Rock singer-songwriter Ally Nicholas is being true to herself

March 4, 2024

Interview by Lyssa Sartori

Photo courtesy of Ally Nicholas

Drawing influences from grunge and metal, LA-based rock singer-songwriter Ally Nicholas' songs are painfully raw and honest. In a string of singles released in 2023, Nicholas captures the longing for something and the intoxicating nature of her past relationships. She touches on the sentiment in “I know You Too Well” when she sings, "It's just another endless night of choking on your pride / The sunrise on tired eyes, but we're still going blind," and in “All Summer Long” with the lyrics, "I'll walk around with you / until we move from this rut / a pact forever built on blood / I'll fill your cup / Just hold my head up.” On these tracks, lovers are no longer people to worship, and things are clearer than ever before.

Throughout our call, Nicholas sipped on White Monster, an Ultra Zero-Sugar Energy Drink, while cozied up in a black hoodie. In an interview that felt more like a genuine conversation, we had a long chat about love and heartbreak, mental health, record labels, the ‘cool’ places to hang out in New York City, and truly learning to follow your heart. 


SOS: Do you mind sharing some early memories that you have with music? What was your first song, and how did you write it?

ALLY: The first memory I have of me singing was when I was a kid and we were in my neighborhood in someone's garage. It was kind of lame, but at the time it was the mid-2000s so it was ‘cool.’ We were singing and I was like, ‘I am not bad at this?’ Then the first song I wrote was in third grade after I came home from school. At the time, I had a trio of girls that I was friends with and there was this trio of boys that we were kind of crushing on, you know? I wrote [about] it, but it will never see the light of day. 

SOS: How would you describe your songwriting process? 

ALLY: It definitely has changed over the years. I think when I first started writing, I didn't have as much to say because I was a lot younger, so I did a lot of imitation. I'd write a song for Green Day or a song for Britney Spears, just all different styles of artists because I didn't even realize that maybe I was doing some sort of writing exercise. I just didn't know what the f—k to write about. And then as I got older, it definitely became more about myself. When I was younger,I used to sit down and write for as much time as possible, like two hours a day, three hours a day, maybe six hours on a Saturday. And as I've gotten older, I realized my favorite songs are always the ones that kind of just strike. And those come around less often, but they're always the ones that I want to put out or work on anyway.

SOS: Do you often sit down with the intent to write a song from scratch or does it sort of just come to you? 

ALLY: I've definitely been there with feeling the pressure to write a certain amount of hours a day or be perfect or even for stuff to fall into more traditional structures, like verse-chorus. I think getting older, for me at least, whenever I kind of force it I'm not as happy with the result. It just doesn't feel as close to me and as relatable so I definitely have been a fan of more just waiting for a strike. Not that I don't pick up and write just for fun, I think it's still important to build time into your day to write, I just don't force it. 

SOS: What influences your music and creative process? Is it easier to write from personal experiences? 

ALLY: I'm definitely a personal experience writer and anytime I have any strong emotions—which is often—I've done story writing and it’s a lot of fun. But at this point, especially for what I want to put out, it's gotta be personal for me. Also, I definitely have trouble expressing my emotions and processing them and so the reason I started [writing] in the first place was for that. But I've done the story stuff too and it's super fun. It's so crazy because sometimes I will sit down [to write] and I'll like the first line, and I'll be like, ‘This is gonna be a fucking hit.’ It’s important to not do that too soon, at least for me, because then I get my head and I never finish it. Especially labeling something too early, I think, is my biggest problem. I like to categorize things like ‘this is great’ or ‘this is not.’ I just gotta let it be what it is and then I can figure out if I like it.

SOS: Do you ever revisit unfinished lyrics later?

ALLY: Yeah, and also sometimes I'll write a verse or a chorus that I really like but I can't build anything around it and I bum out and forget about it, but then like a month or two later, I'm writing something and it fits in in a different way and then it'll come back. 

SOS: Do you happen to have a profound moment from either writing or recording songs that still resonates with you today?

ALLY: Sometimes I will just feel something really strongly—normally something bad. I'll be feeling really overwhelmed and I'll just sit down and sometimes something will just kind of come out and I don't even think about it, it kind of just happens. It will take maybe 10 minutes. And then it's like a whole song and it's done. And those, to me, feel, I guess, the most profound. Sometimes, I can't process this on a logical level in my regular brain, but I can kind of just open up and let it come out in this way. 

SOS: I really like the lyrics of your song Seventeen, particularly the use of the words “delicate and raw.” Where did you find inspiration while writing these?

ALLY: ​​That song is about, obviously, my crippling depression and how I've been struggling with it since I was 14. It got really bad like around 16/17. And so the song is just about my depression and how it was interacting with my [not-so-great] relationship at the time. For me, when I'm doing better, I'm like, ‘This will last forever.’ And then I slip back in, I just feel so suffocated, like I'm pushed up against the wall and I can't do anything about it. I mean, you know the vibes, it sucks. The line about the “delicate and raw”—I'm so glad you appreciate that because I'm just talking about how my partner is a big baby and this is a little storm that we're caught in together. I just feel so honored that you appreciate that—”delicate and raw” is how I would describe myself. 

