Alyssa Trahan describes herself as a “Jill-of-All-Trades” and a quick look at her skillset within the music industry makes it’s easy to understand why. Still, ahead even of her formal resume, the Rochester, NY songwriter was always fueled a the creative spirit.
“I’ve always been very, you know, motivated and I just love doing things myself and think it’s empowering and I’m kind of obsessive about things I’m a perfectionist I guess if you will,” Trahan says.
“When I was really really young, I was writing songs in my head and I didn’t really realize what I was doing,” she explains. “I thought, you know, every kid came up with lyrics and melodies in their head just for fun I thought it was the normal thing. “And then I found out,” she continues, ‘Oh, not everybody does this, I’m the weird one.’ (But) once I realized I was writing songs, I just wrote, every single day and I eventually started learning instruments.”
It’s one thing to write and perform one’s own music. It’s another to be able to take those musical ideas even further, into the control room of a studio, and know how to record them yourself, mix them yourself, and produce them to a finished state of stylized sound – something Trahan determined she wanted and even needed to do to help make herself standout in the Music City crowd.
“I noticed that a big thing (with artists) is demos because, writers will write the songs and then they’ll get demos done to pitch to other artists,” Trahan explains.
“And so I thought, ‘Okay well, I can do that’ and eventually it got to the point that I went to school for audio engineering in upstate New York, I got my degree in it, and a year after I graduated, I moved to Nashville. And as soon as I got to Nashville I just wrote like crazy with everybody I could. I had three writing sessions a day for a long time. And I just demoed everything I could,” Trahan says.
In this way, Trahan has been making full use of her evolving skills from the very beginning of her music career and with her latest single, “Psychology,” her multifaceted and largely self-driven approach continues a with fervor.
While the glass ceiling holding back women from professional music pursuits like audio engineering and producing has thankfully already been broken, these roles in the music creation process remain a minority activity for women, even today. Thus, when an artist like Trahan comes along with all the tools to completely steer the direction of her own material, it’s not just her versatility that’s worth celebrating – though Trahan’s self-carved skillset is nonetheless impressive – but also the fact that there’s another individual to strengthen the count of women before her, and inspire the young girls and women after her, to feel capable of doing the same – especially when noting that Trahan didn’t always have the decisive creative voice she does now.
“One studio that we went to, I was working on my debut album and it wasn’t the best studio experience. The producer kept trying to push me in different directions that I didn’t want to go and a lot of things happen that I just wasn’t happy with how things were going with the experience,” Trahan recalls.
“I was probably around maybe 15 at this time, and I was watching the producer work on my music and I kept telling him exactly the parts I wanted, like, ‘Hey, I want these strings here; I want these notes; can we put this kind of like pad here?; can we put guitar here?’ Trahan continues. “I knew exactly what I wanted because I heard it in my head. I’ve always heard how I want production to sound when I’m writing. Eventually I got so fed up with how long the process was taking and how it wasn’t working out (because) we weren’t clicking. And (so) I said, ‘You know what, I want to give this a shot on my own,’.”
It can’t be understated of course, that even with a firm determination to become as self-sufficient as possible in one’s own musical career, there remains the myriad of other decisions and subsequent challenges that every musician has to face – regardless of gender or location. In Trahan’s case, residing in Rochester, NY, the ever important questions of “What do you want your music to sound like?” and “Where do I want to be when I’m making this music?” presented themselves just the same, even with the decision to learn other instruments and trades of music making.
Though she had all the stylistic choices in the world – especially with multi-instrumentalism at her disposal – there are plenty of logical reasons, some even baked into the history of country itself, as to why Trahan felt drawn to country music and subsequently, to move down to Nashville, TN.
“So, when I was first writing songs, I didn’t even know what genre was and I was just, you know, writing what was inside of me and I didn’t know where that fit for a long time until I discovered country music.” Trahan explains. “And I discovered (country) through, you know, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, the Dixie Chicks – who are now The Chicks. And once I heard their music, it clicked for me and I was like, ‘Wow this is, this is it. This is what I’ve been doing; this is like my sound.’ And I just dove into country music and I just completely fell in love with it.” she says.
Though Trahan has a deep appreciation for many of the iconic women of country, and that admiration is a big part of why she pursued country’s style, there’s an innateness about the genre that, much like her younger self composed without formal training, is just what comes out in the writer’s room.
“I feel like I write a little bit of everything now as a writer. I do everything from you know country to pop to R&B to. I’ve even done some traditional Irish stuff.” she says. “But for me as an artist, what I write (simply) comes out country.”
It would be a notable disservice to Trahan’s style of course, to fail to acknowledge the modern counterpart to her passion for country musicality.Much the same way Trahan dons different hats of creativity when assembling a new project, the modern half of her music is best sensed through the parts of her process shaped with a producer’s cap, and just a touch of her ear as a music fan.
