A Way with Words
Lyrics and melodies often appear in musician Alle Bernardi’s head while out surfing or running. It sends her sprinting home to record them before they escape. Her recent release ‘Islands’ was written on a winter visit to her mom in Victoria, BC, then launched with a bang in her current home town, Tofino. Alle shares memories from a musical childhood and how she brings the melodies in her head to life.
WC: What sort of role did music play in your childhood?
Alle: It all really began when I turned four and attended what I can remember as the first live performance I had ever witnessed. I was extremely captivated by the entire production and wanted nothing more than to immerse myself in that world and be on stage. My parents realized how excited I was and answered with gifting me my first keyboard at age five and soon after, enrolling me in vocal and Royal Conservatory piano lessons.
My mom lived on Vancouver Island and my dad in Vancouver, so naturally, we moved around a lot. No matter what school or town we relocated to, I knew I would be enrolled in the schools’ music program and find a new RCM piano teacher. Although I had to frequently start over with friends groups, schools, and towns, I always felt right at home with my music practices.
WC: When did you pick up guitar and what was the transition like?
Alle: I was always unreasonably eager to approach a guitar. After confidently executing a technical grade 7 Sonata on piano, I made the assumption that transitioning to guitar would be simple. I was very wrong, and with sore fingers, I decided to put it aside for years in order to keep my sole focus on piano. Then, I turned sixteen. Everyone at the time was grabbing a guitar and going to beach fires or playing romantic covers for a crush. I remember picking up the guitar to give it another chance and without much time felt like a failure. Luckily, I had help from a good friend that I played in a band with in high school (and of course, the trusted internet). I was determined to improve. With a very self-taught repertoire, strong ear training, and basic understanding of chords, I began writing original material as soon as I could remember how to play G, C, and D.
WC: How did you get into writing your own songs?
Alle: Writing is something I have always naturally enjoyed. It is an art of infinite possibilities that keeps me engaged with a curious imagination. I love the flow that it brings and the space it takes up in my life; whether I am running and a melody pops in my head, forcing me to sprint home and record it before it flees my brain; or surfing while brainstorming new lyrics for the next song I will record. Writing inspires me to continue to participate in the activities that bring me the most happiness and balance.
I cannot recall exactly how I began writing my own songs, but I do remember one of the first songs I ever wrote. It was the beginning of grade three in a new elementary school. I had broken my collar bone and had some extra time on my hands so I wrote and played an original song for a crowd (AKA my family in the living room) for the first time which was a huge hit (to them). So to say the least, song writing has always been an all-consuming passion and intrinsic part of my life.
WC: What’s your process of writing music like now?
Alle: The most organic method to writing for me right now is being aware of the space I am in and capturing that moment in a sound, melody, or phrase. Overall, my writing has shifted from scribbling notes in five different note books to now recording voice memos on my iPhone to keep my mind as present as possible– typically without any predetermined ideas, lyrics, chord progressions, or meanings. I begin with a feeling, then a sound from my keys, synths, guitar, or vocals. I will almost always record this on my phone for reference in case I become busy with something and lose that moment completely. From there, I piece lyrics together either in a notebook or aloud (while recording). Then I will listen to that voice memo on repeat and build it from there. My favourite method to write has to be improvisational because it opens my mind to any possibility, no matter the mistakes. Holding the space for your creative mind is the most important part of writing in my opinion.
WC: What do you hope people take away from listening to your music?
Alle: I want to spread a feeling to my listeners. Something that is so great that it warms you up and invites you in. In a world that is so over stimulating, fast paced, and frenetic, I want my music to be more than just an escape, but to bring everyone back together to soak in what is most important in life and to feel connected again.
WC: Have you always been comfortable performing in front of people?
Alle: I have always wanted to be on stage, I just didn’t have any clue why. As a child, I used to get so uncontrollably excited to see live acts in order to observe how they performed and to prepare myself for the day that the performer on stage would be me. The reality of my performing career at that age consisted of dressing up in a sheep costume (delicately created by my mom) while singing and dancing with my choir group or playing a piano recital in a mall, park, or church.
I was so particular and superstitious about my performances that I remember crying uncontrollably before many shows for a variety of strange reasons; usually regarding borrowing another girls ballet slippers because I forgot mine or something along those lines. I don’t know what led me to continue, but through dealing with all the debilitating anxiety as a child, I came to realize that performing was only as terrifying as I made it up to be in my head. I now look at being on stage as a privilege and fall in love with every moment of it each show.
WC: How did you get to Tofino?
Alle: After exploring Fiji, Australia, Mexico, Indonesia, South and Central America, and the U.S. with visits home to Victoria, BC in between, I finally made the decision in June 2016 to move to Tofino. I never could have prepared myself for what this move meant in my life. My focus shifted back to my love for music and within the first year of life in Tofino, I fell into the wedding scene with my good friend. Before we knew it, we were filling up our summer days playing acoustic guitars around all the local beaches for weddings and special events.
It was from there that I gained a better understanding of what it meant to me to perform for people and I began to feel more confident booking and playing live shows frequently. I have an insurmountable feeling of gratitude towards this special community for providing the space and support I never knew I needed in order to grow into the artist I had always wanted to become (and to surf in between shows of course).
WC: You’ve just released new music, can you tell us about ‘Islands’?
Alle: I wrote my original song, “Islands”, on my upright piano at my mom’s home in Victoria, BC in February of last year. After an afternoon spent roaming through cascading blankets of white, breathing in the frigid salt infused air, I finally found refuge inside with a warming mug of herbal tea and a seat in front of my piano. It was a quiet time at home as lyrics poured from my thoughts and onto paper. I thought about our vast and unique planet Earth. I thought about the beautiful inhabitants in it. I thought about the troubles and pain that we all face together. I thought about the peace we need to make. I thought about community. I thought about my beautiful mother who had recently been diagnosed with functional neurological disorder. I thought about how sacred this present moment is. I thought about how privileged we are. I thought about our home changing.
I brought “Islands” to the incredibly talented Canadian artist and producer, Vince Vaccaro. We spent about a week recording in his studio to build on what I had written. After observing the level in which he operates and his innate musical abilities, I knew it would be the start of something good. Though it was sometimes a challenge to stay focused while I was trying to be there for my mom, I feel like it was really important that we recorded a time and sound in my life that I will never forget. The song is dedicated to my mom as a thank you for everything she has taught me in my lifetime about our planet.
WC: Where can people find your music or hear you perform?
Alle: “Islands” is available for download on all digital platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, YouTube Music, Amazon Music, Google Play, Pandora, Deezer, 8tracks, Napster, and many more) and you can find me playing live shows between Tofino, Victoria, and Vancouver!
Find Alle: allebernardimusic.com
All photo credit: alleboballe