DILLY DALLY ALLEY
Make You Whole
(Dilly Dally Alley Music)

 

Arriving out of the Minnesota music scene, Dilly Dally Alley burst onto the world stage with their 2023 album Make You Whole. The 9 track, 45-minute CD is an excellent showcase for the music, lyrics, vocals, cello and guitar skills of the multi-talented songstress Sophia Spiegel. Backed up by a tight band, Ms. Spiegel makes all the right musical moves on an album that is as wide-ranging as it is intriguing. A number of players join in on various instruments including, at times, what sounds like a full horn section.

The ability of the musicians Ms. Spiegel has chosen to provide backing on her marvelous tunes speaks volumes about the high musical art that makes up the essence of Make You Whole. The musicians supporting her guitar, songs and vocals include Will Kjeer (keyboards), Maxwell Voda (bass, violin), Kevin Yetter (drums), Ivan Cunningham (alto sax) and Mitch Van Laar (trumpet). Mixing elements of jazz, pop and rock, further described on their Bandcamp page as ‘neo-soul’ and ‘indie-funk’, Make You Whole demonstrates a striking maturity of sound that belies a band that has just released its first album.

Listening to Make You Whole from a jazz and fusion perspective, several sound comparisons can be made to Chick Corea’s mid-1970s lineup of Return To Forever with Gayle Moran on vocals and somewhat, to the underrated, now defunct California-based band Blue Shift, although Dilly Dally Alley are clearly geared more towards jazzy, soulful pop-rock minus a prevalence of blistering guitar solos. At times, Ms. Spiegel also cuts loose on her electric guitar, although it's mostly done in support the songs. With an ear towards the future, there’s also an interesting element of growing, progressive rock on hand that should give Dilly Dally Alley an even wider appeal.

The CD is the way to go as it has eye-popping album artwork adorned with all of the song lyrics. With the album highlighting the tasteful studio co-production of Ms. Spiegel and Adam Tucker, Make You Whole sets the stage for further musical greatness from Dilly Dally Alley.

 


 

mwe3.com presents an interview with
SOPHIA SPIEGEL of Dilly Dally Alley

mwe3: You mentioned your Mom raised you in a musical home and your sisters also sang with you, so what instruments did you gravitate towards in your early years and how many instruments do you play? The Make You Whole album lists you playing guitar and cello. Tell us something about starting on guitar and then cello, or was it the other way around?

Sophia Spiegel: Correct! A lot of my upbringing was defined by singing together with my mom and three sisters. My mom was a vocalist and pianist, and she was great at raising us through song, whether it was to help celebrate good situations, regulate us whenever we’d get upset, or just be goofy. I started on cello at 5, and was brought up classically trained. It wasn’t until I became a teenager and felt a need to break out of that mould and start learning guitar. I would often play around with Coldplay or Springsteen covers in my room whenever I needed to get in my own headspace. It gave me a sense of creative agency over my life that I hadn’t felt before.

mwe3: How about growing up, can you tell us where were you born, what town and how did that effect you both musically and your reflections of growing up, tell us something about your early years and something about Minnesota. What do you like best about Minnesota?

Sophia Spiegel: I was born near Chicago and lived there until my last year of high school. My parents always had a strained relationship before they split when I was a teenager, so I learned at an early age how to get myself out of stressful situations in the home through music.

I went to Interlochen Arts Academy for my senior year with the intention of focusing on cello performance. That was where I met Will Kjeer, the original keyboard player of Dilly, extremely influential to this album and the band. I was determined to be a professional cellist for a long time until I went to St. Olaf College in Minnesota and felt stirred to take interest in different things. I also grew tired of how competitive classical music was and got a practice injury my sophomore year of college, which forced me to explore different outlets other than cello.

