INTERVIEW: Alaska Reid Goes Solo on Big Bunny EP

Photo Credit: Audrey Hall

Alaska Reid is already an industry pro. By 14, she was performing her songs in clubs on the Sunset Strip, and by 20, she’d released Crush with her band Alyeska and veteran producer John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth). Three years later, she’s stepping back into performing solo. Big Bunny, the singer-songwriter’s first solo EP, drops today, December 11, from Los Angeles imprint Terrible Records.

Infused with a free-spirited sense of whimsy and wisdom beyond Reid’s years, Big Bunny transcends genre labeling. Reid brings elements of her childhood listening—narrative-driven country—into her songwriting, and combines it with tender folk-pop melodies and raw, electronic-influenced indie rock production.

In anticipation of the EP she calls a diary of her life so far, Reid had a chat with Audiofemme about growing up splitting her time between small-town Montana and bustling L.A., her feelings about leaving the band to perform solo again, and how it’s all shaped her ever-evolving musical vision.

AF: I read that you grew up in Park County, Montana, with an approximate population of 15,000, and that you went to a one-room schoolhouse and took lessons from one of the only music teachers in town. What was it like growing up this way?

AR: Yeah, it was interesting. I actually think the most interesting thing about it is that I feel often like I grew up in between two places. [I felt] like an outsider in cities and here, too, because I grew up here and spent so long here and yet I was also away from here during high school and I didn’t go to the high school in town. I think that provided [me] a [different] perspective. If you just grew up in one place and you didn’t leave, you don’t really question it all that much. 

AF: So you were able to get perspective by moving away? Tell me more about that.

AR: Yeah, because I started going back and forth to L.A., sometime in the end of middle school through high school. So, I really got that shift. I have these really distinct memories of leaving the school I went to and going to school in L.A. and feeling sick because I couldn’t even fathom the fact that the schools [in L.A.] I went to kind of looked like a prison and it [had] a lot of students. I mean, it was a nice school but it’s just the way big cities look. If you look at the schoolhouse I went to in comparison it looks like a little red and white church and it has a steeple with a bell on top. 

AF: What pre-empted your going back and forth to L.A.?

AR: I’m from a really big family and my dad, he just needed to start working another job so he went to L.A. and then my mom had twins. My parents were still together, but it was winter, and this is one of the moments when my mom was like, “We need to go to L.A. and be with your dad.” Then she fell outside on the ice, it was really bleak out and she fractured her arm, and she was like, “I can’t handle it, it’s too much.” So we started going to see my dad. There’s a lot of us kids – I’m one of five. 

AF: Do you still live in Montana? 

AR: You know, because of COVID everything is pretty scrambled. I’m living here now but before I was living and working in L.A. and going to Montana to see family and friends and stuff and for breaks. Now I’m just here, which is pretty funny. 

AF: Can you remember some of the contrasts you noticed after being in L.A. and coming back to Montana? 

AR: First of all, I think L.A., no matter where you come from, grows on you. I don’t think you’re immediately hit with love for it, at least in my experience. Montana has such pristine nature and hiking is totally different here. I think when I went to L.A. I was really shocked by the grittiness of it—the city grittiness—and the strip malls. I was living way far out on the outskirts of L.A. so I wasn’t in like the Hollywood parts, but so many things were different.

Another thing: I missed a lot of cultural references – not because people in Montana aren’t informed, but because of the proximity L.A. has to the movie business and movie stars. That was really different. Everything is just bigger. I really love L.A. now though, it grew on me. I think just the broadness of L.A. makes it so different to me. 

AF: Do you remember when you first realized you liked to sing and write music? 

AR: I’ve been singing since I was really young so I never really thought about it. There was one voice teacher in town and she was like an angel to me. She taught me from when I was I think 5 or 6 until I was 20 maybe. I started singing with her and I sang classical music and opera-y stuff and I wanted to be an opera singer when I was really young. I performed here in town, did a lot of community things. It was so natural, the singing thing. I really didn’t second-guess it.

Plus, my dad listened to a bunch of music so that was always in my life. I remember the first time hearing The Breeders going to school and Dinosaur Jr., and being infatuated. And then the guitar – I honestly think my parents were just like, “Why don’t you play guitar because you constantly are listening and remarking on the guitar in songs?” I was forced to practice and then fell in love with it and I started writing. I didn’t know that people covered songs really. I thought if you were going to play you were going to write your own songs, so that’s why I started doing it.

AF: You knew from that young that you wanted to do music full time? 

AR: Oh yeah, I was gigging on the Sunset Strip when I was 14. My parents got me my first guitars and drove me to gigs and waited outside with me when I couldn’t go in because I was too young. 

AF: What are some of the clubs you played on the Sunset Strip when you were really young? Where did you cut your teeth?

AR: Oh my god, I played all over L.A. I played the Pig & Whistle, I played the House of Blues, and the small rooms, like during bar nights.

AF: I read that you were kind of frustrated in L.A. because of the way you were perceived as a woman songwriter or a young girl songwriter. Can you elaborate on that? 

AR: Oh yeah. I don’t know. I can’t speak for everyone, but being a woman is really important in my music and I love writing about young women and women in general. I grew up in a kind of matriarchy as a household. I don’t like people labeling people first by their gender and then secondly as their art. That really irritated me – I was like, I just want to be taken seriously. It’s gotten so much better but it was really hard to be taken seriously and when I was playing all those clubs as a 14-year-old girl. I got a lot of support, but I also did get a lot of people that were assholes to me because I was a girl, like sound guys and stuff like that. Or creepy people. That’s kind of why I started the band, because it was like, I don’t feel like I can be alone out there because people don’t take me seriously. That’s changed a lot. 

