Saturday, July 30, 2016

Chicago singer-songwriter Kelley Ahlstrom raising money to record solo album

Photo by Emily Sperl

After starting a band and appearing on the TV show "The Glee Project," Chicago singer-songwriter Kelley Ahlstrom is ready to move on to the next chapter in her music career - releasing a solo album.

Ahlstrom is raising money to record the album through her GoFundMe page. As part of the fundraising campaign, she will perform July 31 at Uncommon Ground Lakeview, 3800 N. Clark St., Chicago.

Zoie Moser also is on the bill. The show starts 8 p.m., and tickets are $7.

I had the chance to talk to Kelley about her solo album.

Q - Great talking to you. I know that you have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for your solo album. Do you think if that people contribute to the making of the album, they will become more connected to what you are doing?

When people contribute at least $10, they will get a download of the album once it comes out, so I definitely think that they will be more connected to what I am doing because they will have my music as a result which exemplifies exactly what I’m trying to do as an artist and what I’m trying to contribute to this world in my life. 

And what I’m trying to contribute to this world is bringing humanity closer to realizing its full potential through the use of my music. I don’t want to add to the static of this world that cares more about money than the well-being of people.
I want to add to self reflection, emotional and spiritual growth of the individual and inspire people to live their lives out in the best way they can for themselves while coexisting with others. Once people contribute, they can get updates from time to time about how the project is doing and how I’m putting the donations to use which I hope will begin creating a community feeling between me those who are following the project.  

Q - You roam through a lot of musical genres on your demos. Is that a reflection of your diverse musical interests? In sitting down to make the album, what are your goals? 

I definitely have experimented with a lot of different sounds in the past. I think this is a reflection of my diverse musical interests.

There is literally no genre that I can honestly say I don’t like and I’ve heard some pretty crazy genres. But life can get pretty crazy and to me, music serves as a reflection of the ups, downs and in betweens of life.

In making this new solo album, I’m going for a pop/rock sound with experimental elements. For instance, there are going to be tracks with unique and full vocal arrangements similar to that of my track already on Soundcloud and YouTube,  “Annie."

I really want this album to be completely, authentically me and my music. 

Q - You were on the "The Glee Project." What made you want to go on the show and what did you get out of the experience? 

"The Glee Project" was definitely an eye opening experience for me. Before that experience, I knew I wanted to pursue music, but I didn’t know why other than the fact that I like music.

My participation on the show made me start to see a more clear image of why I want to do music and how I really want to use my music to contribute to this world. At the risk of sounding negative on the topic of reality television, I have to say that going on the show made me realize that a great deal of being accepted onto a show like that ("American Idol" type shows), has to do with how much of a gimmick you have going.

I can respect that for others, but personally, I find that to be a bit dishonest in a way and not really how I want to focus my time. I’d rather focus on exploring music, art and the developing the qualities I have as an artist and person and inspire others to explore too.

I think art and music are such fundamental aspects of the human experience and are unfortunately often the two aspects that tend to take a back seat in life for many people. After all, the first programs in schools to get cut are usually art and music.

Generally speaking, I think that sets people back because critical thinking, emotional and spiritual health are very important too and are all things that can come from exposing yourself to different art forms.  

Q - You started the band Dirty Darlings. Was it the right time to do a solo album? Is the band on hiatus?

I did start the band Dirty Darlings. In fact, it was the first band I had every even been in. So I learned so much from that experience.

I learned how to run a successful band, how to work with other musicians and how to pick people to work with that have the same goals as you. Unfortunately, Dirty Darlings has broken up as a band simply because we realized we did not have the same goals.

The guitarist, James Bourland, and I wanted to take the band as far as it could go and other members were more casual about the progress, which is totally cool. But all members really should be on the same page to make the most successful and fun band situation occur.

So after we broke up, I had the idea of basing my musical journey more on my solo project. The album will have a full band and I will be performing with a full band once the album is released.

But it will all be based on my original music and my solo work. 

Q - How did music prove to be an outlet in your struggle with scoliosis?

My struggle with scoliosis has been a long and difficult one indeed. To understand how music helped me through it, you must understand just how bad it was.

