“Will You Stay” — A Psychedelic-Folk Exploration into the Broken Heart

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Singer-songwriter Alyssandra Nighswonger, a Long Beach music scene star, has hosted an open mic at Viento y Agua Coffee House for ten years. She has collaborated with Long Beach music acts The Dovelles, Lucky Penny, Ellen Warkentine and the Balboa Amusement Company Orchestra. Nighswonger has also hosted a series of multimedia Vaudeville Spectaculars at the Historic Art Theatre in Long Beach.

Given her range of experience, Nighswonger knew perfectly just how to set the tone and the stage for her new album, Will You Stay, with a dreamy release show, under the trees at Los Ranchos Cerritos on June 18.

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“Will You Stay is an album about the soft and bittersweet goodbyes you make to the part of yourself that you leave behind when a relationship ends, and the newness of embracing the world on your own again; it’s the alchemy of a broken heart,” says Nighswonger.

The album explores this alchemy supported by sounds of a live indie-rock combo with the mellotron, vibraphone, Hammond b3 organ and harp. Nighswonger started work on it in 2016, after being dealt a broken heart. She wrote a new series of songs that were more intimate and close to her heart than anything she’d ever written before.

Will You Stay brims with rich sounds from samba, country to rock songs, buoyed in an ethereal soundscape. As an album, Will You Stay sits on high, guiding its songs through trials, playing music that invites the listener to expand sonically and emotionally as they recognize a broken, healed and open heart.

Hanging out with her close friends Heather Sommerhauser (vocals), Lili de la Mora-Archambault (vocals), Lono Archambault (bass) and Matt Hill (guitar) Nighswonger said they started creating the type of music that she had always wanted to make, “something fresh with both beauty and grit.” Warm sounds of the band playing together, live, were created in Antoine Arvizu’s open airy Compound Studio in Signal Hill. Arvizu also played drums on the album. Nighswonger likened it to capturing a moment in time. She was dedicated to getting everyone to play live in the same room at the studio.

“Its tagline is it’s an organic recording experience,” Nighswonger said. “It’s very breezy and not concerned about isolating every noise to get this great sound. It’s like you’re capturing the life of it, the breath of it. The way the band moves together, I feel like that’s what we captured with those sessions.”

The project was hard to finish with everyone’s different schedules, and it was moved to the back burner. Nighswonger began working on her Nighswonger Sings Nilsson project, which she said was like a runaway freight train in another direction. The pandemic happened just as she released that album, then everything came to a halt.

“The pandemic was a very reflective time,” Nighswonger said. “One thing that I found so valuable was the people that I love, [who] are near and dear to me.”

She recalled how far she had come since that time, with her previous heartbreak so fresh, but now it’s a new chapter. She noted that her growth since then has only flourished and flowered more. After letting the album and old feelings rest, Nighswonger returned to it, deciding to expand its sound into something with a bigger, more ethereal atmosphere for the songs to live in.

Nighswonger had been stuck on the idea that everyone had to be in the same room together for the album “to be true to what it needs to be.” Since then, she met other musicians who considered the arrangements behind the album a little differently. Considering this, she listened to the songs one-by-one and thought of people to bring in on the project. Those additions feature R. Scott Dibble on piano and Hammond B3 organ, Joy Shannon on harp and percussionist, Slam on vibraphone. Inspired by influences like The Moody Blues and King Crimson, the work is also immersed heavily in the mellotron, played by LA producer/multi-instrumentalist, Fernando Perdomo. R. Scott Dibble was the first musician she brought in.

“He’s so great at what he does,” Nighswonger said. “I wondered what it would be like (to get) him on the Hammond b3 organ on a couple songs.”

Nighswonger let go of some of her original ideas for these songs and started to consider how they could also reflect how she had grown — “and how about building a whimsical universe for these songs to live in?” she asked.

The piano that R. Scott (Dibble) added to Will You Stay with its samba / bossa nova feel to it, Nighswonger said, was so classy, it’s beautiful. The lyrical refrain, “I don’t wanna … sleep alone,” is repeated rapidly like a whispered mantra, along with the others: “Please don’t go” and “Stay a little longer.” This honest plea meets that musical whimsy, resulting in a reckoning of human emotions, sans drama-inducing heartache.

“Having [Slam] on the vibraphone really kicked the album up a notch. He played the vibraphone on Will You Stay too,” she said. “[And] for Survive Sunrise [R. Scott] added the Hammond b3 organ, which you hear on a lot of beautiful classic rock songs like, of course, the Doors.”

Blending dreamscape sounds via mellotron — a small electro-mechanical instrument — and Hammond b3 organ crack open Nighswongers Survive Sunrise, offering a sonic touchstone that prepares you to wander through your imagination. Grounding organ tones are punctuated by Arvizu’s percussion/cymbals and then, sounds of oboe, flute and strings, alongside Sommerhauser and de la Mora-Archambault’s angelic vocals, let you drift languorously, carrying you through this ethereal number.

“On Pond of Lillies, I’ve always wanted that song to sound [how] a Busby Berkeley film looks, with the waterfalls and the dancing ladies,” Nighswonger said.

Nighswonger’s voice has a vintage quality to it. Her silky vocals combined with the lilting Pond of Lillies indeed arouses Berkeley’s blissful, kaleidoscopic dreamscape. Nighswonger credited vibraphonist Slam with unleashing the magic on this track, adding, “Everyone on the album, including the original band, took what’s in my heart and illuminated it for the world to hear.”

She also brought in producer and multi-instrumentalist Fernando Perdomo. He played on the Echoes In The Canyon documentary with Jacob Dylan. They connected through the Nighswonger Sings Nillson album and tribute concert and became friends with similar loves.

Perdomo had a mellotron guitar pedal and Nighswonger asked him to lay that down on her album. He had something better, the new mellotron keyboard.

“I went to his studio in Reseda and we did a session,” Nighswonger said. “Hearing him play the mellotron for the first time on all those songs was magical. I was taken back to these memories of riding in the backseat of my parent’s car, on road trips when I was a little kid and with cassettes of the Moody Blues playing on repeat in our car. These sounds are on my music now. It feels so … unattainable but with a little help from my friends I can do anything.”

To aid in the alchemy of a broken heart, Nighswonger said, “When you are weary of the world, may these songs provide a little sanctuary. Close your eyes, feel the warmth of your hand over your heart and know you are not alone and you are holding a heart of gold.

“The success that I’ve always sought, was to make something that’s really good that can help people or that people can connect to and feel a little less lonely in the world. This is my next step towards that. It’s the album I’ve always wanted to make.”

Details: www.alyssandranighswonger.com

Will You Stay is available on Bandcamp, CD, cassette or digital download, and for streaming and download on all digital platforms.

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