by Janet Goodman
This time of year most 17-year old girls are thinking about things like final exams, boys and senior prom dresses. Very few are also pondering which songs to include on a debut follow-up album. Westchester County, New York native Ali Isabella is one of those select teenagers who are knee-deep in the business of making music, as well as in the business-as-usual of an average high school student; but average she is not.
With runway-model good looks and the poise of someone much older, the singer/songwriter has been chip chipping away at carving a name for herself in the competitive world of contemporary pop music for most of her teens. Last year she released “Say You’ll Be Mine” – an album on which she wrote or co-wrote seven of the nine tracks. The first single off the record, “New York City Country Girl,” spent four weeks at #1 on the Billboard Country Hot Singles Sales chart. Add to her resume headlining at coveted pre-Grammy parties and having the distinction of being the youngest-ever performer at London’s Wembley Arena when she opened for Reba McEntire and Lonestar.
Janet Goodman recently spoke with this rising artist who may, at times, give a sweetly shy giggle like any young girl, but who maturely knows who she is and where she is going.
I’ve been listening to your songs lately and they’ve been running through my head. You’ve got infectious melodies and a really recognizable pop sound. You should be really proud of your efforts.
Thank you (laughs).
After graduating, are you planning to attend Belmont University in the fall? That’s a good school and you’d be in the thick of things there in Nashville.
I definitely want to go there eventually.
What is it like to write with hit songwriters? Is it scary and intimidating? Fun and a learning experience?
I’m not scared at all. I write with Chas Sanford a lot when I’m in Nashville. I really look up to him and always learn something new when I write with him. [Sanford co-penned the John Waite hit song, “Missing You.” Ali has also worked with Marty Dodson (“Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right”) and Ryan Tyndell (“Springsteen”).]
I think you’re in really good hands with him. I noticed on your album that some of the songs you’ve written by yourself and some of them you have co-writers. When you sit down to write with another writer or another two writers, what is your strong point in that situation? Is it music or lyrics or both?
I usually come up with a melody and an idea; then we work out a story behind it.
Do you only write in person or do you ever write with somebody on email or on Skype?
Yeah, I’ve written a couple of songs on Skype. I’ve got a co-writer in London, so it’s (laughs) so hard to get over there, ‘cause I’ve got school. (Brit songwriter Anton Mullan co-wrote “New York City Country Girl” with Ali, and produced the single.)
We haven’t released “Crazy Beautiful Life” yet, but we are going to.
That melody is outstanding and you sing it great…In the U.K., you just had the one single, “What If?” I personally know Robert Haas and Kristen Massey. (Haas produced this U.K.-charted song, and Massey co-wrote it with Susan Ruth.)
They’re nice people and great to write with [in Nashville].
Did you get airplay on Country radio with “New York City Country Girl?”
Yeah, I did, and it charted on the Billboard Hot Singles chart, too. [The song hit #14.]
It did more than chart – it did really, really good. You’re being modest. That is every singer and every songwriter’s dream to be on the Billboard charts. You’ve got to tell me what that’s like.
It’s definitely great. I was hoping it would do good, but I didn’t think it would do THAT well, so I was really excited to see it get that far.
Have you actually heard it on the radio yet?
I heard it a couple of times – I was in the car and it was crazy. (Laughs) Yeah, I started screaming.
That’s got to be a special moment. The album has a lot of pop songs, but you know the song I really like on there, too, is “So Free.” That’s more country pop. (It’s written by Josh Foster, Susan Ruth and Ali Isabella.)
Oh, yeah. A lot of people like that one, too.
Your people tell me you’re working on a new album. Is that going to be mostly pop or have more of the country pop feel to it?
It’s going to be a little bit of everything, but it’s going to be mainly pop. When I write, I draw a little bit from jazz, a little bit from rock, a little bit from country. It’s all up in the air [right now], but it’s going to be mainly a pop album.
Yeah, but I’m also starting to write a lot more with people in L.A. and also here in New York.
I saw on your website that you write on the piano. Do you also play the guitar or any other instruments?
Yeah, I play the guitar…and (laugh) it doesn’t really help me, but I also played the French horn for a while when I was in elementary and middle school. My brother showed me how to pick up the mandolin, so I’ve been trying to play a little bit on that.
Love the Rod Stewart/Maggie May-inspired mandolin on “So Free.”…When you write songs, are you mostly a piano gal?
That’s [my co-writer] Josh Foster on mandolin. Originally when I started out, I was at the piano more, just because I played it longer than the guitar, but I’m finding now I use both instruments the same amount.
You’re going to be working soon with American Idol vocal coach Andy Street?
Whenever I go out to L.A., we usually write songs together.
Any aspirations for TV talent show contests like Idol, The Voice or X-Factor?
Well, I’m not really interested in that, but I’m definitely interested in, somewhere down the road, going on those shows and helping other artists out. I don’t really see myself [performing] on any of those reality shows.
Tell us about your Internet TV series coming up.
Yes, I think we’re starting at the end of April. Basically, I go around interviewing interesting people in the music business – people in production, in sound. They are people that I know from helping me out with my music. It’s all going to be on my website.
What about your love for horses? Do you still have time for them?
I competed for a long time up until I was 15 and I had to take a step back from that for a while. I was show jumping, jumping 3 feet, and had just started jumping 3’6”. Yeah, I love riding. I always enjoyed that. I did competing, but I really like riding just for pleasure. I love going out to the barn and hanging out with my horse.
Are you actually working on another album now?
It’s definitely in the back of my mind. I’m not going to a recording studio yet, and I don’t have a [final] list of songs that are going to be on it. Right now, I’m just writing a lot, keeping a list of which songs I like that are contenders for the next album. I’m trying to get it so I can release it over this summer, but I have to figure that out. It would be very cool if I could do that.
The first album had six different producers. What about the upcoming album?
No, I think we’re going to have just one producer for the next album. I’m not sure who that is yet, but I know I’d have just one because I’d really love to go in and be a part of making it. It would be easier to do that with just one producer.
Visit the artist’s website at www.aliisabella.com
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