Among the hordes of New Yorkers who took a hiatus from the city for the last year is singer-songwriter Gianna Alessi. Having spent the last seven years bouncing around Brooklyn and Manhattan and growing her live show at venues like Bowery Electric and Arlene’s Grocery, she gave up her apartment and headed back to her hometown of Nyack, New York. She found the time creatively fruitful, honing her skills as an at-home producer with a microphone and a laptop and leaning into the feelings of anxiety and defeatedness to ultimately produce single “From Within,” which premieres on Audiofemme today.
Alessi is a classically trained theater singer, studying at the Boston Conservatory Berklee School of music, but her training as a musician began much younger. With two classical musicians for parents and the granddaughter of Maria Leone, a soprano in the Metropolitan Opera, Alessi had her first voice lesson with her grandmother at age 9. “I was always kind of nervous to sing around her, because she was very strict and opera is such an amazing art form that takes such control,” she explains. “But from there I started studying, and… just went down that rabbit hole.” Though her grandmother and she sing in very different styles, she says her family calls her the “reincarnation” of her, and often refers back to old photos and recordings for inspiration.
She eventually made the journey from theater to the soulful, R&B-flecked electro-pop she favors today after taking a songwriting class at Berklee and picking up a guitar. “I always loved theater,” Alessi says, “but the part I loved most about it was the music, so once I started learning guitar I just kind of blossomed and I began to write all the time.” Upon graduation she moved to New York City, where she began working as an actor and putting together a live show with background vocalists and a band, sharpening a sound that meets somewhere at the intersection of India Arie and Morcheeba.
“From Within” is a departure from her normal practice, however. Like many musicians lacking their usual resources due to the pandemic – like their band or proper recording equipment – Alessi improvised, setting up a small studio of sorts in her childhood bedroom and ultimately working to finish the song remotely with producer Joey Auch. Alessi turned the disquietude of the moment into lyrics like, “Waking up late/I pull the shades/Oh, did I miss the day?” The verses simmer in a sultry, dark space, and then burst open into a more positive, pop-driven chorus about finding herself amidst all the uncertainty of the present.
Overall though, the track was an experiment in exploring a more quiet place artistically. As a theater student, Alessi says, “I was always taught singing louder means more power, loud is good in performing… but with this song, I was like, ‘What if I make something really intimate?’” That intimacy leant itself to a more honest reflection of the “very dark place” she says she and many other creatives have been suspended in, but that “From Within” helped her meet herself “within this kind of sadness.”
“From Within” is Alessi’s sixth single, and though she doesn’t know if it will end up on a larger collection of her work, she hopes to jump into the studio in the spring or summer to record more tracks, with an EP or album in mind. “I’m just going to keep creating,” she says.
After her self-imposed creative retreat, Alessi feels she’s at a “crossroads,” having considered both moving back to New York City and heading out to Los Angeles. But the themes on “From Within” resonate with the age-old adage, wherever you go, there you are.
“I think the song is like, I’m going to find myself again, and I have – I was always here,” she says. “If I lost myself, it was only for a second, because everything that was still remains, and it’s all kind of within me anyways.” Wherever Gianna Alessi winds up, we’ll be listening.