An interview with Allison Weiss

If you haven’t heard of Allison Weiss, you probably aren’t on Tumblr. The New York-based singer/songwriter has built a steady fan following using social networking over the last few years, and she funded her last album almost entirely from fan-based funds. Allison talked with us about deciding to come out publicly last year with an It Gets Better video and why she would rather do everything herself.

Photos by Kristen Winter What was it like growing up in Georgia?
Allison Weiss: I was born in Michigan but my parents moved me to Georgia when I was about five, where I grew up in a really small town called Flowery Branch. There weren’t a lot of other kids around where we lived so I mostly hung out with my brother and focused on a lot of solo creative projects, such as making stop-motion movies with my stuffed animals, writing silly rhyming poetry and spending hours in the basement with my dad’s synthesizer composing catchy little instrumental loops.

AE: So is that how you started playing music?
AW: Yeah, I’ve pretty much always been into music as far back as I can remember. My dad always had a ton of instruments around so it was only a matter of time before I learned to use them. I had brief encounters with guitars throughout my childhood but it wasn’t until I was 14 that I really started playing. I had just transferred schools and didn’t have any friends. There was this punk boy in my class and I guess he played guitar so I decided I was going to learn and impress him. I borrowed my dad’s Les Paul and learned some power chords and successfully won this guy over with my skill and charm. We only dated for a month, which probably had something to do with the fact that making out with him was the opposite of fun, but I was super-heartbroken about it and that’s when I started channelling all of my girl feelings into pop punk songs.

After that, I never stopped playing or took a break from music. I played bass in a sh–ty metal band for a while, eventually started my own pop punk band that I fronted (we sucked), and then at some point I discovered acoustic guitar and formed an emo duo with a friend. I wrote all the lyrics and music but the songs were all about my bandmate (whoops). Things got awkward and we broke up, which is when I started playing completely solo.

Right about then I was graduating high school and going to college. I chose UGA in Athens because I heard the music scene was killer, and ended up spending the next five years wishing I was just playing music. My brother eventually learned guitar and I made him join my band. The two of us would go out on tour during breaks from school and just play as often as possible. At some point, music stopped being a hobby and became my purpose, as intense as that sounds. I never said “Hey, I think I’ll do this for living,” it just kind of happened, and it’s still happening. So I graduated in 2010 and moved to New York shortly thereafter and here I am now.

AE: When did you come out and how did it happen?
AW: My coming out story has two parts: I came out to friends and family about a year before I came out to fans.

In October of 2009, I was in New York visiting friends, which was something I did a lot before I moved here. I had just attended a Tegan and Sara show in Times Square — so gay — with my buddy and lesbro Shervin and we had a really great time. Afterward we were walking home and out of nowhere he says, “So, how much do you like girls?” I froze. It felt like I had been waiting my whole life for someone to ask that question. I was so full of adrenaline from the show and the city, I came clean. Shervin spent the rest of the night teasing me about how obvious it was and interrogating me about my girl crushes.

Just saying it felt so f—ing good that as soon as I flew back to Georgia, I wanted to tell everyone, but I was nervous. A month later I met a wonderful girl and decided the time had come. I made a list of the 10 most important people in my life and I came out to all of them before the new year.

Though coming out to my family and friends was surprisingly easy, I wasn’t so sure about putting that part of my life completely out in the open just yet. I spent a good deal of time just not talking about my sexuality or my girlfriend on the Internet or with my fans. I had long since stopped using gender-specific pronouns in interviews, but I pretty much thought “I date girls, I have a girlfriend, cool, I don’t have to do anything else.” It wasn’t until an important breakup last year that I realized I hadn’t spent any time actually existing as an out queer person.

Around this same time, gay teen suicides were getting a lot of publicity and Dan Savage launched the It Gets Better campaign. I remember being on the road and talking to my tourmate about it, hoping that my young fans could look up to me, to which she replied, “Dude, then you have to come out.” Everything suddenly made sense. As soon as I got back from that tour I made an It Gets Better video and I told the world.