Singer/Songwriter Oria Aspen Releases Widely Anticipated New Single, “Wannabe”

New Jersey-based Oria Aspen burst onto the music scene just under a decade ago with her sensational debut album, Yellow Paint, an eclectic mixture of original pop/rock songs, soul/jazz vibes, and ballads. Her versatility is evident in the sensational cover of the Louis Armstrong classic, “What A Wonderful World,” beautifully sung as a duet with soul man Southside Johnny. The album received rave reviews as critics applauded both the musical qualities and the courage of a 17-year-old prepared to share her intensely personal journey on the hard road to adulthood. Despite periods of ill health, Oria has continued performing, mainly with her father (renowned guitarist Glenn Alexander), either as a duo or as vocalist with his band Glenn Alexander & Shadowland.

The good news is that Oria is back on the scene as a solo recording artist with “Wannabe,” a blockbuster of a single reflecting the maturity and confidence of a young woman who, in the true blues tradition, has experienced bad times but has the strength to come through them. Such is the power of music. To paraphrase John Lee Hooker, music is the healer when you are down, “all over the world, it can heal me, it can heal you.”

“Wannabe” starts with somber piano accompaniment reflecting Oria’s poignant lyrics, “As I sat down my body turned to stone / I’m lonely and I’m broken, I’m a long way from home.” The song builds gradually to a breathtaking crescendo created by the whole, perfectly balanced ensemble, interspersed with glorious interludes of light and shade rolling like waves. Soaring above this beautifully arranged backing music are Oria’s powerful and passionate vocals, impeccably phrased and with a sense of drama — as if she was singing from a Broadway stage. Her voice has a slightly husky edge and country feel, adding to Oria’s unique and intriguing sound. There is hope expressed in the words: “People can get you down sometimes but in the end / You’ve just gotta stay true to you.” The final climactic chorus communicates her emotions and negative thoughts when she was a teenager, the angst and despair palpable and almost unbearable by the end of the song: “I wanna be be a pretty girl but I’m not sure how to make it through / I wanna be a skinny girl, I wanna be like you.” 

“Wannabe” is a memorable and compelling song which hooks the listener in and won’t let go, the words and melody becoming embedded in the psyche for a long time afterwards.

Oria explains: “This song has been in the works for a long time. I wrote this song when I was 17 and in the middle of an eating disorder. I noticed that society tended to care more about the lives and problems of those who were thin and good looking, and believed myself to be unworthy of people caring because I was not what society wanted. Now at age 25, I got the opportunity to record this song after sitting on it for quite some time. Every lyric in the song still feels close to home, and I still deal with the same body image issues that I addressed in the song, just not to such an extreme extent anymore.”

Self-confessed wannabe Oria Aspen has the talent, originality and that special ingredient needed to be whatever she wants to be in the world of music. It is important to support artists who bare their souls with this degree of sincerity, so that others in similar circumstances do not feel alone but know that there is a friend and kindred spirit out there to help share the pain and to offer hope.

“Wannabe” is distributed by DistroKid from March 16th and available on iTunes, Medianet, Spotify and Deezer.

LYRICS:

I woke up this morning, I got out of bed

The rain poured down on my cold and ugly head

As I sat down my body turned to stone

I’m lonely and I’m broken, I’m a – a long way from home

Someday I wanna be a pretty girl but I’m not sure how to make it through

Someday I wanna be a skinny girl, I wanna be just like you

I tried my hardest to shine like the stars

But I fell flat and got lost in the dark

It’s these kinds of things that make me stronger in the end

I wish I was happy but I can’t even pretend

Someday I wanna be a pretty girl but I’m not sure how to make it through

Someday I wanna be a skinny girl, I wanna be just like you

Oh, people can get you down sometimes but in the end

You’ve just gotta stay true to you, and

People can tell you that you’re never good enough

But in the end you’re the only one who decides what you do

I wanna be a pretty girl but I’m not sure how to make it through

I wanna be a skinny girl, I wanna be like you

I wanna be a pretty girl but I’m not sure how to make it through

I wanna be a skinny girl, I wanna be like you, like you

Glenn Alexander and Oria Aspen (photo credit: Phyllis McQuillan)

INTERVIEW WITH ORIA ASPEN

Hi Oria, how is life for you at the moment? Are you in the middle of a lockdown?

My life is pretty boring at the moment. I’m not on total lockdown, but there are certain hours that we can leave the house, and certain hours that we must be inside. I haven’t been having too hard a time with this change as I’m an introvert and usually stick to myself at home anyways. The only thing that’s really bumming me out about this situation, other than of course the fact that people are dying, is not being able to perform.

Congratulations on your new single which is very personal and emotional. Tell us about the recording of the track and the musicians you worked with in the studio. 