“In terms of production, what I love is just (to) do what is right for the song. I don’t want to worry about genre lines and staying inside the box. I just want to put on the song (with) what it needs to make it as good as it can possibly be.” Trahan says.
“And I find that one of my absolute favorite things that I do in a lot of my music is taking elements from traditional country like acoustic guitar and banjo and slide and mandolin, and then combine that with modern pop production.” she explains. “So I’ll use some drum loops, some synth pads, some cool pop piano, and things like that. I think it just makes such a cool sound to combine those two worlds that I really feel represents what I want my music to sound like. It represents me as an artist (and) it represents what I listen to most. (And) I listen to pretty much everything.”
Keeping all of these factors in mind, during the four years since choosing to relocate to Music City, Trahan still made moves to assertively carve a niche for herself, in a place saturated with songwriters and packed with music professionals of every type. Additionally, amid her musical development, Trahan hasn’t let up on the effort to empower females pursuing music, with special attention paid to supporting girl artists through local charity events around Nashville. Well aware of the somewhat uphill battle that comes with playing in the country scene and working to nurture a fanbase that can admittedly encounters its fair share of naysayer and-or sexist folks, there’s a certain level of empowering validation that comes with the message and attitude built into “Psychology.”
“I love like subtle messages in my songs. Pretty much all my songs have something like that. (“Psychology”) definitely deals with that for sure.” says Trahan.
“On the surface, it’s more about a relationship in the 21st century. But underneath, this idea just stemmed from the fact that like, even in the music industry – or especially in the music industry I should say – it’s like nobody wants you until you’re unavailable. And it’s the same way with labels and publishers. Like nobody really wants you until other people are already looking at you,” she says.
Though the song itself is made up of a narrative that portrays a tenuous dynamic within a romantic relationship, for her part in the story, Trahan is also conveying confidence in herself. The choice not to perpetuate things with someone who, at best, seems incapable of committing and at worst, is only interested in instant gratification without concern for how their actions affect the other person, is molded to fit this romantic connection but the emotional intention of which can easily be applied to the naysayers of the music industry and-or country sector.
“It’s just such a weird thing. (S)o much of (advancing in the industry) deals with psychology and almost mind games – like you have to play off people’s minds and their emotions to get them interested in your story, and your sound, and your music. So that is definitely a theme in (“Psychology”) that’s readily there.”
Looking past the underlying layers of meaning in “Psychology,” the more immediate quality of note is its very polished production style. Trahan’s vocal is clean, clear, and given plenty of space to expand with reverb, even once the very snappy snare beat and piercing banjo plucks kick in. The song as a whole, is slick and well-made. It caters to Trahan’s modern country aesthetic without question. Similar to the subtler inspirations in the song’s lyrics, Trahan went into the production stage of “Psychology’s” creation with the added intent to become that much more known and prominent in the mainstream – yet another place in country music that is more difficult for women to thrive – but do so without losing herself as an artist
“When I was first starting out in my career I kind of, I played it a little safe, you know? I was putting out some music here and there and what I noticed, is that I kept getting drowned out with everything else.” Trahan says.
“I feel like if you’re going to do what everyone’s already doing, you’re not going to stand out. And if you do get some kind of lucky shot or something, you’re still not going to stand out – you’re going to be just another one of those songs.” she continues. “I want to do something that people are going to remember. I want to do something different (and) something unique so that when people hear it, they’re like, ‘Oh wow that’s cool,’ and then they hear (another one of my songs) they say, ‘Oh hey, that sounds like her.’ I don’t want to play it safe anymore because I’ve been there and it, it didn’t really get me anywhere and it kind of didn’t leave me feeling fulfilled.”
No matter which way one looks at Alyssa Trahan’s musical trajectory – through her community actions, through the emotional intent of a song like “Psychology,” or her overarching professional aspirations – the common takeaway theme is an artist with a defined, positive motivation for making music that transcends any one style or listener demographic.
“I mean, a lot of my songs – from my new single “Psychology,” to my past songs, “Ain’t Ever Goin’ Back,” “Memories Not dreams,” “Because I Am a Girl,” and “Leading The Pack” – all the songs that I’ve released, have that empowering message in there,” Trahan explains. “Whether it’s right out in your face, and obviously an empowering song, or if it’s just, you know, a subtle idea like we were talking about with the song “Psychology.”
“I think music is such a powerful too,” she continues. “It’s the best way to empower someone – to make them love themselves, or go for something that they’ve been dreaming of, or leave the person that’s not treating them well because they’re worth everything. I think that’s just such a cool thing because music has had a huge impact on me that way. So to be able to impact other people that way would just be incredible, regardless of, you know, what instrumentation and production goes on (my music),” Trahan affirms. “I just love that idea of empowering people through my music and my lyrics.”
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Photo credit: JM Photo Art