Ali Handal Funks It Up on ‘That’s What She Said’
If you’ve ever had the privilege of seeing Ali Handal perform live, you know that this singer/songwriter not only possesses excellent vocal and guitar chops, but she is also one witty lady. Her new album, That’s What She Said, is a clear case in point.
Chock full of cleverly crafted lyrics and catchy hooks, Handal also doesn’t skimp in the killer guitar performance department. This decidedly funkified and fun album is a groove-filled delight, showcasing Handal’s clear talent along with her ability to deliver a tongue-in-cheek point of view, as she rocks from a decidedly female perspective.
With songs like “Thank God For Birth Control,” “Everybody’s So Naked,” and “You Get What You Settle For,” Handal takes a direct hit at womens’ empowerment done musically right. But the album isn’t for ladies only, and many of the tracks are clearly relatable, fun and passionately delivered.
Ali’s songs have been featured in numerous films and hit shows like Sex and the City, Dawson’s Creek and iCarly. She’s toured Australia, Japan and beyond, provided backing vocals for Neil Young, and shared the stage with songwriting legend Paul Williams as his featured vocalist. Also a published author, Ali penned Guitar for Girls (Hal Leonard), an exceptional guitar method book and CD brimming with advice for aspiring female musicians, as well as encouraging quotes and remarkable songs from female songwriters in all genres.
Here we spent a few minutes talking about That’s What She Said, Ali’s go to gear, and much more!
This is your first album on Red Parlor Records. Tell us how it feels to get these songs out to the world!
It is thrilling and so exciting. I started writing some of these songs five years ago. And rewriting and recording and tweaking. It’s been a bit of process to get to this point, but it was well worth it.
This album feels extra funky. Is it stylistically different than past releases?
I’ve always had an element of funkiness to my music, but for this record the groove was really important. It’s always important to me, but I definitely let it shine through on this record. I am definitely influence by artists like James Brown. Jimmy Paxson, the drummer on this record, is unbelievably great. As soon as I heard him I knew he was the right man for this record.
Tell us about who else joined you on the album.
Bikki Johnson played bass with the exception of one song. She is a phenomenal, powerhouse bass player. So it’s a really solid rhythm section. Along with David Leach playing percussion, and he’s played on every single one of my records. I did all the guitars. Steve Aguilar played keys. Those are the main players. I played some keys, too, and even some glockenspiel!
I love the title, That’s What She Said. Tell us about the concept behind the album.
It’s definitely a record of songs from the feminine perspective. I wanted it to be very tongue in cheek. This is what I’ve said, and it’s very personal to me. Some of them are funny. And all of them are empowering for women and still relatable for guys. So that’s what’s behind the title.
I think the songs are empowering for anyone listening. For example, “You Get What you Settle For,” it’s kind of sung to a woman, but it’s true for men too. My messages are definitely not just for women, but I feel a special kinship toward women just because we share so many experiences that we don’t share with men.
You do some great guitar playing on the record. Share a bit about your gear.
This is the first time I worked with a Dobro, and that’s all over the record. I always work with an eclectic group of songs. You know, some are more funky, some are more singer/songwriter oriented, on this record there are a couple that are more blues-oriented. And the Dobro really helps to tie things together. I didn’t use it on every song, but we wanted a record that was rootsy, I really wanted to focus on guitar playing and taking solos and all that. The Dobro was a really big part of the sound. There’s nothing like it.
The, of course, I played my Gibson SJ200 Acoustic. I absolutely love that guitar and that’s the guitar that I tour with.
I also played electric on this and I used a custom shop Tele on “You Get What You Settle For” and “Everybody’s So Naked.” I did a Tele solo on that one.
There were also these other guitars that I don’t own, but I used for photos. The guitar on in the cover shot is the Richie Kotzen Tele. That one is so beautiful. I use these great guitars in photos but I don’t own them all. But I do think that someday I’ll own the guitar. Like I borrowed a gorgeous purple Les Paul for the photo shoot and people think that’s my guitar, and I just think, “It will be someday!”
The amp we used a lot was a Fender Vibrolux. It had a really nice sound. And I used my Crybaby wah pedal.
You know how to rock out on acoustic. Give us some tips.
I think a lot of it comes from the right hand and really digging in. And not being afraid to hit it hard and really dig in with your pick. Sometimes I find with singer songwriters who are approaching the guitar they may be self conscious about their guitar playing or they may be afraid to drown out their vocals. But you have to make sure if you are in a live setting that your mic is loud enough. That way you can really dig into the guitar without it overpowering your vocal. I mean the vocal is an important element…you’re telling a story. But when you have a guitar part that can have dynamics it makes it more interesting.
You play with a slide a bit on the record too. Can you share some tips about slide playing?
One thing with slide technique is that first of all you need a guitar with action that’s high enough. That’s why the Dobro was great because it was set up for slide. And in fact when I used my Les Paul for slide I did have it set up with much higher action and much thicker strings. Because if you are using a regular guitar and try to use the slide, it’ll just bump up against the frets if you have low action. And I usually like to have low action.
Some of it is your finger placement. You need to dampen the string behind the slide with your left hand. And spend a lot of time experimenting with the placement of the slide, because it’s really easy to be sharp or flat with it since you are not using the frets. It’s kind of like playing a fretless bass. You have to be very mindful of where you are exactly on the neck. It’s a lot of experimenting. It’s really fun.
A lot of the time I’ll play slide in open G or open D. Sometimes I’ll just make up a tuning in a song. I might detune just one or two strings. Even not only for slide. I just love the sound of open strings. There are one or two songs on the record that are in D. But instead of playing them with a regular tuning I’ll drop both E strings down to D, so it’s what they call double dropped D. Then I can use those open D strings all the time and have a lot more droning. I love it. It’s so fun.
Do you think that helps you be able to rock out, since you can hit more open strings?
Yes, exactly. Plus you’re just hitting a lot of right notes. Plus with a lot of open tunings you can slide the same shapes up and down the neck and it’s really fun and easy.