For our 18th Clapper Sounds Interview, we’re highlighting singer, songwriter, and Clapper Creator, Alyssa Gillen!
Alyssa, better known as @yeehawlyss on Clapper, has been singing and performing all of her life, but really dove into music as a creative outlet while studying computer programming and hardware design. Her sound is folksy and acoustic, and feels a bit like a summer’s day or a comforting hug. Her EP, big world, can be found on all streaming platforms, and she plays in Dallas-based band Byway. In this interview we discussed the first song she ever wrote, her thoughts on social media and the concept of “content”, her advice for new artists, and more!
Clapper Sounds is meant to be an intimate musical experience, and we want that mission to translate into our written interviews too. As you read about Alyssa, play her music in the background and really get to know her artist’s unique sound.
Let’s start from the beginning. What is your first memory of being involved with music? How did you start your artist journey?
My first memory of doing music was probably when I was in kindergarten. I sang God Bless the USA at one of my ballet recitals. That’s my first memory of ever being like, “whoa, doing music is a thing!” Also at home with my dad we would sing karaoke all the time. My dad really likes showtunes and standards, and Don’t Cry Out Loud was my signature. I should do it again and surprise my family, because that’s a very niche memory of mine. I literally can’t remember a time my life when I wasn’t like obsessed with singing.
When did you first start writing your own music?
The first song I distinctly remember was called Running Free and it was dedicated to my Webkinz. I think her name was Chestnut, she was a brown Webkinz and…I was in my dad’s office, typing my lyrics in my word doc. My sister came in and made fun of me! But now that I’m a more established artist, I’m happy that in my childhood I was exploring that. Then I started writing actual songs in high school and didn’t really try that much. In college I started a band but I was also writing songs. I don’t know why I picked it up and decided I was going to really try to do it.
So what or who inspires your music creation?
Angel Olsen. Listening to her album Halfway Home kind of made me realize that artists can make songs with just a guitar, really good lyrics, and really good vocals. I was always intimidated, but I think she made music accessible to me. I’m also influenced in theory by Radiohead and the way they create these emotional landscapes. Also lately I’ve been influenced by more pop and electronic music – like anything with beats. Which is like…I come from kind of folk and acoustic music, but lately I’m like branching off into more like pop and like dancing beats. It’s based on what I can actually implement.
What is your songwriting process like?
Historically, first step would be a melody. Whether it be like a vocal melody or a guitar melody or a baseline melody. It’s just me practicing and then like a melody comes out of that and I’m like “wait, that’s actually kind of good”. Step two would be the tempo. And then there’s different aspects of how to make a song in that genre. So if it’s a singer songwriter song and I just wrote a vocal melody, then I would make the accompanying like guitar part. If it’s more of a pop song, you keep going with like adding melodies and let it be at that point. So it starts with the melody for me and then I find the tempo and then just add on until it’s a robust song.
What are your thoughts on content creation as an artist? How do you feel about artists having to balance their social media presence and still be committed to their art?
First of all, music is a form of content. I think there is some angst in the music community regarding the concept of content. Because where music can be media, it is also art and those two things are distinct. I used to be very angsty about the idea of content because I feel like it’s like fast fashion. I felt like we could try to turn out these songs for content but we were diluting the quality of the art. Then I started to realize that the content that is just churned out isn’t necessarily the only type of content. All of my favorite content creators are really putting time and effort into their content. I’m decoupling the idea of fast fashion or “fast art” to content and seeing that content can still be intentional.
And I think social media is a great place to promote and market material as an artist. You don’t have to use social media for promotion and marketing, but I think promotion and marketing is really important as an artist and social media is a really affordable way to do that. I used to be very “I hate social media, it’s toxic, blah, blah,” but now I’m seeing it’s actually making promotion and marketing very accessible to DIY artists like myself. And I’m definitely invested in content creation and social media, and I don’t think it’s like toxic anymore.
Now let’s get into your music. I would love to talk a little bit about your recent release, big world. What was the message or how do you put this project together?
Thank you so much for asking! The concept in a nutshell is I started writing a lot of songs in 2018, and I basically just had a collection of songs that I kept playing. My friends started recognizing the songs and liked hearing them, and I realized I needed to record them. The concept behind the title is that these songs were written during a coming of age period in my life. Most notably graduating college and moving out of the state that I’d lived in my whole life. So this idea that what I’m going through is just me existing in a massive world with a lot of opportunities, and just feeling small after this coming of age process. It’s giving A24! They should make the big world movie!
Do you have like a song that you like performing the most? Which one do you think is underrated?
I always perform get my fill because it’s upbeat and people like upbeat stuff. One that’s underrated is u, because it actually has elements of a lot of songs that I’ve written. For example, the guitar part is similar to the guitar part that I play for until home. It also was the beginning of big gurl and if you listen the first verse is the same in big gurl as in u. Also, what’s cool about it is that it was real. I just recorded it in my house by myself. Like, that’s an actual just phone recording I took in my house about a crush. It was so intimate, like synonymous with just telling my secret. I think it also sounds like the essence of like a lot of my songs. It’s short and sweet.
Do you have any other side hustles other than music?
I am by trade a web developer, so I write code for a living. I’ve always been interested in other art forms as well like photography and paint. I’m trying to get into graphic design because it’s a useful skill.
What are you most proud of to this date? Either with your music or just with life.
I think I’m most proud of moving to Dallas and getting a job by myself. Like doing the move and supporting myself is what I’m most proud of.
Deciding to be an artist can have its ups and downs. What advice would you give to that young artist who is just learning to play guitar, or starting singing lessons and their dream is to be a musician?
My main thing would be: make sure that you’re making art for the right reason. Because if it’s for things like an amount of streams or the number of views or the amount of people at your shows, you will quickly become discouraged. There’s such a huge ramp of the amount of work to the payoff of attention and consumers. So, if you’re not making art just for the sake of making it, then I don’t think it’ll be easy to survive that huge ramp that’s required to get to that point. If if it ever even happens, because it’s not guaranteed. I don’t believe that art is best when we do it for the sake of how it’s received. Sometimes.
Make sure to check our recorded live session on our account Clapper Sounds and in our reels on Instagram. Enjoy the Clapper Sounds live session of the week!