ABOVE: ALLISON WEISS
“I’ve always had one foot in the pop-punk world, and one foot in the alt-country/folk world,” says 26-year-old Allison Weiss, a singer-songwriter who recently relocated from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. With her crossover appeal, Weiss just released her new album Sideways Sessions, a collection of songs re-recorded acoustically or rearranged altogether from her spring release Say What You Mean. The Georgia native’s brand of charismatic songs about love and love lost has caught the attention of a rapidly growing fan base, which includes fellow musicians like the late Lou Reed, who took Weiss on tour last summer, and Laura Jane Grace of Against Me!, for whom Weiss opened at two shows this past August.
After funding her first full-length album through Kickstarter in 2009, Weiss became an internet sensation who was featured by both The New York Times and Wired Magazine for her DIY success in the recording industry. Now signed to No Sleep Records, Weiss is currently enjoying a round of tour dates in the States before heading to Europe in the spring.
We recently caught up with Weiss to hear more about her latest release, her life motto, why she recently say goodbye to Brooklyn, role models, and more.
MELANIE GARDINER: You just released Sideways Sessions, the acoustic version of your spring release Say What You Mean. What inspired you to strip down?
ALLISON WEISS: The Sideways Sessions came about as a Kickstarter reward. I used [the site] for my last record Say What You Mean, and once I broke my initial level I wanted to reach as far as funding goes, it was all about creating extra fun rewards. But when the time came around to actually record it, my friend and producer Chris Kuffner and I just got carried away and really excited about how cool the songs would sound if we did different arrangements. It was an opportunity to remake the record we had already done in a different way.
GARDINER: Which version of the album do you prefer?
WEISS: I love them both for different reasons. A fun part was doing the song “One Way Love” on the full record as a pop-punk jam. It sounds like a happy, summer, put-it-in-when-you’re-driving-around-with-your-best-friend song, and then for Sideways Sessions, it became this dark, sad, lonely song. But it’s the same lyrics, so that’s kind of cool.
GARDINER: You’ve become a poster child for Kickstarter, it seems. What’s it like knowing the Internet loves you as much as it does?
WEISS: I feel like I have some security and like I don’t feel so alone. It’s nice to know that people are really into what I’m doing and that I’ve been lucky enough to have a fan base that’ll support me. Even in the beginning of my career when I didn’t have a record label or any management and I was doing everything all by myself, I had this Internet fan base that made it happen.
GARDINER: You’ve said that music is all about “trying to find the right sound to convey the feeling in the words.” How do you go about finding the perfect combo?
WEISS: When I’m writing a song, I have a good idea of how I want it to turn out in the end. Sometimes that changes in production, depending on who I’m working with producer-wise, but I guess it has a lot to do with the lyrics. It has a lot to do with how I was personally feeling when I wrote the song.
GARDINER: Tell me about your mantra, “100 Percent Forever.” Where did the concept come from?
WEISS: That was a thing that my friends and I used to yell in college when we got crazy. Everything was “100 Percent Forever,” and over time it became my way of life because I feel like if you’re gonna do something, why half-ass it? I try and do everything 100 percent. I mean, I got it tattooed on my arm when I was 22, and I had it put on all my t-shirts. It’s become part of me as a person and my music.
GARDINER: You created an “It Gets Better” video back in 2010 to announce you’re gay and how thanks to certain role models, you were brave enough to come out. Who were those role models?
WEISS: Definitely Tegan and Sara. They’re still one of my favorite bands. Seeing who they were as people and going to their shows and seeing everyone in the audience be so cool with who they were—or at least appeared to on the outside—they were definitely a big influence. My friend Jenny Owens Young, who recently came out as well, she was like a big cool musical sister to me and I also looked up to her.
GARDINER: Lou Reed invited you to go on tour with him last summer. How did that come about?
WEISS: It’s so crazy! I had a friend working at his management company, and one of her jobs was to give him a bunch of music every week to listen to, and from the music she gave him, he would pick the things he liked and play them on his radio show. She gave him a couple new songs of mine and the next thing I knew, he was playing old B-sides that I had recorded in my dorm room. Then he came to see me in Brooklyn and everyone was telling me that he wanted to take me on tour in Europe. I got the official offer for it and then there I was, touring Europe in Lou Reed’s bus. I was singing backup for him. It all happened within a span of two months.
GARDINER: Was there any advice he offered?
WEISS: Yeah, actually! At one soundcheck we did, he wanted me to let loose and do whatever I wanted to, which was really hard, because when you’re standing there on stage with a legend, the last thing you want to do is fuck up anything at all and do anything that they might not like. So he kept suggesting that I sing certain background parts or whatever, and I was like, “I don’t know! Shit, I don’t know!” He just looks at me and just goes, “Only if it’s fun. If you’re gonna do it, only do it if it’s fun.” That really stuck with me. That somebody like him who is such a legend had the same mentality that I already had. It goes back to the 100 Percent Forever thing, only do it if it’s fun.
GARDINER: What led to your move to L.A.?
WEISS: I was just ready for a change. I really loved Brooklyn, but it really started to wear me down as far as the amount of space and how a lot of people there were mad all the time. The weather really got to me, which I feel sounds lame every time I say it, but it’s nice in California. I live in a house now, and I have more room to write and a lot of friends who have been coming out here. It was appealing to have a place to come home to on tour. I love it so far.
GARDINER: You’re always wearing a really amazing graphic t-shirt or sweatshirt. What goes into a great shirt for you?
WEISS: I like something that isn’t trying to make too big of a statement but is just cool looking on its own. I’m a graphic designer myself, so I’m sort of a design nerd. One of my favorite t-shirts has a motorcycle on it and it says “Cheap Thrills.” It’s just the logo for some vintage company, but it’s really cool. I’m into crew-neck sweatshirts right now, which I don’t know why I never thought of them until this year in my life, but I sure do love a sweatshirt without a hood on it right now.
GARDINER: What’s one album everyone should own?
WEISS: I feel like I could say Paul Simon’s Graceland because that’s undeniably one of the greatest albums ever, but the first thing that popped in my mind was The Postal Service’s Give Up. Since first hearing that record when I was a teenager until today, it’s still one of my favorite records and I feel like everybody everywhere loves it.
ALLISON WEISS WILL PLAY THE KNITTING FACTORY IN BROOKLYN TOMORROW, DECEMBER 10 AND THE BOWERY BALLROOM ON DECEMBER 18. HER ALBUM SAY WHAT YOU MEAN (SIDEWAYS SESSIONS) IS AVAILABLE NOW. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, PLEASE VISIT HER WEBSITE.