Interview with Americana/Folk artist Alice DiMicele -- seeks to uplift the human experience through music

"I miss the authentic sounds of real people playing music in a room and recording it."

Alice DiMicele: Organic Acoustic Groove

Alice DiMicele seeks to uplift the human experience through music. Her lyrics are love incantations to the elements earth, water, fire, and air. Drawing from a rich musical background including folk, jazz, funk, rock, and soul DiMicele's acoustic music incorporates many styles creating a fresh funky stew all her own. With her powerful band behind her, Alice's multi-octave voice soars high and rumbles deep invoking passionate emotion with every note. With twelve self-released albums and 25 years of touring under her belt, DiMicele is a master of her craft and knows how to delight her audiences be it on a large festival stage, a theatre, or a house concert. She's shared the stage with some of music's best including Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, JJ Cale, David Grisman, Arlo Guthrie, Steve Winwood, and many more.

Her festival appearances are many including Strawberry Music Festival, High Sierra Music Festival, EarthDance, Oregon Country Fair, Joshua Tree Music Festivals, Britt Festivals, and Health and Harmony Festival. For her previous recording “Swim” (2015), DiMicele assembled a bevy of kindred musical contemporaries to create a record that can only be characterized as a family affair. Backed by some of her most beloved community of musicians, DiMicele’s vision comes to life. Alice has been a grassroots trailblazer in independent music for over 30 years, bucking the advances of record labels early on in her career and she has since self-released 14 albums on her Alice Otter Music label, including 2018's One With The Tide. She has stayed true to herself and her mission, creating music that connects people, inspiring them to take a stand for the earth and for justice in the world - her activism informs her music and her music informs her activism.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos © by Debra Thornton & Tina Bolling Photography / All rights reserved

What do you learn about yourself from the Roots music? What touched (emotionally) you from Jazz/Blues music?

I grew up listening to a radio station out of New York City late at night with my headphones on that played Jazz and blues. I was struck by the vulnerability, truth, and ability to “connect” by the singers and by the phrasing of the horns, piano and other instruments and the way the bass and drums would lock in to a groove. The biggest lesson for me was that I have to be “in it” 100% and be willing to be vulnerable and show all sides of myself in order to be an effective and affective singer. The best singers have this quality and I demand this of myself and my band members. It’s all about how people feel when they listen.

How do you describe Alice DiMicele sound and songbook?

My sound can be a bit difficult to describe. It’s Americana/Folk music but since I am so heavily influenced by jazz and rhythm and blues it twists and turns. What I love about making music is that each song is completely its own entity and I don’t have to fit into a box. That does make it harder to describe though.

What characterize your music philosophy?

My musical philosophy is that as a singer my job is to move people. There are many songwriters who focus on making people think, but I prefer to delve into the emotional world with my music. Music in and of itself is healing and my goal with singing is to create a space where people can feel and work through emotion in the container of the song. It is my hope to make peoples lives a little better through music.

Why did you think that the American Roots music continues to generate such a devoted following?                      Photo by Tina Bolling

I think there is a very real and physical connection to acoustic instruments. Instruments made of wood carry the songs of the trees: the leaves, the branches, the roots and all the experiences of the trees. The same with instruments made of metals. The instruments we create are from the earth and so are we. Many people strive to be more connected to this planet we live on and I think we find that through acoustic music. 

What does "Organic Acoustic Groove" mean to you? What were the reasons that you started the Roots researches?

Well, my music naturally incorporates folk, jazz, r&b, Americana, and rock but I don’t really fit neatly into any of those categories. I love all those styles of music (and more.) As an acoustic guitar player, I’ve done many, many solo shows over the last 30 years yet there are people that always dance at my shows, with or without a band. Rhythm is such an important part of what I do. And I love that I can keep a groove with the guitar and push and pull the vocal phrasing to create different feels at different parts of a song without changing tempo. Organic Acoustic Groove is just what seems to pour out of me.

How do you describe One With The Tide songbook and sound? What has made you laugh from studio sessions?

One With the Tide really does ebb and flow from super upbeat songs like Waiting to the deeply moody Lonely Alone with lots of variation in between. The album is a dedication to my friend and long-time kayaking buddy Barry Snitkin whom I wrote the title track for as he was readying to leave his body. We as humans all go through so many different emotions sometimes moving quickly from one to the other. This album reflects that. Studio sessions are always a hoot. Working with engineer Denny Dragon on the basic tracks we spent a lot of time laughing and joking around.

Sadly, Dennis passed away in September. I’m having a hard time trying to tell funny stories from the sessions at the moment. I apologize.

