Wendy Allen

A Conversation with Wendy Allen

Puremusic: I know when our readers get wind of your unique and beautiful voice that they'll want to know more about you. It's really a remarkable quality you have there.

Wendy Allen: Oh, well, thank you.

PM: What is your background musically?

WA: My father was a piano major in college, and I grew up with a lot of music in the house. I did the standard things, you know, studied piano and flute as a child.

PM: What part of the country?

WA: I'm from North Carolina. At the end of high school, I had the choice between going to college to study music or theater or art. I actually opted for theater, but I continued to study music, studied classical voice for a couple of years in college. But I was never really in a band or anything. I went to a lot of bluegrass festivals with my parents when I was a kid, but didn't necessarily listen to that on my own. It was just what I grew up around.

PM: Were your parents into playing bluegrass also, or did they just like that kind of music?

WA: They just liked it. My father played guitar, but not too much. He played piano and he'd been studying classical, and I mostly studied classical growing up. I wasn't in bands at all, not until I moved out to San Francisco, about six years ago, with some people I'd gone to school with at a small school in Boulder, Colorado. I had started to do more band-related music in Boulder, and then I moved here and met my husband, Scott Solter, who's a recording engineer.

PM: Yeah, we hear he's quite a good one.

WA: Well I think so, but I might be a little biased. [laughs]

PM: Not a bad thing.

WA: He does some really great stuff, which is definitely part of why I fell in love with him. Have you heard any of the records by The Court & Spark?

PM: You know, I've not yet had the pleasure but we're in search of them.

WA: Oh, I'd be happy to send them to you.

PM: Ah, thanks. We're keen to cover the individual work by all the components of Clothesline Revival, yourself included, in subsequent issues of Puremusic. And so, you came out to San Francisco and started doing a little more band oriented music...

WA: Yes--but only because Scott happened to be looking for a vocalist at the time. I'd given a roommate a ride to his studio, and I was invited up to see the place...

PM: Isn't that just how it happens.

WA: [laughs] And at one point, I don't know, I happened to pipe up and say, "Oh, well I sing..." And then my roommate said, "Yeah, she's actually got a really great voice. Aren't you looking for a vocalist?" [laughs] And so he hired me to sing on some stuff that he was working on. Then he just kept hiring me to sing with other bands that he was recording at the time, one of which was The Court & Spark, and another was Paula Frazer. So I ended up singing on their albums and subsequently joining their bands in various capacities.

PM: Were you usually brought in as a background vocalist or also as a lead vocalist?

WA: Always a background vocalist. But I was writing a lot of harmonies for them and doing harmony arrangements.

PM: Did that come to you from having studied classically?

WA: No, it's just something that has always been a part of my life. My mom claims that I learned to sing before I learned to speak. She says that I would sit and leaf through books and sing to myself, long before I learned to talk, let alone read. And then I joined the choirs in church--I sang forever in choir when I was a kid.

PM: I think choirs really helped a lot of us with harmony.

WA: Yeah. And I had really good pitch, and there were no--

PM: I hear it's a little beyond "really good."

WA: [laughs]

PM: Yeah, I hear from Conrad that it's on the perfect side.

WA: Well, I don't know. [laughing] It definitely helps a lot, that's all I know. It makes me an easy study, definitely, for walking in and singing backup for people. I don't know where it comes from, I guess it's just something you're born with, but I'm really lucky, that's all I know. And I sing along with absolutely everything on the radio--it can really drive people crazy--but I just can't not sing. And I'm never singing the melody, I'm always singing the harmony.

And when I teach people--I'm sometimes asked to give people vocal coaching when they're recording and they're having trouble--and they always ask, "How do you write these harmony parts?" I always say, "You know, if you just put on a Patsy Cline album, and you make yourself harmonize with every single song, and you just do that on a regular basis, you're gonna get the hang of it. If you don't let yourself sing the melody line, you're going to find something else to sing." Mostly it's just a matter of picking out the notes that the other instruments are playing.

PM: Yeah, and as you get more musical you can say, "Okay, today I'm not allowed to sing the third..."

WA: Yes!

PM: "Today I've got to sing the fifth below or the fifth above," or whatever.

WA: Exactly. I think it just comes to you after a while. Also my mom likes to sing along with the radio, and she also likes to harmonize, so maybe I picked it up from her. Or from hearing my dad's classical music when I was little. It definitely seems like something that came along with my family and their musicality. It wasn't an ability that I trained for. But I think you can train for it, if singing harmony is something you want to do well, if you just put some consciousness to it. Just like learning anything else, you can learn to hear possible harmony lines. If you play a certain instrument, you know how you tend to hear it more and pick it out of an arrangement? Same thing. If you train yourself to listen for harmonies, then that's what you're going to hear.  continue

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