Immediately after I moved to Nashville in 2018, my old friend Joel Sill called and said he’d been introduced to a very unique female artist named Alya he thought I might be interested in producing. He gave her my number and when she called, I was immediately taken with her. She said as a young child in Russia, she always wanted to be a singer. She studied music and dance, but when it came time for college, she got the same pressure I did to get an education for ‘a real job’ instead of music, so she studied journalism. She worked in that field for ten years, both in Russia and in Japan, but never lost her passion for music. Much to her family’s chagrin, in 2012 she took a huge leap of faith and quit her successful journalism job to pursue music. As we talked further, I learned that in addition to speaking four languages, her creativity is also expressed in painting and photography. She sent me to her YouTube channel where she had made a short video of a persona she created for herself, and even did the storyboard and editing for it. She’s a very creative young lady.
At the time, she had just released her first album which was quite modern and experimental. As she spoke about what she wanted her new album to be, it included incorporating Russian folk song melodies in some songs. She also loved the idea of mixing genres, which I happen to like as well. She had collaborated on the songwriting for her first album, and wanted to do that again for the new one. So, my first order of business was to pick some songwriting partners for her, and since Alya lives in Los Angeles, I thought it best to put her with fellow Angelenos. Three people with distinctly different musical styles popped into my head for the job - Bill Cantos, Tim Carmon, and Jeff Babko. All three are amazingly creative as well as brilliant keyboard players.
I set up writing appointments with all three for Alya, and off to Los Angeles I went. I couldn’t have been happier the first day when we got two terrific starts with Bill Cantos. Alya had brought to the session a classical work that she loved from a not so well known 19th Century Russian composer named Vasily Kalinnikov, which provided the inspiration for one of the songs. A Russian folk song provided the inspiration for the other. Tim’s writing room was down, so he decided to work with Mateo Laboriel at his room. After two days of working with Alya, we had two more cool starts from little snippets of ideas she had also brought with her. We later spent an afternoon with Jeff Babko which yielded three more starts. I was very happy to see Alya’s positive response to each of the guys. She would go on to write melodies and lyrics to the tunes that moved her. On subsequent trips to LA, programming sessions with Tim, Mateo, and I brought the tracks into focus.
One of the key elements for success in pop music is being different, and Alya is definitely that. The lyric ideas and melodies she came up with were interesting and unquestionably unique. Several years ago, I mixed some songs that were arranged by a young man in Georgia, Cody McVey, who I was quite impressed by. Loving young talent, I started a relationship with him. The Kalinnikov inspired song was crying out for real strings, so I hired Cody to arrange them. I went ahead and had him do string charts on three more songs, and I think they all came out wonderfully.