Performing at The Howard Theatre on Friday and Saturday – Up Close with Alice Smith

Two or three times a year, Alice Smith seduces D.C. audiences with an intoxicating cacophony of R&B, pop, jazz and blues influences, the tension of an aching, volcanic sound and her soul-revealing, emotional performance.

For Lovers, Dreamers & Me (2006), her critically acclaimed debut effort landed her a Grammy nomination in the Best Urban/Alternative category. She (2013) her most recent CD was funded by Smith’s successful Kickstarter campaign and without the worries of a major record label.

Her two upcoming concerts produced by Jill Newman Productions at The Howard Theatre on June 20th and 21st promise to be as memorable and as impressionable as her last DC appearance this past November. In a recent phone interview, Alice Smith discusses the challenges of motherhood, the collaborative process with She songwriters, her new definition of success, and the fun, ‘party”expectations of a return “home” to DC.


Alice Smith. Photo by 2014 Jeff Spirer.
Alice Smith. Photo by 2014 Jeff Spirer.

Sydney-Chanele:  Performing in concert night after night,  you have to get used to singing the same songs over and over. How do you keep it fresh?

Alice: I don’t get to do live shows as often as I’d like.  So it’s not like I’m doing it all of the time. When I get a chance to do it, I’m always really grateful and happy to be able to do it. In DC and New York, places that I can call my home, it’s always really, really fun!  In DC.I always feel this is my home and it makes feel really good that there are people actually here that like to hear my music and come to my show. So it’s always fresh for me. It’s always fresh.

I’m still in the beginning stages, I feel.

Your concerts are more than a concert. It’s an experience, and a long-lasting one. After attending your concert last November my first thought was I wish I could bottle that magical moment and take it home. Have you ever thought about filming your concert experience to make it available on DVD?

Thank you. Yes, I have. And I don’t know how – It’s not an easy thing to capture – the live show, that live feeling. You have to know the right guys to get that type of recording. But I do want to do that. Yes. As soon as I find somebody to do it right and I’m confident it’s going to sound right, I’ll do it.

The title of your first album, For Lovers, Dreamers & Men was borrowed from The Muppets. In my research I’ve learned that the inspiration for She comes from a Hindu – Parvati statue discovered while recording in Hawaii. Why did you select She to be the title of your latest album?

Well, I just thought it was such an amazing title. I did the song and then I thought wouldn’t that be a great album title. Really simple. It just happened and made sense.

Why was that statue so inspiring?

I had never heard of her before. (Parvati is the Hindu goddess of love, devotion and power.) I was doing a group of songs on the album, and then I came across this statue in a store. Then I read about her and became truly interested in the story. Then when I was almost finished, – the day that I wrote She – was the day that I realized that there was a statue of the same goddess in the room that I had been recording the album (but didn’t know.) I was like Ohhh! This is my girl!  I think she was my patron saint.

Do you consider yourself spiritual or religious?

I’m pretty spiritual yes, but I’m not very religious. I lack the discipline.

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Is there a pre-concert ritual that you prepare before you go on stage?

I used to, but now I don’t really have one. I might revisit that.

So these days, you just go from your dressing room and walk out on stage?

Yeah, Yeah. I’m thinking, “OK, get ready. Go to work. Time to get on stage.” Sometimes I pray with the guys if we catch a moment. But a lot of times – I try to get a second with myself – that’s the last vestige of my old ritual. I usually get about five minutes if I can in the room, and I don’t do anything but put on lipstick and shoes, and then I’m ready to go.

You said vestiges of your old ritual – How did that transition occur? Or did you just become more relaxed before concerts?

I think it just happened. I didn’t have the same amount of time. Before, on the day of a concert, I used to take a nap during the day and take a quiet bath – that nice quieting stuff. Now I usually just don’t have the time for that.

I would think that a lot of that has to do with motherhood.

(Laughing) Yes. I didn’t want to say it, but yes. I have other people to run after.

What are the most challenging issues or conflicts you have now – being a mother, a wife, a daughter, and staying true to yourself – all while being a successful music artist in the entertainment industry?

The challenges – there’s lots’ of them. I think what I’m facing these days is that it can just be overwhelming. There’s a lot of things to do – and I’m a creative person. I’m an artistic person. I’m finding that out and I didn’t realize that. That was my problem. Being an artistic person sometimes it makes me worry that I won’t be able to get all the things done that have to get done.

So unpack that for me. What do you mean when you say that you are just finding out that you’re an artistic person?

I just never really thought of myself that way. I thought of myself as a singer, and that’s about as far as I took it.

What does it mean to you to be artistic, now that you recognize this part of yourself?

I realize that my mind actually works differently than a person who is not artistic. So all of those regular things – and I do a lot of regular things and can certainly function in society as an adult. But I do see that there are things where I am up in the clouds a lot. It’s a different mind set.  It’s different priorities. There are a lot of things that I just don’t care about but am forced to deal with them.I’m thinking ‘Can I do this? I don’t even know.’

What is your personal definition of success these days?

Umm, that’s hard. You’re killing me today. My personal definition of success – ok, I got it. My personal definition of success has to do with me reaching my fullest potential where my art and my spirit are concerned.

See, that wasn’t so bad. Your answers just flowed. How have you grown as a songwriter and a performer since your first CD?

I think I have grown a lot in the past six or seven years in a very positive direction. I think after that first album I focused. That first album just happened. I was really just -that was all of my raw, natural stuff, and there wasn’t a lot of intention behind it. I think my voice is better. My show is better, and I’m able to be free in it because my intention is now to enjoy it. Now, it’s to get something out of it and let it be my release.

And that’s totally what an Alice Smith concert is like. There is a sense of freedom, emotional enjoyment, and an in-the-moment authenticity.  You just don’t see that from every performer.

That I can do. I can do that.

Besides the four songs that you wrote solo, you have two co-writers on the She album. What makes the collaborative process work between you and writing partners Rebecca Jordan (singer/songwriter) and Reginald “Syience” Perry (writer /producer)?

They’re great and I just like them. I trust them. We met at a writing session in New York (right at the end when I was ending stuff with Sony), and then we just all started making songs – quickly. We work fast together. I felt really comfortable with them. And musically I trust them, and trust them to say to me, “I know you wouldn’t normally want to do this but you should try this …” If they tell me something that I normally wouldn’t think myself, I would probably go with it.

All writing is personal. You wrote four songs, solo. Are those songs more personal for you, more autobiographical? Do you have a favorite?

I don’t have a favorite. At one time I think Another Love was my first favorite. It’s always changing. And, it has nothing to do with if I write alone or write with other people. My solo written songs aren’t more or less autobiographical. They are more something though – it is different.

But writing with them (Rebecca and Syience) it can all be personal, because they are my personal friends. I get pretty personal. With my first album half of those songs I didn’t write, I just took them.

You are returning to DC for the second time in almost seven months.  What’s it like performing for the DC audience and returning to The Howard Theatre?

I’m really looking forward to performing at home because people in DC really know how to party. I think that for real – it’s a party. It’s fun and easy and I love going to The Howard Theatre because it’s a pretty place and the sound is good. So I’m looking forward to all of that!

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You’re booked for two nights at The Howard Theatre this time.

Two nights and I’m hoping to sell it out both nights. Please bring everyone. We’ll see what happens next.

Alice Smith performs June 20 and June 21, 2014 at The Howard Theatre – 620 T Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets for upcoming events can be found on the Events Calendar and on Ticketmaster.

Alice Smith’s website.

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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]


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