Ally Evenson recently made peace with herself.
The Detroit indie alt-folk singer-songwriter quietly resolved inner struggles and outer forces threatening her self-worth on Not So Pretty, a cathartic, five-track debut EP that dropped April 17.
“I went through a lot internally and externally in the beginning of 2019, and then throughout the year, things started moving internally, and I was having battles within myself. Those were more at the end of 2019, which I think you can tell more of the internal thoughts within ‘Burning Room’ and ‘Not So Pretty,’” Evenson said.
“‘Not So Pretty’ basically helped me not to hate myself anymore. For about eight or nine months of 2019, I could not stand myself, and I thought I was the worst person ever, and I needed to write that song. It was a mix of finishing that song and going back to therapy that really helped me to be in a way better place emotionally and mentally.”
Evenson follows her curative journey through reflective lyrics, soothing harmonies, dreamy soundscapes and shimmering instrumentation. Each Not So Pretty track invites us to tranquilly absorb and instantly connect with Evenson’s increasing vulnerabilities about self-esteem, losses and personal relationships.
The raw, pulsating title track features angry, brief bursts of electric guitar riffs fused with steady drums and soft bass. As a soaring soprano, Evenson revealingly sings, “I’m not so pretty/I’m not so clean/If only you could read what’s written in between me/And holding flowers, won’t make me look pure/And writing all these songs about it isn’t a cure.”
“I wrote it before a class I was supposed to have a song for, and I didn’t wanna play a cover, and I didn’t wanna play any of my other songs, and I sat down and started writing. I sang it in a class, and I just got so angry while I was singing it, and after it, I felt great. The rest of the day I was smiling and felt like everything was lifted off my shoulders,” said Evenson, who also submitted an acoustic video of the track for this year’s NPR Tiny Desk Contest.
Stopped Calls and Burning Rooms
Meanwhile, Evenson quietly faces a disintegrating relationship on “Why Don’t You Call Me Anymore?” as soft repetitive synths, light cymbal taps and swaying electric guitar solos surround her in calming reassurance. She delicately sings, “Why don’t you call me anymore/I just wanna hear you say I love you once more/And it’s a shame how we’ve ended up this way/But it feels so good to see you walk away from me.”
“‘Why Don’t You Call Me Anymore?’ sounds like it’s underwater, and it’s sad, but there’s great things at the end, and there’s growth within myself. When I heard the final mix of that song, I stopped breathing for once,” she said.
Next, Evenson takes a breathtaking sonic leap on “Burning Room,” a fragile, combustible track filled with vivid, rotational acoustic strums that slowly kindles in your mind. Again, she reveals, “My god, there’s a pain in my head/And it grows stronger with each word I’ve never said/And I’m cursing all the pages that I set fire to/Maybe when you find the ashes, it will mean something to you.”
“With ‘Burning Room,’ that started with me just writing the lyrics of the chorus, and then I was like, ‘Oh no, I have to come up with chords and melodies to these lyrics,’ which I don’t usually do. I always start with chords and melodies,” said Evenson, who will graduate this month from the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME).
Moments of Happiness and Relationship Questions
While smoldering on “Burning Room,” Evenson momentarily extinguishes her sadness on “More of a Happiness.” The upbeat track seamlessly blends Fleet Foxes-like harmonies with breezy Real Estate-esque instrumentation as vibrant acoustic guitar, dreamy lo-fi vocals, echoey electric guitar, steady drums, quiet cymbal taps and rhythmic bass wash over you in relief.
The track also features a stunning collaboration with Canadian singer-songwriter Katrine Noël. Evenson dreamily sings, “Birds are people-watching/Some are singing, some are smiling/Look up even when the sky is crying/Over the clouds the sun is always trying.” In response, Noël adds, “Sipping coffee with the cat/Sometimes the little things that please me/Take it easy.”
The duo also co-wrote “More of a Happiness” with North Carolina country singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale last year during a Lafayette, La., SOLO Songwriting Retreat in partnership with the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation.
“When I went to that songwriting retreat, I also found I could be creative and writing whenever I wasn’t going through anything. That was the happiest I’ve been when I was down there. I’m like, ‘Oh no, I’m happy. Am I going to be able to write stuff?’ I ended up writing really beautiful things. The three of us together were such a good pairing,” she said.
Finally, Evenson questions another pairing on “Too Late,” a heartfelt track with thoughtful acoustic strums and vivid piano that slowly bursts into crashing cymbals, soaring harmonies, mesmerizing electric guitar and pounding drums. She delicately sings, “When I’m sorry isn’t enough what will there be?/Will I fall through the cracks between you and me/And if I fall would you catch me or would you let it kill me.”
“Those are my favorite lyrics that I’ve ever written in a song, and I was just proud of how fast I wrote that song. I wrote it probably in an hour, and the lyrics mean a lot to me in that song because they’re kind of self-deprecating lyrics,” Evenson said.
“They’re also outlining the fact that I will always be my own worst enemy, and I’ve always criticized myself, whether it’s through music or something that I said or something that I’ve done.”
Time for DIME
Evenson also co-produced Not So Pretty with Elise McCoy, bassist-vocalist for Century Babes and DIME head of recruitment and admissions. The two spent four months recording the EP in McCoy’s basement studio and collaborated with Noah Kirrkamm (guitar), Austin Mokrenski (bass), Bailey Scott (keys) and Duane Hewins (drums) to expand its overall sound.
“She did most of the production, but I was with her throughout production, and I helped in certain ways. I would message her on Facebook and send her a few reference tracks of songs. I would send her ideas that I had, but she did all the mixing and everything,” said Evenson, who initially writes songs on an acoustic guitar.
Evenson met McCoy and her bandmates after enrolling at DIME to study vocal performance in 2016. A year later, she contributed a dreamy acoustic track, “Hunger,” to DIME Sessions Vol. 3, and followed up with the jazzy island ditty, “All My Days and Nights,” on DIME Sessions Vol. 4 in 2018.
Before enrolling at DIME, Evenson grew up in Fort Gratiot and started taking vocal lessons at age four and wrote songs with her father. By high school, she joined an experimental band, became a theater nerd and sought musical inspiration from Radiohead, St. Vincent, Joni Mitchell and Rufus Wainwright.
Those foundational influences continue to shape Evenson as an emerging singer-songwriter on Not So Pretty and beyond. With a debut release under her belt, Evenson plans to drop two additional tracks that were originally recorded for her EP.
“I think I could take them now and make them 10 times better than they are. I want to release singles really badly, and I have two songs that I’m working on right now that I want to finish and release. I’m still new to this solo artist thing, but now I’m getting my footing and getting traction and figuring out the timeline of when you’re supposed to do things,” she said.