By Carol Crenna
Meaning of Success: Canadian Singer Alannah Myles
Interview with rock singer Alannah Myles
Singer/songwriter Alannah Myles has always known what she wanted, but she has found that it takes a lot of strength to get it. She was already performing in nightclubs at age 19, and when she released her first album in 1990, the number one hit Black Velvet, commemorating Elvis Presley, sold six million copies world-wide, making it one of the most successful Canadian releases of all time. Alannah won a Grammy Award, several Juno Awards, has had Top 40 hits including Lover of Mine and Instead of a Kiss, and toured with big names like Robert Plant and Tina Turner. And then she all but disappeared. After a 10 year hiatus, Alannah has re-emerged, energized, and with a new album. Here, she speaks with VISTA about life, loss and looking forward.
VISTA: You’ve spoken openly about some of the negative experiences of your past. Why? Did you find it difficult, since you must have known it would draw criticism from some?
Alannah: When you’re a good and honest human being and have learned that facing truth in yourself is the only way of gaining inner peace, you don’t gauge what criticisms you must face when you finally open up to the world. My honesty has been met with many who are able to support it wholeheartedly and many who have made it their mission to undo the good I have worked so hard to create. It is my choice not to allow the opinions of others to destroy me. Perhaps this is the reason for my lengthy hiatus from the public – to gain the strength I would need to remain at peace with myself despite the venom that has poured forth from Canadians for my honesty. Thankfully, I am treated with greater respect by the rest of the world.
VISTA: Did the experiences as a young performer help you to gain greater self-awareness?
Alannah: At the risk of sounding arrogant or overconfident, I feel that I was born with a greater self awareness than most, and certainly a tremendous amount of energy to accomplish my dreams. I have always known what I want creatively. I follow my visionary sense and am unafraid to implement it. If I didn’t have an expansive ego or drive and focus, there would be no reason for me to be giving this interview. There would be no phenomenal success. Success is earned!
VISTA: What were you working on during the last 10 years? Did you find the industry had changed when you returned?
Alannah: I knew my return to the public was never going to be the same as it initially was. The world changed, the internet opened doors to new music from all levels of performers, and the gap widened with music contests that pit wannabe singers against each other for the prize to be famous. Music has lost its art form, and as a result, our creative culture suffers. In the time it has taken me to gather the funds and the right contractual agreement with a record company (Linus Entertainment), I have been working on either crafting songs or recording them. I maintained my status internationally with TV appearances and performances in Europe where they could afford to pay me so that I would have a decent living, because I received no income from the millions of record sales that I had in the past.
VISTA: You have re-released Black Velvet 20 years after its first release; why did you choose to do this rather than re-inventing yourself?
Alannah: It’s been precisely 18 years since we first released Black Velvet in Canada. Several other bands have re-issued songs as live performances or remakes of their hits (such as Sting with Roxanne and Eric Clapton with Layla), but for 12 years I was prevented contractually by my Atlantic Records agreement from rerecording any of my music. The record company could afford a better lawyer, and I didn’t have the money to battle them for rights. In the time that has lapsed, music lovers who remember Black Velvet have long since forgotten my name. Rerecording the track was a way of reintroducing myself to a new public, some of whom were not even born when that song became a hit.
VISTA: Why wait so long?
Alannah: That’s how long it takes an artist to get free [from a contract]. A lot of artists just give up the fight, and as they get older it becomes that much more difficult to stay in the game. I’m not bitter for the experiences I’ve had; I’ve learned tonnes and am a whole lot smarter and better for having made that connection with the people who appreciate my music.
VISTA: You look fabulous. How do you keep your shape and your youthful looks?
Alannah: I’m fortunate that I have my mother’s hourglass figure and my father’s slender hips. Thanks to gravity, I finally have a bum. I’m a minimalist and keep my weight down by eating only what my body needs. It’s ironic that though the greatly touted men of rock and roll look like they need a meal, slimness in women is misperceived as an eating disorder. I haven’t gained or lost a pound in 15 years.
VISTA: How do you deal with aging?
