by Kat Parsons

Alayna: Just So

by Kat Parsons

Alayna: Just So

Alayna Powley first made heads turn back in 2013 with a Youtube rendition of Nirvana by Sam Smith that went viral. She’s since worked with the likes of Finneas and Sango; her sultry vocals and alluring tracks bewitching listeners. Alayna’s latest single Just So You Won’t Be Alone was released mid-March, and with more new music on the horizon, the Rotorua artist talked to Kat Parsons about writing sessions, cowbells, and finding homes. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.

“I was definitely nervous to put it out because it’s so different.”

Since her first single, Falling Autumn, dropped in 2017, Rotorua-based RnB/pop artist Alayna has steered soulfully straight ahead, releasing her sophomore EP, ‘Tender’, in 2020. With the recent release of Just So You Won’t Be Alone, her first single since 2021’s Spinning Top, Alayna has stepped outside her comfort zone and pushed back her boundaries. 

“So, I’m from Rotorua, and I’ve kind of been down there, back home for a bit, especially over the last couple of years, but do a lot of my music in Auckland. I just come up and stay with my boyfriend here, do a whole lot of stuff and then go home.

Far from a small-town girl, she was happily living in New York until her visa ran out.

“For years after I was so sad because I didn’t want to leave New York! I loved it there. It was just so bizarre that I found a home that I loved and it was mine. But then, if I was still over there during all the Covid stuff, I would have been so stressed and worried about my family. So, it’s been hard because I want to be closer to my family, but also nowhere really feels like home.

“I’ve been missing it ever since. I’ve felt really unsettled and I’m struggling to figure out where my place is or where I’m supposed to be.”

Just So You Won’t Be Alone has a raw and smokey mood that stands in contrast to her earlier music. Alayna worked with producer duo Ambian & Sleo (aka Josh Edmonds and Joseph Corban-Banks), who have worked with Kiwi artists like Foley and Bexy, to conceive this distinctive single.

“The song was actually written two and a half years ago,” Alayna affirms. “It’s just taken so long to come out. When I did it, I was like, ‘Okay, this is a great song. It feels cool, but it’s very different”. I didn’t want to set a precedent or whatever. I took a bit of convincing from my manager and I felt quite nervous because it’s moody and more of a negative song. I’m quite scared to add permanency to it by putting it out! But I think at the same time it was a good thing for me to explore these different human emotions that are not all rosy and happy. Be okay that it’s for a three-minute song. It’s not forever!”

The deeply emotive track stemmed from her first session with Ambian and Sleo, and their friend Em Andre was there as well. Despite the tone, she describes it as being a really fun, creative process.

“At the time I was working on my ‘Tender’ EP, and so I showed them Tender which is a soft, kind of sad track. Then for some reason, we made a song with the complete opposite kind of feeling,” laughs Alayna. “I think because there were so many people in the room, which is more uncommon for me, we just kind of brought completely different energies. It felt really easy. Em started playing the keys and we were like, ‘Oh, this feels really dark’, and we just went down that road. We wrote most of the song in one night, and then it sat there for a couple of years until I knew what to do with it.”

Just So You Won’t Be Alone is a poignant, darkly enticing single that captivates from the first note. A floating piano line ties each section together and dramatic drums drive the song with intention. Quite a change from her more usual soft and sultry sound, the distorted vocal effect causes the lyrics to pop and the raw emotions to reverberate with a pulse.

“It was definitely inspired by some emotions I was trying to process, but it went into its own little fantasy world,” describes Alayna. “I kind of start the song really pointing the finger and then halfway through I start turning back and softening a bit into, ‘Oh, hang on maybe it’s not what I’m making it out to be’. So there’s almost a little bit of self-reflection in it.”

“My favourite bit is a little cowbell ding just before the second chorus,” she chuckles. “The boys weren’t sure about it, but I was like, ‘No, I love it!’ I don’t know who came up with the lower-pitched vocal, but it was so sick. I hadn’t heard my voice like that. I really love the vocals at the end where we doubled them and I’m singing that hum over the top of the main chorus. Yeah, there are lots of little things in there that we just kind of built up, which was really fun.”

A second single will be coming out on May 13. So We Remain will be paired alongside Just So You Won’t Be Alone as a two-track release called ‘So…’.

“When we wrote this song [Just So You Won’t Be Alone], when we came in to finish it off, we actually wrote a second song, which is going to be the B-side,” Alayna explains. “It’s kind of a polar opposite feeling. Almost feels like it’s assessing the damage the day after the party or having a bit more clarity about everything; sinking back into what reality is. It’s kind of the sequel to the first song and very different, but I love them both as a pair. So, they will be a two-track EP that will just sit there, on their own in their own little world!”

Alayna says she is still growing as an artist, learning how to be at peace with who she is and the art she is making. She recognises elements of the industry that need to change, emphasises the importance of creators supporting each other, and offers some advice for others.

“When you start, you are made aware of the ‘rules’,” she starts. “And it takes a while for you to be like, ‘Actually, I can do what I want’. I connect most to music where it feels like the artist was true to themselves. I think I’ve gotten myself mucked up for so many years thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I love this style because of this artist, or maybe I love that, etc’. But really, what I loved most about it is when the artist knows exactly who they are. That’s what I’m attracted to. Ever since I realised that, I knew that I needed to figure it out for myself.”

“There is this feeling that there’s only so much space at the ‘top’, and we’re all fighting for that. I guess it’s just the culture we have here; probably tall poppy [syndrome] as well. There’s so much stuff that’s making people keep to themselves. I think we’ve probably got a long way to go. There’s a lot of people who want to listen to music, so there’s got to be someone right for you, who wants to listen to you?”

There are times, she admits, when she feels like it would be easier to do something else, but for some reason she is still here trying.

“I know you might feel like you’re maybe stuck on the journey, but you’re still here” she says, talking for others in a similar situation. “That’s standing up for yourself and carrying on. You might not see the end result yet, but I think it’s something that should be celebrated too.”

“Especially in music, I still can’t answer the question of who I am,” she continues. “So I second guess everything I’m writing or putting out. But maybe the whole point is it’s just time stamping your way through different emotions. Maybe the stuff that you’ve got now, that’s your point in time and then you have to let it go or release it.”

“I don’t know, it’s a funny journey,” Alayna concludes with a smile. “I think we just need to be nicer to ourselves. This is our own journey and for whatever reason, it’s is the right one for us.”