Most little girls play Barbie dolls, love cartoons, and are afraid of the dark. Singer/Songwriter Alu (pronounced A-loo) was not one of them. While her friends were playing normal childhood games, she was wielding a tennis racket pretending to be John Lennon, watching Fellini films, and fascinated with all things unusual. And, afraid of the dark? Not so much. She's actually quite drawn to it.
One listen to her latest album, the playfully haunting Mrs. Hypochondriac, and it's shockingly clear that Alu is most definitely not like most little girls. Packing a powerful vocal - and lyrical - punch, the album runs the gamut from melodic, lounge-style ditties to quirky cabaret to whimsical waltzes with gothic undertones and an avant-garde slant. She's certainly earned the title of "The Siren of Psychosis" (Echoes Radio), lives up to the comparison of "Kate Bush on a broomstick" (Campus Circle), and once again "makes doom and decay sound sexy and ethereal." (Music Connection).
"I've always felt a little like an outsider," admits the Los Angeles-based chanteuse. "Maybe it's because I've also always been drawn to the unusual: Mars, the Apocalypse, insanity, death, poets like Bukowski and films like The Fountain, Harold & Maude, Edward Scissorhands, and anything by Fellini. But I think being different is worth it. It makes me the artist I am today."
Alu is an Indo-European root word related to possession, sorcery, intoxication, and passion, but is also the name of a Mesopotamian demon who could only live in silence and darkness. It's quite fitting as silence and darkness is where Alu finds her musical inspiration. "As a child," she explains, "I was very sensitive to sound. I would get agitated in loud, chaotic situations. The only thing that would calm me was music. My adult life is pretty much the same. I think my senses are heightened. That's why I appreciate silence so much. Silence is where my inspiration is born. The music in my head calms me from the chaos of life."
That chaos in her life is at center stage on the 10-track release, which was produced by Alu and multi-instrumentalist Gabe Morley, making it her most personal, intimate, and revealing album yet. Mrs. Hypochondriac, her fourth release, is a story of survival - surviving a brief tumultuous marriage, divorce, and an MS diagnosis. "I went through the most suffering to get this album out. In many ways, this record saved me because creating it helped me deal with so much trauma," says Alu, who cites an eclectic mix of favorite artists, such as Tom Waits, Radiohead, Chopin, Joni Mitchell, and two artists she's often been compared to - Tori Amos and Bjork.
The title track, "Mrs. Hypochondriac," is her anthem for invisible illness. "Prior to being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I had a lot of weird symptoms that doctors couldn't explain. People often accused me of being a hypochondriac. It was a really difficult time," she explains.
Alu masterfully mixes the macabre moments of her life with a whimsical sense of humor in her lyrics throughout the album. On "Mrs. Hypochondriac," she sarcastically sings, "I see in double vision/so there's more of you to admire," while on "Ghost Bride," she makes lyrics like "You murdered my heart/Now I'm gonna haunt you/Til death do us part" sound downright endearing.
"My childhood was filled with a lot of humor and witty exchanges," explains Alu. "There were some family tragedies and dysfunction, but we always dealt with things through humor. I learned to embrace the circus that is life and I carry that into adulthood and into my songwriting."
On "Marie," Alu reconciles her little girl dreams with the harsh reality of being an adult. "It's really just me singing to my childhood self, juxtaposing innocence and expectations with how life really unfolds."
"Nemesis," a whimsical waltz, is one of the more lyrically adventurous tracks on the record with clever word play about her disappointing marriage and random observations on the absurdities of life. To the tune of lush string arrangements by Hiro Goto and vibrant drumming by Justin DeHart, she sings, "Ravens and Scorpions don't know where I'm going/My GPS wheelchair has no way of knowing/Babies as accessories have got me thinkin’/Sepia Suburbia has got me drinkin’."
The album ends on an uplifting note of hope with the stripped down vocals-and-piano ballad, "Phoenix." The lyrics go, “There's a feeling in my veins that I will love again/The battle's done and I am still standing.” “I survived a lot and feel stronger for it," she says.
With her music being highly cinematic, Alu and her production team have also created videos that help reveal the album's stories. "Each song is its own little film, so I think having a visual medium helps the listener hear my lyrics and messages more clearly," she says.
The film world has already discovered this unique artist as well. "Last Lullaby," from her critically acclaimed debut album Infomercial Gasmask, is featured in the action thriller Juncture. And, a haunting remix of "Recluse" from 2008's Lobotomy Sessions is included on the soundtrack to horror filmmaker, artist, and author Clive Barker's film, The Midnight Meat Train.
Radio and press have long loved Alu's enigmatic ways. Infomercial Gasmask was one of Music Connection's Top 15 reviewed CDs of 2005, Tripofagia.com's Best Album of 2004, an editor's pick and top seller on CDBaby.com, and nominated for Best Record of the Year by CDReviews.com, which described aptly the record as "an all-expenses-paid tour through that dim twilight land between sleep and waking where beauty and fear still roam free and unshackled."
Alu's follow-up, Lobotomy Sessions, earned even more accolades -- It was nominated for two JPF Music Awards. Echoes Radio host John Diliberto made "Circus Cosmos" his No. 1 song of 2008. It was named one of Echoes 25 Essential Albums of 2008 and one of Hustler's Dirty Dozen's 12 New Discs You Need.
With Mrs. Hypochondriac, Alu cements her place as a creative visionary who is not afraid to find humor in the horror of life's greatest absurdities.