Alycia Lang is a Bay Area singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who commands a room with her clear, vulnerable and deceptively powerful voice. With a style that weaves folk, jazz, indie pop and dreamy, electronic shoegaze sounds, her songs speak of messy endings, fresh starts and the growing pains in between.
A Northern California native and lifelong singer who trained as a young teen at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Lang spent the last decade making a name for herself on vocals, guitar and keys in critically acclaimed touring bands like Waterstrider and Trails and Ways. But her forthcoming EP MakeShift represents a departure for the artist, who in 2017 planned to leave the Bay Area after a series of splits both personal and professional.
The world had other plans for her: after moving to her childhood home for what was intended to be a short stay, Lang found herself and her family awaiting evacuation orders on a daily basis, in direct line of the firestorms that swept Northern California that October. Living with bags packed, hosing off the roof as debris fell from the sky, and watching as her neighbors endured tragedy shifted Lang’s perspective on what was truly important.
Recorded at San Francisco’s legendary Hyde Street Studios in the months that followed, the result is MakeShift, an EP full of urgency, an eagerness to experiment with new sounds, and a renewed sense of gravity, humility and purpose.
In October 2017, Alycia Lang stood outside her family’s home in Northern California, hosing down the roof, watching in disbelief as debris fell from the dark orange sky. The Tubbs Fire—at that time the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history—was tearing through Northern California, destroying her neighbors’ homes, farms, and livelihoods.
Lang had had a bad year. Her band and most formative musical partnership had dissolved, she and her longtime partner had split, and she was still sifting through the wreckage from the ways the two intertwined. It was the kind of year in which her car got broken into twice in one day, in the rain, and she thought, “Yep, that’s about right.”
But watching her community struck by true tragedy, not knowing what the next day would bring—something in her shifted. Once the Lang family knew their house was likely safe, they took in people who hadn’t been so lucky, housing roughly 40 people and animals on their ranch over the next two weeks.
When the smoke finally cleared, Lang took a second look at the collection of tracks she’d been obsessing about for a new solo record: songs written over the last 18 months, songs mourning what had been taken from her, trying to discern what she could still claim as her own. They felt different. She felt different. She was ready to close that chapter of her life, and—with a renewed sense of purpose and gravity and gratitude—move on.
Make/Shift is the result. With Lang’s pure voice layered over folk, indie-pop and dreamy, electronic shoegaze sounds. The record dabbles in the classic and the brand-new; it is versatile, playful and intimate. For Lang, it’s also a snapshot in time: of messy endings, fresh starts and the growing pains in between.
Singing has always been Alycia Lang’s superpower. Growing up an only child on the Mendocino Coast, with the woods as her backyard and a musician father who sang songs instead of bedtime stories, Lang realized early on that her voice brought joy to those around her.
From ages 10 to 14, she studied vocal and music theory at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music before deciding the formal setting wasn’t for her. She hasn’t performed classical music since, though the vocal-centric nature of her music gives a nod to this training. It’s also what led her to make her first full-length vocal record in the UK at age 15 before turning her sights towards songwriting.
After traveling Europe and living in Los Angeles as a young adult, Lang became an integral part of an Oakland art community that gave rise to some of the decade’s most influential East Bay indie bands. Among those were Waterstrider and Trails and Ways, both of which had Lang as a full-time member, contributing vocals, guitar and keys to their genre-skirting sounds.
But MakeShift marks Lang’s first solo work in three years, and its vulnerability speaks volumes. Looking back on a year of personal turmoil amid global tumult, Lang delivers music that carries all the possibility of a rain-washed road after a storm; after years in collaborative bands, the singer puts her singular voice front and center. “Fall doesn’t feel like a new year anymore,” sings Lang on “September,” an earnest ballad, “but I still feel like a child.” Tones of Blake Mills, Mitski and singer-songwriters like Laura Marling all come through her voice at different angles: unadorned yet unafraid.
As Lang reconsidered her material in the wake of the fires, other tracks took on the thumbprints of new collaborators: singer-songwriter-producer Lauren O’Connell helped transform “Projector” — a song Lang had been performing live as a straight-ahead indie rock track — into a sparse, contemplative electro-pop tune, one with left-field shades of Oakland’s own Tune-Yards.
Avi Vinocur of Goodnight, Texas, meanwhile, added banjos, more urgent vocals and his distinctive folk-rock sound to “As It Seems.” Then “The Only One” became an experiment in using nine densely layered saxophone tracks in place of guitars thanks to Hamilton Ulmer, of the Oakland pop band Makeunder.
Recorded at San Francisco’s Hyde Street Studios, the record is an amalgamation of moods, moments, and hard-won battles both large and small. On “East and South,” a small but mighty tendril of a song recorded in one take, her voice projects hope and strength even as it seems on the verge of breaking, Lang ultimately concludes that “...fighting the good fight is always a hard time.”
“It was a nice reassurance that I still had such supportive community in the Bay, after a period of not really knowing what I had left here,” says Lang of the EP’s collaborative nature, noting that she hopes chronicling her more difficult periods might ultimately help someone else through something similar.
“Of course I came out of that time feeling so much more empowered, and now it feels like a bookend,” she says. “The capstone project to one part of my life, and the first chapter of another.”