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
reason. Yet Alice Leon pressed on, and now it appears that her latest
band, the Alice Project — with Jimmy Leahey on guitar, Scott
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,
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
"We didn’t take it particularly seriously at the time but we
it could be great fun and good exposure," says Leon, in an
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
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
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
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
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,
With Lady Berlin." The album got favorable reaction with
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
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
"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
"No, because it’s the hardest thing to be myself as a
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
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
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
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
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,
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
at their show at Princeton’s Ivy Inn, on December 7, a date that
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
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
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
Street, 609-921-8555. Acoustic rock by Alice Leon and her band.
December 22, 10 p.m.
Thursday, January 25, at 10 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.