Poetry, Music, and Expressing the Human Heart: An Interview with Alanna Boudreau
Alanna Boudreau is one of the leading unique talents in the music industry today. Her ability to express her beliefs, her experiences, and the way that human emotion can ebb and flow, places her in an incredibly apt place to create a cultural medium by which people can hear and experience beauty. Today, Jared Zimmerer chats with Alanna about her talents and the nature of beauty. Also, be sure to read to the end to find out how you might be able to support Alanna's work!
Can you share a little bit about yourself? What was your first introduction into becoming a musician?
I grew up in a rural farming community in Upstate New York, near Ithaca. My parents strongly encouraged my four siblings and me to pursue music and the arts from a young age: all of us were classically trained in piano from the age of six, and each of us eventually branched off to pick up other instruments and hobbies along the way. Along with being steeped in music, we were surrounded by natural beauty, literature, and an atmosphere that encouraged self-actualization: being homeschooled taught us discipline and autonomy, and it also granted us the freedom to wonder, ponder, explore, and use our imaginations.
While I loved playing the piano from a young age and was always sensitive to music - it wasn’t until I was in highschool that I started to identify more deeply as a musician. At around age fifteen I taught myself how to play the guitar, and soon thereafter began writing lyrical music.
Your music has such a unique sound and mix of genres, from classical strings to folk to an almost reggae vibe, what inspires your distinctive sound?
The music my parents raised us on include the following: Graceland by Paul Simon; Billy Joel’s greatest hits; The MTV Clapton Unplugged album; Songbird by Eva Cassidy; John Williams’ classical guitar albums; anything and everything by Mark Knopfler and/or Dire Straits; John Denver; Cat Stevens; Jim Croce......and a whole host of other musicians from a wide range of genres, from classical opera to honkytonk blues. Add to that the artists I’ve discovered on my own throughout the years - Ben Howard, Josh Ritter, Joe Pug, City and Colour, Kings of Convenience, Ryan Adams, Feist, Penny and Sparrow, and others - and you end up with a rather eclectic palette of sound and soul. The thing that stands out as a common factor shared by each of these artists is the immediacy of their presence within their work: a very thin veil - easily punctured - is all that stands between the writer of the song and the one who listens. I believe that that’s what sets a great song apart from a good song: the palpable presence of the “other”.
Throughout your lyrics you creatively express a range of human emotions, how is it that music and the creative arts are so keenly able to portray those internal feelings?
There is something mysterious about the way these various mediums - melody, texture, movement, color, contour - can somehow locate the deepest veins of human experience: the poetic rapture brought on by art is like a rush of blood to the head, a throbbing reminder that you’re alive and seeking. I think it has to do with the intimacy implied by art. You’re looking upon something and receiving something that was generated by another person - in a sense, you’re getting a glimpse into the universe of another being. And for all the mystery inherent within another being, another person, you nevertheless simultaneously experience a sense of belonging, acceptance, and home-coming: some inscrutable “in-your-bones” familiarity. The very nuances, shadows, question marks, and subtleties revealed in music (or any form of art) are what vivify it and make it desirable.
We “know” too much in this day and age: everything has had the wrapping torn off. We think we’ll find power if we can boil every process down to the atomic level, if we can define and quantify and harness every potential quandary that creation presents. Yet deep down, I think we sense that a life lived without mystery - a life dissected beneath a sterile lamp - is a life without intimacy. And a life without intimacy is a life of isolation and anguish, a life of imploded frustration and inverted desires. That is why music and the creative arts speak to us on such a profound level: because they give us permission to remember, once again, that there is more - much, much more - than meets the eye.
You are a true poet. Where does that poetry come from and can you share some of the other poets, artists, and authors who’ve influenced you?
Thank you! Some poets and authors who have influenced me include Gerard Manley Hopkins, Rainier Maria Rilke, Wendell Berry, John Paul II, T.S. Eliot, Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, Leo Tolstoy, Walker Percy, David Foster Wallace, Flannery O’Connor, Victor Hugo, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and Etty Hillesum.
I think my favorite aspect of your music is how well you are able to intertwine your beliefs into your music but are so aptly able to express those beliefs without an overtly religious tone. What advice would you have for other artists who want to develop that sort of talent?
I just read a marvelous quote from Walker Percy in which he expresses the fact that, for whatever else the benefits of being Catholic, it is a religion “of a particularly felicitous use” to the novelist (or writer of music). Catholicism has a view of man as an individual, a wayfarer in trouble seeking to move beyond it, that is utterly unique from other world religions. In addition, the sacraments imbue the most ordinary, tactile experiences of life with purpose and beauty - they invite man to grapple with earth, thought, fire, water, breath, birth, death, sex, revelation, hiddenness - such that you’re left with an understanding of the human person as a pilgrim on the way through a mysterious, sacramental reality that calls out to him on every level of his awkward, painful, and at times staggeringly beautiful experience of existence.
To develop a talent as a Catholic writer is to develop your taste for what is truly human: if you want to write well, then pay attention. Wake up. Don’t slip into default mode, where you can’t feel anymore. Don’t cajole people into a tidy box as though they exist for you and your convenience, much like the Pharisees sought to force Jesus into the persona they’d expected him to be. Rather learn how to see the mystery they present to you, even in their foibles and inconsistencies - and recognize yourself therein. Having a sacramental imagination doesn’t consist of getting weak-kneed and weepy every time you see a Monarch butterfly, or gasping “How beatific!” each time you hold a newborn baby. At heart it means that when you look at a crucifix - whether in the church or in the cruciform body of your friend dying from cancer in his bed - what you see is God. God, gasping, dying, seeking, promising the “something more”, the “almost, but not quite yet.”
Also, if you'd like to support Alanna's work, she's currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help fund her next album! Watch the video below and CLICK HERE!