Kyler England & Alissa Moreno, Los Angeles, July 14, 2007
Without a Billboard-sponsored assignment on the calendar for the second consecutive week, I made arrangements to check out Kyler England and Alissa Moreno on a Saturday night. Having listened to both artists' music through their MySpace pages, iTunes, personal sites, and demos provided to me, I was already a big fan of both. While Kyler and Alissa were different in style, neither was likely to start waving bandanas and krumping all over the stage to get me hyped. I went into tonight's show needing a bit of a boost, especially after inadvertently falling asleep on the beach earlier in the day, successfully sponging UV rays out of the atmosphere and earning myself a tan Hellboy would have been jealous of. Thankfully, by the end of the night, I would witness one of my favorite shows I have attended in 23 years of life.
Before England took the stage, the upstairs lounge area was already surprisingly lively and near-capacity, which, so far, has proven to be a rarity. I spotted Kyler whose musical style is inspired by Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan, from my single candlelit front row seat, interacting with friends and fans at the bar. When I approached the bar to order my usual glass of water, England, who has recently had five of her songs featured on long-running soap Guiding Light, surprised me by walking over and introducing herself. Apparently, my fashionably dorky notebook, cell phone, and initials-laden clothing were a dead giveaway. I was flattered and impressed that she took the time to pick me out of the dimly lit lounge to say hello. After our brief introduction, England's brief warm up off stage, which was so good it could have been recorded and released as a single, could be heard over the lively conversations going on behind me and I immediately realized this was going to be a great night. In no way did Kyler or Alissa disappoint my unfairly high expectations for the night.
Opening up her ten song set, Kyler's first song "Clean Slate," which I heard on the radio later that night, managed to quiet the various conversations going on throughout the room in seconds. The whole room became infatuated with her performance - a trend that would continue throughout the night. "Clean Slate" was a perfect song to display her clear, confident voice, and her acoustic guitar was accompanied by some spot-on harmonies that made for a strong opening. The audience returned Kyler's efforts by cheering raucously, clapping and wooing at the song's conclusion. This might not seem so remarkable, but in a venue more accustomed to simple appreciative applause than "Take your shirt off, spin it around your head like a helicopter!" (what up Petey Pablo) performances have to be beyond just good to warrant this kind of response. If everyone in a large arena cheered with the enthusiasm of this crowd, you'd think it was Game 7 of the World Series, the Olympics Medal Ceremony, the final match of the World Cup, or Nathan's 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest (big ups to Joey Chestnut; Kobayashi had it comin’).
Kyler followed up her first performance with a song she called her "only happy love song," entitled "Sweet Spot." I couldn't have been more impressed with how powerful and pitch-perfect Kyler's voice was all night. "Quittin' Time" was a ballad with a more country-like vibe than the first two songs and utilized more of
Next up were "Lay It On Me" and "Begin Again," which were both more upbeat and pop-like. Both songs showed Kyler's command over her vocals, even when there was heavy use of the upper register of her voice, as was the case in "Begin Again." I was blown away song after song with how perfect Kyler's vocals were. Incredibly, England, whose warm personality came through during her interaction with the audience between songs, got the venue's typically mellow crowd to join her in singing not only "Begin Again," but the chorus of "All I've Got" as well, while England herself tore it up with some passionate runs to close out the song. I don't want to toot my own horn (insert obvious joke here), especially since Alissa Moreno had since arrived (now take that joke deeper), but I feel compelled to say that England had me singing so passionately I almost wet myself (aaaaaand let's hear it for double entendres!).
Finishing out the show with the ballads "Simple Machine" and "No More Sad Songs," Kyler saved the best for last with what I felt like was the most impressive performance of the night so far. I loved every piece in her ten song set; on no less than four separate occasions, I wrote in my notebook, "This is my favorite song of the set." England's time on stage felt like one of the fastest hours of my life, because her voice seemed to convert all of us from casual fans to hardcore groupies, groupies who would help carry her guitar cases, who would untangle her audio cords, who would do her laundry, mix sugar and cream into her coffee, and massage her beautiful (I can only assume) feet with unworthy elbows. With the recent release of her new record "Live Wire Volume 2..." and her upcoming East Coast Tour, I have no doubt that Kyler will continue to win over anyone who has the privilege of seeing her perform.
