“I had goals of having … lyrics that spoke to my perspective as a woman in this society while expressing something that felt really honest and relatable”
Boston singer-songwriter Ali McGuirk has an incredibly soulful voice. Really, it will blow you away. And along with her fantastic singing, her songs have bluesy guitars and funky rhythms that resonate genuine coolness.
This is all apparent in her latest album, Til It’s Gone, which was one of the best local releases of last year. McGuirk will play a few songs off the album along with others at the Sinclair in Cambridge on Jan. 13. Joining her on stage will be the local all-star psychedelic old school r&b rock act Band Of Killers and soul blues dynamos Dwight & Nicole.
I spoke with McGuirk ahead of the show about having the cast involved in the making of Til It’s Gone, being part of a great record label in Western Mass, her successful 2022, and looking forward to writing new music this year.
During the making of Til It’s Gone, you had quite the supporting cast collaborating with you including Jonah Tolchin, Little Feat guitarist and mandolinist Fred Tackett, organist Larry Goldings, singer Valerie Pinkston, and percussionist Lenny Castro. How did you get all these people involved on the album and what was the experience like having them play on your songs?
It was very surreal to have all those players. Working with Jonah was sort of the key to some of those more a-list LA session people because he had a relationship with Sheldon Gomberg, who’s a Grammy-winning studio engineer in LA and a very sweet guy. When we were going over the songs for the record he had a sense of who would have the right sound for different aspects. I knew I was going to want to have strong backing vocals and that’s how we got Valerie involved. Sheldon already had a sound imagined and he knew who to call for it.
Did you have your own vision or goal in mind while making the album or were you just looking to get a fresh collection of songs together for a record? What was the main accomplishment you were looking for with Til It’s Gone?
My vision for the record was based around the kind of songs I was writing and the songs I wanted to write lyrically and also sonically. I had goals of having different kinds of genres in there with lyrics that spoke to my perspective as a woman in this society while expressing something that felt really honest and relatable to other women.
I definitely get that vibe with the tracks like “X Boyfriends,” “The Work,” and “Leave Me.” The album is also your first release through the Northampton-based record label Signature Sounds, so how did you get linked up with them and how has it been being a part of their roster?
I’ve had kind of a crush on Signature Sounds for a long time. I went to UMass, which is near where the label is based, so I’ve always had an awareness of what they were up to in the music scene out there. I had my sights set on them early on while trying to get support from a label to release the record because I felt like they had a really good track record of being grassroots and they’re in the music industry, but it’s not so deep that there’s still a human aspect to what they do.
You’re not compromising.
Exactly, without having to compromise. They’ve been nothing but supportive and they’ve been extremely fair & generous, which I feel like with a lot of labels it isn’t the standard.
What would you say are some of your favorite moments of this past year as a musician? I know you got to travel Europe with Session Americana along with doing some other cool things.
Oh man, I was just writing a little end-of-the-year reflection in my journal because 2022 was such a big year for me in my personal life and my professional life. It’s just been one of my karmic years with a lot of things happening, the Session Americana tour stands out for sure. We were in seven countries and I hadn’t been to any of them before; it was five weeks of absolutely every day bringing a new adventure but not in a way that felt too overwhelming because those guys are such pros—they knew what they were doing and they’re pretty well-oiled machines. I got to be along for the ride for that and it was pretty magical to witness their thing and also be part of it, so that was a big one. To be able to tour my own stuff around the United States—going out West to Colorado, Utah, and Idaho—was also very beautiful.
I think one of my goals my whole life was to have music be a way for me to see new places and travel without being a tourist, to see those places and have a real reason to be there. I was very thrilled to be doing all of that stuff.
After the upcoming show at the Sinclair, what are some of the things that you’re looking to accomplish in 2023?
This winter I’m working on regenerating because it’s been such a major output season since the past summer and fall, the majority of the year really. I’m going to be working on the next batch of songs and I really want to take some time to reflect on which goals I want to set for myself that are both healthy and exciting for my career moving forward. I feel like I learned a lot by going full on with this record and learning what is sustainable and stuff for me. I definitely want to still be touring and traveling with my main focus being on the next batch of songs while taking my time to figure out what the path towards the next release will look like.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.