Alyson Greenfield: Eclectic, Electric

When starting my blog and looking for interesting, music oriented individuals to network with and learn about, I was quickly given Alyson Greenfield as a reference. Doing a little digging, I found that many-from Brooklyn to Boston and beyond-have found her to be quite the music generator, if you will.

Alyson Greenfield. Photo by Jasmina Tomic.

Her site states, “(though) having shared the stage with indie-folk favorites Jenny Owen Youngs and Holly Miranda, Greenfield is no stranger to the electro and hip-hop scenes”. Greenfield has performed her own versions of Coolio’s ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ and L. L. Cool J’s ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’. Yet her original works are something outside of hip-hop; Greenfield does not confine herself to a singular genre. I’d encourage you to take a listen to tracks like ‘Uncharted Places’ and ‘Human Behavior’. You can definitely hear a Tori Amos influence here.

There is no real genre I would attach to Greenfield, as I feel that would be restrictive to the amount she is capable of!

I have been gathering info and thoughts from Alyson Greenfield over the past few months, and there is a lot to be said! Read for yourself!

Farah Joan Fard: This may be a generic question, but always necessary in my opinion…how were you first exposed to the field of music? What was it that stuck with you?

 Alyson Greenfield: As a kid I was always singing and writing songs. At a young age I became enamored with pianos. I thought they were gorgeous, magical things and I knew I had to play. I actually had to beg for piano lessons for 3 years until my parents finally bought a used upright for me to play.

 FJF: When did you decide it was something you would pursue to this extent, and why did you decide to do this in New York?

AG: It wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided to move to New York and pursue music. I decided to do this in New York because I kept visiting, playing shows, and feeling at home in New York more than any other place.

FJF: Do you think our country has a distorted view of the arts? I feel it is either inflated to the point of celebrity, where talent is not always key and money and resources can be wasted…or belittled and cut in areas such as our schools and communities, where society tries to ‘hire’ musicians for free or weigh our art educators as less worthy than math and science. What do you think about this and how do you think communities should approach it?

 AG: Oh boy, this is a big question. I think there are many distortions in our country about many things, and yes, the arts are one of them, but it also depends where you are. One of the reasons I decided to move to New York (…because I found here) that everyone took what I did seriously. When I would tell people I was a writer or a musician in many other places they would ask me if it was a hobby or what else I did. When I spoke to people in New York, I found they would accept what I said and just ask me more questions about what I was doing with it, and it felt really good to be taken seriously for something. All of that being said, I definitely think New York is one of the most accepting places in this country to be a artist. I actually went to West Africa a few years ago to be in the midst of a culture where arts are part of life, not something separate or devalued. I found that pretty much if you are alive you are part of singing and dancing since you are born basically. Yes, there are people who are Master Singers, and Master Dancers, but everyone engages in singing and dancing as a part of living which I loved, appreciated, and found comforting.

FJF: I am always weary to focus on articles that refer to ‘women who rock’ type headlines. I fear that it can divide male and female musicians more and make a spectacle out of being a female musician, especially in rock or rap, etc. As in, when I am performing I am just a musician, and they don’t need to put the word ‘female’ or ‘girl’ in front of it. You’ve done a great deal in helping women in the world of music. How do you straddle that fine line?

 AG: I always try to let people know that Tinderbox (the organization/music festival I run) exists because I felt there needed to be more space to recognize the amazing amount of talent of emerging female artists. I have definitely had questions like “Are men allowed to be there? Is it a bunch of man-haters?”– things of that nature. Unfortunately sometimes people confuse “pro-women” with “man-hating/men-excluding.” I make sure to let people know that men are definitely welcome in all aspects of Tinderbox. There are many men that perform with female artists, there are men on the Tinderbox Team, and we have had a lot of sponsorship and volunteer support from men. I try to create an environment that is open and inclusive, it just happens to have a focus of promoting female artists.

FJF: Macho-ness is certainly used a lot in rock music. So is femininity, depending on what the artist is going for. Both can get on my nerves, but I feel it is really commercialized for women. When I went to purchase my first stick bag I knew I wanted the plain Vic Firth one, but the sales clerk pushed me to purchase the pink cheetah print one, no matter how many times I said no. He lost in the end, and then I ended up playing a show where I had to use a set at the venue. It ended up being a pink cheetah print set. It’s like I could feel Lisa Frank screaming every time I hit the bass pedal, and the bass drum may as well have said ‘it’s a girl!’. But I think this happens to men as well. My question is…has this ever happened to you, where people jump to make your musical image girly, or assume you will like something better because it is girly? And are there examples of this that happen to men, and do you think it is as widely criticized? Is it criticized for women or accepted and expected?