After Kyler left the stage, Alissa Moreno took her place and continued the night's incredible performances with an unbelievable vocal display, beginning with her warm up and mic check. I do not exaggerate when I say that Moreno's mic check/warm up was so impressive and so beautiful that I would readily blast a full track of her simply humming and singing "la la la" while playing the piano and guitar - it was that good. It's notable that Moreno's music, alongside that of Lifehouse and New Found Glory, has been featured on MTV's "Laguna Beach" and "The Hills," both of which feature the dreamy Lauren Conrad, and both of which, therefore, are two of my most favoritest, like, shows. I anxiously waited for Moreno to begin, wrestling with visions of Kristin Cavallari stealing the hearts of Laguna and Lauren Conrad exclaiming in disgust "Heidi, he is a sucky person!!" at her former roommate's relationship with boyfriend Spencer.
Seated at a piano, Alissa opened up the show with "Keeping Mine" and "Better," her vocals filled with emotion and all eyes transfixed on her. In "Keeping Mine," Alissa handled some difficult high notes amazingly and let loose a powerful chorus, showing the audience that she wasn't holding anything back tonight. What set Alissa apart was that her voice had a low and raspy Vanessa Carlton-like lower range that was easy on the ears, but her upper range was just as strong and revealed a deeper dimension to her music. It was also difficult not to get caught up in the emotional lyrics of her songs.
After performing "I'll Take It," which was a quintessential example of her near incomparable vocal flexibility, Alissa introduced "Far From Here," a song that is currently being used on promos for Lifetime's show "Army Wives." She said that she wrote the song as a "survival guide" for different points in her life, but that the song has taken on a completely different meaning since being associated with the television show. From the song's haunting piano intro to its triumphant chorus, Alissa poured her heart into each note she sung and each of the ivory keys before her, pulling the audience along with her. For those of us familiar with the song, it was a treat to hear it live, and this improvised version was perhaps even better than the original.
Alissa switched over to the acoustic guitar to perform "Come Undone" and "I Know You," which revealed that she was just as comfortable on guitar as she was on piano. Particularly with "I Know You," her voice displayed a contrast of power and sensitivity that was truly special to hear. As she scanned the crowded room, Alissa's vocals and sincere face mesmerized the audience, who were eagerly devouring every note. At one point, Alissa's gaze wandered over and focused directly on me, causing me to drop my pen and freeze like I sharted in my boxers. I told myself, "Ok, professionalism, gotta step up..." but let's be honest here... Alissa is absolutely stunning, the type of girl even gay fathers would high-five their sons about if they brought her home, so if I have to defend my "just got caught tooting my own horn" look in return for a few stolen moments with this modern day Siren, so be it. Not going to lie, the "ice box where my heart used to be (I'm so cold...I'm so cold... I'm so cold)" melted a little bit in that moment (thou knowest my pain, brother Omarion).
Switching back to the piano, Alissa performed "How Far I'll Go," which had a very dark and dominant melody. With "How Far I'll Go" and "Wildfires," her final song, it was even more obvious that Alissa never lets up or shies away from the big notes. The moment you forget how powerful her voice is, or how diverse her range, she'll do something again to remind you. In "Wildfires," for example, when Alissa played the piano better with one hand than I ever managed to play with two, she closed out her set with a huge bridge and final chorus that would stay with the audience for the whole drive home. She was incredibly gracious for the audience's spirited applause, and it was apparent to me that there would have been no complaints had she decided to perform for another hour.
It's a rare moment when you go to a live show and can say that it compared to some of the best you have ever had the opportunity to see. Both Kyler, with her crisp vocals, beautiful melodies, and studio-perfect sound, and Alissa, whose passion, vocal range, and stage presence was an absolute joy for the audience, were incredible tonight. For some of us, there are certain acts that we try and catch every time they're in town, and we'll even drive long distances to see them perform the same show we've seen before; tonight, both became those acts for me. With new music available and forthcoming for both established artists, I can't wait to see them again. In the immortal words of American Idol's Randy Jackson, "Yo yo yo yo, dawg dawg dawg, yous in it to win it tonight. Welcome to the dogg pound! Because that performance was hot tonight, dawg. I don't know, Paula?" Yes, it was that damn good.