It was then that I really started to love writing on the guitar. It felt like my own corner of the world to digest being an adult in Minnesota. This state has been my home now for 8 years, and really forms the fabric of Dilly. Every member of Dilly, aside from myself, grew up in the Minneapolis jazz scene, and our tight grooves are a product of us having spoken the same musical languages for years. I met Kevin and Max in the St. Olaf Orchestra, and though we all now play different instruments in Dilly, we formed so much of our musical identity in that ensemble together. The rest of the crew has played together in jazz ensembles since they were kids.

mwe3: How about your early musical influences? What are your impressions of all the classic rock and pop that happened before you were born? Do you ever look at old music videos and even movies of the 1960s? I guess compared to today’s massive media, the 1960s must be almost comical to today’s kids.

Sophia Spiegel: I grew up singing a lot of bluegrass tunes with my mom and siblings. I still feel like coming home is so attached to making weird little harmonies with my sisters and mom. I was a kid who loved punk bands like Good Charlotte and Evanescence, then in my teenage years went digging into the indie scene with bands like Phoenix, Two Door Cinema Club, Coldplay, Radiohead, and London Grammar. I also grew up near Chicago, so I got a lot of inspiration going to House and EDM festivals. I caught that magic bug from being in a crowd of thousands, and I think that informs a lot of the magic Dilly tries to create today with crowd singing and balloon experiments.

I do also love the old greats like the Beatles and Joni Mitchell and Bruce Springsteen! Music has been so hyper-capitalized these days and the quality of the music itself feels so secondary to its purchasability. That’s a really frustrating bit about being in the trade. Musicians of the 1960s and ‘70s could draw interest from audiences with just a few instruments, some good vocals, and a compelling story. That feels so foreign to our ears today!

mwe3: So you missed the Beatles phenomenon back in the 1960s but did they influence you and do you have a favorite Beatles album? Also, it sounds like Joni Mitchell might have been an influence along with some jazz singers and how about Prince? I think Prince would have loved Make You Whole. Is Prince still revered up in MN?

Sophia Spiegel: I did grow up liking the Beatles a lot. To be honest, I probably don’t even know how much I’ve been influenced by them because of how much they changed the course of rock music before my time! Abbey Road influenced a lot of our track order for Make You Whole thanks to Adam Tucker. We wanted “Bathtub Born” to be the grungy, moody “I Want You” at end of the A-Side, and “Make You Whole” to be akin to the welcoming, sweet “Here Comes the Sun” at the beginning of the B-Side in Abbey Road.

Prince formed so much of the fabric of the Minneapolis music scene that by even participating in the scene today, I am heavily influenced by it. Bless that man for infusing such groove into this city!

Joni Mitchell was a huge influence to our music! It never fails to astound me how complex her harmonies are and at the same time flow so smoothly, almost like water. Her story telling in her lyrics really grip you too. I haven’t been able to stop playing “Just Like This Train” these days, and it’s influenced a lot of my new tunes.

mwe3: Who offered you the chance to study music and can you mention a few things that inspired you to start writing your own music? Did your family encourage you? When did you start writing your own music and are the tracks on Make You Whole amongyour first originals? How did you hone your compositional skills?

Sophia Spiegel: I grew up in a very musical family. My mom was a professional vocalist and piano teacher, and singing with my mom and three sisters was so pivotal to my upbringing. It was how we framed so much of how we went about the world. When something was worth celebrating or crying about, we would sing. It’s still how I like to metabolize the good crazy and bad in my life these days. I started the cello at age 5 and was raised pretty classically.

I had great teachers growing up who I owe so much to, but most of the music I had to learn with the intention of honoring the composers’ wishes. It wasn’t until I reached my teenage years that I wanted to somehow find my own voice with it. When I picked up a guitar from my grandma at age 11, I started to putz around with writing songs and finding my own sonic voice. I learned this instrument mostly on my own, and I think that explains why I don’t really use traditional chord patterns - for better or worse!

I decided I wanted to pursue music seriously in my late teens, especially after attending Interlochen Arts Academy my senior year of high school. Even though I was pretty deep into cello performance and was well-supported on that path, I continued to dig into the singer-songwriter thing as a way to shake off the pressure from the classical world.

When I went to St. Olaf, I felt like I needed to step away from the classical world to turn to other kinds of meaning making. There were some incredibly helpful mentors in college who helped me make that break, and I still keep in touch with them whenever I’ve got little existential crises here and there.

