In a world where Taylor Swift has gone pop and Keith Urban is judging reality shows, Aly’An make music that’s about more than big hats and bigger pickups. We spoke to Alyson Burke and Andrea Gross to find out why they’re the female answer to Eric Church, how to throw a kick-ass field party and what are the finer points of frog gigging.
You’re both from the small town of Burgin, KY outside of Lexington. How did you first hook up and start playing music?
Alyson: An and I sang in the same competitions—we sang against each other—so we kind of always knew each other.
Andrea: I started singing in church when I was younger. My dad also played with bands, and when I was tiny I would sit in. I thought it was very cool. But I followed the same path as Alyson—singing in contests, the jamboree circuit. My dad had the idea to put together a band of local musicians and have Alyson and I be the lead vocalists. We sang with that band for four or five years at parties. Then we had a friend who thought we had genuine talent. That’s when we started working with other musicians and became Aly’An and started the long journey we’ve been on.
How did your folks react to your decision to pursue music?
Andrea: My parents were very supportive. My dad’s a musician and understands the passion people have for music. When I graduated college my initial plan was to move to Nashville and bang on doors. I ended up staying in the Lexington area and focused on building a following in this area so we could stand out, rather than get lost in the crowd of Nashville.
Where is your favorite place to play in Lexington?
Andrea: We play in the Lexington area at least once or twice a month. We play at Paulie’s Toasted Barrel, Austin City Saloon and Transylvania University, which is where I went to college.
Alyson: Paulie’s has kind of become our home. We try to play there once a month. Paulie and his family treat us like family. They’re so kind. They let us get ready in their house.
You work hard on stage, but do you two also have day jobs off stage?
Andrea: I work at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill—it’s a very pretty tourist attraction in central Kentucky. I work in the restaurant a couple of days a week.
Do the customers ever recognize you?
Andrea: That has happened before. A lot of time Alyson and I would work together, and customers would ask about our personal lives. We’d tell them we were singers, and they’d ask us to sing a song for them. So we would—and they’d end up passing the bread basket to give us extra tips.
Alyson: It worked in our favor, for sure.
You’ve shared a stage with big country acts like the Marshall Tucker Band and Florida Georgia Line. Who would be first on your list to open for?
Alyson: Hands down for me it’d be Eric Church. He’s a really good songwriter, a great entertainer and his voice is just perfect. But it isn’t just him, his band has this type of energy that Andrea and I are working towards. We focus on our full show—not just getting up there and singing pretty. We bring a lot of energy. We’re like a female side of Eric Church in a way—that’s what we’re going for.
You recently released your self-titled EP independently. What went into making it?
Andrea: Everything was paid for by Alyson and I. We really created it from scratch. We co-wrote all the songs on the EP with our band. It was a year’s worth of work. We didn’t rush it because we wanted to find the songs we felt were an accurate display of who we are artistically.
Alyson: We’ve done past projects that we didn’t write on, that were just thrown together and didn’t turn out exactly how we wanted them to. So with this project, we said we’re going to have a say in this and present who Aly’an is—because we don’t think there’s been an accurate portrayal of us yet.
You have a song called “What Country Is?” So, what is the state of country music today?
Andrea: I’m the daughter of a farmer. My husband is a farmer. So the country lifestyle is the only life I’ve know. The town I grew up in is very rural; very country roots. We’ve been around the “country” our whole lives, and the trend in country music right now is, “Oh, I’ve been stackin’ hay bales; come get in my truck and back-road.” But have these people even been on a farm? They’re pretending to be this person, but are they this person? So we wrote a song about what we thought being country is all about. It’s about hard work and appreciation for the land.
Alyson: Just because you drive a truck and wear boots and put on a ten gallon hat doesn’t mean you’re country.
Andrea: There’s nothing wrong with living in town and wearing boots and driving a truck. But be who you are, and let’s have some respect for the people who truly are country.
So, what do you do for fun in Burgin?
Alyson: We wrote a song called “Field Party.” That’s what we’d do. We’d go out to Ison Lane, which is Andrea’s husband’s farm. We’d start a bonfire, pull up the truck and have a party because there’s nothing else to do in that town. That’s all we knew.
Andrea: Or we’d go frog gigging.
“Just because you drive a truck and wear boots and put on a ten gallon hat doesn’t mean you’re country.”
What’s frog gigging?
Andrea: It’s kind of like fishing, but for frogs. You go at night when the frogs are out, and use a prong.
Alyson: And you need a flashlight, so you can blind them. It sounds so terrible actually.
Andrea: It’s true. You shine a light on a frog so it blinds them and then stab them with the gig.
Alyson: Then you put them in a bag, and then eat them.
Andrea: Frog legs are really good when they’re nice and fresh.
When you were growing up, how often would you drive to Lexington from Burgin?
Alyson: When we were in high school, we went to Lexington to go shopping.
Andrea: It was a treat if you got to go to Applebees. I didn’t know what a club was.
Andrea: I moved to Lexington when I was 18 for college. I know Lexington compared to Chicago is nothing, but compared to Burgin, it’s a big city. It’s a big city, but it has a small town feel. Everyone is friendly, and you’re still in the South, so you get that Southern hospitality.
One last question that only a real country girl can answer. Is cow tipping a myth?
Cow tipping isn’t real. Cows sleep laying down, not standing up.