Rising Star 2011
The twenty year old Texas girl knows how to cover all her bases. She sings about wanting to move to California, but says she still loves San Antonio. She built her early fanbase by posting cover versions of popular songs on YouTube, and now she’s in the studio collaborating with the same kind of famous artists she once covered. And while she’s got music industry heavyweight Pharrell Williams in her corner, she’s kept her own mother and brother involved in her career as well.
Welcome to the world of Alyssa Bernal, whose current single “Cali Cali Cali” merely scratches the surface of her upcoming debut album. So just why is she singing about the west coast? “Because it’s three digit degree weather here in the summer in San Antonio,” she jokes. “The song’s about reminiscing and relaxing and there’s beautiful weather. Laying back, being someone you’re not.”
The slick, breezy, radio friendly song comes a long way from her YouTube roots, which saw her posting covers of songs from artists like Rihanna and Sara Bareilles which were sufficiently low-fi recordings that they made it clear that her flawless singing voice was in fact hers and not some studio creation. It was those recordings that got the attention of Pharrell Williams – who was intent on reaching her via whatever method necessary.
“About a year ago, the music director from my old high school called me,” she says, “and he was like ‘Someone’s trying to get ahold of you, I guess some label, I don’t know, I wouldn’t trust these people.’” When that didn’t work, Williams resorted to sending Alyssa a message via MySpace, which she had fallen behind on due to the overwhelming amount of feedback she’d been receiving as a result of her cover songs. Luckily, her mom came to the rescue.
“She was scanning over my MySpace messages, and she saw one with the title ‘Pharrell Williams wants to work with you’ and she was like ‘Who’s Pharrell?’” After a phone call, Alyssa and her mother were on a plane headed out to meet with Williams and Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine the next day, which ended with her signing a deal with subsidiary Star Trak Entertainment.
Even with the major label deal in place, Alyssa has still kept her family actively involved with her career. Her mother still facilitates the messages she receives via social networks, in particular ensuring that all the ones “from the soldiers in the service” get answered. And her brother Andy is the drummer in her band. But that hasn’t kept her from putting industry stars to work on her record. Having been a fan of Jason Mraz since she was in the seventh grade, she’s fittingly working with Mraz producer Martin Terefe – and she’s not shy about the fact that her debut album is “very influenced by Jason Mraz. There’s this one song called ‘The Boy’ and it sounds like this one Jason Mraz song called Butterfly.”
The album also sees her co-writing a song “about being homesick” entitled Raincloud Grey with KT Tunstall, which the two penned together in London. And then there’s the duet with Lifehouse lead singer Jason Wade dubbed Hold Me Tight, which fans might get to see performed intact as a duet this fall as Alyssa heads out on tour with Lifehouse and Kris Allen in October and November.
Her concert last week in SoCal, clips of which have already surfaced on the internet, reveal a plenty confident stage performer. “There’s definitely some butterflies before I go on stage, and a little bit in the beginning when I first step on stage. But when I’m singing and I have my eyes closed, it starts to go away. Little by little, I’m getting over it more and more.”
But that’s a far cry from when she was growing up and her musically oriented family (including a father who was the drummer for a Tejano touring band and a 105 year old grandfather who was once a radio DJ) would try to get her to join in. “I used to cry when my family would ask me to sing. I hated it. But I grew to love it.”
So is it safe to assume that the YouTube star who grew up in the digital age discovered her influences online? Actually, not even close. In an era in which few people in the U.S. see music videos on television anymore, because the few music channels only play music after dark, that fact actually worked to Alyssa’s advantage. “I’m a night owl. I always stay up late. I remember the Insomniac TV show on VH1, might have been MTV, but I used to watch that all the time looking for new artists. I think I discovered most of them on there.”
“The album’s done,” she says of the In Love Again For The First Time, the twelve song opus whose release date was scheduled for winter but might be moved up as a result of her inclusion on the Lifehouse tour. As to the album’s title, it’s in reference to being “not just in love with someone for the first time, but in love with my career in music. I hadn’t really realized how much I love music until I started doing all of this. It’s a number of things that make up that title.”
So what else should we know about Alyssa Bernal? Despite the history of instrumental musicians in her family, she’s one of the few who actually sing. The nickname Lyss, which she thought was “really stupid” the first time she heard it back in high school, has since grown on her to the point that she sometimes refers to herself as “Lyss” in her YouTube videos. And she’s plenty confident about her debut album: “There’s so many great songs on the album, there’s been talk about many of the songs being the next single. So we’ll see.”