Record of the Week: Alanna Royale’s ‘Trouble Is’

Alanna Royale always loved performing. Growing up she would always sing and dance, but there was a moment in high school when she realized something that she was good at would be her calling. She was getting tutored by a fellow student in her school, Mary Habib. After they were done with their tutoring session, Alanna thanked her and offered to repay her in any way she could. Mary pulled out her boombox and the cassette single for Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” with the instrumental on the B-side. She asked Alanna to sing the Mariah Carey holiday classic to repay her debt.

“I was like, ‘Oh, I’m on to something,'” Alanna said. “People want this and I like doing it. I feel good when I’m doing what I’m doing. I just sang to her in her bedroom. Looking back, it’s strange, but it makes perfect sense.”

Those words of affirmation were important to Alanna at that time, growing up wanting to sing, idolizing artists like Tina Turner and Mary J. Blige while a banner of Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson was draped on her bedroom wall. The dreams of being a performer were right in front of her as she watched old videos of the Rat Pack. But not everyone believed in the soulful voice Mary heard up close and personal in her bedroom.

“When I was in high school, my chorus teacher never picked me for anything,” Royale said. “Everyone was always like, ‘Alanna you are the best singer I know,’ and I never got picked for anything. It crushed me as a child, it took my self-esteem down a notch. I would say, ‘Mr. Fletcher, why don’t you pick me for anything?’ He’d always say, ‘You don’t blend.’ As a child, I didn’t understand that, all I felt was rejection. Now I think about it as an adult, I don’t blend. I’m not a background singer, I’m not a choir singer, I don’t blend. I am meant to be in the middle, in the spotlight with my singular voice doing what I do. Something that crushed me as a child is one of the most empowering things, I know of myself as an artist.”

Now Alanna has been at center stage for nearly a decade since the release of her first record Achillies. She’s been found each December at City Winery singing those same Christmas songs she once performed in Mary’s bedroom, and in October pouring out her heart and emotions at The Blue Room to celebrate the release of her latest album Trouble Is, her first project since her 2018 EP So Bad You Can Taste It..

“I think those first two records are someone banging on the door like, ‘Let me out,’ and no one can get them out,” Royale said. “They’re stuck because it was like I was stuck inside myself. There was no one else who could get me out except for me. Going to therapy and doing the work helped me see things for what they were. Then when I sat down to write these next songs, everything made more sense. The other songs I feel like are me trying to get something out, but I can’t quite get all the way. Even the ones that are like 90%, it’s not really there.”

“I was afraid to make introspective music because I thought I was just like a party band. There was a point where I was just getting party band gigs and everybody was like, ‘Oh yeah, we just want to dance and have fun.’ Once I realized I was doing a lot of these party band gigs, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be a party band. I’m not a for-hire gig band, I’m an artist. I want to tell stories.’ And then I was like, ‘OK, now I have to do this, whether people like it or not.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t think people really want to hear this side of me.’ And I did it anyways and it has been remarkable. The relationship I’ve had with fans has changed so much. I’ve said some things that people don’t say out loud. I felt things publicly that people don’t really put out in public, and people wanted it more than I could have ever imagined.”

She linked up with Kelly Finnigan of Monophonics to produce the record during the pandemic and during a time when she was dealing with her own personal trauma. Her mother got cancer, she lost relatives during COVID, she was navigating her place in the music industry, and her brother had his first kid during lockdown. The album explores the expectation that trouble is always waiting for you around the corner, but despite that, you must find ways to strengthen yourself and battle through it.

Trouble Is deals with those vulnerable and honest moments on the title track and “Imagination,” the highs and lows of relationships on “Run Around” and “Fall In Love Again,” and joyous moments on “Waiting, Waiting, Waiting (For Sully),” a song that closes the album and is dedicated to her nephew. Alanna says this album is about examining her own life and making peace with it, the troubles and the triumphs.

“Nothing is going to be perfect every time,” she said. “There are plenty of people who are artists and more successful than me, have more money than me, and they’re still miserable about other stuff. Their family, their own career, whatever. And I was just like, ‘Man, this is just the way it is. This is just the way life is.’ Everybody is doubting themselves. Everyone has this imposter syndrome vibe. Everyone has terrible family members who make them feel bad. Everyone has financial troubles, everyone’s unlucky in love. This is just universal stuff. And when I was [initially] like, ‘Oh, nobody wants to hear this’ I then sang about these universal problems that just dog you repeatedly, and everyone was like, ‘Me too, me too.’ It was like crazy. People connected more with this music than anything I’ve ever put out, because I’m telling everyone’s story, not just mine.”

Alanna continues: “When I started writing ‘Trouble Is’ and it was like, ‘I hate myself, my ain’t enough is all I got, I’m just not good enough’…once I started saying these things out loud that I think, all the songs started coming out and I was like, ‘Oops, here we go, we’re about to say some really honest things.’ I didn’t know how people were going to react, but I stayed honest, and I think that’s what made the record what it is.”