I also had the opportunity to sit down with Alissa Moreno to do a brief Q&A session after the show and the transcript is included below.
DC: We’re here with Alissa Moreno for Billboard’s Mobile Beat. Congratulations on a great set tonight and thank you so much for taking a minute to sit down with us today.
AM: Great, thank you!
DC: Could you introduce yourself to any of our readers? Where did you grow up and how would you describe your sound to new listeners?
AM: I would say that my sound is inspired by where I come from, which is the Southwest. I lived on a small Navajo Indian reservation, which always lends itself to a light Southern feeling in my music. I’m not a country artist by any means, but I have a pop-sound to go along with it. I grew up in New Mexico until I was about twenty years old, then I headed out to Hawaii for a vacation that ended up turning into a living situation for about a year. I had always wanted to live by the ocean and it gave me the opportunity to find my voice as a songwriter, not just be a performer, or an actor – it was great! I played many instruments, acted in theatre, and I sang in rock bands or anything else, but I got to piece that all together once I got to the ocean. I realized that I could have my perfect life there in Kona, where no one knows me, but I decided to get my act together and come to LA.
DC: You’ve been doing a lot of traveling and spending a lot of time in the studio lately. Can you tell us what you’ve been working on and what we can be looking for from you in the near future?
AM: One of the coolest things going on lately has just been with TV and film placement. There’s a new show that Lifetime put on called “Army Wives,” and they needed a song that wasn’t really a theme song, because it doesn’t have one. But they were looking for a song that thematically went with the show – for promos, radio, and TV – they wanted a song [Far From Here] to go with it and that’s mine! That is so exciting for me, especially because it’s one of my favorite songs.
There’s also a pretty big country group that will be coming out with a new CD later this year that will be featuring one of my songs, which has just been huge for me. I have been working on that with one of my friends, Jeff Steele [Rascal Flatts, Faith Hill] and I’ve actually been traveling back and forth to do some writing lately. We’re really excited about it.
DC: On top of that, you have your own CD coming out soon?
AM: I do! I’ve been in the studio for six months now trying to finish my record. I just have so many years of demo deals, soundtracks, a project I worked on with Interscope, and a little EP on iTunes – I just had so many songs, but I think that’s a great problem that not everyone gets to have. It’s turning out wonderful and we’re really excited about it.
DC: While I’m pretty familiar with your music at this point, for people who haven’t heard you, who can people compare you to before picking up your new CD?
AM: I would have to say that it’s a marriage of Tori Amos, Alanis Morissette, and some of my biggest influences – Bjork, Sinead O’Connor, and I would throw some Sarah McLachlan in there.
DC: In terms of your songwriting, you’ve worked with some amazing songwriters that have worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. Do you consider yourself more of a songwriter or a performer at this point?
AM: I’ve never actually really considered myself to primarily be a songwriter, which is funny because that’s where the money came [first] *laughs*. At that point, I just had to go with it. I think my first real “big thing” was a TV theme song, which was interesting because I thought, “Wow, I just wrote this song and another person is getting her huge break from it” *laughs*. In terms of where I’m the happiest, it’s definitely when I’m on stage. I was pretty shy as a child and it’s kind of turned into “my place” where I can express myself.
DC: You wrote and sang the theme song to “Hope and Faith” starring Kelly Ripa on ABC, how was it seeing that the first time? Did you have a viewing party or anything?
AM: Yep, that was my big TV moment. Initially, I got kicked off because they wanted to break in a new artist, but people in NY said that they loved my version of the song. It ended up that we were both on the song, when I was thinking that I was off and that this new sixteen year old girl was going to take my spot. I invited everyone over, not even knowing if my voice was going to be on [the show’s opening]. I put it all on my credit card, without even getting paid yet because sometimes music pays about a year later, but we were out by the pool with family and friends waiting for the show to start. I told everyone that it started at eight, so we all ran in and turned on the TV and the show wasn’t on, because apparently it didn’t come on until nine! It was a little anticlimactic!
