NewSong is proud to have Alli Marshall as our host at the 18th Annual NewSong Competition on Saturday Nov. 23 at Isis Music Hall in Asheville, NC. Marshall is the longtime Arts editor for Asheville’s local alt-weekly newspaper, the Mountain Xpress.
We asked Marshall about her favorite songwriters, advice for this year’s batch of finalists and her personal relationship with the growing Asheville music scene.
NewSong: Name three of your all-time favorite songwriters. What do you think it is about their songwriting that grabs your attention?
Alli Marshall: I really don’t have any all-time favorites — I tend to go in phases and am always looking for for new songwriters to be moved and inspired by. That said, those who come quickly to mind are:
• Brittany Howard, who I think is such an important contemporary soul musician. Her writing is deeply poetic and true, but there’s also her sense of musicality and performance — not just what she says but how she says it.
• Taj Mahal has written some of my favorite songs, and whenever I go back to his catalog I’m never disappointed. He exudes deep joy within the idiom of the blues.
• Jeff Markham, who was an Asheville-based singer-songwriter. He was always reconfiguring his band and sound, and he eventually left music to be a full-time chef somewhere in the southwest. But I’m fortunate to have a stash of his records, including some unreleased songs, and I feel them deeply. I wanted to mention Jeff because a musician doesn’t have to “make it” to be connect to a listener.
How would you describe your relationship with Asheville music scene? (I’m of course thinking of your role as Arts editor at the Mountain Xpress but also of your personal experience as a music lover living in this ever-changing city.)
One thing I’ve said about Asheville for years is that we, as listeners, are fortunate to be in community with and to have relationships with the folks whose bands we support. Not to downplay the magic of a major show with lights and costumes and whatever, but some of the most special and memorable experience I’ve had with music were when I knew the band and was in a small room and witnessed the moment when the performers and audiences synched up. That gorgeous, golden flow, or giving and receiving. That exchange of energy and co-creation of art … I live for that.
You were also involved in the LEAF NewSong contest this spring. Any advice for this new batch of contestants based off that experience?
Be authentic. Be well-rehearsed, have a plan and play your best songs, but also really be grounded in the room. Take a moment onstage to exhale and get super present. And then remember to introduce your songs! That’s a nice way to connect with the audience, but it also shows professionalism and care for craft.
What is the last album you listened to?
This week I’ve been going back and forth between Son Little’s new EP, “invisible,” and “It Rains Love” by Lee Fields & The Expressions.