Alisa Wolfe
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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


"The Seattle Times"

Soulful chanteuse puts bluesy spin on pop-rock

By Tina Potterf
Seattle Times staff reporter

While Alisa Wolfe reveals, without hesitation, that the "blues keep me anchored," and that her reputation as a gifted singer is based largely on her vocal stylings of a "blues singer," it's a description she doesn't wholly embrace.

The Seattle-based singer-songwriter's introduction to the blues was by happenstance. Bolstered by the encouragement of fellow actors at the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago where she was working, Wolfe mustered the courage to sing at an open-mike night. The positive reaction to her impromptu performance was born from her soulful, bluesy delivery.

It wasn't long before Wolfe shifted her focus from theater to music, testing her singing and songwriting abilities on audiences around Chicago. But after seven years in the Windy City, Wolfe longed to return to the Northwest: She grew up in Anchorage and attended college at Oregon State University before landing the Steppenwolf internship. In 1998, Wolfe moved back to Portland, where she lived until last year, when she relocated to Seattle.

Music has become a full-fledged passion for Wolfe. The 32-year-old paralegal by day, chanteuse by night performs regularly in and around Seattle, most recently at this year's Bite of Seattle, and brings audiences a brand of music she prefers to call "pop and roll."

Q: Why did you move back to Portland?

I got to a point in Chicago when something told me it's time to go. My family had moved from Anchorage to Portland. I had known for a long time that I didn't want to stay in Chicago forever. I had no reason to leave. I had great gigs going on with my band. I had a great job during the day. Great friends, great boyfriend. I gave it all up on a whim. My dad drove back, and we drove cross-country to Portland.

Q: Compare the music scenes in Portland and Seattle.

When they used to have the North By Northwest show in Portland, one of the questions was, is Portland ready for the NXNW festival. My response was Portland is anxious to have the respect of a big city and have these sort of big festivals but it doesn't have the capacity for it because there simply isn't enough people.

As far as a music scene is concerned, they seem to follow along the lines of Seattle, as far as the bookers go. But there are a lot more opportunities for bands in Seattle. There are more opportunities for people to play around here and certainly a larger audience, based on population.

Q: Describe the experience of playing live.

It's a wonderful adrenaline rush. It's kind of like having a lottery ticket and hearing the announcer calling off your exact numbers, the ones you are holding. It's an absolutely wonderful feeling. It's like you have a secret that you want everyone to know about.

Q: Do you incorporate any of your theater background into your performances?

In theater, you learn the art of the show. It's truly something that people who just sit and play music don't have any experience in, they don't quite get it. You learn about performing, and you are completely not afraid of crowds. It's very natural for me to be in front of people.

Q: I know you've been labeled as a blues singer, but do you consider yourself that?

It's funny, because maybe I have to look into changing that (description) as blues singer. The bluesy part of it is simply the way I sing. I'm certainly not a blues traditionalist at all. I consider myself, if I had to choose one word, I would just say pop.

Yet the word pop usually means Christina Aguilera and all that stuff nowadays. Then I go rock, and that's like more White Stripes and Pearl Jam. It's more like Triple A format, something you'd hear on KMTT-FM (103.7).

Q: Where are some of your favorite places to perform in the Seattle area?

Since I've moved here, I've taken a little hiatus because I have been doing studio work. I played some acoustic gigs at the Steel Sky Bistro and I did the music for the Miss Oregon pageant. And ever since fall until just recently, I've been working on my next album, "Blue," which is going to be released, at least we are hoping, in November.

Q: Is there any difference between the sound of your first album, "Little Things Unseen," and "Blue"?

The new album has a lot more of a funk feel to it. It's kind of laid back in the groove. "Little Things Unseen" had a lot of acoustic stuff. "Blue" will have the same amount of eclecticism but there's more funk involved. When I say funk, I'm more talking about the rhythmic sense of the word. Bass and drum, rhythmically it's funk-driven. Hip-shaking groove type feel. And then layers of lead electric and voice.

Q: What do you find rewarding about making music?

If I didn't do it, I would be miserably unhappy. I think people have a calling; there has to be a reason you love to do it. I don't want to make a living at it, simply because I tried that and it's incredibly hard work with such little financial return.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from your performances?

I hope they feel good. I would love to try to get people's minds off current affairs. I hope people come and can leave all that behind, just relax and enjoy.

