If you’re looking for a little break from the summer club jams flooding the radio right now, we’ve got the perfect fix: Californian singer/songwriter Alisha Zalkin.
Alisha grew up with music on both sides of her family – Jewish and Mexican – and she weaves those influences, along with her background in musical theater, into uplifting and thoughtful music. Her rich, soulful singing is the focus of her songs, which are inspired by everything from bullying to young love. Heavily involved in charity work, Alisha sees music as an opportunity for people to connect and share. Fun fact: she’s also a yoga instructor!
Check out our interview with Alisha below.
Crushable: How did you get into music as a career?
Alisha Zalkin: I started when I was a little girl, and I was exposed to music at a really young age by my grandmother on my father’s side, who was an opera singer. So I was exposed to that big, rich, thick voice when I was younger. She would always sing at family gatherings, and she would put on big charity events and sing in Yiddish. And then on my mother’s side, the Mexican side of my family, every time we would go to her house she would have a radio station on that played mariachi music. And every time “Ave Maria” would come on, everyone would stop in the house and bow their heads. So, at a really young age I was exposed to the power of music. The common thread between the Mexican side of my family and the Jewish side of my family was music, so it was a way to understand myself. And I was so attracted to voices like Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey, Etta James, Aretha Franklin. When I was little, those were the voices that I was listening to. I started in musical theater, and then I eventually was writing myself. When I was in New York I met Tina Shafer, who runs the New York Songwriters’ Circle (http://www.songwriters-circle.com/). She’s written for Celine Dion, and Bette Midler, and she said, “I want to write with you.” And I was so excited, because Celine Dion was one of the big voices that I listened to. So we created this EP, and just recently released it.
What’s your songwriting process like?
It changes. I like to dissect exactly what I want to write about, and get to the truth of what it is. What’s the meaning, what’s the message behind it all. And then I start writing. I usually just free write, and I feel or hear a melody, and start to sort of compose the melody. I get the rhythm and the meter of the song so I can start to edit what I’ve written and formulate it into lyrics.
Do you try to send a particular message with your music?
Absolutely. The EP, I would say, is about finding light in dark situations. And how to be bold and courageous, and be true to who you are and not be afraid to show that to the world.
How has your background in musical theater influenced you?
You do a lot of character study, and you’re telling stories when you’re doing musical theater. That’s what you’re trained to do. And it’s the same thing when you’re writing a song and when you’re performing it. You know, you’re telling a story. And you’re asking your audience to go on a journey with you, just as you do when you’re on stage on Broadway. I think that coming from that place certainly helped my writing and performing, and got me to the place of being able to capture an audience and get them to go on this journey with me.
You do a lot of non-profit and charity work. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
I love hosting benefit concerts. So last year I co-produced with a couple of friends, we did a benefit concert for the Playing for Change Foundation. It’s an organization that provides music education to children around the world. In the spirit of bringing musicians together, we rounded up a bunch of singer/songwriters and musicians in New York who performed a concert at the Highline Ballroom in New York City. And all of us performed together onstage the whole set, so it was really cool. And we did other shows for them on Playing for Change Day, which is a music event that the Playing for Change Foundation puts on where musicians from all over the world perform and play on the same day to raise funds for these music programs. So we had 224 events in 41 different countries, so we were one of the events in New York City, which was really awesome. And then the Hey U.G.L.Y. (Unique Gifted Lovable You) Foundation, I was put in touch with them through a friend who referred one of my songs, which came from a bullying story. And the woman who founded the organization caught wind of it, and she put it on their radio show. Then I actually ended up doing a benefit for the U.G.L.Y. Foundation, with the woman I wrote the EP with and singer/songwriter Devyn Rush. So I really just like to spotlight and bring awareness to organizations that are making a really big impact on the world. We all innately connect with music, and music is a common language that we all share no matter what you look like, no matter who you are, no matter what you’re going through.
If you could collaborate with any other artist, who would it be?
My dream would be to work with Carole King. I mean she’s one of my idols. For a current artist, I would say Jason Mraz. I’m really loving his message and his new album so much. And I just respect him a lot as an artist and a musician, and what he’s doing.
What are some big things coming up for you?
I have a few release shows, one on July 27 in San Diego, and then one in LA on August 2. And then I’m writing a ton of new stuff, and I’m going to be recording it really soon. I’m really excited about that, so there will be new music coming out soon.
For more on Alicia, check out her website.