When I arrived at the office last week for a scheduled interview, the woman I was meeting was both everything I anticipated – and not at all what I expected – at once.
At first glance, you might take her for a PEI-born, Toronto-bred aspiring country singer who oozes the obvious likeability of a local Taylor Swift. The long blonde hair fashioned into loose curls, the country-chic ensemble, the clear blue eyes and mega-watt smile that so perfectly embodies pleasant professionalism. But give it a few more seconds, and you might notice the sleeve of tattoos cascading up her arm, an edgy touch to rival the seemingly old-world charm she so naturally embodies. As I set up for the interview, the conversation comes easy, and I find myself quickly drawn to her easy nature – that mega-watt smile revealing itself as the trademark of an ambitious, warm-hearted woman on the brink of something exciting. She is the ultimate girl next door in every essence, but it’s paired with a certain candid vulnerability that seems to be a modern rarity.
Alli Walker is a country singer-songwriter and model from PEI who left her small-town roots to pursue her (not-so-small) dreams in Toronto when she was 19. Her love for music runs deep, with an expansive instrumental portfolio that includes piano, drums and even the bagpipes. However, it didn’t take Alli more than a year of classical vocal training in University to identify that she wanted something else, and that ‘something else’ was a career in country music. So, naturally, Alli packed up her life and headed straight for Toronto – the place she’s now called home for 10 years.
“I was very green when I came here because I started late in life – at least in terms of the music industry. So I needed a lot of development. When I met my husband he was like ‘Alright, let’s do this. Let’s start from the ground up…’ and he and I have been pounding the pavement ever since. Cover gigs, shows, Nashville, LA and New York, writing with other artists and just getting as much experience under my belt as possible.”
Hold up… husband? How did you two meet? What’s the story there?
We actually met at a Rascal Flatts concert at what was the Molson Amphitheatre. I was new to the city and didn’t really know anyone in the industry yet, so we started writing songs together and, well… fell in love in the studio.
I’ve never watched the show Nashville, but I imagine a similar storyline unfolds.
I tip my head back and smirk, “Well, that’s rather serendipitous isn’t it?”
He plays drums in my band, he’s my producer, he does my videos, he’s… kind of everything.
She smiles shyly, my heart implodes, we move on…
So, what was moving to Toronto like? Coming from a small town to a big city like Toronto, was that a big shift for you?
I always had a big city mindset, and I couldn’t wait to make the move. I’ve always loved New York City, and Toronto seemed like the closest thing to that. So I moved here, quite literally, with one suitcase and my guitar and I lived on a friend’s dining room floor until I finally found somewhere to live. But honestly, I loved all of it. Even just walking around Dundas Square as someone from PEI was pretty mind-blowing in the beginning.
What has your experience been like in the industry? What challenges have you faced and how have you dealt with those?
In this industry, you have to stand out. So I basically spent the last 10 years figuring out exactly who I am as an artist, what I want to say, and how to not just be another blonde girl singing country songs. Because honestly, I was that girl for awhile. I was trying to be like everybody else, going to Nashville as basically a Taylor Swift-wannabe. I was singing about booze, boys and break-ups because that’s what everyone else was singing about.
But at a certain point, I didn’t drink anymore, I was happily married and I just didn’t really know what I was talking about. So here I was, dealing with this pressure of trying to figure out who I was as an artist, along with the pressures of just being a woman in her twenties with social media and insecurities derived from that, skin issues, self-love issues, hormone issues and quite honestly, my mental health was all over the place. And that’s when I realized that I needed to talk about what I was actually going through. Not in some specifically curated or ingenuine way, but for real. Then, once I started becoming super vulnerable online and talking about my struggles with mental health, anxiety, acne and self-love people were like ‘Yes, this is the Alli we like. This is the Alli we’ve been waiting for.”
I transitioned from the girl who Facetuned her entire body in a photo to the woman who could just be real online and use that platform and my music as a way to connect with others. And through that, I realized that a lot of people feel really alone. Social media allows us to portray this perfect image of our lives, one that is usually a far cry from reality, so if I can somehow show that my life is not perfect – but I’m going through it anyway and be that light for somebody else, then I’ll do it through my music.
So social media has been a big part of your journey and platform?
It’s totally surprised me. I posted my picture with a full face of acne and was like ‘Hey guys, I’ve been lying to you, I’m not actually pretty’ and it just opened up the conversation with people who follow me. For the first time, I was being truly vulnerable with my process of learning to love what I saw in the mirror, and the outcry of support was beyond anything I expected.
Has this been a tough evolution, especially working in two highly competitive, pressure-driven industries?
Absolutely. I mean, you have to have a completely clear face to book gigs in the modelling industry and you need to be thin and fit. When you walk into a casting room you always end up comparing yourself to everyone else in the room. Luckily, my agents have never put that kind of pressure on me, but the territory comes with a lot of rejection and that can be hard on someone.
Do you have any major takeaways or processes in place to help deal with rejection in your career?
You’ll hear a lot of no’s before you hear a yes. I used to constantly place my value in other people’s hands, and never felt like I was good enough because I wasn’t chosen for a gig or I didn’t come first place at a singing competition. It’s really been in this past year that I’ve realized my value is in nobody’s hands except my own, and no one else’s opinion can dictate how good I am at something. It takes time… developing your craft and realizing your own confidence and self-worth doesn’t come overnight.
Okay, so talk to me about mindful music…
Being vulnerable on social media really opened me up to find my purpose with music, and I honestly never thought that mental health or acne would somehow turn into music — but here we are. I didn’t want to be inauthentic, so I just started writing about whatever I was going through at the time. That’s how I came up with this idea of ‘mindful music’ and ‘conscious country’, and since that day I decided I wanted to put out one song each month with a video that opens up a more important conversation. Just encouraging people to talk about things we are usually so timid to talk about. I kind of want to build a whole new genre within country music.
“Being yourself really is the best formula.”
Can you tell me a little bit about your thought process behind the Sunny Day music video?
The song is a really honest depiction of anxiety and how we deal with anxiety in different ways, and a lot of times you wonder why everyone else seems happier than you. So I wanted the video to be a depiction of what I want to feel like every day.
We have the pleasure of featuring the exclusive premiere of the ‘Sunny Day’ music video, as we eagerly await the official release of Alli’s debut project titled The Basement Sessions: What I’ve Learned So Far slated for release on September 13th. The album will bring to life 10 tracks that tell the story of Alli’s incredibly personal journey.