On a recent sunny afternoon, Ali Wadsworth—just back from spending the summer sequestered in a hotel room in L.A. while competing on The Voice, but more on that in a minute—is holed up inside Waking Studio, the East Falls spot where producer Bill Moriarty (Dr. Dog, Man Man, The Sheepdogs) makes the magic happen.
Moriarty lets loose bursts of sounds while testing filters for a track off Wadsworth’s forthcoming debut album, a collection of songs written by local musicians such as Chris Kasper, Dan Schwartz of Good Old War and Ron Gallo of Toy Soldiers. Zeppelin-esque guitar riffs and stairwell drums bang, then Wadsworth’s huge, unmistakable, Adele-by-way-of-Janis voice rips through the noise like a comet.
“Originally, I wanted to do something old soul,” says Wadsworth between pulls on an electronic cigarette; it’s been three days since a real one. “Now it’s a straight rock ‘n’ roll record. There’s not enough rockers!”
Moriarty uses one word to describe the record: “Loud.” Whatever the genre—Wadsworth once studied opera in Moscow—the beats are built around the vox. “I like to wail,” admits Wadsworth. “A lot of people are born with good voices,” says Tim Arnold of Good Old War, on album drum duty. “But hers is above and beyond. It’s like pure, raw power. But there’s delicate sensibilities too, because she’s a sensitive person.”
Wadsworth, 31, is already a regular in Philly’s music scene, but since the break-up of previous bands Unlikely Cowboy and Fantasy Square Garden, she’s been orbiting around everyone else, singing back-up with her sister Claire on records and stages all over the city. A Monroe blonde who loves Liza Minnelli, she’s got one of those irresistible showbiz personalities that relishes both the sultry theatrical crooning of a “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” and the shoulder-shaking razzle-dazzle of black-sequined standards equally.
As such, she can usually play into weird situations, but she admits singing on stage in front of Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo and company was “the scariest experience of [her] life.” Meanwhile, she didn’t even care at first. She and her sister only auditioned after years of encouragement from a producer. “I thought I was too cool, you know,” explains Wadsworth. “Then [the producer] said to me, ‘Who are you to think you can say who buys your records and who likes you, especially when you have a opportunity for that many people to hear you sing?’”
So, Wadsworth and her sister auditioned via email and made the cut. Suddenly, they were whisked out to the Hollywood Hills.
“We were treated like celebrities the whole time,” says Wadsworth. “It was one of the coolest and one of the weirdest things we’ve ever done.”
They can’t reveal what happens on the show. But Wadsworth can say she is pumped to be back in Philly recording her album—the release date is pushed to the winter now—and she’s hustling to ready two singles by the time she appears on the show.
“If I’m gonna be exposed to the world,” she reasons, “It might be nice to have something to offer them.”
The Voice plays at 8pm, Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC10.
The Pack A.D. are built for the road
PW's Music Issue 2014