Alya: “Don’t try to control everything”

You will be alright, you got this, it will work, don’t wait, believe in yourself. Unfortunately for me, I was alone on my way as an artist, but had many advisers and “helpers,” which you should ignore if you have a vision. I used to correct my sound, dress like someone advised, write to be […]

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You will be alright, you got this, it will work, don’t wait, believe in yourself. Unfortunately for me, I was alone on my way as an artist, but had many advisers and “helpers,” which you should ignore if you have a vision. I used to correct my sound, dress like someone advised, write to be successful. Don’t do it. Be as authentic and sincere as possible to be noticed, and if not, that was not the road for you. Life has something better to offer.

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Alya.

Just under a decade ago, after enjoying a lengthy and successful career as a TV news personality and press secretary in Moscow, ALYA left her native Russia to boldly pursue her musical dreams in the United States. Now, having artfully chronicled her personal struggles and triumphs as an immigrant and evolving artist assimilating to an entirely different culture on her stylistically eclectic, well-received 2019 debut album Ten Years of Solitude, the multi-talented singer/songwriter shares deeper universal truths about the experience of female immigrants on her heart-tugging latest single “American Beauty.”

Produced by legendary Grammy, Emmy and Dove Award winning engineer/producer Bill Schnee, the edgy and soulful, hypnotically infectious song opens as if it’s a seductive expression of finding romantic love. Yet ALYA’s larger socially conscious intentions come clear as she follows with the lines “We never know if it’s love or disaster. . .For you I would risk everything” and when she powers into the hook, “Where do you go to find a diamond buried in the rough/Traveled around the world to find my American Beauty.”

While the original track has racked up nearly 500,000 Spotify streams, ALYA also released an explosive remix by Grammy winning producer Dave Aude (Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars) that is currently storming up the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart, reaching #16 after only two weeks.

To expand her audience further, the singer has also released a Tropical/Latin-fired remix by DJ Cruz. ALYA further illuminates her inspiration behind “American Beauty” in a visually stunning yet often gritty video for the track that she directed herself. The clip, available on YouTube, intersperses the singer’s performance with depictions of the hopes, aspirations, struggles, disappointments and optimistic breakthroughs of women of different cultures (including Asian, Middle Eastern and Hispanic) pursuing careers in the arts (music, fashion), sports (boxing) and the military.

ALYA’s highly anticipated follow-up single “Pleasure Is Mine,” is a steamy/sultry yet dramatic and at times symphonic mid-tempo expression of female empowerment via an embrace of the unique gifts of one’s sensuality and sexuality. While some may use a women’s sexuality to make them feel like victims, the singer sees it as a true superpower. In the middle of the tune, amidst Schnee’s booming production, ALYA segues into a brief lyrical piano and vocal interlude that, like the entire track itself, draws from a timeless Russian folk song she grew up. That traditional tune included dynamic symbols (a woman drowning in a river and women talking to that river as a friend) that connect with the song’s contemporary theme.

Both thematically and musically, these tracks — and those she is working on for her upcoming sophomore album — are worlds away from the eclectic mix she shared on Ten Years of Solitude, a true hymn of self-discovery produced by ALYA and David Holman (No Doubt, Bush, Olivia Newton-John). The collection featured an eclectic mix of modern pop, Japanese folk, trip hop, electronica, 60’s surf rock, jazz and classical music. For fans who want to immerse deeper into both her music and the visual side of her artistry, the singer has launched the “ALYA” augmented reality app, which transforms a handmade old school styled cassette version of the album into a boombox when you place it in front of the phone. Users can enter into an interactive 360-degree visual experience and open portals to 360 videos, while also allowing them to rediscover random objects of everyday life through the lens of the phone.

“When I came to America, I was truly looking for my life’s purpose,” ALYA says. “It took me five solid years to figure it out, and those passions were driven by experiencing so many challenges assimilating, integrating and connecting to American society while all the larger immigration became part of the political discourse. Perhaps trying too hard, I didn’t feel like myself for a long time, but as time went on, everything fell into place. I wanted Ten Years of Solitude to reflect all those years of hard work and basically growing up as an artist. All the songs were very different in tone, reflecting different years of my life melodically and lyrically. I even sang one song in Japanese to reflect a year living and working in Japan as a special correspondence long before I moved to the U.S.

“American Beauty’ is the first song representing the new era of my musical journey, where I’m looking deep into who I am today and connecting my experiences as a new American with the countless stories of women who have also come here and started building new lives from scratch. The song is a story about and for women who came to the U.S., or any country really, to find new opportunities and become their best selves. I am letting them know how strong, beautiful and unique they are — and that we are united in our quest to discover the beauty of this country that we chose out of any other. It’s about the universal story of immigrants — which unfortunately also touches on the nightmares going on at our border due to today’s political climate. I wanted to create a song that would be warm and inspiring, soothing and supportive of them as well — a reminder of the true values of America that we come here to embrace.”

Growing up in Oryol, a city in Western Russia known for its literary heritage, ALYA attended regular school while studying classical music at local music school, where she learned accordion (playing as a soloist in the choir) and began developing her talents as a classically trained opera singer. Born during the Soviet era, her exposure to Western Music was limited to The Beatles, Bon Jovi and David Bowie, but she developed a passion for classical music and opera.

