Canadian singer-songwriter Ally Cribb is an indie artist emerging into the music scene with her EP Unbroken. Her sound can be described as pop with country influences. Her music is soulful and lyrical, woven together with a strong thread of storytelling. In a time of hardship, at 16, Ally turned to music and creativity get through it all. Her story, and the way she came to produce this EP is touching and inspiring. We met with Ally for an interview to learn more about her story and her music.
Music has had a strong presence throughout Ally’s life, dating back to her childhood. She started singing and playing the piano when she was eight and later learned to play the guitar. By age 12 she was writing her own songs. What does one write about at 12 years of age? Ally wrote about things she knew like “relationships with family and friends”. She wrote from the perspective of characters in her favourite books and movies. She realized early on that music and songwriting were important in her life, “When I first started writing songs, I found it to be one of my favorite activities. It was my creative outlet; it was something that I really enjoyed doing.”
It was Ally’s father, Robert Cribb—a writer, journalist, and musician—who sparked her interest in music and songwriting at a young age. “While I started off learning how to sing other people’s songs, I just started to gravitate towards writing my own, especially because my dad is a songwriter …. He played a big role in opening my eyes to the world of songwriting, creativity, and music.” Ally continues to collaborate with her dad to produce her music.
Via: Instagram. Ally with her dad.
Ally’s love of music and songwriting became even more important when, at age 16, she lost her mother, and more so during the isolation forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. In these challenging times, she became more creative. “When I lost my mom, and when we were all in the middle of the pandemic, I definitely was writing more songs, turning to music and songwriting and creating things more.” Music offered solace and a way to connect with others. “When I’m experiencing periods of difficult challenge, it’s almost my natural instinct to want to create more, want to write more, and want to turn any kind of hardship or pain that I’m experiencing into something that can be shared with other people.”
While Ally’s is mindful of her listeners’ feelings and experiences as they may also go through challenges, her approach to music is personal. Her EP, entitled Unbroken, ties to her struggles and experiences in the past few years, and what she has learned in getting through these times. Her message is strong: “It [Unbroken] really plays into the overall theme and recurring message that the EP offers, finding hope and strength, throughout adversity … finding yourself when you’re going through a challenge. When I hear the word Unbroken, it just says to me, you can go through so much, and you can experience so much hardship, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be permanently broken from it.”
Ally’s impressive growth, personally and professionally certainly validates her message of resilience. Despite the difficult circumstances, she has written and released seven tracks on her EP. Her song entitled “Bigger,” is a spirited anthem to go after your dreams. As if getting your music out isn’t challenging enough to a new artist, Ally produced her music during the pandemic with her dad’s support. “When COVID first hit, and we were all stuck at home, we had to learn how to do a lot of things ourselves.” Since recording studios were closed, Ally and her dad set up a home studio in Nova Scotia and recorded her songs. It was no simple process as she worked remotely, sending songs back and forth between Nova Scotia and Ontario. They sent tracks to studios in Ontario, and once places reopened, she went in person to record the vocals. “It definitely taught us how to be resourceful and use what we had to create the EP, so it was a pretty special experience because the way that it unfolded was so unexpected.” Despite the unexpected, Ally had fun with music and growing as an artist while finding her way.
Via: Instagram. Ally in her home studio.
Part of the fun Ally had with this album was the process itself. “Lyrics, the writing process and the quality of the music” is especially important to her. She strives to take her audience on a “musical adventure” to “envision” the story. More importantly, she aims to create a sense of connection: “I want to write lyrics that inspire people and I want to write lyrics that people relate to in their own lives.” Ally acknowledges that the pandemic was a difficult and isolating time for everyone who also went through individual hardship. The message of hope that she conveys is all the more powerful as she is understanding and mindful of her audience’s experiences.
Ally credits her focus on storytelling to musical influences, like Taylor Swift. Ally’s first influence was her dad. “My dad is a really great storyteller, because he’s a journalist.” She also gets inspiration from country music from Nashville, as well as artists from Nova Scotia. We can see how important the East Coast is for Ally in her music because she pays homage to Nova Scotia with her song “Halifax Time.” As for storytelling, she says, “I loved listening to songwriters who were able to take you on this whole journey. And then were able to go into detail about these characters that they were talking about within their music. So, that, for me, was something I tried to replicate for sure. I think that it’s really an art. There’s an art to it, being able to take your listener on this story.”
That’s exactly what Ally does in her latest single “California.” She describes her intention to get her audience to “envision two characters in their mind and be taken on this musical adventure.” Inspiration can strike at any moment, and, for Ally, this was the case with writing “California.” “The original ideas that I got for ‘California’ just came into my head really late one night. I was visiting my grandma in Nova Scotia, and I couldn’t sleep … and I had my guitar beside my bed. I had this idea floating around in my head, these two characters from a small town: one was moving away to the big city to achieve his dreams, leaving the other one behind in the small town. It was like 1 a.m. one night, and I got out of bed. I grabbed my guitar, and I just started writing lyrics down.” For Ally, when inspiration strikes, songwriting happens organically, with a bit of moulding to put it together. She describes songwriting as a puzzle, and piecing the puzzle together is one reason she loves the process. Produced by family friend Hoppy Hopkinson, the music video for “California” adds nuance to the storytelling element. The stage in the video is set with items from the song’s lyrics, and Ally walks into the scene and builds up intrigue. As a result, we are transported to another time and place in an imaginative story, feeling the characters’ love and separation. To convey her story, she involved herself in the production of the music and the video.
Via: Instagram. Behind the scenes of California.
The most interactive delivery of music is, of course, the live performance. When asked how she feels when she performs, she admits that she gets nervous in the moments leading up to it, but the nerves fade away quickly once she starts performing. Her performances are even more rewarding when she connects with her audience. “When I start to see people having a positive reaction to whatever song it is that I’m singing, it immediately just feels like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing …. To be able to see anyone singing along to something that I wrote is what I’ll always hope for. And it’s just a really cool feeling. So, I love it. I love performing; I think I always will.” Ally is looking forward to performing live this summer.
Via: Instagram. Ally performing live.
Ally grew up in Toronto and moved to Nova Scotia to pursue her studies in university. Her family and friends support her, and are also along for the ride. She is learning her way through the music industry and has already gained attention on Spotify, YouTube, and from news outlets and magazines. Her own story, as well as the stories she tells through her songs, underlines themes of hope and strength amid adversity. With strong values, such as songwriting and storytelling, connecting to listeners through her music, and being involved in all aspects of the production process, Ally is an artist we hope to see and hear more of.