Alli Walker is a country music star forging her own path. She was named Top Country’s Top Female Artists of 2019 and is quickly garnering the attention of the country music scene with her unique approach to writing which she calls Mindful Music and Conscious Country. We asked her to dig into the journey that brought her there and to share her favourite songs that embody her authentic and vulnerable outlook.
How did your journey in music start for you?
I always played instruments growing up, but I didn’t really sing until high school. I auditioned for my high school musical and ended up getting it and literally had never sang a note in my life. That changed my whole life really, because I was like, “Wow, I think this is what I want to do.” I went to university for one year as a vocal major at the University of Prince Edward Island where I am from, and didn’t overly enjoy it because it was classical and I just wanted to sing country music. So I left the next year and moved to Toronto because I knew there was obviously more opportunity there. I ended up getting these weird opportunities; I was on MuchMusic for their VJ Search and this silly show called My Date With Taylor Swift. From those experiences I thought it must be so easy to be successful in Toronto because that happened literally within the first week. Wrong.
Ten years passed and I’m like okay, it’s not that easy, ha! But I met my husband within my first year, and he knew I had potential and drive but I needed a lot of work. He had been in the music industry for years. So we put together a cover band and played every bar, every wedding, and every corporate event along with songwriting a ton and going down to Nashville co–writing with people. A big part of my development was working on who I am as an artist and as a human, just being in my twenties and making mistakes, going up and down with my mental health, trying to pursue this crazy industry, which is quite difficult.
How did that bring you to what you call mindful music and conscious country?
I was in the midst of it all, developing. I knew one of the main things was separating yourself from everybody else. I was trying so hard to find who I was and trying to to be like everybody else; I tried to write songs about boys, booze, breakups, and the country world. But none of that really related to me because I quit drinking and I was happily married.
“I tried to write songs about boys, booze, breakups, and the country world. But none of that really related to me because I quit drinking and I was happily married.”
So I just started writing for myself, about my mental health struggles. I had really bad acne for many years, and that played a big toll on my self confidence. So I had to learn how to love myself, and that took many, many, many years. I think a lot of people deal with that in different areas, whether that’s weight or just self–confidence or self–love issues in general. The more I talked about things like that — anxiety, depression, or mental health — I realized my audience was much more interested in that kind of thing than the typical booze and party songs. They’re fun, but once I started writing in my own style, my audience started actually engaging with what I was doing and saying.
What was your approach to this playlist?
I have my own personal playlist that I’ve never shared, called Mindful Music, and some of these songs are on there. They’re all singer–songwriter songs that are slower and chill, but that’s kind of all I listen to. This is also my vocal warm-up playlist that I sing along to before shows.
I’m a sucker for harmonies, I love how this song is super flowy, and makes you relax. This song wasn’t one of their radio singles, it’s off their album called The Breaker. “All the shiny cars, perfect yards, chasing store bought dreams. We work so hard to have it all, when all the things we want are free.” We can all get wrapped up in wanting the material things, especially with social media. I’ve fallen into that too, wanting this and that. I’ve just built a new house, and I find I have to check myself on why do I want something like this or like that. Am I trying to prove something to someone or am I doing it for my own enjoyment.
Hailey Whitters is brand new to me. She’s been around for a while but I just discovered her. This song is literally me. You know how everyone says, “Toronto, Nashville or LA, they’re always ten-year towns”? You have to be there for ten years to even really make a name for yourself. And the line in this song is, “I’m twelve years into a ten-year town.” I love that because when you hit that mark that’s when you really say, “Shit. When is it going to be my break? When is it going to be my time?”
I love her raw lyrics, vocals, and approach to this whole album. I don’t even think she has a major label and I love seeing artists succeed independently. Her vocals are almost out of tune, and I weirdly like that. That’s what makes it very real, very raw. It’s not over-produced.
Tenille Townes is a Canadian country singer who has been in Nashville for a while but she just kind of broke in the last two years. She’s got this voice that’s very unique that sets her a part. This song is questioning why God takes certain people from us and why certain people die. Wondering, “Why did you have to take this young girl from us?” When she visited a school for a performance, she saw a jersey on the wall and assumed it was for a winning sports team. But it was really for a girl who passed away in a car crash. Kind of sad but this song is really good and I love it. I want to feature her as an artists in general because she is becoming much more known nowadays but still very unknown to many. She’s Canadian and killing it in the US market.
Last year I applied for a FACTOR grant and didn’t get it (twice… boo). I posted a video about it where I was upset about the industry and how expensive it is to record an album as an independent artists. Basically crying on my Instagram, yeah pity party, I know. Donovan Woods wrote me and was like, “I just got sent this by somebody and I just want you to know that I won a Juno on the same album I submitted for a FACTOR grant that I didn’t get.” He was probably in my top five artists of all time, so when that happened I was like, “Oh damn, I like you even more.”
So Leaving Nashville. He’s had a bunch of cuts from bigger artists like Tim McGraw. This one was done by Charles Kelley from the band Lady Antebellum. I just love him because he doesn’t do all the crazy things with his vocals. He’s just a very simple artist and it’s always about the lyrics and the song. This one is, “One day you’re the King, and the next you’re not.” And that’s kind of the mentality of everything lately of “What have you done lately?” or “What have you done for me lately?” In the songwriting world it is very similar, it seems like no one will write with you if you don’t have something going on, or have had a cut. I’ve definitely run into that. He explains that so well in this song.