DC: You were Ben Affleck’s vocal coach for Hollywoodland. I’m sure that a lot of people are going to be wondering how he was as a person and how that experience was for you?
AM: *Laughs* I was! It was incredible. I used to teach voice, piano, guitar, and songwriting and I had a pretty specific crowd that I worked with in the West LA area. So when Ben found out that he was going to have to sing for a track on this film, he wanted someone who was used to pretty high profile situations. I had never worked with anyone that high profile! But he was just wonderful. We trained out here for a month or so, then he said, “You know what, why don’t you just come up while we’re shooting?” So I continued to work with him while we were shooting in the studio and on set.
DC: Was he the dreamboat that every girl thinks he is?
AM: Yes! *laughs* In real life, he’s about ten times better looking than he is on screen. I would have to catch myself while I was sitting there at the piano trying not to stare *laughs*. It was great.
DC: With so much going on recently, what are the moments that still manage to take your breath away or still manage to be those surreal moments?
AM: One thing that always still surprises is something like hearing my voice in a movie theater. Going and seeing a movie, then getting to hear the song that I wrote for it, all the way to seeing my name in the rolling credits, that never gets old *laughs*. My first label release was on Interscope, it was down to the wire with me and Kelly Clarkson. We thought, “Forget it, it’s over. There’s no way if we’re up against Kelly Clarkson.” But then Felice [Keller] my manager, got the call and we couldn’t believe it!
DC: Your EP is out on iTunes, CD coming out next month, where can people check out your music right now and will you be on tour?
AM: The best thing is to go to http://www.alissamoreno.com and a few of my songs are on MySpace. For the tour, we’re going to do a soft release in August and see if or who we need to make a deal with or if we’re going to go through a distributor – whether that’s major or something else. So we’re looking into as the date gets closer.
DC: This was an incredibly exciting night for me because I am probably the biggest fan of MTV reality shows in the whole world. How was it seeing your name next to Lifehouse and New Found Glory on the Laguna soundtrack? Do you watch either of these shows?
AM: I love them! When my roommate and I found out my song was going to be on the show [Laguna]
DC: Your songs have been featured on “The Hills” lately, do you know exactly where your songs come up on each of the shows? I know if it was my song, I would know it down to the second.
AM: *Laughs* I think so! The one that sticks out to me the most was the premiere of “The Hills” and it was such a big deal for me! The song was “A Place For Me,” which says “I know there’s got to be, a place for me” in the chorus, and we got the contract negotiated and everything and it was so huge for me! And it’s the beginning of the show and LC [Lauren Conrad] is driving to the new big city and my song comes on, but the chorus didn’t even end up playing! But it was still exciting.
DC: You said during your show that it was great to be in front of a live crowd again and getting away from being in the studio. How was it to play in front of a crowd again, especially in a more intimate venue like tonight?
AM: I love playing in smaller venues. It’s so great to have a real piano too. I love it when I can play solo and just talk to the audience, where it’s not too huge. I just get really fueled by the reciprocal exchange that goes on between me and the audience while I’m on stage. That’s something that really gets lost in the studio. I am just such a perfectionist, which can make you miserable in the studio sometimes *laughs*, but I think we’re just putting out such a strong record so I hope it’s worthwhile.
DC: Are there any collaborations on the new CD in terms of singing or songwriting?
AM: I have Miles Zuniga from Fastball on the record. Working with him has been pretty excellent, just singing and playing, but there might be a few more guest appearances on there as well.
DC: My favorite tracks of yours are “One More Day” and “I’ll Take My Chances,” two hugely different songs. One is more of an emotional ballad, while another is more of a happier, pop song, what should we expect from you on the new CD?
AM: The new record is going to be a little more mature as far as my songwriting style goes. The feel is light, that’s always been my goal. I want people to feel free to cry and be able to think about how they feel about life and loss, but I want the CD to make people feel good in the end.
DC: I have to throw in that I think you’re one artist that actually manages to be just as, if not even better looking in real life as you are in pictures.
AM: Oh cool! *laughs* Well, thank you!
DC: Thank you so much Alissa for taking a second to sit down with me today and best of luck with the new record, touring, and all your other projects.
AM: Thank you!