Since its founding in 2015, Alt-Zalea Fest has endeared itself to locals who crave quality live music, local craftsmanship and low crowds as opposed to the 100,000 people that descend on Water, Front and Market streets every April for the NC Azalea Festival. Alt-Zalea showcases ILM’s diverse music community in the Brooklyn Arts District along 4th Street. It will be Delia Stanley’s third year performing.
“What I love about Alt-Zalea Fest is the focus on original, independent music,” she says. “People really let their creativity and individuality shine.”
Saturday’s all-day music fest takes place from noon to 7 p.m., featuring back-to-back live music at Foxes Boxes, Edward Teach Brewing, Goat & Compass, Bottega, Brooklyn Cafe and Detour Deli. New this year is the Lighted Bike Parade taking place at 7:30 p.m. The entire event continues to thrive because it’s all about supporting local creatives and business owners alike.
“Shop local, eat local, read your local papers and magazines,” she lists. “Go see your friends play, check out local artists in galleries and bars, grab tickets for local theater productions, support the arts and encourage creativity! Local business and independent arts create space for diversity and unique and underrepresented voices.”
Stanley will play at Foxes Boxes at 2 p.m. and have experimental art-based merch and original work for sale. Among it are stickers of a funky-looking heart with wild frenzied eyes and teeth on the cover of her last album “Brokedown” (April 2018). The singer-songwriter, who plays guitar and ukulele, invited husband Michael Arrigo (harmonica), JJ Street (drums), Adam Carswell (lead guitar) and John Hussmann (bass) to join her at Hourglass Studio to record the indie-, folk- and blues-inspired EP.
“Those guys just have it all: cultivated skill sets, fantastic personalities and well-trained ears,” she notes. “All are excellent musicians. They were able to lay down their tracks in the studio in only a day or two—but they are also plain out fun.”
Stanley has a new song, “Pretty Little Head,” to play during Alt-Zalea. The artist spoke more about it with encore.
encore (e): Why name the album for “Brokedown”? Tell us more about the song and why it was the best track to represent the collection.
Delia Stanley (DS): “Brokedown” was written, as many songs are: in my car when I was feeling low. Lyrics and melody came first, and I put it to the guitar later.
I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life, and the “Brokedown” EP is a representation of that struggle. While I absolutely believe in cultivating a healthy mental attitude, and self-love is very important to me, I think there’s a kind of toxic positivity culture out there that doesn’t allow for a full range of the human experience. “Brokedown” is essentially a blues album, and the blues makes space to acknowledge the harder parts of life. Creating art and music is about being honest and vulnerable. I hope with “Brokedown,” people can relate to these raw emotions and know they are not alone when they are suffering.
e: What did the full band bring to the table and what was it like working together?
DS: Like me, JJ and John are fairly new to Wilmington, and I was lucky to connect with them when I did because they are in hot demand these days! JJ can play any percussion instrument and learns songs so quickly, it’s just incredible- he’s also hands down the nicest and coolest person in Wilmington. John actually plays guitar most of the time but did a killer job putting together bass lines- he also was the person I took into the studio with me to listen to the final mixes because he has a lifetime of musical experience. Adam is a veteran musician in this area even though he’s young, because he’s FIRE on the guitar; he added a bit of country twang that fit the Blues feel of the album perfectly. Michael is the type of person who suffers from a bit of impostor syndrome- he doesn’t see himself as a musician because he’s never had lessons, but he’s a pure natural on the harmonica.
e: Tell us about working at Hourglass Studios and the production process.
DS: I really can’t say enough about how incredible Hourglass is. Their motto is “Relax. Record.” and it fits the studio perfectly. Trent is a super chill person, and his calm professionalism made all the difference to me since it was my first time recording in a real studio setting. What I love about Trent is he works with you every step of the way you are with him, listening to the takes, making decisions together. He sends you the tracks during each stage of the process and encourages you to take your time and listen, to make informed choices about the direction of the songs.
Trent also has some fun ideas of his own: that vintage sound on the vocals in the beginning of “Brokedown” and the echo on [the word] “whiskey” in “Delia & The Devil”—those were Trent’s ideas that I never would have thought of but I absolutely loved. At the same time, it was important to us both that the EP didn’t sound over-produced, and that’s not Trent’s style. Hourglass puts out authentic, original, beautiful music that lets the natural talent of Wilmington’s musicians shine.
e: Who is the “devil” in “Delia & The Devil”?
DS: “Delia & The Devil” is a bit of an anomaly; the lyrics and melody were written in their entirety during a long car ride back from a music conference. I must have been inspired by everything I experienced that weekend, because, as soon as I got into the car, I had to turn my phone’s voice recorder on and get it down. Sometimes that happens; a song just appears, fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus, ready to go. It felt more like a discovery than an invention. Of course, the idea of bargaining with the devil is a huge theme in blues, so I knew it would be a great addition to the EP. Adam’s guitar playing really took that tune to the next level.
e: “Sinking into Sadness” feels like anything but with the toe-tapping beat we set off with. Tell us about marrying these upbeat instrumentals with the lyrics here; what’s the story you’re trying to tell with both?
DS: When I moved to Wilmington, I was supporting my Father, who had been diagnosed with a terminal form of brain cancer called Glioblastoma. What he went through- what we all went through as a family- was unspeakably difficult and heartbreaking. Sinking into Sadness was the first song I wrote after my father died; unlike Brokedown, the chords came first, and I’m simply not great at writing slow music; I opt for “toe tapping” most of the time. The lyrics just flowed- everything I had been feeling, the desire to just fade away, escape the reality of what had happened- hit me all at once and bam, Sinking into Sadness was born, the odd couple that it is.
e: Aside from “Pretty Little Head,” will we hear other new songs at Alt-Zalea?
DS: “Pretty Little Head” actually started out as a poem I converted to a song after rediscovering it in a notebook. I guess I really don’t stick with one method of songwriting—messing around with chord progressions, recording ideas on the go, being lucky enough to catch the muse when she comes, scavenging old journals for inspirations … I dig it all.
I absolutely have a few new tunes to share, as my Alt-Zalea set list will be mostly, if not all, original songs. I’ve got a tune called “Happy Song” that’s a bit of an inside joke with Michael, as he always tells me my lyrics are so sad. “Happy Song” is about writing painful things because that’s what I’ve known for so long, but also about healing.
I’ve also got an actual happy song called “There for You,” which is about supportive relationships. I had another song hit me the way “Delia & The Devil” did about a week ago—just appeared pretty much fully written—and if I can get the guitar parts together in time, I’ll play that, too! Its working title is “The Killing Chill” and it’s a bit of a ghostly murder ballad.
e: Any plans to record another EP or LP with Hourglass?
DS: I actually have a whole ukulele EP waiting on Hourglass’s computers to finish! During the same time I recorded “Brokedown,” I recorded five original ukulele tunes that have not been completed yet. The tentative title is “Treble Maker,” but those plans were put on hold when I had my wonderful son, Xavier.
I definitely have other music plans—so many that I really need to organize my thoughts and prioritize which songs I’d like to record with Hourglass going forward. I can’t even imagine going to another studio. I’d love to record “Pretty Little Head” as a single—I’ve been playing that around town with John on the guitar, and he just elevates the whole song in a gorgeous way. I also have a collection of songs that feels like a “Brokedown” follow up.