Some of the lines were “You turn it in and nobody’s listening”. And that’s really how you feel when you write songs. You’re just writing this big catalogue of songs, and it’s like who the hell is listening to these? Is anyone listening to them? You know? It’s like shit, why bother writing if no one is going to hear this song. To think about how many songs I have that no one’s going to hear.
This is my main vocal warm up song because she just sings in this easy-listening tone, but then she also goes into her head voice so I’m able to warm up my falsetto. I find I am drawn to singers who have similar voice to mine. She’s actually from The Civil Wars which is a great duo that is unfortunately not together anymore. They sang very haunting-type songs that were really cool.
This song is all about coming home. Since I left home when I was 19, I was never home sick. I just wanted to get the hell out of PEI. Now that I’m getting older and I have my own home and am settling down, I’m appreciating all the small things of enjoying ‘making’ a home and spending time with my family. I’ve always been chasing something and trying to strive for this and that or look like this and that. But at the end of the day, what are you going to look back on? A lot of times, once you get to where you were going it’s really not as great as you thought it would be, but the people at home and the feeling of being at home is always going to be rewarding.
Some of the biggest stars in the world will attest to that.
Yeah and I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. I have a girlfriend who is signed to a major label in Canada and she has said “I’ve been getting some opportunities I’ve always wanted lately and I’m still not that happy”. So I’ve been trying to just find fulfillment in the little things of life. Which is what we kind of have to do now anyway in the midst of COVID, be excited for the small things. One line is “You take it all for granted and then you leave. It takes a while to realize what you need”. That is basically the sentiment of leaving home and realizing that what you need at the end of the day is your family, your home, and whatever your heart full.
This song was actually recorded by Little Big Town. It was their first song from that same album The Breaker that I was talking about above. Lori wrote this with Hailey Whitters, who has the other song Ten Year Town. Which is kind of cool.
Nice little tie-in.
Yeah, so obviously I have some likeness towards all the same kind of things. She’s not the fanciest singer either, and that’s what I like about her. She is just singing the words from her heart. This song has the same theme as the others, about finding what makes you happy. They rhyme off all the things that make a person happy; like not cheating, not lying, not judging other people, not criticizing, not hating, not stealing. Then the last line is, “We all deserve to be happy while we’re here”. So we all deserve it, but you have to work at it. What I’ve realized is that everyone seems to strive to be happy, but it’s actually really hard work to be happy, in my opinion. Especially when you are striving for something or working towards a new goal. You’re always wanting something else or wanting something better. It’s hard to have that balance of striving for something but being happy with what you have. Getting very deep here, aren’t we?
I think I heard this song years ago on a TV show and I just Shazam’d it and now it’s become something I listen to every week. I love this perspective on life because she talks about the cycle of life in an interesting way. The first line is talking about dead people in the dirt. She says it in a more elegant way way but she’s explaining that there are lots of people before us, lots of people after us, and we’re just a little spec in this massive universe of many years and many centuries. You can think of it as this is my time and I’m here for now and let’s just enjoy what’s going on in each moment. The first line in the chorus, “Maybe it’s just enough that I laid here”. Like maybe it is enough, that I don’t have to make this grand impact on the world, its just enough that I’m here.
Jon Bryant is a Canadian alternative folk artist. I was living in Hamilton, Ontario and my husband saw an ad on Instagram for a show at Mills Hardware. My husband just bought tickets without knowing Jon or his music, which we’ve never done before. We ended up loving him and all his songs. His vocals are whispery, he sings a lot in his upper register, and his music is all very groovy and chill. This song is my favourite song of his, and it’s just an example of how cool his vibe is. I think more people need to know about him! I believe he does well in the sync world, getting song placements on TV and movies. I hear him a lot in the bathrooms of restaurants.
Like over the speakers? Or he’s just always in the stall next to you?
Haha, he’s not just there singing to me while I pee. I just think he’s cool and I don’t think enough people know about him.
I noticed Matt Barnes shot your portraits, which are super rad. Great photographer, great dude. How’d you get hooked up with him?
I was following him on Instagram because he is literally the best photographer ever and he just messaged me one day, “Do you want to shoot?” And I thought, “Are you crazy?” Our shoot went really well, and I am looking forward to working with him on my upcoming album cover shoot.
What are you up to now?
I’ve been releasing The Demo Decisions, putting out one or two songs a month that I’ve written lately that are potentials for the album. I put them on all on my socials, and am looking to get feedback from my audience, getting them to weigh in. But don’t tell me if it’s shitty, haha jk…
That’s interesting, similar to how tech companies work these days – just put it out in its simplest form and see if it’s something people are gravitating towards. And if is, then spend the time to polish it.
Yes! For my last album I put out one song every month for almost a year. I always thought one was going to do better than the other, but it was always the opposite. So, although it’s all in my same style, I obviously don’t know exactly what the audience will like out of my songs. So I just started putting out these songs and seeing the insights of those who are engaging with it. That way when I invest in my album in the near future, we are spending time on songs we know my audience likes, and that way they feel a part of the process of making the album.