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Viola! Getting Down with Ally Brown

Viola! Getting Down with Ally Brown

Here’s a case where my good friend Allison introduced me to another Allison while at some bouorbon fest a few years ago. It was a lot of money for the small samples of mediocre-at-best bourbon. (I felt like, “OK, I guess you got the best of me.”) So, we split, got some steaks went to my house and enjoyed a late dinner with much better bourbon.

We all had a great time. It’s always a good thing when one good pal introduces you to a new good pal. I learned that my new friend Allison —AKA Ally Brown— was a smokin’ hot violinist who spent some time on the Southern California scene. Allison #1 knew that Ally #2 and I might have great affinity for one another since I made much of my musical living in SoCal groups that included shredding violinists.

We’ve been threatening to play together ever since, and I can’t wait. In the meantime, we’re settling into a friendship of which I am grateful. And, it’s been a lot of fun seeing her working with Mark Doyle, Opus Black, Jimmy James Gang, Whisky Crush and even sit-ins with groups like Scars and Stripes and more.

If you understand the wide variety of genres spanning these groups, you will begin to understand the depth in Ally Brown’s musicality.

In this interview that follows, you will also get a glimpse of the depth of her person.

Chuck Schiele: Hi Ally. Thanks for doing this interview.

Ally Brown: Thanks for the opportunity Chuck.

CS: When did you get into music? What inspired you to start?

AB: Music has been a part of my life since childhood. My mother had me sing in the church choir when I was young, Dad always listened to rock music in the 80s and 90s when he was working on cars in the garage. At nine years old, I started playing in the school orchestra. Very typical early childhood musical developmental introductions.

I remember going to the county fair as a young kid and seeing the fiddle players perform and/or compete. I remember just walking by the tent and kind of being mesmerized by them. So, when it came time for me to join the school music program, I remember being very adamant that I was going to play the violin or nothing at all. Nothing else seemed all that exciting.

CS: What instruments do you play?

AB: I play the violin and the viola. I’m also an electric violinist and play a seven string Viper, whenever I have the chance to pull it out. And I sing.

CS: So … as a lifelong musician, what’s your story?

AB: I really wanted to be a symphony violinist, and I could really tear up some repertoire back in the day. I went to SUNY Potsdam for their Performance and Education double major with great impression out of high school, but life got in the way and I didn’t complete the program. I landed in Syracuse to make those corrections at OCC’s music program and eventually return. But, I got to a point in my early twenties where I just knew that wasn’t the world for me. So after I completed two years, I decided not to return to university for music. A few years later, “Just Joe” Altier was the first one to get me playing violin in the scene here. I’ve played on two of his albums – Got Joe and So The Story Goes. He did a live version of Jolene and had me come out on stage to fill it out. Since then, I’ve played around town in groups including Opus Black Strings, (Check them out!) The Jimmy James Gang, Whiskey Crush/The Whiskey Trio, and guest appearing with modern rock band Scars & Stripes. I also scribe string arrangements and parts for projects, and perform weddings or cocktail hours for hire. I’m also the Bar Manager for the 443 Social Club and Lounge, a wildly up and coming original music venue in town. I just can’t stay away from music.

CS: What and who do you listen to?

AB: Right now, I’m listening to a lot of acoustic music. On heavy rotation, I’m listening to The Trouble Notes, which are a high energy violin–guitar–cajon trio that create these crazy dance beats as buskers. I’m in awe. I also have Mandolin Orange, Mipso, and Griffin House in the mix. I wouldn’t say that these artists share a genre, other than they all do it acoustically, so it allows me to keep my playlist eclectic.

CS: Career highlights?

AB: I’ve had the pleasure of working with Mark Doyle a few times with his Guitar Noir projects, and those have been really special to me. I enjoy working with him; and his music is really nuanced and well thought out. I was in the studio this summer to record string parts to his Guitar Noir III: Watching the Detectives, and also on Mary Fahl’s (from the October Project) Holiday Album Winter Songs and Carols. Both albums came out great.

CS: Any funny stories from the bigtime?

AB: So, circling back to the story when I was a little girl being in awe of the fiddle players … I was the subject of one little girl’s awe-struck wonder. I was playing with the Jimmy James Gang on a particular St. Patrick’s Day event. And, it was becoming clear that we were playing the room where the kids could hang out while the parents drank against the wall. However – we’re a southern rock band, and Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t exactly write kid-friendly lyrics. So, Jimmy and I are cringing while singing about drinking, smoking, snorting – we had to cut Needle and the Spoon. So, we get to the fiddle stuff —Charlie Daniels, Call me the Breeze, some Roadhouse Blues, Shanty— and this little girl comes up to me and gives me a hug right around my waist after a song. Aweeee, right? I was super appreciative, and she was super adorable. She does it again after the next song. Twice after the next. And then DURING the next song. She did this like fifteen times between and during songs. I was at one point trying to fiddle solo with this kid trying to attach herself to my hip and was like “At what point in my life did I sign up for this? This is MY St. Patricks Day too.” I had to shoot some death glares out into the audience to find an inebriated father to come collect her from the stage.

CS: I love asking that question. Cool. What do you think of the CNY Music scene and community?

AB: I dig it, man. It was the musicians in this scene that took me by the hand and led me into it. For awhile, I didn’t know where I was going as a musician until I started reaching out and letting the musicians here help me. They’re still helping me figure it out today.

CS: What would you say to someone interested in jumping into this biz?

AB: If you’re young enough where you’re pursuing a degree, a music degree will teach you about music, but a marketing degree will teach you how to make money in this industry. You can develop as an artist/instrumentalist in alternative ways, but over the years as an ancillary player, I’ve seen some really great musicians draw flies at shows. The draw, the media, the charisma – something is always missing and it isn’t usually the musicianship. If I could go back in time and change one thing, I might have changed my education path.

CS: GREAT FREAKING answer. Almost every musician I’ve met in this town is unbalanced this way. Gobs of musical talent —I’m a total fan— but, most are compleely naive in the idea that somebody else is going to pop out of the ground, discover them, love their stuff so much that they’ll tell the whole world out of pure awe. These people have never been to Los Angeles. The people overlook that their music heroes PAY somebody to promote. If one doesn’t promote temselves, they can only be an artist. If one is going to market, they become also a product and thus it needs to be advertised. Just like the guy who first invented a coat hanger. Nobody knew wht it was until somebody promoted it.

Don’t get me going …

Anyway …

What is in your near future for your music endeavors?

AB: I’ve been struggling with a pretty severe pain issue called Occipital Neuralgia, and it has come on because of playing violin. It’s really put the brakes on a lot of things for me lately. So, I’m currently documenting my story and events to develop either a blog or outreach geared towards musicians who suffer from music (or repetitive motion related) injuries

As I’m still finding ways to maneuver around my injury, I have a new country cover

band coming up and development for an acoustic duo. And I’m always extending my hand to sit in on projects. I didn’t play a lot in 2019, so I have to make up for some lost time in 2020.

CS: How do we stay in touch with you and your music?

AB: You can follow me as Ally Brown on Facebook and any expansions in 2020 will be announced from there.

CS: Thank you Ally Brown! It sure has been good talking with you.

AB: Thank you, Chuck. Nice chatting with you, too!

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