It wasn’t until the pandemic that I started writing the music for Make You Whole. I was working in child welfare as a social worker at the time and like everyone else, was in my own headspace too much and needed to somehow shape my thoughts into something more tangible, something I could feel proud of. I wrote a lot of these tunes almost to give myself the courage to face ugly feelings I wanted to make beautiful again. I also took a lot of trips up the Boundary Waters, and wrote some reflections from my time up there.

I really cherish this as a time when my writing felt most authentic to myself. I had no intention of sharing most of the tunes in Make You Whole with others for a year or two. When I did share them, it was with close friends, the original Dilly members, who transformed them into something entirely different, but still with no intention of sharing them with the world. Now that it’s so out in public, my writing style has changed completely. It’s been a delightful change, but I often need to take breaks and get away from the scene to charge up my creativity again.

Adam Tucker has probably been one of my most influential and recent mentors in guiding me through this wild music scene. I feel like I entered this world last year when I entered his recording studio. After we tracked the record with him, he made me take these tunes seriously and want to release the record with as many bells and whistles as we could afford. He was so encouraging and kind, and I don’t think we’d be here today without his help.

mwe3: How and when did you start Dilly Dally Alley on the road to such sonic greatness? What parameters did you set forth when the band started and how did you enlist the musicians that joined the band? It’s not a small band so you must have known these musicians for a while.

Sophia Spiegel: Dilly is the product of a lot of talented musicians. While I write the charts of the tunes, the folks who you hear on this album are all killer jazz musicians who know how to imprint their own creative stamp of genius. We created something greater than all of us, and that couldn’t have happened without our respective love for one another in addition to how hard we’ve worked to get good at our instruments.

Dilly actually started as a four piece. I knew Kevin Yetter (drums) and Maxwell Voda (bass, violin) from college, and I knew Will Kjeer (keys) from Interlochen. I reached out to them to jam on the tunes you hear on the record back in the summer of 2021. It wasn’t until the following summer that we decided to go into the studio to track the tunes, so we had been sitting with them for a while and had a good long chance to perfect our parts.

It wasn’t until after we tracked the record that I decided to ask Mitch Van Laar (trumpet) and Ivan Cunningham (alto sax) to hop on board. I wrote them horn parts so it would be easy for them to fit in, and I also tried to give them as many opportunities as possible to fit in solos. Now I can’t even imagine what Dilly would be like without them, musically and communally! Everyone has put so much into this band and it makes me feel both so grateful and proud at the same time.

mwe3: Make You Whole starts off with an instrumental track called “Reaching out To The Blue Sky”. It’s the only instrumental track on the album. What are your thoughts on writing more instrumental tracks. Do you like instrumental music? It’s more popular in Europe because of the language barriers between countries.

Sophia Spiegel: We had no idea “Reaching Out to the Blue Sky” would become one of our most popular tunes! I originally intended the song to be an overture to the pervading themes throughout the album. For me, it has to do with aspiring to get to a better place in life, but needing to face all your fears and doubts in order to do so. That’s why I ended it with cacophony and cicadas and horns going wild to lead into the rest of the tunes that grapple with such hardship… and hope at the same time! But I agree that anyone in the world can make whatever meaning they want out of it, regardless of if they speak English or not!

mwe3: “Give Yourself Up To Yourself” was co-written by Justin Halverson. What was it like co-writing of this track with Justin? Also, Make You Whole was co-produced by you and Adam Tucker. How did you share the production with Adam who is also credited with auxiliary percussion. How did you split the album production with Adam? It’s also impressive that Adam Tucker also did the recording, mixing and mastering of Make You Whole so he must be an all-around genius.

Sophia Spiegel: Justin and I wrote the first verse and chorus of this tune on the shores of Lake Bde Maka Ska, a lovely lake in South Minneapolis and our favorite spot to hang out at the time. Justin and I had a long conversation about the different moments of stuckness in our lives, and how important it was for us to “give ourselves up to ourselves” to overcomes those difficulties. In other words, the world throws tough things at you all the time, but as long as you’ve come to accept all the little bits of shame and fear in yourself, you’re unstoppable.

