Alyssa Allen, also known as Taurus Hate Club, performed several songs from her debut EP, Sharks in the Swimming Pool, last week at The Barn. The small house venue lent itself to the intimate nature of her music, which incorporates indie and folk harmonies sung gently over acoustic guitar riffs.
Allen grew up listening to a lot of music by Carrie Underwood, Halsey, and Katy Perry, but was also inspired by her dad’s love for country artists like Zac Brown, Brad Paisley, and Johnny Cash.
Her performance at The Barn was just one of many she played in the week leading up to and following the release of Sharks in the Swimming Pool on Friday. She also appeared at Exile on Main, Fire Doll Studio, and the Siebel Center for Design’s Circular Fashion Expo.
Despite having nearly a decade’s worth of experience performing, Allen takes each performance seriously. “I started going to open mic when I was 17 and that was my first real exposure,” Allen said. “But I still get nervous as you can see, I get the shakes up there.”
Years before getting started at Canopy Club, Allen was a member of the First Gig Rock Camp in Danville, though she considers this time to be more a prequel to her career than the introduction. Allen attended the weeklong camp every summer for five years, each time forming a new band under the instruction of an assigned mentor. During the week, campers received private music lessons, assistance creating band merch, advice on styling, and songwriting tips.
According to First Gig founder Tom Grassman, the main focus of the camp is to develop performance skills and stage presence in the campers. The benefits of this experience can be seen when Allen takes the stage. She presents a calm but confident demeanor on stage and has no issue sharing the personal meaning behind her lyrics, all while facing the audience alone.
However, she won’t be performing solo for long. Allen recently put together a backing band to accompany her performances as Taurus Hate Club. This will help bring the energy of the EP to her live shows.
Hearing the EP after watching her perform, I was shocked at the difference the backing band made, especially on the final song of the project, “305.” The song brings a midwestern emo feel to the mostly folk project, ending it with a bang. Allen wrote “305” last summer when dealing with a few noisy neighbors.
Like much of the EP, “305” addresses themes of helplessness, confusion, and feeling like an outsider. Before the chorus — which goes “I think I want to call the cops on your party” — comes in a second time, Allen proclaims, “Not feelin’ very human.” This fear of missing out can be heard on my favorite song of the EP, “Isabelle.”
Allen said she wrote “Isabelle” about her best friend of the same name, who now lives in Chicago. She sings about how their distance makes her feel split in half and how she wishes she could carry Isabelle around everywhere she goes. It’s a funny image to think about, but one I can empathize with.
As a 24-year-old who came to Champaign for school six years ago, I know what it’s like to have a friend move away. In fact, most of the friends who I started here with have moved on. This common experience among young people could allow many to connect with its themes, the primary one being anxiety.
The title, Sharks in the Swimming Pool, refers to the ridiculous notion many have as children that there is a 20-foot-long killing machine hiding in a 25-foot pool. This thought is an example of anxiety; it makes no sense, but even some adults struggle with the thought. Just like the idea of actual sharks in the swimming pool, many of our other anxieties don’t just go away when we mature. All the fears of missing out, getting older, losing innocence, and losing friends remain because even when reassured, it’s hard not to think of the Sharks in the Swimming Pool.
Though it was Allen’s angelic voice that originally drew me to her music, I have revisited it regularly over the past week because of the quality of writing, song structure, and universal themes that elicit emotion from me, a listener.
In the near future, Allen is looking forward to practicing more with her new band, improving her guitar skills a bit, and possibly becoming a mentor at the camp where she got her start. “I’m just happy to release it and move on to the next thing,” Allen said.