By Ed Arnold
Alyssa Morrissey has it all: great looks, excellent singing ability, good stage presence, and at 20, the energy to go after her dream.
But her dream to make it in the country music industry is a big one.
A small tattoo of a musical note on her right wrist and another on her left stating simply FAITH, says what this woman is all about.
The faith is for God and the Catholic faith, which she says has helped her through so many rejections and frustrations. It could also be for the faith she has in herself to some day make a mark in the music business; her love and life.
An old family video shows her standing on a box at an Amanda Marshall concert in the Memorial Centre when she was only four. She is dancing and enjoying herself with her mother. She remembers that as the moment she fell in love with music. It helped that her mother Toni, and father Chris, were music lovers usually playing classic rock and country music around their Peterborough home.
Her father actually played the bass guitar and had a garage band that she would sing with when she was only 10.
Her musical favourites then and now are Michelle Branch Avril Lavigne and Shania Twain.
She remembers her first public performance. She had been taking singing lessons with Peterborough’s Bridget Foley and the Foleys were playing at a fundraiser at the Junction on George Street. She got to sing three songs.
“I was so nervous, more nervous than I’ve ever been in my life. I still get the jitters before I step on the stage. But once I got on that stage the nervousness kind of left and I really enjoyed it. Once I start singing I forget about being nervous.”
It was that performance that made her want more and she participated in various fundraisers and contests after that.
She won the Peterborough Idol when she was 13 and in 2008 at the age of 14 participated in Snofest Idol the show that gave her life direction.
Sitting in the crowd was Cyril Rawson who introduced himself after the show. He told her how good she was, that he wrote songs and would like to get together with her to record some songs if she was interested.
Cyril remembers: “I went there to see a 15 year old girl that John Acosta and I were producing in Toronto, she was from around Alliston, Ont. and was a pop singer. She came in second I think. I knew as soon as I saw Alyssa that she was going to win. She just had a quirky stage presence and a look that set her apart, she could really sing but it was a combination of both her vocals and the fact she was just a little different than all the other contestants.”
Alyssa also remembers: “I kind of just said yea, okay, right. But his wife Eileen came over and talked to my mom and I. She said Cyril didn’t like to toot his own horn but he has written with some great songs for some great singers. She told us to Google his name when we got home.”
They did and learned that Peterborough’s Rawson was also Nashville’s Rawson who co wrote songs for such people as Gretchen Wilson, Lisa Brokop Anne Murray.
“Okay, we said, maybe we better give him a call.”
That phone call brought her into Cyril’s Peterborough studio where they worked on a CD for several months before heading to Nashville with her parents to record it.
“It was then, and still is, the biggest moment of my life.”
She had her eyes opened, not only to the lively music scene but also to studio musicians.
“We had looked at more than 100 songs in Peterborough and then whittled it down to 12 and worked on them for months. Cyril and co writers had written all of them.”
They went into a Nashville studio for two days.
“The studio musicians were amazing. Cyril had all the songs charted out and within minutes they could lay down a track. It was amazing.”
“I was hooked on music before Nashville but that opened my eyes. Music is so therapeutic. I love being able to perform, to be on stage, it’s so emotional and I want to make people believe that I believe in what I’m singing.”
Without a manager or agent she and her family supported her and tried to get the new CD out there. She has her own website, gets her tunes on the social media and did another CD with Cyril this time helping write some of the songs. While she’s making plenty of music she isn’t making much money. She does plenty of fundraisers and free appearances but only now is she getting into the bar and pub scenes.
“My parents have been heavily involved but now that I’m 20 it’s time for me to take the reigns and be a young adult.”
She has two part time jobs: one at a hardwood store, Total Hardwood, that has supported her, the other serving at suites in the Memorial Centre where she also gets to sing the national anthem during Petes and Lakers games.
She has another co writer, an up and coming guitarist, Matt Williams, and they tour the local area doing shows.
They went to the Canadian Country Music Awards week in Edmonton last year trying to network and in February of this year went to Nashville to a radio festival to perform and spread their talents around.
They have also recorded one song that was to be out at the end of February.
She loves writing, but still finds singing her priority.
“I’ve learned so much from Cyril. He’s a perfectionist so I’m becoming one.”
She knows she needs a manager, hard to find when you don’t have a name outside of Peterborough or a hit. She puts her music on the social media such itunes, You Tube, and reverb nation. She knows if she wants to give it a chance she has to work the pubs, bars, halls, of not only Ontario, but also Canada and the United States.
She graduated from Holy Cross high school but didn’t continue her education to spend as much time on music as possible.
“My parents have been great, they said as long as I work hard at it they will support me.”
Hard work, never giving up, and some luck has been the advice of various artists she has talked with along the way. She knows the odds of making it are not great, there is so much talent.
“I have to have something that stands out more than the others.”
Her chances are lower than the kids dreaming of making it to the NHL, at least they have teams to try out for, coaches, and scouts looking at them. She has to tryout for audiences and somehow gets noticed by managers or agents.
“I also see all the talent among people and it’s a little scary. The odds are not good but I’m a big believer that if you want it, you can make it happen. You can’t give up.”
Not matter where the next few years take her, she says music will always be a part of her life.
“It is my life and always will be.”
She has no real back up plan. She has the faith in herself and in her Christian beliefs.
“As long as I’m doing my best, things will happen.”
(Ed Arnold is a Peterborough writer. His latest book on spending a year with the Peterborough Petes hockey team comes out this fall. He has written several songs and is presently writing one with Cyril Rawson).