It’s crazy, because when you’re recording, sometimes you don’t even get to see the other musicians. For this song, that was the case; I recorded the basic piano and vocals, and then sent the song out so that other musicians could lay their talent down on it. They recorded their tracks, and then we sent it off to be mixed and mastered. I love doing recordings this way, because nobody is breathing down the musicians’ backs telling them what to do. Each musician gets to let their talent run wild, and if anything needs tweaking, they fix minor details. The song really becomes all of ours as it changes with each instrument and effect which is really cool, and sometimes doesn’t happen when the musicians are all in one studio together telling each other what to play. Sometimes being all together can pull in exactly what is wanted, and when a specific sound is in mind, is often necessary. I enjoy that process greatly; however, for this song I wanted to work more loosely to create a sound that belongs to us all rather than to only the person or people controlling the atmosphere in the studio.

How is ‘Wannabe’ being received by family, friends and more widely?

My friends all love the song, and my parents do as well. I am currently trying to get it out there, because I know that body image is something many people struggle with, and that this song can be very relatable for so many people.

Let’s get back to your childhood and your early life in New Jersey, when did you start getting interested in music and learning to play an instrument?

Ever since I was a very small child, I have loved music. With my dad being a musician, I had opportunities at a very young age to learn everything I could about music, and I gladly did just that. I began writing melodies before I could write words, and began studying piano and flute before the age of eight. I am extremely lucky, as music is my passion, and my father, who now plays guitar with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, had everything I needed to explore that passion.

Your father is a renowned musician, how much did he influence your choices and overall musical development? 

So much! I have always looked up to my father as a level of talent I’d like to achieve. I loved music from infancy, but would never have had the means to pursue it if it weren’t for my father. At age thirteen I explained that I had written a few songs that I would like to record, and within a few weeks we were in the studio recording the beginning of my first album, Yellow Paint. After three years of work it was released, and I was addicted to writing and recording my music. Sadly however, mental health can be hard to maintain, and I ended up having to take many years off from music due to poor mental health. I am happy now to be back and feeling better; I am looking forward to recording more music, and “Wannabe” is only the beginning.

Can you remember the first record you ever bought yourself?

I bought a Demi Lovato record in my teens. I’m not sure it was my first, but I loved it. I always loved the soul in her voice and hadn’t heard that in a white girl before. Getting her record gave me hope that it was possible to be an awkward little white girl with a lot of soul. After this I found Amy Winehouse and was floored.

I hear that you are a fan of the great Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong. Who were your other main influences and what did you learn from them?

I love Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Etta James, Nina Simone, and just about any other jazz and blues singer I can get my hands on. I love Ray Charles, and went to see him as a kid (I cried tears of joy). James Brown was also a huge influence of mine, and I was lucky enough to meet him after attending his amazing concert which was unbelievable. I have so many favorites, but my main influence has always been Ella Fitzgerald. Even though I’ve never been able to come close to the vocal sound she gets, I try to incorporate the little things that she does that I am capable of learning and executing. Of course I loved Amy Winehouse, and enjoyed her covers and originals quite a bit. As a teen I loved Miley Cyrus’ country pop type sound as well, and wanted to combine that country-ish feel with the soul of blues singers.

I have been listening to your highly acclaimed Yellow Paint album which is very special and I love its variety. How did the opportunity come about and what difference did its success make to you as a teenager finding your way in the world?

I had written a few songs, and showed them to my dad; he asked me if I would like to record them, and I said “of course”. There was originally not supposed to be an album, and I was supposed to record a few songs to burn CD’s for my family and friends. After about the third song, we realized that they were sounding better than we had imagined, and so we decided to record a whole album with other melodies and lyrics that I was writing along with my dad’s badass guitar skills; suddenly, we were sending it off to other musicians, and getting great results.

You are an excellent songwriter. Can you talk us through the process of writing a song and how lyrics and tunes come about?

I generally start the writing process with a single thought that comes to my head, something that I feel needs to be heard, or maybe something I’m having trouble dealing with. I usually write that single thought down, and depending on what kind of mood I’m in I either write more lyrics or let that thought sit there until I have a place for it. Once I have written a few lyrics I think about what I want the melody to sound like. Chords are always the last thing I put down as I like to have a set melody and lyrics to know just how bright or dark sounding the song needs to be. When putting chords to melodies I pick what fits the emotion, and if I’m ever stuck I can always pick my dad’s brain for his amazing musical theory skills to get the perfect-sounding chord.

Do you have a particular song you have written which is your favorite?

My favorite song I have written has not been released yet, so keep your eyes peeled for that. My favorite song that has been released, however, is “Party Song” from the Yellow Paint album. This song brings me back to a time when I thought I was the coolest s**t to hit the toilet bowl (teenagers, am I right?), and I was ready to cause mischief anywhere I could. Listening to it now makes me laugh, but I love the feel of it, and how my dad got to exercise his rock guitar chops on it.

