Amy Alley’s Lyrical Intimacy
The songstress shares everything with fans.
Photos by: Maribel Amor B. Manibo
The announcement of Amy Alley’s first live show was a big surprise for everyone — including Amy Alley. “I didn’t plan on doing that much with my music,” says the North Carolina guitarist and vocalist. “But a friend of mine heard me playing one night and without me knowing she went out and booked a handful of shows for me.”
Alley had been writing songs to cope with the personal anguish of an abusive relationship and the pain of losing family and friends after coming out, but her intensely personal lyrics were only meant to be heard by a few close friends. All of a sudden she was faced with the prospect of baring her soul on stage. “My first reaction was panic,” she says, “but there was also joy in the panic.”
Alley’s first engagement was a two-hour set, and if that wasn’t daunting enough, the audience was filled with acquaintances from her job as a martial arts instructor, people who had never seen this side of her. “I remember walking out and looking at all these people that I knew and I had to make that decision, do I share all of these really intimate things about my life?”
Alley took the plunge and shared. Now, after a year-long recording process, she’s sharing with everyone on her debut album I’m Not Perfect, available through her website as of last month. I’m Not Perfect features 13 songs, written over a period of five years, chronicling Alley’s emotional highs and lows. Though Alley describes herself as a folk guitarist she cites her eclectic tastes and the influence of such stars as Ani DiFranco to account for the indie rock highlights in her chord work, which can shift from mellow to hard-edged at a moment’s notice.
But it’s Alley’s lyrics that really make the listener sit up and take notice. I’m Not Perfect can be shocking in its frankness, as with content of the first track “Think of Me/Fill the Hole”, a married pair of songs about Alley’s efforts to reconcile her sexuality with her traditional Southern upbringing: “I ache, from the cross across my chest, across my ache. […] Sing to me an old slave song so that I can come. Then take my chains and weld them to the bed, then use me.”
Alley has said that she “blushes through” the lyrics when playing live and almost did not include the dual-song track on the album, calling it “The things that I can’t say because I’m afraid someone will hear me,” and “Even the things that I don’t want God to know.”
But she says that the intimacy of her songs is what fans have responded to and that sharing so much of herself has helped her shake off the ghosts of her past. Connecting with fans allows Alley to reevaluate the dark times in her life and reconcile her doubts about a time when alienation from family and friends left her feeling alone in the world. “You can talk yourself into believing that you’re just being whiny and sensitive, but when I sing about these really personal moments and I see that other people have the same response, it is very validating.”
With the release of I’m Not Perfect, Alley hopes to tour more extensively outside of North Carolina in the future. For now she seems happy playing regionally and learning to be comfortable with herself, telling the world through songs like “Not my Mama’s Girl”: “Now Mama, was I really all that bad? Cause I kinda think I turned out pretty good.” (amyalley.com)