Every now and then, a new artist comes along who seems to effortlessly capture the imagination. Singer/songwriter Alyssa Bernal, a relatable girl with an unforgettable voice, is just that artist for a new generation. Alyssa was your everyday American teenager, busy with classes and cheerleading practice, when her heartfelt, acoustic YouTube clips caught the eye of superstar producer Pharrell Williams. Fast-forward a year later, and her debut album from Star Trak Entertainment is about to bring a much-needed breath of fresh air to the pop landscape.
For Alyssa, music comes about as naturally as breathing. The singer/songwriter was raised in a music-steeped household in San Antonio, Texas. During her childhood, Alyssa’s father was the drummer for groundbreaking Tejano band Culturas, and at the age of six she stood backstage and gazed out at stadium-sized crowds as he performed. The experience didn’t exactly ignite her passion for performing, though. “I was so shy!” Remembers Alyssa with a laugh, “my parents would dress me up and make me sing but I hated it.”
Somehow, her love of music overcame her fear of performing. By the time she was a teen in San Antonio, Alyssa uploaded a few homemade videos of herself singing cover songs like Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” She taught herself to play guitar, and soon one video lead to dozens, and a rapidly-growing fan base around the globe. “People would message me and say that they had a horrible day and my songs changed their day,” Alyssa recalls. “It’s pretty touching. After a while I had to stop reading all of my messages because it got so overwhelming, but I always tried to open the ones from soldiers in the service.”
Since she received so many responses to her videos, Alyssa at first neglected her most famous admirer: Pharrell Williams. The platinum-selling artist and producer even tried contacting Alyssa’s high school to get in touch with her, but “they didn’t know who Pharrell was! They just thought it was some shady guy trying to get a hold of me,” laughs Alyssa. Finally, her mother spotted a MySpace message from Star Trak and 24 hours later, they flew to meet Williams and Interscope Records chairman Jimmy Iovine at the Star Trak headquarters in Los Angeles. She impressed them with “Hey Love,” one of the first songs she ever wrote (now featured on the album), a perfectly Alyssa tune: breezy but strong, intricate and approachable.
"Finding a new talent like Alyssa is so exciting to me,” says Pharrell Williams. “There are a lot of young singers out there who can carry a tune, but Alyssa is the real deal. She is a true musician with an incredible voice."
Once signed, William’s manager and the head of Star Trak, Yaneley Arty, asked Alyssa who her dream producer might be. Without hesitation, she answered, “The guy who produced the last Jason Mraz album.” At the time, that “guy,” Martin Terefe—an accomplished producer known for his work with James Morrison, Train, Craig David and Cat Stevens—had a fully booked recording schedule, though he agreed to meet with Alyssa. After meeting with her for an hour, however, Terefe gave Alyssa an offer she couldn’t refuse: he’d open up his schedule, if she agreed to stay in London and begin recording immediately.
Next thing she knew, Alyssa and her mother had relocated to London, where she worked closely with Terefe over a period of seven weeks. Terefe developed Alyssa’s naturally sunny sound, enlivening her pop sensibility with notes of funk and soul. Most importantly, he encouraged Alyssa to write from her own experiences.
“The songs reflect what I was going through at that time,” says Alyssa of the resulting album, In Love Again For the First Time. “Because it’s my first album, the songs are very naïve and personal. They are about long-distance love, missing home, and the tone is very easy-going.” Alyssa has a natural ability to breathe vivid imagery into everyday matters of the heart. Her first experience of homesickness became “Gray,” a collaboration with Grammy Award-winning artist and songwriter KT Tunstall. “One Of Us,” featuring Pharrell, is a sassy, danceable track dedicated to a young crush. “Stay” is an atmospheric ballad that plays like a love letter to her long-distance boyfriend. “Hold Me Tight,” a duet with Jason Wade of LifeHouse, is a moody, orchestral song.
From the shy girl who watched her father perform from the wings, to the confident young woman about to release an incredibly personal collection of songs to the world, Alyssa has come a long way. When she looks forward to the coming year, she can’t wait to step out on stage. “I’m really growing as a person and an artist,” says Alyssa. “I have a shy personality but when I’m performing, I calm down… I’m excited to tour and to interact with my fans. They’re always asking me, ‘When are you going to come to London or Paris?’ and I can’t wait to do that for them.” Though it’s been an incredible, globe-hopping year that has brought In Love Again For the First Time to life, Alyssa Bernal’s journey is just getting started.
Support your local San Antonian by purchasing her album on iTunes