I have enjoyed watching your most recent performances on YouTube, several as duets with your dad. These must have been quite an experience for you.

Whenever I can, I try to get someone to record our performances on my phone, or their phone, a video camera, anything. I do this because it is such an experience that I want to remember. Playing music with my dad while we’re in good health mentally and physically is something that I don’t want to ever forget, so I try to get it recorded as much as possible; sometimes I put the videos on YouTube. Lately I’ve been using YouTube almost like a cloud; it’s a website where I can put my recorded videos to go back on them and reminisce, not to mention there’s the added benefit of others being able to view your videos as well.

Who are the best musicians you have shared a stage with and why?

This is tough, because I share the stage with really talented people on a regular basis. Some of my favorite people I have shared a stage with however, are the New York Horns, Southside Johnny, Dave LaRue, Van Romaine, and of course, my dad. All the members of the New York Horns are really nice people so I always love not only being on stage with them, but hanging backstage as well getting to pick their seasoned brains. Van Romaine and Dave Larue kindly let me sit in with L.A.X., who play with my dad; I loved that experience and had a ball. Obviously, Southside Johnny is always a treat to be on stage with, and it makes me look forward to our pig roast in more ways than one. I love getting to be on stage with him for a few songs while supporting a great cause and eating great food.

What advice would you give to other aspiring young musicians about to embark on their careers?

Don’t listen to people who think that music isn’t a career. You can make anything into a career. Love knitting? Make it your career. Love eating? Make it into your career. Love music? Make it into your career. Anything can eventually become a career if you’re willing to do it as a hobby and have a side job until you gain a fan base/ customer base/ following and can afford to make it into your career.

In this era of music streaming and, in some cases, falling CD sales and diminishing live music venues (especially at this time of international pandemic crisis), what are the main challenges facing musicians?

Musicians are definitely struggling to find ways to make money and showcase our talents right now. We can’t gig at the moment due to the pandemic, and getting together as a group to play is nearly impossible as groups of people are to be kept at a minimum. One good thing about the timing of this pandemic is the existence of the Internet, and how far it has come. Thanks to the Internet, musicians can still stream and play together with the assistance of technology, however, getting new people to tune into our content is getting much harder.

You are an accomplished flautist and pianist, do you still play these instruments?

These days, I mostly use piano as a tool to write songs; I do of course still play though. Flute is always going to be a love of mine, and I’m trying to get back into it more these days. I use my flute skills where they are needed in our jazz gigs, but sadly those have stopped since this crisis started. It’s definitely understandable, and I hope everyone is staying safe, but it is a pretty big bummer not to be able to gig right now.

Do you have any other songs/recordings in the pipeline at the moment?

There is one song that has been recorded that I should be getting ready to release at the end of 2020. In terms of other music, I have a songbook full of ideas and some full songs that I will probably start recording soon. 

What are your musical ambitions for the future?

I try to keep an open mind and not set my sights too high. Something I would really like to do with my music is to get more exposure, radio play on small stations that promote up and coming artists and gain a wider following. I also want to put out more music, which I definitely plan on doing. Another thing that I have wanted to do for a while, and hope to have time for during this shenanigans, is recording an album of jazz standards and other covers with my dad; fans have been asking for it and I definitely don’t want to continue denying them much longer, it feels wrong to make them go to YouTube, or come to a gig to hear us play jazz.

What do you think about the current blues, rock and jazz scene in Britain and the USA?

There’s a lot of talent out there right now, the obvious stuff but also many underground artists that are hard to find. The Internet is very much a double-edged sword in the fact that it can help you promote yourself and gain a following, but there is an algorithm involved, and in this day and age it is over saturated with billions of videos. You often have to do a lot of digging to find what you’re looking for, which can be frustrating, and once you find something you like, it can be hard to find other things that are up your alley. Websites tend to over-promote what is doing well, keeping those who are on top on top, and those who are trying to gain a following in the dark. That being said however, the Internet is a great way to promote yourself if you’re willing to do all the legwork, because you are certainly going to be buried below all the bigger artists when you first start posting.

Do you have a message for American Blues Scene readers?

First, I want to say that I am extremely grateful to you, American Blues Scene, all of the other contributors, readers and listeners for giving many new artists, such as myself a platform and for keeping so much great music alive. I encourage everyone to continue to make the highest level of music possible, be expressive and of course support other music and musicians. We’re all in this together. There is so much music out there and you can always find something that piques your fancy if you’re willing to search. The harder you search, the more likely you are to be the first to know about artists who will be the face of tomorrow, and that just feels cool!