Alaena – One of Life’s Unguilty Pleasures
Updated: Feb 19, 2020
One of Life’s Unguilty Pleasures
By Jay S. Jacobs
Singer and songwriter Alaena (born Alana Potocnik) has learned a lot about the world as a woman in rock over the past decade or so. Previously best known for playing in the death metal band Winds of Plague, Alaena decided a couple of years ago to have a musical coming out party in which she would do her own songs instead of being a cog in a band.
As a singer and songwriter, Alaena felt the need to explore a more melodic school of rock. This has led to a series of singles like “I Wanna,” “Paranoid” and the just dropped “Holy Mess.” She is also working on an EP called Unguilty Pleasures, which she hopes will drop early next year.
We recently chatted with Alaena to discuss her life and her music.
You started out playing harder death metal music, but I’ve seen your newer stuff referred to as “pop grunge.” When did you decide to make that kind of musical turn?
I was feeling like I needed [to do my own thing]… My band that I was playing for before was a band that I joined. They were already established. I was in bands since I was a teenager, trying to work my way into being in a touring band. I joined their band. I really wanted to do something that was my own. I really have this love for pop music. I have a love for metal music, also. I felt like I really wanted to explore what that world would be like.
That makes sense.
I love singing. I knew I wasn’t going to be a screamer in a band. (laughs) I really wanted to see how I could mush that influence with pop and do something that I felt at the time was very unheard of. A lot of darker music now is starting to come up. It’s great for me, because it’s paving the path. I’m excited that’s happening. A lot of people were starting to bring in more of a darker alternative influence to pop music.
For a lot of years, many rock bands seemed to think it was a sell-out to have a melody. Have you always looked to make your music hookier and more tuneful?
Yeah. Absolutely. No offense to any bands or anything, but it would bother me so much when there wasn’t something that I could hum in my head. That’s why I loved orchestration and any band that had keyboards, because I felt like that’s what led a melody to me and gave me a feeling. Melody is all basically based on how you feel when you sing it; what makes you want to sing it over and over again. Besides the lyrics, the melody has to be catchy. It has to ignite your brain. With hard metal music, it was a little bit more difficult. I remember it was so hard to get anybody to think it wasn’t lame to have singing or melody or choruses and stuff in your music in metal. Finally, people are starting to open up to it. It was just like taboo then. (laughs)
Who are some of the musicians that inspired you as an artist?
I really love Marilyn Manson and Britney Spears. Those are ones that I always say, because they really are. I just pull so much inspiration from both of them. They are both on the total off the sides of the spectrum. (laughs) I don’t know, I just feel like that’s me. I am on both sides of the spectrum. I’m super grungy and hard, and I’m also very sweet, soft and pop. I just feel when I envision myself, those are the two influences I see all the time, that I’m naturally pulling from. I always loved tATu. I don’t know if you remember them.
Sure, they did “All the Things She Said.”
Yeah. I loved them for some reason. I was super-obsessed with them. I listened to so much music growing up and it’s so hard to pinpoint what has influenced me. Who has and who hasn’t. I feel like the music that I had grown up with was based around feelings. A lot of people would always ask me like, “What’s your favorite album? What’s your favorite this, or that?” I actually never really got into collecting albums, being like a super-fan or anything like that. I cared more about how the music made me feel. If there was a song that I really liked, I’d listen to it over and over again. I might not have even known who it was. But I knew how it made me feel. I loved it.
The music business has changed so much over the years, you can drop singles like “Paranoid” and “I Wanna” while working on an album. How is that freeing for you as a musician?
It’s actually pretty great that we have the ability to do that. At the same time, it’s a little bit frightening, because it makes music so disposable. I feel like people are getting used to the fact that there is always new music coming out, every week, instead of like waiting months for the next album and being super excited, hyped up about it. Now it’s like there’s a song coming out next week, the week after that. The longevity of a song lasting is not nearly as long as it used to be. I think I’m on both sides. I really like it because for independent artists like me it’s great. I can just put out music whenever I want. I can just keep doing it and be on my own time. But also, it’s a little worrisome when it comes to retaining those listens and those ears.
What inspired “I Get My Way”?
“I Get My Way” was about me dealing with now a current ex-boyfriend who was really very selfish. (laughs) I felt like he did not care about what I needed, what I wanted. I just had to prove to him or show him that I don’t need him. I can do this myself. I can get what I want without you.
I saw that you said, “In 2019, I am going to be as honest as I can with my fans and my music.” Is it difficult opening yourself up like that?
Oh, man. You have no idea. It has been a roller coaster for me. Whenever I think I’ve been the most honest I can be, I’m fooling myself. Then, I end up being more honest. It’s really hard when you’re doing that stuff. It’s good, it’s therapeutic, but at the same time you go through a lot when it’s happening. We make it seem like it looks so easy, but really your mind, your brain is a powerful thing, Whenever you open yourself up to trauma and all of the things that make you feel insecure, or anxiety, it puts you right back in that place. For some people it’s hard to get out of it without talking to someone.
What kinds of things make you paranoid?
Not so much anymore, which is great, because I’ve overcome a lot of my anxieties and OCD by going and getting help and talking to a therapist. Finding the right plan for me. But I was having really, really bad trouble with not trusting the people around me, thinking that bad things were going to happen to me all the time. No matter where I would go, I would have these fears or thoughts or images. It would be like a 30-second clip of a whole entire day of something bad happening to me flashing in front of my eyes. I would relate it to where I was. If I was driving a car. If I was outside of a hotel. I would think that it was real. I would avoid doing these things, even though they weren’t real. It was really messing with my head.
Wow, I bet…
That’s where “Paranoid” came from, because I felt like I couldn’t go anywhere, do anything or tell anyone what was going on. I had all these fears that were built up inside of me that were not real, and I would obsessively think about them.
Thankfully you got therapy for that.
Do you think the act of creating music also helped you to deal with that?
Yeah. Absolutely. If it wasn’t for creating music, I don’t know if I would have even confronted my problems. Music is the reason why I even confronted them in the first place. I always wanted to just hide everything and pretend like everything is fine, enough to where I even believed myself. Then, whenever I started realizing – especially over the past couple of years – it’s been like big-time honest music. Not a lot of people are writing about [that] – like your rappers going to the club or things that are superficial. It isn’t honest music people want to hear and they relate to. I was like if I want to do that and connect with my fans, I have to be honest. It was like just cracking an egg open whenever I started writing things that were very personal.
You recently wrote an article called “Everything they didn’t want me to know, but I found out.” As a woman in the music industry, what are some of the things you have learned?
I’ve learned that really the only way that you can get anywhere is to just trust yourself and don’t put your career, your faith, anything, in someone else’s hands. You make your decisions. Don’t let someone else make decisions for you. Because, there’s a lot of people that will try and do that, and sadly a lot of them are men, and they think they can have some kind of control over what you do. What you say. How you interact with them, because they can promise you that they are that. It’s not right. In the end, you are the only person that is going to be able to push you along and get you to the next level.
In the article, I thought one very good piece of advice was “Stop searching for success. Instead search for happiness.” What makes you happy?
I’ve actually been very happy lately. When I say I’m a workaholic, I’m literally a workaholic. I non-stop work on my craft. All the time. Whether it is creating artistic visuals, or music, or meeting new people, engaging with fans, just talking to them, chit-chatting; those are the things that make me so happy. Not feeling like I have to be under this extreme amount of pressure to be someone that I’m not. If I just be me and do the things that I like, then I think it will translate elsewhere.