AF: Tell me about how that’s changed for you. 

AR: Well, A) I’ve gotten older, B) the world has realized a lot of things and C) I think you’re just seeing a lot of women now playing music and kicking ass. Not that they weren’t before. 

AF: Was your music back then like the music you write now? How has your music changed? 

AR: To be honest, I really think all the pieces were there and it’s just me actually sanding them down and putting them together in the right way, where I am right now. At that point in time I wasn’t playing electric. I was really into country music because I grew up on Americana, and I’d wear Patsy Cline dresses, stuff like that. I love Merle Haggard, I love George Jones, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Guy Clark. A modern country person I love [is] Miranda Lambert. I think she’s so cool. I love Lyle Lovett too. He’s a mentor of mine, he’s the greatest. 

AF: You know him personally? 

AR: Yeah, I do actually. He’s been a sort of angel in my life. He’s an amazing songwriter. I met him through my dad’s work.

AF: Does country influence your new EP? I can definitely hear the influence; is that intentional? Or just something that pours out of you because you were around it when you were young? 

AR: The thing I absolutely adore about country music is that it’s narrative-based songwriting, and that’s really important to me. I think that’s the biggest thing I take from country. Also I love the guitars, and I love the musicianship. To me that’s really rock ‘n’ roll, just how dexterous everyone is both in narrative songwriting and in the musicianship. 

AF: How did connect with producer/engineer John Agnello for that first Alyeska release? 

AR: I always loved Dinosaur Jr., one of my favorite bands—I cry at the shows. I started getting really interested in electric guitar and whatnot. That kind of started my band and, you know, the early iterations of it. Then I had this manager, I said I wanted to connect with Agnello to him, and he was like, “You’re not going to be able to contact John Agnello.” Yeah. So I was kind of like, “Fuck you,” and actually went on Facebook and found John and messaged him and was like, “Hi John, I love all of your work, let’s meet up, I want to play you songs, I’m going to be in New York at this time.” And he wrote me back, like “Come hang out at the mixing studio, I’m mixing this record.” I went there with my mom, and he thought I was a guy, which is really funny. Like he didn’t look at my Facebook profile, I don’t think.

AF: What then prompted you to go solo for this EP? Have you parted ways from your band, or is that still existing in the background and you just decided to do a solo project? 

AR: I parted ways with my band. I was the band, but I had people play with me and it was too messy. I was so grateful because again, I’m going on about John, but John is also another angel in my life, he’s amazing, and doing that record with him, I wouldn’t have changed anything. I just felt so proud and so happy and so supported by him and he taught me so much with songwriting and everything, so I was really grateful for that experience. 

AF: Zooming in more on your EP, what does the name Big Bunny come from?

AR: I just love bunnies. I used to chase rabbits when I was younger, when I lived out in what we call “The Valley” in Montana. We had a little bit more property and a field, and the title track of the EP is about me and my sister and our childhood. You know, when you don’t have anything to do and you run around… I always wanted to find this big bunny and stuff like that so it kind of comes from that. I think it’s just been a theme in my life. 

AF: It’s kind of whimsical too! Another song I loved on the album was “Warm” – the production is slightly different and it seems to be more of a pop song so I’m wondering what the story is – how did it come to life? 

AR: That song is really funny because I had never written with anyone else before a year or two ago, maybe, and that was one of the songs I wrote with my friend Max Hershenow, and he also did some of the production on it. He’s been an amazing part of my life too because he has really taught me about pop song writing, and not being afraid of that. I was afraid of stuff. I had so many rules.

AF: Where did the rules come from? 

AR: I had rules that I hated pop. At one point—now I own so many fucking guitar pedals—but at one point I was like, “If you have a guitar pedal, you’re an asshole.” I just made rules. I think too, it comes from the fact that I’ve had to be really tough in indie rock so [with Max] I relaxed a little bit. Max is really sweet; we wrote that song together, so the pop sensibility comes from him. 

AF: Is your songwriting autobiographical, usually? A lot of your songs are from the perspective of a young woman, or young women – do you usually draw on your own perspective or do you think about characters? How do you write? 

AR: I definitely write about myself but it’s really hard to write honestly about yourself and be okay with singing that every night to strangers. So, I think I also kind of combine bits of myself with fictionalized characters or people around me. It makes it more of a blend, it’s less close to home in that way.  

AF: What are some silver linings that have come out of quarantine for you? Where is your music career right now?

AR: I think it’s been really productive. I’ve learned Logic and it’s blown my mind, because I thought I couldn’t do that. So now, because I produced two of the songs—”City Sadness” and “Big Bunny.” That’s a really big thing.

AF: Were a lot of these songs written during COVID, or prior to the pandemic?

AR: A couple of the songs are from my band days. “Oblivion” actually has the chords to the first song I ever wrote and then I re-wrote it. So this EP is really a comprehensive picture of my music in general. I either had pieces of the songs or ideas of the songs since I was younger and then ones I did with people, excluding “Oblivion,” I wrote as I was recording and the others have been songs I’ve written on my own. Big Bunny is really the diary of my life up until this moment.

Follow Alaska Reid on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

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