Tina Potterf: 206-464-8214 or tpotterf@seattletimes.com
- Tina Potterf


"Willamette Week"

One Look at the rosepetals, flowery body paint and pervading purple on the cover of Wolfe's debut album, Little Things Unseen, had me dreading a dose of Lilithian saccharine. Much to my pleasant surprise, Woife is no fey, tank- topped chanteuse whining that her stars are out of alignment. Rather, she belts away with passably muscular white girl blues pipes. Little Things is scrubbed a little too clean to realiy stick the down n dirty feel I think Wolfe's going for, but it's a fine first go.
- Zak Dundas


"Lake Oswego Review/Syndicated Times publication (regional)"

The Alisa Wolfe Project is a five-piece band that delivers a unique fun feel good sound.

The folks at the Corner Saloon(2509 Borland Road, Tualatin, 638-2523) know when they've heard a good thing and that's why they've booked The Projectto to play Friday and Saturday. Simon Ostler, the bar's owner, says he was lucky to have had the he insight to line the group up for several engagements.

"The group is becoming quite popular," he says.

Alisa, 29, is the band's enthusiastic guiding force. As keyboardist, rhythm guitarist, composer and vocalist, Wolfe leads the group through an unorthodox mixture of blues rhythms and "as many ilks as there are sound frequencies, from popular Motown funk, folk and rock 'n' roll to the more intriguing Latin and Zulu township jive combinations."

Members of Wolfe's ensemble include vocalists Rebecca Warner and Chelsia Rice, bass player Tom Kay and drummer Aaron Bryant of Lake Oswego. The three women gather to belt out harmonies; their voices soar and strike with authority. Soulful, sexy and sometimes silly, the singers' smooth voices compliment each other. As musicians they are a tight and well-rehearsed band.

The group performs mostly Wolfe's originals. Her ear for exotic percussion and complex vocals is evident on tunes such as "Thrill Me." The song starts out with a rich, long-building Indian/Zulu calls that builds into raging percussion.

"On Thrill Me," our bump and grind number, the words are like a seductive nursery rhyme," Wolfe says.

She has worked with such talented musicians as Marqueal Jordan (Fat Time), Jim Didomenico (Underwater People), the singers of "Forever Plaid" Joseph Shabalala (Ladysmith Black Mambazo), Shirley King (daughter of B.B. King) and Paul Simon. Originally, she planned a career in Chicago, but shifted into Portland about 15 months ago to build a band here. She completed her newly released album, "Little Things Unseen" with the help of her new Oregon band. - Gail Park


Discography

"Far Reach UP", single, released December 1999
"little things unseen," album, released March 2000

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Raised in Anchorage, Alaska, this 31-year-old performer/songwriter developed her exceptional vocal skills under the tutelage of her opera singing grandparents, performing her first voice recital at age 8. She received her degree in Performing Arts from Oregon State University, then moved to Chicago to pursue her career. There, Alisa's distinct vocal stylings were born out of passion for Chicago blues. She worked with such talented musicians as Marqueal Jordan (Fat Time), Jim Didomenico (Underwater People), the singers of "Forever Plaid," Joseph Shabalala (Ladysmith Black Mambazo), Big Time Sarah, Shirley King (daughter of B.B.) and the one and only Mr. Paul Simon. She played in and out of funk and R&B bands for three years before starting her group "Alisa's Wolfeband," playing both covers and original tunes. The quintet met moderate success in the Chicago music circuit, playing in clubs such as the Waterloo, House of Blues, Elbo Room, and the famous Double Door. She had just begun recording her debut album "little things unseen" when conflict erupted between band members. Irritability and distrust began to destroy the foundation they had spent two years building up. Frustrated and exasperated, Alisa left Chicago in 1998 to return to the beautiful Pacific Northwest to pick up where she left off. She started her Oregon band, "the alisa wolfe project" in April 1999, consisting of herself on lead vocals, acoustic/electric guitar and keys, two back-up singers, lead guitar, bass & drums.

After the release of "little things unseen" in 2000, Alisa and her band toured California, Nevada, Idaho and Oregon. Following the band tour, Alisa embarked on a solo tour of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, with performances in London, Brighton, Liverpool, Dublin, Edinburgh, Belfast and York.

Alisa performs both acoustically and with her band in Seattle, Portland, and surrounding areas two to three times a month. She is currently working on her second album, BLUE, due to be released in November, 2003. Her sophmore album promises even more interesting combinations of blues, funk, jazz and a little bit o' techno-pop.

Alisa currently resides in Seattle.