Despite her musical gifts, after graduating with a journalism degree from Moscow State University and later receiving a Master’s in Economics, she pursued a more practical career route as a journalist. She became a successful correspondent and one of only a few women covering major military and political stories. for the largest state and independent media company in Russia (Ria Novosti). Among her achievements was uncovering one of the largest bullying incidents in the Russian Army (Sergey Sychev) Thanks to her coverage, an uproar began among human rights activists across the world. She later worked as a special correspondent in Japan and press secretary for the Vice Chairman of the Russian state Duma in the Lower House of Parliament. Yet even as her star rose in journalistic circles, she was busy behind the scenes writing songs and performing with a band.

“My fellow artists understand the need to let the music out,” ALYA says “No matter how successful you are in another field, that creativity starts eating you from the inside if you don’t find proper channels for it. People who know me from childhood would totally understand the career I have now. Those I worked with in Parliament might raise their eyebrows!”

Complementing her career as an artist, ALYA, along with her husband, are driving positive social change through their philanthropic work to help low-income college students, advance breakthrough medical research, and improve the lives of pets and their families. They recently donated 20,000 laptops to help Los Angeles Community College students who were forced out of the classroom when schools were closed due to the pandemic. They also announced the 150,000 dollars Michelson Prizes for Human Immunotherapy and Vaccine Research, which were awarded in August to young researchers on the front lines of finding ways to prevent disease. ALYA also has supported other artists and arts education through the Grammy Foundation’s MusicCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

“My music is simply a platform to tell timeless stories that harken back to tales from my Russian heritage while addressing and influencing broad social issues and empowering people, especially women, to fully realize their full potential,” says ALYA. “My goal is to continue to find ways to deliver these messages while at the same time seeking new opportunities to give back. The most rewarding aspect is that now when people ask me what I’m doing, I can, after years of pursuing my dreams, genuinely say I am an artist and musician. Bill Schnee recently told me that a lady who works for him who is a Russian immigrant started crying when she heard one of my new songs — as if it spoke directly to her experience. That’s the kind of impact I am so grateful for and hope I can always have.”

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in what was called back then the Soviet Union in a small town near the Russian capital, Moscow. I had a very typical soviet childhood where everybody around played with the same toys and were dressed alike. My dad is from the military, so we traveled a lot, changing flat after flat, and I guess I never developed a real sense of home or motherland, which made the decision to emigrate relatively painless. I remember empty shelves in the markets and perestroika and new Russia. I made my first money at six years of age by singing Christmas carols on the street.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Looking back, I understand that I always wanted to escape from where I was. It took me a while to realize you have to do something to change your path instead of waiting for a prince on a silver horse like from the Soviet Cinderella song. There is no specific turning story. On the background of my career as a journalist, there was always a creator. I was listening to the master class with St. Vicente recently, and she said that for her, everything that had to do with the coming out and growing as a musician was hand in hand with fear, shame, and uncertainty. That was me. I was keeping myself quiet for so long. On the other hand, I am grateful to have my life experiences, skills, and artistic self in one place now. I can tell stories in so many different ways.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Constantly happening. The most fascinating thing for me is to see people accepting me as an artist. This is such a gift.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, I had a lot of lessons, especially while working as a spokesperson. The main one is to remember that you are responsible for everything you say.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

My second album is in the works, and an initiative from our Family Foundations to support first-generation immigrant women is about to roll out. These two projects are actually connected, even though they sound like they’re from two different universes. There are so many untold stories from immigrants worldwide that I hope to bring to light, sharing mine. I am talking not just about creating music, but, for example, a documentary series. I hope to transform the conversation about migration, which is much closer to home than we believe with all the world changes.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

You can only learn so much looking to the mirror. When I felt empty before the Corona reality, I used to travel. Seeing different cultures and people not like you changes your angles, perspectives, and makes you rich. They know something you don’t. It is not just about skin color or sex; diversity is way beyond that, and it is important to reflect it. Television and film are, in some ways, contemporary chronicles; it is crucial to hear and see all living voices. Not just for us, but for future generations.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

You will be alright, you got this, it will work, don’t wait, believe in yourself. Unfortunately for me, I was alone on my way as an artist, but had many advisers and “helpers,” which you should ignore if you have a vision. I used to correct my sound, dress like someone advised, write to be successful. Don’t do it. Be as authentic and sincere as possible to be noticed, and if not, that was not the road for you. Life has something better to offer.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not “burn out”?

Let it go, look around, and don’t try to control everything. The best changes in my life happened when I did just that. I especially think it would be helpful for my journalist colleagues. It is so interesting, but while in Russia, I dreamed of working in any American media company, and now I witness how this industry is struggling.

It is here to stay and survive, but you can see how fragile it is and how easily it can be converted to propaganda and mass weapons with the wrong guidance.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Trust the science, and do not listen to influencers. We have a problem with celebrities and so-called people of influence, which often try to be everything instead of focusing on their expertise. We have to make people of knowledge into celebrities and listen to them.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My husband. I am endlessly grateful for everything he has done for me, and I am looking with admiration at how he is changing the world into a better place.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This is something that my mom taught me, and I am trying to teach my children — treat the people around you like you would like to be treated.

Is there a person in the world or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Well, we have three kids and are endlessly teaching them table manners. If you are not doing it well, Queen Elizabeth will not invite you to a tea party at her castle — I usually say. It was working for a while, but recently my five-year-old daughter said, ‘why should we care? She does not know you anyway, and will not invite us because of that.’ So, I guess lunch with the Queen would be really helpful for our family discipline.

How can our readers follow you online? to enjoy the art in addition to my music. I also have Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

IG alya.michelson

twitter alyamichelson

facebook Alya Michelson

This was very meaningful; thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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