The inspiring and mentally frustrating creative process that goes with producing, recording and writing a new album is no easy task.
Alfa, a Philippine-born singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of guitar, ukulele, piano and violin, has spent the past two years writing and recording her third full-length album “Spark & Fury,” which was just released this past June 23.
Alfa first gained traction when she tied for first place with singer-songwriter Mike Isberto at Kollaboration LA in 2009, a showcase that gives a platform for young Asian Americans to perform in front of a live crowd.
“I stumbled into this whole Asian American community that was nationwide,” Alfa explained to me last Friday night during her album release show at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles. “Everything snowballed from there and I think that’s what helped me make the move here [to Los Angeles].”
The self-described “quirky” singer-songwriter was born in the Philippines, raised in New Jersey, moved to New York for college and now resides in Los Angeles. Her newest album explores the past six years of her adjustment into Los Angeles — mature themes of finding one’s place, being understood and opening up to love — while releasing an album under a label for the first time in her career.
“Spark & Fury” is full of bright, indie-pop songs about love, loss, letting go and growing up. Full of rich acoustics, percussive elements and lots of sing-along moments, songs like “Bare Feet” open up the album to finding and accepting one’s place in life. “Nothing Ever Lasts” is an honest reflection into sifting through life’s curve balls and letting go of emotionally unavailable prospects.
Her previous album “World Go Blue” entered the CMJ Top 200 National Charts and the College Radio Charts Top 100 in 2013. In September 2013, she played seven shows in six days in the Philippines while headlining SM Mall of Asia with Ukulele Philippines. She is also endorsed by Mya-Moe Ukuleles and Walden Guitars.
Alfa was more than happy to sit down to talk about her lifetime journey of songwriting, fighting for the record she wants and how instrumental the Asian-American community has been for her musical career.
You just released this album “Spark & Fury.” Tell me a little bit about the process of getting this out, because I know it’s been a couple of years since your last record.
Yes. It was two years making this and four years since my last solo record. I would say the songwriting was the easiest part because once I know that I have to write an album, I’m usually really good about sitting down, writing, filtering. Plus there’s a few that I’ve written, revived or re-recorded, so there’s a couple of older songs in my catalog. I think the toughest part was dealing with the challenges of funding it. I’m with an indie label, but you know every indie label faces the same challenges and I think there was a lot of back-and-forth trying to figure out how to do the album.
This was also your first album with a record label. Did that make the process any different from previous ones?
A little bit. There’s a lot more people I had to talk to about more things, which bothered me a little because I’m so used to doing things myself. But it was a learning experience. It helped me grow and be able to collaborate with people a little more. In the end, I wound up being able to have a lot of control over what I did with this record. I was able to get a whole bunch of my friends on board to do it so it wound up being really fun.
And you are under Pacific Records, who are based in [San Diego].
I actually think I fooled them a little because they thought I was just going to do the super acoustic stripped down stuff. I think they saw female singer-songwriter and were like, “Oh, guitar, vocals, easy!” And I was like, “No.” I love harmonies, I love layers, I love chord progressions. If you listen to any of my past albums I do the same thing, but you can tell [with my new album] that I just love building things and not just basic vocals.
How was the production process and how was it collaborating with other people for this record?
It’s a pretty organic record. You have guitar, drums, bass. My drummer, bassist and I all got together and recorded over the course of two days. There’s 10 songs. We did about 13 songs in two days and not even all of them made the cut. I went back with these producers in Hollywood who are both playing with me and did the vocals. Ainjel, who’s going to play guitar tonight, did the guitars. It was awesome.
I read somewhere that you went to NYU before, and you wrote for the papers? What did you study?
I did, I wrote for one paper but I did not study journalism. I wanted to but it’s so funny because freshman year I was turned off by journalism because I joined this journalism club. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I think I’d seen too many movies and was thinking of something else haha. I decided to do international relations, then I decided I really love music.
I was about to ask, how did you make that transition of going from that to pursuing music full-time?
To be honest, that’s part of why I went to NYU. I thought, I’m going to study this one thing but New York is such a wonderful place to be a musician, so I’m going to go to school in New York. [Being in New York] was more important than the school itself.
So I know a lot of people know you from when you did Kollaboration 2009 and 2010 back in the day. Can you describe what those early days were like for you?
I stumbled into Kollaboration because I was in New York … I stumbled into this whole Asian-American community that was nationwide and I remember meeting someone who was like, “You should really try out for Kollaboration LA.” I did that and I wound up tying for first place with Mike Isberto. Everything snowballed from there and I think that’s kind of what helped me make the move here. I had some networks so it made that move way easier.
The Asian community on the East Coast is way tinier so everybody really knows each other. Here in Los Angeles, there’s pockets. It’s loosely intertwined. I went through a couple years where I didn’t want to get too pigeon-holed in that … but now I’m back to embracing everybody.
What do you have to say about your new album? Have you heard any responses yet?
I think everybody has been positive. I don’t know if people just want to tell me positive things — I’m just kidding — but this is the first album I’m truly proud of. I don’t listen back to it and go, oh I could’ve done this, I could’ve done that. I actually listen to this and I’m cool.
So this is the first album where you can say you kind of “figured it out.” How did you think of the album design and concept?
Funny you should say that, my husband did [the album artwork]! He’s an artist and he took a photo of me and made it all art nouveau. We had argued about the color of my hair because I was like, I have black hair, honey. But he was like, the black hair looks so weird against this color! And I was like, I’m not going to argue with you. Ha!
Where did the title “Spark & Fury” come from?
It came from the whole process. I think every creative endeavor, at least for me, has a little bit of both. You have those, “Aha!” and you have those, “Ugh” kind of moments. It sounds really cheesy and it’s so on the nose but for me, it was the only thing it could’ve been called. I just wanted to be honest about what this process was like for me.
Is there one thing you wish you could’ve told your younger self back in the day?
There’s a lot. I probably would’ve told her to stop panicking so much! I was a really hyper kid. Now I’m mellowed out a bit, so I think I would’ve told my younger self to conserve your energy. Chill out. I love my old self, it’s just you get older, you get a little more calm and I kind of just wish I was a little more calm. I think I would’ve missed less things, if that makes sense.
Alfa's album Spark & Fury is available to purchase on Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes and on her website at alfa-music.com.
This article was featured on kore.am.