"The biggest lesson for me was that I have to be “in it” 100% and be willing to be vulnerable and show all sides of myself in order to be an effective and affective singer. The best singers have this quality and I demand this of myself and my band members. It’s all about how people feel when they listen." (Photo by Debra Thornton)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? 

I miss the authentic sounds of real people playing music in a room and recording it. It’s wonderful that we have all this technology at our disposal, but it’s extremely disappointing to hear a singer’s album and love it and think they are a great singer and then see them live and realize that their album was full of overdubs and mechanical tuning because clearly they can’t sing their songs without assistance. In the old days this was unheard of. You sing and play the song and it is recorded in real time. This is the way I like to record my albums.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of? 

Well, I hope to reach many more people with my music and hopefully make a difference in people’s lives. As for fears, I think I have the same fears as most independent musicians, I hope I have a warm home to live out my old age and don’t end up living on the streets because I’ve worked my whole life making music instead of working for security.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be? 

That the music business would be about music and musicians, not about selling sex or youth or the next trend. That actual good music and musicianship are promoted.

Which memories from Bonnie Raitt and Joan Baez  makes you smile?

Singing harmony with Bonnie Raitt and Joan Baez was an amazing experience for me and watching them dance together at the side of the stage while I was playing definitely made me smile!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? 

Meeting people who are moved deeply by the music is always profound. I cherish this conversations and experiences.

Photo © by Tina Bolling Photography, 2015

What is the best advice ever given you?

My Friend Michael D. (who is no longer with us) told me when I was in my early twenties to listen more. He said, “Alice, you have a very strong voice and it can overpower people who you sing with. Always strive for harmony both with choice of notes and with dynamics. If you are singing with someone who has a quiet voice, hold back a little bit and merge with them more.” This advice has informed me as a musician.

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music? 

Much of the focus in commercial music is on a woman’s sexuality and sex appeal. It is more difficult for women who choose not to use that side of themselves as a selling point. I prefer to be a strong independent woman and I have always refused to use my sexuality as a selling point for my music. I prefer to be bold and outspoken on issues important to all people and the earth and that is not appreciated by some in the industry and I have been refused opportunities because of doing so.

Are there any memories from JJ Cale, Richie Havens, and Peter Rowan which you’d like to share with us?

Those guys were all awesome. Richie wrote his address on a tiny piece of paper and gave it to me after my set because he wanted to listen to my songs and see if he’d like to sing some of them--but I lost his address. I actually found it last year when going through some old lyrics. I wish I had been able to send him the music. I was a lot less organized back in those days.

When I played with Peter Rowan, he came to the friends house where I was staying and we all stayed up all night playing music and talking story. When I saw him many years later he kept looking at me funny and then said something like, I have pictures of you from that awesome party we had after that show in northern California many years ago.

JJ Cale was super friendly and an awesome musician. I was floored by him both nights I worked with him. He asked me to sit in with him on the second, but my accompanist needed to get home to his family so we needed to leave before the second show was over. I am sad that I didn’t get to have that experience, but we had a long drive and I couldn’t talk my accompanist into staying.

How has the music and activism influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?           Photo by Debra Thornton 

My view of the world is with eyes wide open and heart wide open. Music and activism give me hope. There is so much destruction and negativity that it would be easy to get sucked down that rabbit hole and just be miserable all the time, but there are also so many wonderful people working to help each other and make the world better that I prefer to focus on that while resisting the insanity of the current political climate.

What is the impact of music to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Music is a great equalizer in a way. Singing is about breathing. Every person needs breath to live and we all need connection and warmth. My favorite musicians sing from a place of honesty, vulnerability, and personal power all at the same time. People who face the issues at hand straight on and keep working to make the world safe for all of us—but do so in a musical and soulful way. Folks like Stevie Wonder, Mavis Staples, Odetta, whose music I grew up on influenced me so I can only imagine and hope that my music may have positive impact on others. I can’t really measure that impact but my job is to sing and encourage others to sing so I’ll just stick with that.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Folk with Soul and continue to Jazz and Rock music?

All music is folk music which I define as music of the people by the people. Folk music around the world has informed all other styles so there is a direct link. When I met one of my favorite jazz singers, Abby Lincoln, she asked me “What do you do?” and I told her I am folk singer. She said “I AM A FOLK SINGER TOO!” And I couldn’t agree more, as her songs and lyrics are of the people and for the people.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I would love to hear Billie Holiday sing in person!

Alice DiMicele - official website

Photos by Tina Bolling

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