Interview

Songwriter, Actress & Aerialist Alisha Liston On New Ep ‘Beautiful Illusion’ and More

Singer, songwriter, actress, and aerialist Alisha Liston is 13 years old. She has written and released over half a dozen singles. Recently she released her first EP, Beautiful Illusion. Alisha’s music centers on growing from tough situations. To tell her stories, she uses vivid imagery in her lyrics. I had a chat with Alisha to find out about her inspirations and ideas behind her upcoming EP and her music video for ‘Beautiful Soldier’

Jamomagazine.com
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How did you come to choose this career path?
When I was younger, I would sing songs around the house for hours.  And when I was in preschool, I started learning more about music.  I learned what notes were, how to read them and how to play simple melodies on the piano.  As I got older, music continued to be a huge part of my life.  I’d always be listening to music, and it just felt like the lyrics understood me, especially when I wasn’t having the best of days.  It became a coping strategy.  The more I learned the more I wanted to create music that would be to others, what others music has always been for me – a source of hope, understanding, strength, and inspiration.  

What do you hope people will take away from your music?
I really hope listeners will hear my music and feel comforted.  I want them to know they are not alone and it’s okay to hurt, to grieve, and to take time to heal.  I want them to know that those feelings won’t last forever and they can persevere.  I want them to feel strengthened and empowered.  I want them to know there is hope.  I want them to understand there is no shame in hurting, and that our stories and hardships make us who we are today – and, whose knows, it may be what makes us someone else’s inspiration.    

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Can you describe your creative process when you are writing new music?
My song writing process can start anywhere.  Sometimes I will be playing around with chords, or I might be thinking about something and I will put some lyrics together.  Eventually, when I decide to develop an idea into a song, I will start asking myself questions such as: “What do I want to say?  How do I want my listeners to feel when they hear it? What key motifs and metaphors do I want to use?”  From there, I will start developing it out with either my guitar or piano.  I will put together the first few drafts of the lyrics, chords and melody.  Then, I will get together with my producers Idrise Ward-EL and Adrian Lopez.  I will share my ideas, and we will brainstorm together on how to build it out.  Adrian is a master when it comes to the instrumental, and Idrise is a master at melodies and vocals.  It’s a great team.  I love the way we all work together.   

What was it like recording ‘Beautiful Soldier’ and the rest of your EP?
It was incredible.  I love working with Idrise Ward-EL and Adrian Lopez.  Idrise is a multi-lingual, multi-genre, and mega-talented artist, vocal producer, and sound engineer. Adrian is just as talented.   His area of expertise is in piano, composition and production.  They were really excited about the concepts of the song and the EP.  I remember sharing the original version of Beautiful Soldier.  We were at my house, and Idrise was like … that’s got to be a ballad.  We just both agreed, and got Adrian on board and the rest was history.  

Your song ‘Beautiful Soldier’ conveys a strong message of strength against difficult odds, how did you come up with this concept?
Beautiful Soldier is an encapsulation of the Beautiful Illusion EP. Beautiful Soldier was the last song I wrote, and I feel like it was a reflection on the whole year. I started Beautiful Illusion as a collection of songs to help people cope through heavy emotions and overwhelming situations. Beautiful Soldier is about growing from those situations.  

The music video featuring ‘Beautiful soldier’ is very strong and engaging, why did you choose this theme?
When creating music videos, I am always trying to come up with visuals that tell a story or enhance the song.  The idea of me singing with Adrian, the composer of the instrumental, seemed natural.  But, I didn’t want the video to be just about me and Adrian.  For a long time, Idrise had been dating Jannet, who suffers from inoperable brain tumors.  I wanted them to be a part of it too.  From there, my Mom and I just started thinking about some other incredible people that have really touched our lives personally.  These are real people and real stories, and that to me is what Beautiful Soldier is all about.  I wanted to bring that lyric “And maybe there’s someone who needs to hear your name” to life by sharing the people that have been an inspiration to me and I needed to know.    

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How long did it take to film the music video and what was the set life like?
It took us about 6-7 hours to film Beautiful Soldier in total. We filmed the music video at this beautiful theater in Covina, CA, called the Covina Center for the Performing Arts. The place was majestic, and felt like you were walking into a broadway show. Beforehand, my mom’s friend Joyce did my hair and makeup, and we all went to the theater. There, we met up with our cinematographer, Hector Toro. For some reason, traffic was really bad that day so we had to adjust what we shot, when, based on who was there.  Christine was first, and my friend Yasmine came as well. Adrian and Idrise came, and it meant the world to me to have both of them be there while we were filming. Jannet was in Texas, so she wasn’t able to make the shoot in person.  So we got her shots via videocall. It was really incredible, seeing everything come together.  

What’s the theme behind your EP and why does it mean so much to you?
Beautiful Illusion is about coping through overwhelming situations. For me, music has helped me sort out my emotions, and I wanted to write songs that speak to that. In 2020, I lost my grandmother and great-grandmother, both who I was very close to.  That along with Covid, all the stay home orders, etc. was overwhelming, and I wasn’t in a good place.  I felt lost and isolated, and turned to some unhealthy coping mechanisms.  I’ve gotten better since then, but it still hurts and I still miss my grandmothers.  Beautiful Illusion means a lot to me personally because it contains a lot of my stories and a lot of my lessons learned.  I just really want people to know, although it may not seem like it now, it’s going to get better.   

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You’re also an Actress! Does doing your own project differ from acting in other projects?
I would say the acting part is pretty similar.  When I’m running my own projects I’m way more involved in the creation of the story, the shot list and how I want the shots to be played out.  It’s a balance though, because the people I’m working with are these incredible creatives.  So, it’s really important that we can work together and collaborate on our ideas, because that’s when it really clicks and the best ideas come out.  When I’m acting in some else’s project, I’m being directed by a director or an executive producer.  Sometimes I’ll get to improv; but, generally speaking, everything is already developed:  the script, the shot list, etc.    

Which musicians have been influential to you?
Currently, I really love music by Sophie Pecora, Nightbirde, and Cavetown.  I love the meaning behind the lyrics.  When I was younger, I would listen to Grace VanderWaal, Taylor Swift, Imagine Dragons, Kelly Clarkson, and Alan Walker quite a bit. I think their styles have influenced me as well. I also really love Nero’s Day at Disneyland, who inspired me to make my first experimental track: Static Record.  

Any advice you would give to somebody your age who wants to pursue singing as a career?
I would say you really need to think about what you want your artistry to be about.  Ask yourself what you want your listeners to take from your music, and what your goals are. Have a purpose for your music, and this will make writing, managing, and marketing a lot easier.  

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Any upcoming projects you’d like to share with us and with your fans?
Absolutely! This Holiday Season, I’ll be releasing an original Christmas song called ‘Quiet Little House.’ I’m also planning to release a cover of ‘Mary Did You Know?’ written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Green.  That song was one of my grandma’s favorites.  I’ve been working on some live performances videos to some of my songs from Beautiful Illusion too. 

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<strong>Amna Mansoor</strong>
Amna Mansoor

As a parent of two children, I have exploring different countries and cultures while completing my Business Administration degree. Travelling and discovering new cultures is something I enjoy doing.  

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