Alison Clancy is a multidisciplinary artist, skilled in diverse arenas such as music, composing, writing and dancing. Originally from California, now based in New York, Clancy is a highly acclaimed dancer who is a member of Zvi Dance and is in her tenth season of dancing at The Metropolitan Opera.
Clancy’s debut solo album PSYCHO TYKO’s aesthetic is a distinct mix of grunge and lucid, trippy tones. Her latest single, Morning Time, is a collaboration between artists spanning across the globe, from Brooklyn to Copenhagen. A moody, surrealist ode to love and mutual destruction, her music and craft reflect a deep, purgative, expressive energy that reinforces her artistic commitment to beauty and catharsis.
I met Alison on the Low Steps at Columbia. She opened up to me about the creative process behind “Morning Time”: the beauty, the catharsis, the healing as well as her unique upbringing.
“Morning Time” is the result of an international collaboration between Alison and Chris Lancaster on the cello, who are Brooklyn-based artists, Esben Thornhal on production and Aske Thornhal on guitar.
“The lyrics of “Morning Time” are drawn from Marco Evarsitti’s poetry, who she met on tour in Denmark. The lyrics are a testament to love, but the kind of love that’s careening towards mutually assured destruction. There’s one line that goes “I want to sink your body into the dead sea, will you survive, will you float next to me?” It’s a love that verges on obsession.”
As an artist, Alison is extremely collaborative, from her music collaborations to her dance performances. working with artists from all over the world, exchanging and synthesizing new ideas without compromising anyone’s artistic vision. She believes that collaboration is all about the magic of melding together two individuals, two perspectives. “It’s an unpredictable, spontaneous sort of magical creative attraction where the final product is something that exists beyond either one of you alone.”
She explained that these collaborations are a beautiful metaphor for all kinds of relationships, artistic or otherwise, for marriage, friendship or a business partnership. “When two people come together, it shouldn’t always be about finding common ground or the lowest common denominator. A collaboration isn’t about really compromise, it’s about manifesting your energies and creating something greater than either of you alone.”
She describes the creation of “Morning Time” as an example of this sort of spontaneous, artistic melding: Marco flew Esben over from Copenhagen, and immediately after she heard the guitar part, she was drawn to it’s moody, mysterious quality. Alison has a dreamy, faraway look as she recounts the creation of her single:
“I can’t even tell you how exactly it happened– we were all in the same room, Chris, the cello player, Esben and I. It’s as if our energies had clicked in that room and something new was born, and all of a sudden we had a song. Esben had the guitar part, and I laid down a vocal, Chris laid down a cello; then Esben layered on some keyboard, and it all happened so quickly.
I can’t even say what the process was, it was this thing that was born from just sharing a present moment. I had all Marco’s poetry, just papers all around me. Later, I recorded the piano part on an old piano that was just shipped from grandmother’s house. The timing was perfect, and it had this old, ghostly sound that fit the track perfectly. This process was definitely not planned, it was spontaneous and it’s not always like that.”
The themes in ‘Morning Time” focus on Alison’s artistic commitment to beauty and catharsis. Allowing space to turn raw emotion into art is something she focuses on because she believes her art can be healing for both herself and her listeners. Alison explains that taking trauma and transforming it with aesthetic sophistication and intention can create the most beautiful art. She’s reminded of duende flamenco singers who sing “a sort of guttural tragic music that twists and shifts on itself and expands into something beautiful.”
Her music focuses on this transformative element; she asks me rhetorically: “How can you take something that feels dark and stuck, and morph into something healing? How can you take fear and transform it into hope, how can you take loss and transform it into universal love?” Alison believes that allowing room in society for pain and grief, actually is a part of what makes life less painful.
As a dancer as well as a musician, her two artistic practices overlap in their physicality. Singing for Alison is a way to access pent up energy from different parts of your body, and allowing them to release into something cathartic and beautiful. She draws her ideas from Eastern medicine, which theorizes that energies that get stuck in certain parts of your body; By singing from a place of tension, pain, or trauma, Alsion believes that singing’s reverberations can release those energies with grace. Singing is a very cathartic process for her as an artist, and she hopes that in her expression, others can resonate with her message.
She laughs, and in a moment of self-awareness, she expresses that “on an ego level, I always wonder about what am I doing, like why should people listen or watch me specifically. And I realize that in realizing how to heal and empower myself, I can also give other people the possibility to do the same thing for themselves. The most powerful thing is to have someone resonate with what I am doing and feel empowered to take their own anger, pain, grief and turn it into something just as beautiful.”
This idea of reaching people by sharing her personal journey through her art is based on her childhood experiences. Now residing in Brooklyn, Alison originally grew up in a little cabin in the woods, off the grid.
“What’s so great about growing up in such a beautiful natural setting is that I had a lot of time and space to daydream and be connected to the elements. To entertain myself, I would just wander around in the woods because that’s what was around me. My mom started the first snowboarding competitions in California, so every weekend we were on a different mountain and something about being at the top of all these different mountains gives you a sense of expansion. I definitely feel like that’s affected my art. I often have a sense of trying to reach out and send my energy beyond my actual wingspan.
When you are on top of a mountain, it feels like you can project your energy into a bigger space- it simultaneously gives you a sense about how small you are, yet how much space there is that you can project your energy into. On top of those mountains, you can reiterate your message into the infinite space around you. “
Alison grew up surrounded by nature and space, but for college she moved to New York, studying dance at New York University. As with many first time New Yorkers, she was overwhelmed when she first arrived, choosing to focus on her dance training. It was through dance that she was introduced to music. She describes herself in high school as “a bit of a math nerd.” In her third year at the dance conservatory, she remembers taking a mandatory music theory class where the first assignment was to write a poem with a score of music.
Alison recounts: “I remember I had so much anxiety about this, because I was so shy at that point, I barely talked, and the thought of the sound of my voice made me want to meltdown. But when I did it, there was this moment like the floodgates had opened and suddenly, I was sneaking into the music lab every night writing and recording little fun songs for my friends. I had so much resistance over talking and expressing myself, this theory class opened me to this side of myself that I had kept all pent up. Since then, I’ve been writing music obsessively.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the city, Alison was in the middle of a big performance at the Metropolitan Opera. She was opening the opera with a 12-minute solo. Since the shutdown, she’s been upstate, producing music and art by herself, which she says has been a very limiting, yet rewarding process as a collaborative artist.
“I’ve been hanging out with rabbits, chipmunks and deer in upstate New York and it’s good to be back in nature. I’m used to running around working with all these people. Now I’m mostly working by myself, and it’s interesting to be alone again. It’s given me a lot of time to reflect and finish up projects I’ve left with loose ends. “Morning Time” was one of these; it’s been something I meant to release, and quarantine has slowed things down for me in a good way in this sense.
I tend to be a little bit manic in my creation– I’m always writing and creating, and this has given me the chance to go back, look at what I made. I’m really good at starting things but not so much at finishing things. And I’m glad this song is the product of me finally taking the time to finish something. I love this song, and I wanted to share it for a while, and I’ve finally given myself the time to do so.”
“Morning Time” is steeped in darkness and release. It’s haunting, aching and deeply visceral. Clancy’s ability to interweave beauty, desire and catharsis gives her work its trademark, genre-defying quality. The birth of “Morning Time” was an act of spontaneous creation and collaboration, similarly, listening to the single is an immersion in darkness, with a portal leading to hazy abandon and technicolor relief.
“Morning Time” can now be streamed on all major platforms.