“’I had a dream once thought I’d try, 
to take my back off of the wall. 
But every time I think I might I feel so small.
It’s not like I’m better off anyways 
than I was when I was seventeen’."
‘’I heard it somewhere through the vine
You’re just as delicate and raw’’

SOS: You’ve been producing a few of your songs with Diego Ferrera, how was the journey on finding your sound?

ALLY: At this point he is one of my best friends and I'm so lucky that I get to work with both my best friends. We met a couple years ago when I had moved here and I was trying to figure out my sound. I kind of always wrote things just like on Acoustic or Electric and I'd never really found my sound in the way I kind of wanted to build out my music. When I was working at different studios, I tried all different things and thought it was fine but it didn't ever really feel like me, especially being a girl and wanting to do rock and alternative. I feel like I was always backed into the corner of pop or bedroom pop—which is cool, I love Clairo but like, I'm not Clairo. It’'s a fucking awesome sound but it's not quite as intense, you know. I didn't even know what I wanted because everyone was telling me what I should want and what I should do and how I should sound. 

He was the first person that really encouraged me to kind of explore [what I wanted to do]. Just [me], not what anyone else is telling [me]. And so we became friends and started working together all the time. I totally credit him for helping me figure out my sound as an artist and now we're like a well-oiled machine. I had previous managers that were kind of saying “do this” or “do that” or you know, pushing me one way or the other. But like, with producers and stuff, most of it is totally harmless, but I’ve definitely had producers be like, what if we took it [in a pop direction]? I'm just like, there's so many better girls for that role than me, you know?

SOS: That is interesting. I can definitely see producers assuming that you’d like to make pop music just because you’re a female solo artist. 

ALLY: Yeah, literally. I think especially because a lot of people think I do have a band. They're like, “Is Ally Nicholas a band?” Or even like trying to do rock with a pop edge. I even have one song out called “Bullets” that is a blend of that. But I’m like, I want a real drum kit on there (laughs). 

SOS: How were you feeling back when “Bullets” came out? Were you content?

ALLY: At the time, I had left my previous manager who I'd done the first two songs with and they were super great and the songs did really well, but I didn't realize when I was releasing them that it would be forever. I was so depressed and I didn't give a shit about anything so I was like yeah I don’t care, just drop that song. I left and I decided to try to release the song on my own and see what I can do, doing the promo stuff myself and I am proud of that song. I think it was a bridge between some of the more pop stuff and the rock-leaning stuff that I'm doing now. So I appreciate that song and its place. At the time, I was definitely thinking that it was a musical bridge. 

SOS: How fully formed are your songs by the time you bring them to a producer?

ALLY: Super depends. Sometimes I would say like half the time or especially lately they have been fully fleshed out, all the way to the end. Maybe on a few things, like guitar stuff and instrument parts, we always work together because we always just work better together. If I were to play acoustically, the writing and chords and all that is fleshed out 60% of the time, and then the other 40% it's partially fleshed out. Diego's a great guitarist and comes up with different riffs, but sometimes I'll take it home and write in the room. But the reason I also love working with him so much is because there's nothing I hate more than a producer trying to tell me what lyrics I should have and what I should write about. 

SOS: What do you think you’ve learned about yourself as a creative person, having put yourself out there for a while now?

ALLY: I've learned that I can be a little picky, and what I mean by that is I think that for me it's very important that I am comfortable—or at least open—in order to create and make music and write. I used to try to force myself, and I've never been happy with what I forced, so that's probably the biggest thing. The other thing I would say is to trust my gut and my instincts. Especially being a woman in music and especially having so many people tell me, for years, what I should do and how I should be. Which, they were all coming from a place of thinking they were doing something right, but even in life, I trust my own gut and my own intuition and I definitely learned how to do that and it's been the greatest thing for me creatively but also outside of that. 

SOS: You just released the single “All Summer Long.” It feels sonically different compared to your earliest singles like “Warning Signs.” Was there a conscious shift in the way you approached this one? 

ALLY: Yes and no. I mean, honestly, my goal has always been to produce something up in the way that serves the song the best. Like, what does the song call for? Obviously, I am influenced by what I'm listening to and where I'm at, but I think that song is much more lyrically driven. It was conscious but also [I wasn’t planning to] switch up my own sound. I always kind of just come from the place of, what does the song need? Or what I think it needs. 

SOS : Yeah, I think that's a good way to approach it. To do what feels right to you. 

ALLY: Yeah. That's literally always the move. Just do what feels right. Even if you don't like it, you can like live by it and be like, you know what, I fucking own that.

SOS: For me, it’s interesting to see different interpretations that others have of your song “All Summer Long.” What was the inspiration for the lyrics?

