Art Notes: Recording on her own terms in Royalton

By ALEX HANSON

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-15-2023 7:38 PM

ROYALTON — Making music on her own has been part of Alison Turner’s life since middle school. For a shy, self-described “reticent” child, music was an outlet.

“I think I got my first Mac computer when I was in seventh grade,” Turner, a Royalton native who records and performs as Ali T, said in an interview Tuesday. “That was a pivotal moment in my life.”

Using Garage Band and iMovie, she was able to record herself singing and playing guitar. Then she moved on to recording separate tracks and kept writing and recording songs right through high school and college.

I don’t want to make Turner sound like some kind of up-and-comer. She’s putting out her third album next week, and if the first two — 2019’s “Smoke and Mirrors” and 2021’s “The Makeover” — are any indication, it will be filled with clever, tuneful, heart-felt pop songs.

But the forthcoming “Pancakes at Midnight” will be the first record she’s produced all on her own, from playing all the instruments, recording all the vocal tracks, and doing all the editing and mixing. It’s an extension of the DIY spirit of her South Royalton School days.

“I feel like the biggest way it’s evolved is with confidence,” Turner said. Quiet, introverted people open up onstage, she said. Offstage, they are often full of doubts. Absent stardom, what does it mean to write songs about love and longing?

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What it means is that a creative person is doing the work she was meant to do, nothing more, nothing less.

Turner, 30, arrived at our Tuesday conversation at First Branch Coffee in South Royalton looking every bit the off-duty popstar. Fuzzy leopard-print coat, chunky glasses, Ramones T-shirt, torn jeans. Vermont and the Upper Valley like to style themselves as come-as-you-are kind of places, but this kind of daring is still above and beyond.

As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of how little support there is for musicians in the Upper Valley. When I talk to visual artists, seldom do I get the sense that they have to justify their creativity. They’re outside the mainstream, but have backing.

For Turner, the calculus is different. Wider circulation of her music would be welcome, and it’s on her mind. But she’s also doing what she wants to do, more or less in the ways she wants to do it, yielding a kind of satisfaction that sustains her.

“I’ve had people tell me how to try to be successful,” she said. Maybe if she wore lipstick, was one dunderheaded piece of advice.

Ultimately, she said, the most important thing is that “I have a job that I’m happy with. I’m doing what I love every day.”

That was true of her work on “Pancakes at Midnight.” When she records music with other people, she’s never quite certain she’s getting what she had heard in her head. “Everyone has their own recording style,” she said.

Her first album, “Smoke and Mirrors,” was recorded with Ed Eastridge at his Thetford studio. That experience taught her that “you don’t really need to have a fancy, expensive studio to turn out a good product.”

Eastridge also encouraged her to upgrade her software so she could record WAV files, instead of MP3. “That was kind of pivotal, too,” she said.

“The Makeover” comprises recordings Turner made that were then remastered at The Underground, a recording studio in Randolph.

For a time, though she’d been recording her own work for years, the idea of making a record was a bit of an afterthought for Turner. She moved back to Royalton eight years ago, after graduating from Wagner College, on Staten Island, N.Y., and right away started playing gigs around the Twin States, both on her own and with bands, including the funk ensemble SoulFix.

“There were people that would come up to me and say ‘Can I buy that song?’ ” Turner said. She didn’t have anything to sell them, which seemed like a problem, but one with a remedy close to hand.

For “Pancakes,” Turner added to her skills, programming drums and strings and learning to play bass. The process requires attention to detail, and eventually letting go.

“You’re never done,” she said. “Even now, listening back, I’m like, ‘Oooh, that should have been louder.’ ... Ed has said that, too. You can mix things forever.”

The record is due out March 24 and a couple of album release parties are on the calendar, including one at Sawtooth Kitchen in Hanover on April 15 with a backing band that includes Spencer Bladyka and Jeff Meyer-Lorentson, of the alt-rock outfit Shy Husky, and the versatile Skip Truman.

Where the new recording will take Turner is hard to foresee. It’s difficult to be heard in the constant hurricane of music from national and global acts. Even getting onto Spotify playlists is impossible, Turner said. Amid the satisfaction of making her own work, her own way, is fame even a goal?

“To a certain extent, yeah. I wouldn’t mind it,” she said. To make the roster for Coachella or Bonnaroo would be good. “And a Grammy would be nice.”

In the meantime, she’s going to keep making music. I’d like to think that there’s a better way, one that recognizes the value local musicians provide. I don’t think I’m the only one who’d like to see the Upper Valley do for pop, rock, punk, reggae, jazz and other contemporary music what it has done for, say, visual art, theater, cartooning and opera. I don’t know what that would look like, but it seems overdue.

“I have no control over it,” Turner said, “so I’ll just do what I do and hope for the best.”

“Pancakes at Midnight,” a new album from Ali T, comes out on March 24. Look for it through her website at sheisalit.com.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.

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