I'd heard of Allyson Seconds in 2016 when NPR lauded her second album, Little World, but I never could find either album, so when Bag Of Kittens got reissued, I jumped at it and was rewarded with something great. I'd also heard her husband Kevin Seconds of 7 Seconds fame. I always liked that band, too.
Allyson, and Anton Barbeau, the album's producer and collaborator, were kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
Andrea Weiss: This album is a reissue. Could you say a little on how it came to be re-released?
Allyson Seconds: We were hoping to reissue Bag Of Kittens because it simply didn’t get its due! It was my first real album singing lead vocals and we created it without much fanfare or forethought as to how we’d get it out into the world. There were rumblings of record label support, but nothing materialized. Honestly, at the time I was just thrilled to have made an album. I had zero expectations after that. But when our second CD together, Little World, garnered some truly positive press, it just made us want to get the first baby out there too!
Anton Barbeau: For various “biz” reasons, it never got much attention first time around. I thought the gang at Big Stir, whom I’d already worked with, could give it a loving home as a reissue and here we are!
AW: Who are your influences?
AS: My influences were initially The Beatles pretty much 24/7 as a little kid. The first album I remember holding in my tiny hands and memorizing everything about was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I didn’t understand anything they were talking about but I knew all the lyrics and, maybe more importantly, all the backing vocals and harmonies and ooh’s and aaaah’s. I sang harmony before I ever sang the straight line (the lead). In high school you’d find me harmonizing to both XTC and the punk band X, and everything Elvis Costello. Any and everything I could sing harmony to. As for female singers, I loved women who simply sang with their own authentic voice, no put ons, not trying to be anybody else. The first female voice that made me truly want to be in a band was Christie Hynde--and have bangs, which I did and still do.
AB: I know Al and I share certain core influences, like the Beatles and XTC, but I can say--in hindsight--that Allyson was one of my influences on the two albums I’ve written for her. Knowing her as a person and knowing how she sings and what she wants to reach for affected my writing.
AW: “Dig My Pig” and “Bag Of Kittens” are great, and sound like anthems. Are they meant to be?
AS: Wow, I don’t know about anthems, except for those out there like us who love cats and pigs, and cats named Pig.
AB: I suppose sounding like an anthem and being an anthem are different things. I’ve yet to hear stadia full of football fans singing either song into the night, but I’m glad you like them!
AW: How did all the guests, like Kimberly Rew and Stornoway, a great band, come to help out?
AS: Most of the musicians on the album from England were friends of Anton’s, as he was living there at the time we recorded Bag, and they were kind enough to contribute. I was so happy to meet many of them when I traveled over to record the rest of the CD at Ant’s home in Cambridge and play some gigs in different towns from Oxford to Brighton. The folks from Sacramento on the album--Gabe and Vince from Cake, Larry Tagg from Bourgeois Tagg, etc.--are all mutual friends of ours. It really felt right to have all these fine friends, new and old, helping flesh out the sound and the CD.
AB: Both Kim and the Storns are people I’ve known and worked with in my time living in England. I asked them to play on the album and they said yes. We almost had Kim sit in with us at a festival gig in Cambridge, and the Stornoway lads sang along with us from the crowd during our Oxford gig!
AW: I think the bouncy music is wonderfully happy, but the dark lyrics add a nice contrast. Did it just happen that way?
AS: Anton was writing that way for me, and for reasons too complex to go into here, it really fit what I was going through then. It was also what I gravitated towards when helping choose which other songs of his I’d hoped to sing lead for the album. I think Anton and I may have that in common in our personal lives and musical tastes, that penchant for darkness contrasted by light--or lyrics about murder and the end of the world set to melodies you can bob your head to.
AB: Yes, it’s pretty typical of my songwriting in general. Neither Al nor I knew what the term “bag of kittens” meant when I came up with the song!
AW: How did the collaboration between you and Allyson happen?
AS: Anton and I met each other in the early 90’s, both playing gigs in our small town Sacramento’s music scene. I honestly can’t remember how we actually first started singing together, but truly, it’s what I did back then. I was singing harmony with most of the talented songwriters in the scene and there were many! But Ant stood out to me-- possibly our Beatle-esque sensibilities. His melodies fit me like a glove and if I wasn’t on stage singing with him, my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I were out in the audience harmonizing along with him. For whatever reason around 2008 I decided I’d better explore my solo voice to push myself into semi-unfamiliar territory. I’d been in a band where I sang out front briefly in the 90’s and occasionally would sing lead doing a cover in between singing harmony with my husband, but I really felt a need to push and to grow. I figured I’d ask several local songwriters I knew to write a song for me to sing. I asked Anton first. He obliged and wrote what I can’t imagine could be a more fitting song for me then, "I Used To Say Your Name." I think we both were kind of astonished--we didn’t know Ant could get out of his head enough to get into mine and create what felt like the beginning of a great collaboration. And so he wrote more. And I also plucked some songs of his that I simply loved and wanted to sing lead on. Thankfully he said yes, and that rounded out Bag Of Kittens, a CD that felt truly organically grown.
AB: We’ve been friends forever, and our friendship has always been based around singing together. Al asked me to write her a song and next you know, it's three presidents later!
AW: Yours and Anton's songs are nicely psychedelic. Was he the one that brought that to your duets?
AS: That psychedelic vibe, although most definitely Anton through and through, lives in me too. As much as I love loud, melodic punk rock (I’ve sung and played guitar in such bands), that Beatles foundation feels like the core of me. It’s why XTC struck such a chord in me growing up as well, and what a thrill to have Colin Moulding sing harmony to my voice on the title track for my second CD, Little World. That psychedelic-pop thing hooks us both and is definitely a shared commonality.
AB: I’m guessing it’s safe to say yes to that.
AW: What would you tell someone just starting out in music?
AS: I would say do whatever it takes to do what you love with that burning desire to create music. Don’t sit on it. Do it. Make it happen. Musicians and artists aren’t valued the way they should be in this world but there is a sect of the population that values it, and those are your people. Oh yeah, and don’t be a dick. That’s good advice for a musician, actually. Love and cultivate your craft, don’t get walked on, but don’t let your ego out of its cage too often. That thing will grow and it won’t fit back in.
AB: Always work with people who are better than you. Listen to everything, even music you don’t care for. Find out what you love most and always move towards that, but then move towards things that confuse you as well!