Adam Tucker is a sage! We had no idea how to make the tunes into compelling, well-recorded tracks. He took on this project as our recording engineer, but over time had such verve, kindness wisdom in guiding us through making a record that he became a defacto producer as well. We spent many a session together listening through and exchanging ideas on what effects to add, how the balance should sit between instruments, and also how one even releases a record properly into the world. He especially helped out with “Bathtub Born” in adding to some of the builds to make it compelling. I’ve learned so much about production and life in general from that man, now consider him a great friend, and I appreciate him to bits.

mwe3: Horns in rock bands were very popular in the late 1960s and the ‘70s but clearly they’re making a comeback with Dilly Dally Alley’s album. Did you bring in the horns to give the band a different sound? Of course horns were always popular in jazz but jazz is just one part of the DDA sound!

Sophia Spiegel: Horns add such sonic fire to a tune. I felt like as a four-piece, we had good rhythms and melodies, but I wanted countermelodies and harmonies to respond to my vocals. I wanted more opportunities for talented instrumentalists to strut their stuff as soloists. Mitch and Ivan have been such wonderful additions to the band, and their roll feels just as central to the music as anyone else. If we don’t have horns available for a show, we don’t play. They just rip too hard!

mwe3: Also tell us about the backing vocals on Make You Whole. What is your secret to getting the vocals to line up so perfectly? Just a few singer songwriters do lead and backing vocals so perfectly. How do you keep your voice in shape, especially considering the songs on Make You Whole are quite challenging to play let alone record…

Sophia Spiegel: I spent perhaps too much time on those back-up vocals haha... I very slowly combed through the tracks in my room with a cheapish microphone and a laptop over the course of a couple months. I would listen through a couple of times and see how I could embellish and support the main vocals, careful not to smother them as well. I was lucky to spend most of my upbringing harmonizing with my mom and two sisters, so finding harmonies wasn’t too difficult and pretty damn fun!

mwe3: “Bathtub Born” is a very experimental sounding track, and it’s sort of different from the other. Tell us something about your complex vocal arrangement of “Bathtub Born”. It also has some great cello playing. I did see you play the track solo with looping devices which was very brilliant. When you’re not playing or recording with Dilly Dally Alley, you also play solo right? Compare playing solo with playing with the band.

Sophia Spiegel: “Bathtub Born” is the only tune of the record that was written with just my cello, voice, and electronic layering in Logic. It lived as a tune on just the loop pedal for a few months before I decided to properly record it, and it was really fun to see how it transformed once we could get it into the box. Playing solo is really gratifying and has been something I’ve been meaning to take more seriously for a long time. I have a whole set of solo cello tunes that I would like to transform in a similar way to “Bathtub Born”, and I’ve been chatting with some folks about making that happen in a big way. All exciting and mysterious! Who’s to say what will happen!

mwe3: Is the title track “Make You Whole” a hopeful song? It’s another song that features strings and Max Voda also plays violin on the album. Is he on that track too and do you ever double your cello with his violin? How do you write the string arrangements in your songs?

Sophia Spiegel: “Make You Whole” is as hopeful as a song about climate change can get! I wrote it up in the Boundary Waters after enduring a violent and dangerous storm. After the storm calmed, the sun peaked out of the clouds and created a brilliant sunset over waters that has since calmed. I thought to myself that if I hadn’t just experienced so much fear from the storm that day, I wouldn’t have felt nearly as raw in my appreciation for that gorgeous sunset. The tune is primarily about the wisdom natural forces carry, and by embracing how much we are at the mercy of them, they can teach us how to overcome the many challenges in our lives.

Max plays the hell out of that tune, and is a very skilled violinist! We played the cello and violin part for “Reaching Out To The Blue Sky” as well, and we actually play a lot of gigs around the Twin Cities as a violin and cello duet. We actually first knew each other through playing together in the St. Olaf Orchestra, so we’re really comfortable with each other’s playing. I would love to incorporate more strings into the next album! It was both Max and I’s first instrument, and we are always seeking an excuse to play more of it.

mwe3: As great as the other tracks surely are, I felt the last two cuts, “They Say The Heart Can’t Break” and “You’re Not The One” are two of the best on the Make You Whole album. Did you sequence the album to put two of the best songs at the end? Is “They Say The Heart Can’t Break” a kind of auto-biographical kind of track? I love the killer hooks “calling right now”… Is this track Dilly Dally Alley at their best? Your songs are your babies so maybe it’s hard to single out a track but I guess you get that a lot from various fans who like this, that and the other!