Alannah: Like everybody else, I guess. It’s the only guarantee in life other than death — we all do it. I have been faithfully maintaining my skin with facials and high quality moisturizing products for years. I schedule an appointment with my esthetician the day before a photo shoot to add moisture to the skin, which plumps up facial lines so it glows for the camera. I could never stick needles in my face to plump-out lines artificially or stun my expression with Botox. When I see a woman who is desperately clinging to her last vestige of youth through artificial means, I feel that it is an indication of her insecurity. Our culture is being trained to fear aging through advertising that promotes youth.
VISTA: Are you a healthy eater?
Alannah: My lifestyle is centred on clean living – no smoking, drugs or hard alcohol. However, I might share a glass or two of red wine with a friend a couple of times a month or have a glass on an overseas flight to help me sleep. I don’t eat fast foods or snack foods. I eat minimally but I make sure I get the protein I need and supplement my diet with herbal liquid vitamins from my homeopath.
VISTA: Do you exercise?
Alannah: I would have to say that the shape I’m in has more to do with diet than exercise. I was very athletic in the beginning of my career, working out to a dance programme in front of a mirror until my stage performances became the predominant factor in my life that kept me in fine form. I now use swimming to keep in shape and keep my muscle tone and heart rate up.
VISTA: Growing up in Ontario, was outdoor exercise a priority with your family? You rode horses, which is thought to be very therapeutic. What did it bring to you?
Alannah: I went to school in Toronto but spent every weekend and summer at the family’s cottage, which was on a lake a mile from the barn where we kept our horses. We would ride through the fields and forests, set up courses to jump our horses over or just jump over the split rail fences between farms. It instilled a great feeling of bold independence — one which has served me well over the years of making music. I remember counting out the beats of a horse’s gait to any given song as I rode.
VISTA: Was and is your family very supportive of your career?
VISTA: How does singing make you feel?
Alannah: Songwriting, singing and performing is probably the only harbinger on this Earth where I feel confident and free from life’s obstructions. My voice is the only thing that I trust will not let me down.
VISTA: You said that the song Amazing Grace describes your life. That hymn is about someone who had done others wrong while “lost,” yet saw the light and redeemed himself. Does this describe your past?
Alannah: Although I didn’t realize that my choice to sing that song was spiritual — I use Amazing Grace to warm up my vocal chords before doing a show — it moves me spiritually. I find myself rewriting it melodically every time I sing it so it keeps me feeling open and creative. It is not I who had lost the light. It was others who attempted to condemn mine. I have rediscovered my faith in God by the very trials I have had to face and the fact that I’m still here to talk about them. I used the experience to discover what it was about me that would have set me up for being victimized. I have dealt with it and it is now my time to become the victor.
VISTA: Why do I get the feeling that you were treated badly long before your record contract? You’re a strong woman, and this doesn’t come with just being knocked down once.
Alannah: What I have experienced in this life no one should ever have to experience. There will always be those who claim your life to be better than theirs, but I can only answer for my own spiritual development. The past is a gift to the future. It does not serve me or any other to conjure the past for mere purposes of garnering another’s empathy or curiosity. It has done its job.
VISTA: You have an incredible voice. What song on your new CD is your favourite?
Alannah: Thank you. I have several: Leave it Alone, Give Me Love, Faces in the Crowd, and perhaps my current favourite, Trouble.
VISTA: What advice would you give people who want to pursue a dream but are held back by fear or by someone or something else?
Alannah: If it’s your calling and your heart speaks volumes to follow it, then do it with all of the energy that God gave you to accomplish your dream. Listen to others who support that dream and believe in you. Do not listen to others who will stand in your way. Believe in yourself and, if it’s a goal to be a singer, make sure you’ve got a great song and a good music hook!
VISTA: What great things are happening in your life right now?
Alannah: I have friends who give me support. I work with kind and intelligent people who I appreciate and admire. I am in the midst of a renewed challenge that gives me a sense of being alive. I feel that I am the boss of me, and I am at peace with that. I have my faith, my health and my whole life ahead of me to enjoy.
Carol has been a lifestyles journalist for 20 years. She is also a certified nutritionalist. She has written for publications in New York, San Diego, Seattle, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, including nine years as columnist for The Vancouver Sun. Carol would love to hear from you!