I was actually diagnosed when I was 12 years old, but was told to do nothing about it by my doctor (cough cough, bad advise!) Three years later, I started getting this horrible, horrible pelvic pain that felt very comparable to a urinary tract infection.

For anyone who’s ever had that, you know it’s the worst feeling ever! But it wasn’t a UTI and because it wasn’t a pain directly in my back, it took doctors and myself 8 years to make the correlation of my scoliosis causing my pelvic pain.

This pain lasted all day, everyday and all night, every night by the way. So I went eight years without any answer as to what was going on and without any sort of relief at all.

They didn’t even give me pain medications. In retrospect, I actually think the doctors I was dealing with were severely mistreating and overlooking me.

So it was a really, really difficult time that I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through. The only thing I could do was write music.

Writing gave me purpose through a hopeless situation. It also made me feel more relaxed and positive. So it was definitely a form of therapy for me through that insanely bad time.

In fact, I only recently discovered the correlation three months ago and and will now finally be receiving the proper treatment I’ve needed through my teenage and young adult life.

And I have to say playing music and everything else in life is so much better when your body feels less like a prison and more like a home.     

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you think you fit into it?

I think there is certainly a gritty aspect to the Chicago music scene in a good way. From Double Door to Reggies to Uncommon Ground to Moe’s Tavern, there’s a huge indie music scene.

I think for many bands, you can tell that they’re just rocking out and having a good time. It’s about good, honest music and not just putting in a synth sound here or writing in only one song form because Rihanna did it and made money off of it, for example.

It’s much more authentic feeling and I think that’s great. I do think, however, that artists have to be careful of scammer production companies when playing gigs.

I’ve definitely had my fair share of gigs where a production company essentially gives you a deal where you bring a bunch of people and they keep all the ticket money and all the money that the bar might have shared with the musicians. So what ends up happening is the musicians work really hard, pack a place, put on a great show and then somebody else takes all the money from that.

Of course, not all production companies are scammers but it’s certainly something to look out for. I think a lot of bands and artists starting out go with the “I’m just happy to be playing here” card rather than the “Hey, I made this night a successful one, give me my fair share” card.

This effects everyone in the scene because it makes the idea of musicians not seeing any of the money they made the norm.  

Q - I know you have a five-year and 10-year business plan. What are some of your goals?

Once the record comes out, I plan to go into the college tour circuit. This not only gives bands the opportunity to actually make money but can be a good way to build a fan base.

When playing gigs at colleges, I’m going to compliment it with bar gigs and radio appearances to help build more fans as well. From there, I hope to eventually gain enough fans to support me and my band full time and do a nationwide tour. 

I certainly hope to play music festivals and really any gig that will be worth my time.

Q - I understand you also teach piano. What are some of the main things that you try to convey to your students?

Teaching piano is something I do on the side currently to support myself financially. It’s definitely the most fun job I’ve had in life so far.

Many of the students I teach are very, very young. Many as young as 5 years old. So I find it’s difficult to try and teach them music theory and technical things.

Rather, I try to show them how fun and cool playing music can be. It’s so important to foster an interest first. Some parents come in with their 5-year-old and say, "I want him to play like Beethoven.  I want him to be a child prodigy."

What they don’t realize when they say this is that is a huge expectation for someone who’s never touched a piano before. Especially when you consider all of the distractions now a days with phones filled up with apps (yes, some of my 5 year old students have phones already), it can feel almost impossible.

But on top of that, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make em’ drink. It’s possible for a 5- year-old to be a piano prodigy.....if it’s their idea and they are actually interested in piano.

But when you force your kid into it, what you’re really doing, is ruining music for them because it will seem like more of a chore to them. This is when you get the adults that say "oh, I hated piano when I was a kid.  I’m so bad at it.  I just didn’t get it."

It’s usually not that they are particularly bad at piano which is a skill that can be learned by anyone who is willing to dedicate the time and patience. It’s usually that they were forced into it and first impressions are just so powerful.

So before trying to turn kids into a prodigy who understands the ins and outs of music theory and technique, I try to get them interested and the rest will follow.