AG: I think things like this do happen to both sexes, and I think this stems not just from the music industry, but from a wider “cultural norm” or the basic gender binary that has been constructed which is the most simplistic version of gender in our society.  It can be particularly frustrating to have experiences going into music stores and not feel like you are being taken seriously.   I have definitely had experiences where I feel like I need to throw out information about research I’ve done to let the employees know I actually do play instruments and am trying to make good decisions about my gear.  I definitely don’t like feeling like I have to prove myself in these situations, but I guess it shows me that there is still work to do.

 FJF: Lately I have been asking musicians what they think about costume and dressing for a performance. I think that sometimes performers focus so much on the image, despite the fact that the outfit and antics may not be the best for your vocal performance, or your instrument. How do you approach this? I find this especially difficult for percussion, as a drum set is not quite forgiving to dressy outfits made of heels and skirts…yet wearing Keds and jeans makes me feel like a slob to the rest of a band!

AG: This is very interesting.  I feel like I’ve been playing with my image a lot lately in photo shoots, videos, and on stage. Trying to find what I feel comfortable in and what risks I’m willing to take. Some of the images have ranged from being more feminine to being more “hard core.”  I have never worn heels on stage because I’m not comfortable in them and when I perform I like to be able to jump and dance around, but I know some performers who can dance all around in heels.  I think it’s good to wear and project an image that feels true to you as a performer– which I’ve found might be different than what you wear hanging around with friends. For CMJ last year a friend actually made me a custom leather harness (designer Gina Schiappacasse) and I was a little scared to wear something that I didn’t feel like I might just walk around in every day, but when I actually put on this beautiful piece over my dress it helped me tap more into the performer me.  I found that to be surprising and really special. 

FJF: So many questions and so much to say! Tinderbox. What sparked this idea and what is your goal?

AG: When Lilith Fair came back in 2010 I wanted to be on the line-up as it was a festival and focused on female performers.  I started a blog called “Dear Lilith Fair 2010” where I basically was trying to “pitch” myself to the event. I wrote songs to Lilith Fair, wrote about work I had done with young women, and things like that.  A lot of female musicians I knew started talking to me about my blog and how they would also love to perform at Lilith Fair, but they felt they weren’t big enough to play it. I realized I knew so many emerging female musicians who I thought were amazing, and who I thought more people should know about.  So I decided to start an event that focused on showcasing emerging female musicians that also gives back to local (New York City) nonprofits empowering young women through the arts.  It was a great way for me to combine so many of my interests.  Now we are in our third year and the goal is just to keep it growing, to continue to showcase even more emerging female artists/female fronted bands, build our Songwriting Workshop Program for young women, and really increase community among female artists and be a resource for female artists and young female songwriters.

FJF: How has the community reacted to Tinderbox?

AG: The community has had an incredibly positive reaction to Tinderbox.  I really wasn’t so sure if something like this was “needed,” but the community on all fronts has been incredibly supportive and excited about Tinderbox. I’m very grateful for this and happy that I have been able to help create this space.

FJF: And you also perform your own work! What is on the map, so to speak, for you right now?

AG: The next single I’m going to release is called “Uncharted Places.” I recorded it at the Converse Rubber Tracks studio which was an awesome experience!  (You can see a video of me recording it in their studio here )

I just worked with an amazing team for the “Uncharted Places” Video which I’m so excited about.  It’s incredibly amazing to have a whole team working on creating new visions of a song.

 FJF: What was your first album?

AG: Six Songs.  It is actually a selection of songs I was submitting for an application for an MFA program in creative writing. That’s what I was doing before I moved to New York to focus on music.

 FJF: First song you performed in public?

AG: I remember playing “When The Saints Go Marching In” on a piano for a Halloween assembly at school in fourth grade when I was dressed as a Punk Rocker.  I don’t know how all of this went together, but there is a picture of it so that’s why I still remember it possibly.

FJF: What are some artists you have discovered recently and are really excited about?

AG: Zambri, Gotye, tUnE-yArDs, Jesca Hoop, Dizzee Rascal

FJF: What advice do you have for musicians who are trying to get more gigs, promote themselves, or get an album out to the world?

AG: Talk to other artists and people in the music industry. Ask them questions.  Believe in yourself. Ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing and see what answers you come up with.  Work hard.  Take yourself seriously. Be open to new possibilities you may not have thought of yourself.

Check out more about Alyson Greenfield and Tinderbox here and here! Also, check out her show at Pianos NYC on June 8th!


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