In a world where we all struggle to find our voices and tell our stories some float to the top. Out Floridian songstress Alex da Ponte is one of those voices, as she sits on the precipice of releasing her second full-length album All My Heart (out January 29th on Blue Barrel Records). Alex has meticulously taken the energies and experiences that have shaped her life and turned them into infectious alt-pop we can all share in.
photos via Alex da Ponte’s Facebook
Alex took the time to share with us her experience in music and in life as an out woman navigating the creative world, not to mention some quite helpful tips for me to wow my wife.
AfterEllen.com: Key West is seen as a queer/writers/artists/Buffet-heads Mecca. What was it like actually growing up there?
Alex da Ponte: I think my growing up in Key West helps prove that shame can run so deeply. I remember in middle school when I was living there I had a crush on this older girl with brown hair and braces. I wrote in my journal something like, “Does this mean I’m gay?” And the next day I was so mortified that I had committed those words to paper, I promptly ripped it to shreds. I mean careful, indecipherable pieces into two different trash cans. Even in the midst of such culturally forward thinking, I knew the bottom line. I knew how some of my family felt about “queers”—as I’d heard them referenced—as well as most of the world. I was able to bury the truth so far that I was actually surprised when it occurred to me again in High School. I found myself watching The L Word and listening to Tegan and Sara. It all made sense.
AE: My wife and I are going in February for a combination of our honeymoon, Valentine’s day, our anniversary and both our birthdays (no biggie). Any insider tips?
ADP: That’s amazing! Congrats! I was just talking with my fiancée about the possibility of going back to Key West for our honeymoon—I haven’t been in over 10 years, I believe. But I think we have decided to nerd out at the museums in DC instead.
As for tips, my knowledge is outdated but if you’re driving, going across the seven-mile bridge is gorgeous and also unavoidable so look forward to that. My grandmother lived right in Key West, I actually lived on an island just north of it called Sugarloaf and I liked walking around and petting the stray cats—it really is a wonder it took me so long to realize I was gay. There’s a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum and an aquarium. Also Trolley Rides. People along the sidewalk who will urge you to pose in a photo with their birds or snakes or Iguanas. It’s very eccentric and eclectic.
AE: Tell us a bit about how you started playing music?
ADP: My mom is a single parent and had to work a lot so my older sister and I were left to our own devices. I watched a lot of TV and movies. And I realized what an important role music played. The biggest moments are set to music and it sets the tone. It pairs with the visual and can change your whole mood. It sucks you in. I always knew I wanted to be a part of that. In middle school, I wrote lyrics for a few songs but it was the movie Walk The Line that came out when I was in high school that pushed me over the edge. I picked up the guitar and started writing songs and I just haven’t stopped.
AE: What was the evolution of All My Heart?
ADP: These records are just my life documented, it ties into my last record, Nightmares, which was entirely about a bad break up. It was so angry and deeply sad. I had fallen in love with a girl who was someone else’s and then she deployed overseas without even a goodbye. It was all very dramatic and very devastating. The whole record reflected that. And then, after three years of staying single and depressed, I met the girl who is now my fiancé. She saved me from spending any more time mourning the losses—of that break up as well as tragic death in my family—and obsessing over the cards I was dealt.
There are still some songs on All My Heart that are about that same break-up from the previous record, which speaks to the huge impact the experience had on my life, and then, of course, there are songs about my fiancé. Songs like “Dinosaur,” that make reference to Jurassic Park, the 20th anniversary re-released movie we saw together on our first date. And “Like Home” which lays out all that is good and terrifying about love. The deep and comforting content and the absolute terror of losing it.
You can definitely see a broader spectrum of emotion with this record. You can hear hope. From the album art alone, you can see the two records are coming from very different places. My fiancé, very fittingly, did all of the album art for All My Heart by the way! So All My Heart is really just the next chapter. It came about and evolved because it had to. I’m still alive.
AE: When you were writing the music did you have a way in mind in which is should be consumed?
ADP: With the last record I thought a lot about the record as a whole and setting the track listing so that it told the story of the break-up. With this record, as crazy as it sounds, I didn’t do that at all. I concentrated on it song by song as pieces rather than a whole. I was putting more effort into my life and as a result, the songs just came. I didn’t have to put a lot of effort into going places I’d never gone before, musically, it was just happening because that’s the path I was on. I built songs like “Boulder Creek” and “Colorado” that rise from the ground up and just shatter and fall all around you by the end. That experience of letting go and letting it come somewhat casually was new for me. My anger was such a driving force for the last record; it was nice this time around to be able to smile as a song developed.
AE: How has being an out lesbian musician affected or altered the course of your career and how you’re treated in the industry?
ADP: I think I’m lucky to be coming along now after the path has been paved several times by other out artists. I haven’t felt that it was a “thing” yet. Someone gave me kudos for using female pronouns in my songs, though. They said it surprised them because overwhelmingly it seems gay artists go without. That was no conscious decision on my part. I’m so comfortable, and it feels natural, I’ve never thought about wielding pronouns on purpose as a political statement. It’s just my life. That’s how it should be. I’ve always hated the idea of perpetuating the ideology that these things are abnormal because they’re not. It’s because of fear and people hiding that it ever appeared anything but ordinary. I’m so thankful to be part of the age of visibility and courage. We are here. We have always been. I hope that as a gay artist my openness is one account of many that allows a more human view of people and relationships. Something for people to connect with and come together over.
AE: How has the lesbian/queer community received you and your music?
ADP: My experience of the gay community is that we are extremely supportive of each other. I think we are so happy when we see other gay people reaching their full potential because it means that they’re no longer fighting to be who they are. You have won if you have time enough to concentrate on your craft. Either that or you’re able to use the fight to fuel your creativity. Either way, it’s inspiring, and I see the community celebrating that. I think you guys talking with me is proof of that. So thank you so much for the support!
AE: What’s your favorite part of the process and why?
ADP: I love being in the studio. Having all your songs come to life around you is an incredible feeling. I’m a little bit of a homebody/creature of habit, but I’m lucky to have worked in studios that are really comfortable and relaxed. I like routine and going to bed early so touring can be a challenge. I love the thrill of playing shows for sure and traveling, but I love being with my family. When I’m able to bring them on the road that will make me happy. Brandi Carlile has it right.
AE: What’s your current jam?
ADP: Shovel and Rope‘s album Swimmin’ Time has me right now. I love it so much. Their harmonies are killer.
AE: What’s one thing we wouldn’t be able to find out about you through a deep internet lurk?
ADP: That’s a good question. Well, you wouldn’t know that I recorded a demo of myself singing and playing the song “As Long As You Love Me” by Justin Bieber for my friends and I’ve left it on my iPod to this day and still sing to it when it comes on. The rap in the bridge of that song is so fun and I can do it really well. It’s hilarious. Or that I know every word to the Buffy musical episode. Every. Word.
For more on Alex da Ponte follow her on Facebook.