Sophia Spiegel: I agree that it’s hard to single out a particular tune as my favorite, but “They Say” is definitely top two, probably second to “Bathtub Born”! I wrote it after feeling really frustrated as a school social worker by the amount of apathy and deliberate ignorance so many folks in the system cast on families and children affected by abuse and trauma. I wanted anyone who was experiencing elimination from the systems they rely on to hear this song and have some hope that their broken heart could hold the universe one day. It’s based on a Mark Nepo quote I really like - “They say the heart can’t break, but if it does, it holds the universe.”

mwe3: “They Say The Heart Can’t Break” segues into “You’re Not The One”, in fact right on the last note of the track. Is “You’re Not The One” another auto-biographical love affair kind of track?

Sophia Spiegel: The intention behind “You’re Not the One” was to end the album with something a bit more lighthearted after a string of heavier tunes. It’s about those partners in your life who mean a lot to you, shape you in permanent ways, but for whatever reason, you know it won’t work out. Sometimes that makes the relationship all the more sweet!

It’s been our crowd favorite at shows, and we just finished filming a music video for it that includes clowns, balloons, and all kinds of foolishness. I’m really excited for it to come out into the world!
This song hopefully informs the album’s big take away - life can get pretty hard and unfair, but appreciating the tender moments we have with beloved people, regardless of the issues taking place in the meantime, need to be the most cherished moments in our lives. Nothing else really matters.

mwe3: Is Make You Whole making waves in Minnesota, have the other neighboring states picked up on the album yet? What plans do you have for 2023 and are you writing more tracks for a future Dilly Dally Alley release, perhaps a follow up to this first album? What comes after?

Sophia Spiegel: We most definitely have new stuff in the works! We just completed demos for four new tunes, and we have more we’ve been jamming on. We are taking a more collaborative, upbeat, electronic turn to our new stuff and that feels exciting. While at the moment, our budget only allows for little day and weekend trips for shows around the Midwest, the hope is to find funding for our next album so that we can travel to more places and spread the Dilly love. Minnesota has been so kind to us, and we hope the rest of the world might feel the verve to support us one day. Onwards and upwards!

 

They Say the Heart Can’t Break

Wiggled my tail
Took a bow for your fickle soul out there
I huffed and puffed
Embarrassed to admit I miss your snarl, your stare

Worried if I flapped my wings
I’d never come home again
Never knew the fresh air blew
Long before you grew a fragile heart In your dark little din

They say the heart can’t break But if it do, it holds the universe

Gather the twigs, draw the hot water
Open your spell books, call your mother
Other things can wait right now
Right now, you need to know your beauty is like no other

No other No other No other No other

Calling right now all the people, things and places
Feeling shut down by disguised bruises and nice faces

You ain’t gotta be so far away
Dreamin’ of heaven when you pause and replay The messages telling you to grow or decay

They say the heart can’t break But if it do

They say the heart can’t break But if it do
It holds the universe

It holds the universe

I drank, I smoked, I still steal
Had a bad habit of throwing myself under the wheel
But at least I had the courage to be sad to know how to really feel

While you still reel from your childhood
Got knocked down, think you’re back in the ring But you forgot your heart
Your smart mouth talk, but it don’t know how to really sing

They say the heart can’t break But if it do
It holds the universe

Gather the twigs, draw the hot water
Stir in your love and nurture, hug your daughter Other things can wait right now
Right now, you need to know your beauty is like no other

No other No other No other No other

Calling right now all the people, things and places
Feeling shut down by disguised bruises and nice faces

You ain’t gotta be so far away
Dreamin’ of heaven when you pause and replay The messages telling you to grow or decay

They say the heart can’t break But if it do
It holds the universe ...




 

 
   
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