Corrections or additions?

This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the December

20, 2000 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Alice Project Pushes On to the Next Level

Like a lot of local and regionally recognized rock

‘n’ roll artists, Alice Leon has been ready to throw in the towel

on her rock ‘n’ roll career a number of times over the years.

Let’s face it, the realities of the business are often difficult:

fickle club managers who want you to call them back again and again,

clubs that close before they’ve had a chance of forging a reputation

among fans of live music, and band fans who come and go for no

apparent

reason. Yet Alice Leon pressed on, and now it appears that her latest

band, the Alice Project — with Jimmy Leahey on guitar, Scott

Strunk

on drums, and Alan Greene on bass — is ready to take her music

to the next level.

Based on the strength of their two independently released CDs, this

group just may be able to break through from "local act" to

"regional act" and — with a dollop of major record company

marketing muscle — on to "national act."

The band hosts a holiday party and celebration of its new CD,

"Traveling

With Lady Berlin," at the Ivy Inn in Princeton on Friday, December

22, beginning at 10 p.m.

The first time Leon had doubts about pursuing music for a living,

her former band, After Alice, was playing a small bar in New York.

A talent scout approached and asked if the band would be interested

in auditioning for the long-gone network TV program, "Star

Search."

"We didn’t take it particularly seriously at the time but we

recognized

it could be great fun and good exposure," says Leon, in an

interview

before the show in the Ivy Inn’s back office. Since there is no stage

at the Ivy, the band’s regular spot, Leon brings her own — a small

wooden box that she stands on. It also helps to remind bar patrons

that there is a singer and a band in that corner of the bar, and

they’d

be an embarrassment to themselves if they bumped into this short,

focused, energetic blonde woman playing guitar and singing, much of

the time with her eyes closed.

Speaking of After Alice’s appearance on "Star Search," Leon

says "the atmosphere on the set was very friendly, and it was

great fun. These things would come up every so often and make me feel

like I was on the right track. I’d be asking myself, `What do I do

with my life right now? Should I be getting myself a real job?’ Then

I’d say, `Wait a minute, this is what I love to do, and maybe people

are starting to take me seriously.’"

After Alice played New Brunswick and New York City bars in the 1990s.

When that band split up in 1996, Leon turned her back on performing

her own stylized brand of pop-rock to focus on writing an original

rock musical, eventually named "The Reluctant Debutante."

She was performing it in a Greenwich Village bar when a Sony Music

talent scout heard her and brought her to producer John Kalodner.

"I wanted to do a musical. We went into Manhattan and played this

little club and this woman came up afterwards and asked me about my

rock stuff. I thought, you’ve gotta be kidding me. So I put together

a demo tape and the next thing I know, I’m on the 20th floor of the

Sony Building with John Kalodner, who had worked with Aerosmith."

Leon had what is called in the record business, a development deal.

Sony agreed to work with her on a tentative album of songs, so they

sent Leon to Atlanta to work for a few weeks with good session

musicians

and producers Jesse Dupree of Jackyl, and Dave Sabo of the rock group

Skid Row. After her demo was completed, Sony Music decided not to

pick up its option on her band, but nonetheless encouraged Leon to

form her current band, the Alice Project, in 1997.

"I was completely the low person on the totem pole," Leon

recalls. When she’s reminded that 1997 was a year when CD consumption

reached the saturation point with consumers, as more than 18,000

albums

were released, she takes it as a mixed blessing that the demo tapes

didn’t become her debut album.

"They didn’t want me to work with any of the musicians I was

working

with at the time," she recalls, "but getting a deal with Sony

Music was one of those things that said to me, `Hang in there, we’re

still in it.’ You know, there’s that old saying, `Sometimes you don’t

choose what you do, sometimes, it chooses you.’"

In recent weeks, the Alice Project has performed in Philadelphia on

KYW-TV and at a number of larger clubs including the Philadelphia

Hard Rock Cafe. The group launches an independent promotional campaign

in January for its new self-produced, self-released album,

"Traveling

With Lady Berlin." The album got favorable reaction with

executives

at Compact Disc World, so it is available in all of that independent

chain’s retail outlets in New Jersey.

A vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist, Leon was born

in Brooklyn, but her family made the big move westward to Wayne, New

Jersey, in 1968. The daughter of a CPA father and a mother who now

lives in Florida, her parents split up when she was in high school.

Leon gives much of the credit for her music education to her

grandmother,

a concert pianist who taught her to play piano.

"We listened to Leonard Bernstein and `Peter and the Wolf’ at

home, and my dad had fairly hip tastes — for an accountant,"

she says, laughing. "He had Bob Dylan and Queen and the Beatles

in his record collection. My mom, on the other hand, had this great

affinity for guys like B.B. King and great jazz singers like Ella

Fitzgerald."

"We did the exodus to New Jersey when I was in grade school, and

then I went to school at Rutgers, and just stayed down this way. I

used to do coffee houses, and I was in a bunch of bands when I was

in college," she says.

By day, Leon, who lives in South Brunswick, teaches tennis with the

Princeton Tennis Program, working at the Princeton University’s tennis

courts during summer months.

Aren’t tennis coach and budding rock star rather incongruous

occupations?

"No, because it’s the hardest thing to be myself as a

musician,"

says Leon. "I have a day job that doesn’t insult my intelligence

and doesn’t weigh me down so much that I can’t think about my

music."

Although she played tennis through grade school and high school, Leon

did not play much at Rutgers. "I have a wonderful group of people

that I work with at the Princeton Tennis Program," she says.

"It has worked out really well for me, and it allows me the

flexibility

while keeping me on the straight and narrow, so I can be athletic

and healthy and still go out and do my music at night."

Leon and the Alice Project recorded "Traveling With Lady

Berlin"

at Eric Rachel’s 24-track facility, Trax East Studios, in South River

(an operation that was launched in Rachel’s basement in Spotswood

in the early 1980s). "We call [recording engineer] Eric Rachel

`Lord Fader,’" Leon says, laughing again.

Asked which part of the music-making — writing, recording, playing

live — gives her the most pleasure, Leon says it is the

songwriting

process, and the chance to try new songs out on small audiences like

those that frequent the Ivy Inn or New Brunswick’s Court Tavern.

"Opening up shows for other people is fun," Leon says,

"but

for me, it’s the writing process and all the new music we put out.

For me, the high is completing a new song and then seeing the reaction

I get when we play live. I’ve been playing for 20 years, and this

is the best band I’ve ever worked with."

Leon says her songwriting process is modeled after John

Lennon’s. Suitably, the band played a Beatles song, "Come

Together,"

at their show at Princeton’s Ivy Inn, on December 7, a date that

marked

the 20th anniversary of Lennon’s assassination. "I take the John

Lennon approach in that if the song isn’t there right away, I usually

don’t come back to it," she says.

Ideas can come from any source. "I read a piece in the New York

Times where they were auctioning off pieces of Marilyn Monroe’s

personal

possessions, and I just thought that was really disgusting," she

relates. The result is the song, "Marilyn’s Things," on the

band’s current CD. Other songs on the recent CD like "I’m Not

Afraid To Live" and "I Don’t Wanna Be Alone" provide

introspective

messages of hope without being preachy.

The vocals on both "Traveling With Lady Berlin" and "The

Big Number" are clear and distinct, just as they are at the band’s

live shows. Leahey, Strunk, and Greene are ensemble players in the

finest sense of the word, and they know how to pick their spots to

be flashy on their instruments without being overbearing. It’s worth

noting that guitarist Leahey is the son of the late jazz guitarist

and guitar teacher Harry Leahey, who was revered in New York jazz

circles and known in New Jersey rock circles for giving many kids

their first guitar lessons.

"After all," adds Alice, getting ready to run back to the

corner of the bar that serves as her stage at the Ivy Inn, "when

you’re working with mature, smart, really professional musicians,

they know how to play and they also know that less is sometimes more.

Al Greene is a great bass player, Scott Strunk is a great drummer,

and Jimmy Leahey is a fabulous guitarist. There’s a gel that happens

with us when we’re on stage together."

— Richard J. Skelly

The Alice Project Holiday Party, Ivy Inn, 248 Nassau

Street, 609-921-8555. Acoustic rock by Alice Leon and her band.

Friday,

December 22, 10 p.m.

The band returns to the Ivy Inn on Thursday, January 11, and

Thursday, January 25, at 10 p.m.


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