ALLY: It's kind of where we're at in life and about advancing forward, it is kind of about everything or nothing. It was last summer, right before I was going to my best friend Megan's house to see her mom, who was in town. Her mom and some of the other friends left and at the end of the night, it was just me, her, and then our friend Dominic. And we ended up having this crazy, weird, drunk and cathartic evening. We were listening to “Meta Angel” by FKA Twigs and we had some serious heart-to-hearts, talking about personal stuff. And then also, you know, we're all in the music industry in different ways. The line If no one's getting out, at least we'll stay the same,was kind of like, well, at least we have each other. The next day after that night I sat down and wrote it out and it just happened. It's really different from everything I've brought in. Diego immediately was like “whoa” and we made it.

“Can anybody else drivе I can’t see straight
And if no one’s getting out at least we’ll stay the same
Choose a hill to die on, burn out or fade
So it rains all summer long"

SOS: If certain songs are about heartbreak, do you think your perception of love has shifted over time? If yes, how so?

ALLY: It's such a good question. I feel like the first time I ever fell in love it was, in a way, not the best, because it was idealized. I wasn't thinking about anything other than, wow, this feels amazing and I want this other person to feel as amazing as I do. Now that I'm older, there's so many walls and so much more I'm thinking about. Like, you know, falling for that person, it was by all means, objectively, a horrible idea [laughs] no shade to that. We're on good terms now, but I wasn't thinking about like, where is this person at and how is this going to impact me? [And], is this someone who's stable? And then all the things I didn't think about came up later in the relationship and were, or became, problems. 

But now that I'm older, it's different. There's a lot more thought. And I try not to overthink it, but I do feel that the older I get, in a way, like the less idealized falling in love is and love feels deeper and truer in a way. It’s like, I don't love this person because I have a little bit of rose-colored glasses on and everything is so amazing. I really love this person, with flaws and all. I'm really seeing it as it is as opposed to it being an idealized thing, not that it wasn't real. The love that I had for them was real, but it was just young, I guess.

SOS: How do you feel when you’re on stage? Do you feel that you’re able to be present while performing?

ALLY: Yeah, definitely. I might be kind of nervous right before I go on but it’s a mix. I feel like when I was younger, I definitely used to be so focused on sounding perfect. I still have so much to learn, I haven't toured or anything yet but now, I definitely feel that I do a good balance of feeling the song and trying to perform, not in a way that it's perfect but in a way that I'm really conveying the emotion. And then also paying attention to the audience, crowd work but not too much—like I'll never do anything on stage for claps. 

SOS: I’d be curious to hear if there are particular shows that stand out in your mind as important memories—a really great show or a really bad show.

ALLY: Yes! I was at this historic venue and that show in particular was really good. It was definitely one of the bigger shows I played and everyone was just super into it. It was a great crowd and just a great night. I was sick before but I was like, I'm just gonna fucking do what I have to do. People came and I never want to let people down. I'm not gonna suck, you know? So that show was probably my favorite show in a positive way. The other thing that stands out was there was one show when I was in New York a while ago when I was just playing by myself. It was the smaller stage and it was on a weeknight. None of my friends could come except for one. I was so depressed at the time, like one of the worst bouts of depression I think I've ever experienced. And I was like, I don't wanna do this, but like I have to do it cause there was a no-cancellation thing. I just got on stage and I did it and I played to like four or five people. And I was so f-cking sad, but I just kind of got lost in it. And I got off after and I ended up making friends with the people that were there. And they were like, ‘Wow, that was really special,’ and it kind of encouraged me to keep going because I was just at a really low point. At least, even if there's only like four people in this room, they're all moved by it—because it was a lot of sadder songs at the time. It meant a lot to me.

SOS: Watching the “I Know You Too Well” music video. I thought the visuals were powerful and I really like the black and white shots. Was it difficult to put an image to the song?

ALLY: We had an over-ambitious plan going into it, but then there were so many obstacles we ran into. But despite all of that, I’m super happy with how it turned out. Looking back on it, I'm proud of this. I feel like when I write a song and I really like it, I always get some kind of visuals and a color palette that go along with it. That sounds so like, lame or pretentious. 

SOS: It’s not!

ALLY: But I definitely, I was like, this song is green. It's many different shades of green and like black and whatever. And so I just wanted to have that be a part of the video. And the visuals were me and my friend Jake, who I work on all the videos that I have out to date for those four songs, and he's awesome. We kind of were going back and forth on different ideas for what would be cool work and also what's doable with little to no money. I think that video was like the biggest production in terms of like different shots and outfits. 

SOS: We have a project called the “Song That Found Me At The Right Time.” What was a song that found you at the right time? 

ALLY: Last summer, I was just in a really tough place and I went to this party and this girl and I were chatting about music and punk bands. And she was like, “Do you know Bar Italia?” And I was like, “No, I don't think I do.” And she sent me this song called “Missus Morality.”

SOS: Oh my god, that’s such a good pick.

ALLY: Yeah, I had like so a lot of stuff going on at the time that song that just saved me and I listened to it on a loop and then I went and listened to that album and I was like, “Oh my god, a perfect album.”

SOS: What are you looking forward to the most with what you have coming up?

ALLY: Definitely continuing to release music but also excited about the possibility of touring, trying to make that happen. That’s what I want to do, you know what I mean? Just working towards touring and that becoming a reality as each day passes, even as an opener, really. That’s definitely the main goal for this year. 

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