California Dreaming: Allison Weiss relocates and reinvents herself

Allison Weiss
photo: Catie Laffoon

Allison Weiss spends her free Taco Bell gift cards on iced coffee. She has 100 individual cards, or at least she did at the start of her summer tour. The fast food chain sponsored her for “Feed The Beat,” an annual program that supplies selected touring artists with $500’ worth of food and drinks. Ten years ago, back when she built a website and used YouTube and MySpace to promote herself, Weiss was innovative and ambitious, and her songs dealt with heartbreak. She’s the same today, only now she receives free coffee.

Weiss released her third full-length, New Love, on Oct. 2, and while it’s stylistically very different from her previous work, there’s consistency in its purpose for her. “Ever since I was a teenager, my processing of my feelings has always been completely entwined with writing music,” says Weiss. “I don’t think I ever worked through something without thinking about it in terms of the song. That’s just how I function.”

Her writing habits evolved, becoming more routine as release cycles gained momentum. But early on, she collected songs from scattered writing sessions, as a lack of resources often delayed planned recording. Weiss nonetheless assumed every responsibility, and she discovered tools for advancing her solo career. She eventually graduated from the do-it-yourself route, but the route was crucial to her previous releases. In 2009, she used Kickstarter to fund her debut full-length, …Was Right All Along, which generated enough interest to allow her to return to the platform two years later. 2013’s Say What You Mean, released on No Sleep Records, was the culmination of a lengthy process that started with a fundraising goal, where she accumulated enough of a budget to record a pair of companion records: Sideways Sessions (an entirely Americana version of Say What You Mean) and The Teenage Years (updated re-recordings of songs Weiss had written on an acoustic guitar in her early days). But none of that would’ve happened without pizza dates in New York, Skype calls and private performances—Weiss’ promised rewards to fans who donated to the project in the higher tiers.

Weiss completed Say What You Mean prior to landing on No Sleep, which also released 2014’s Remember When EP, but her more recent signing to Los Angeles-based label SideOneDummy granted her the freedom to record a full album without having to face financial obligations herself. Weiss had recorded only a handful of new demos when SideOneDummy approached her, but the label expressed immediate interest, and Weiss entered the studio to—for the first time—record an LP as a signed artist. The transition paralleled her relocation from Brooklyn to Los Angeles near the end of 2013.

“The actual moving part was really tough, because physically moving all of your life from one side of the country to another is the most stressful thing you can do,” she says. But upon establishing a routine, the Georgia-born Weiss quickly adjusted, finding comfort in the change of pace that came with leaving the East Coast.

“I’m a pretty high-strung person. I deal with a lot of anxiety and stuff like that,” she admits. “Some of my favorite memories happened in New York, but I really, really love being able to relax in California.”

The experience inspired “Golden Coast,” a song written over the course of more than a year. “I was sort of writing that song before I left [Brooklyn],” says Weiss, who consulted her old notes when she and her fiancee settled in Los Angeles. “I was scrolling through a document on the computer [that contains] a million lyrics, and I came across that one, and I was like, ‘Ah, this still resonates with me. I want to make this happen.’”

California became her recording locale as well, which, coupled with SideOneDummy’s pull, involved new and exciting personnel. “I don’t know if I would’ve had the opportunity to work with Forrest [Kline] and Brad [Hale] if it hadn’t been for the folks at SideOneDummy putting me in contact with them and working it all out,” the singer says. “Those two are some of the most talented musicians I know.”

Kline and Hale—of Hellogoodbye and Now, Now, respectively—recorded New Love at Kline’s home studio in Long Beach, and they produced the album as well. Weiss also recruited touring band member Peter Recine, who spent a day recording guitars alongside Kline. Hale, meanwhile, programmed the electronics and played all of the drums.

New Love itself reveals the group’s direct, pop-oriented framework, with songs that aren’t nearly as guitar-driven as Weiss’ past work. But the album is equally a product of her eclectic pop influences, which range from The Go-Go’s’ 1982 album Vacation to modern Top 40 radio hits.

“These songs all tell stories of losing somebody and getting them back—which I feel like, in real life, is not a realistic situation,” says Weiss, citing the music that struck an emotional chord with her on “Back To Me” in particular. “You hear a pop song, and you think, ‘Oh, man. That song’s for me. I’m gonna win back my ex.’” Weiss also admits to being fond of contemporary country, although Florida Georgia Line is “a little too ‘bro country’” for her.

Despite those influences, New Love is more a distant, once removed cousin of Taylor Swift than it is an imitation of her. The album is wholly Allison Weiss, with her shy, sensitive and kindhearted demeanor on full display. But her humor is there as well, and she sings about crying at a party to “whatever’s on the radio,” of pursuing a motorcycle hobby to get over an ex and of relating to everyone who’s ever had feelings they can’t explain.

The album closes with a re-recorded version of “The Same,” a song originally written for the third volume of The Gayest Compilation Ever Made, a compilation benefiting the LGBTQ organization Everyone Is Gay. The organizers encouraged Weiss and the other participating artists to contribute a song relating to the experience of being gay.

“With ‘The Same,’ I really chose to focus less on the sexuality issue of it and more on the fact that everybody’s got shit that they’re dealing with,” says Weiss. “The more people I meet, the more I learn that we’re all kind of fucked up in our own way and worrying about everything and overthinking stuff too much. I thought that was a pretty universal feeling, whether a person is gay, or straight, or bi, or whatever.”

To Allison Weiss, songwriting is a personal, confessional outlet, but hers also has an effective reach.

“They say you should always talk to people if you’re going through stuff, and I feel like my way of talking to people about it is putting it into a song and then getting onstage and playing it in front of them,” she says. “It also helps I hear from other people who have listened to the songs, and they can relate. It can make a person feel a lot less alone to know that somebody else is singing the same thing.” S

A version of this piece was published in Substream #48.