Tone Talk with Alexx Calise: “Tone is everything.”

Photo by Tamara Carroll
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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 21 – Fall 2022

Alexx Calise is an accomplished singer, guitarist, and songwriter. Perhaps best known for her hit song, “Cry” — which became a staple on the hit TV show Dance Moms and boasts millions of hits on YouTube — Calise is always working on new material for her solo project, and her other band with Dennis Morehouse called Batfarm.

In addition to her musical pursuits, she is also a writer for several major music publications, a brand ambassador for Guitar World Magazine and Bose Pro Audio, a professional photographer/videographer, and an actress. When not playing shows or writing music, she enjoys horror movies, exercising, or taking a well-deserved nap.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?
Tone is everything. My best friend and songwriting partner of over 15 years, Dennis Morehouse, taught me that. I didn’t always feel that way when I was younger. It really makes all the difference in the way you play and how you approach a song. If you have a good tone, then you will automatically feel more inspired and play with more feeling. I’ve always been a very plug-and-play type of person. If you take a little extra time to tweak your settings and hone in your sound, you’ll eventually develop your own and play your material with that much more confidence and conviction.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
This is a pretty long list. I have about 15 guitars in my possession, but I stick mostly to my white Gibson Les Paul Studio, my glitter gold Airline 59 3P DLX by Eastwood Guitars, and my brand-new red Fender Telecaster. Amp-wise, I currently use my Rocker 32 by Orange. I used a Vox AC-30 for the longest time, but I constantly had to keep getting my tubes replaced because they always got jangled from traveling. The Rocker 32 was introduced to me by a friend/colleague at Orange, actually, and I’ve never looked back. It has amazing amp distortion and crunch, and it’s way lighter than the AC-30. Pedal-wise, I’m a bit of a minimalist. I use a Jupiter Fuzz and Slo Pedal (both from Walrus Audio), a BOSS chromatic tuner, and a Weeping Demon wah in my live setup. They get the job done and give me enough crunch and fun, spacey sounds.

What about strings?
I don’t really have a strong preference. If they’re 10’s, I’m usually happy. I honestly can’t even tell the difference tone-wise when it comes to strings. I can just tell when they need to be changed because they sound dull and undefined. 

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
Not necessarily. I’ll sometimes do a nice long vocal warmup if I know I’m going to be in there all day. However, my voice is usually pretty warmed up and ready to go because I’m in the studio several days a week. More than anything, I just make sure I get good enough sleep.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?
I label my amp settings with duct tape usually. You can also do this with your pedals. Granted, every room is going to sound different, but you’ll at least have a bit of an idea of where to start.

What does your practice consist of?
My practice consists of doing some scales, of course, but mainly just playing through my existing material. I keep it simple. It doesn’t have to be heavy. It should be fun. Occasionally I’ll go through some YouTube videos and play through some of my favorite songs. When I practice with my band Batfarm, we’ll go through the set, which is usually only 30 minutes (LA shows usually aren’t more than 30-45 minutes), but we practice very frequently. Especially one to two weeks before a show, we’re in there six to seven times a week. You don’t always have to practice for long periods of time; it’s mostly about consistency.

Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to play guitar?
I suppose the James Bond theme. My dad would play it for my brother and me all the time when we were growing up, and I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. However, I think what really made me want to play more than anything was my dad. I’m definitely a daddy’s girl. 

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?
This is a question that comes up a lot. Being a woman is in no way a handicap. We ALL have the power to achieve great things. Just bring it when you play and when you’re on stage, assert yourself, and don’t ever be afraid to speak up if someone makes you feel uncomfortable in any way. I encourage each one of you, regardless of gender, race, or age, to follow your heart and pursue a career in music if you have aspirations to do so!

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