn’t care about their resume - I just wanted it to feel good, and it has. I feel really grateful for the team I have. 

How does it feel to be signed to such a big label?

Daunting, it’s scary. Initially, I was nervous. It took me a long time to get used to the fact that there was so many people on my team, but now I’m quite comforted with that, because I realize I get to be an artist and I don’t have to worry about other things now. It frees up so much space. If you align with the right people and trust your team, things will work out.

What do you have planned for the rest of the year?

Some gigs in Canada to finish off the summer, and then I’m going back to Nashville, Vegas, L.A and Toronto for a bit to do some writing, and then hopefully play some more shows here and there and I’ll be happy!


 

 

Mary

Mary McComish is a journalist, music junkie, vegetarian, feminist and social media queen. She received her print journalism diploma from Lethbridge (yes, where Marilyn Manson was punched in the face) College and, since then, has freelanced as both a journalist and a graphic designer.