Alice Howe grew up on a steady diet of 60s and 70s folk and blues. That upbringing became the foundation of her debut album, Visions, a collection of work that draws from folk, blues, Americana, and her parents' vinyl collection. "I have a strong bond with an era of music that happened before I was born," she says. "But it’s not a 'throwback,' nor is it an imitation. It’s the timeless music I love, and it's the music I want to make."

Howe worked with producer Freebo—best known for his work as Bonnie Raitt’s long-time fretless bass player—to craft the album, writing and choosing the material that would best showcase her many different sides as a singer, writer, and performer. The result is an intimate glimpse at a young musician discovering her potential.

I caught up with the Newton-native, who now tours full-time, to learn more about her beginnings and the vast collection of music that raised her. Excerpts below.

Bands You Should Know — Alice Howe
Jim Shea

Howe was raised by people with broad musical taste.
Their vinyl collection included folk, blues, 70s rock, classical, Flamenco, opera, and anything else you might imagine. Someone was always putting on a record, and I was particularly fixated on lyrics and storytelling. I would sit beside the speakers with the record jacket, reading along as Joan Baez sang Old English ballads.

These experiences were essential to her formation as a musician.
Today, I would say that I’m a better listener than ever. I hear the bass and drums alongside the vocal, appreciating how all the parts work together and support each other.

She's been writing songs since she was a child...
I have several precious cassettes of myself at three and half years old, singing made-up tunes and then responding to my father’s questions about my songwriting. It has always felt natural and cathartic to transform my experiences into lyric and melody. Particularly in the past five years, my songwriting has evolved into a more intentional process. I can be struck by a bolt of inspiration while sitting alone in a quiet, still place, and alternately I can also come up with a concept (a theme, a groove, a word) and challenge myself to begin from scratch.

...and finds inspiration in artists whom she deeply admires.
I listen to great singers like Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin, Taj Mahal, Jackson Browne, and Joni Mitchell, singers who deeply inhabit the emotion of the song. They get inside it, and you feel them, you feel the lyrics. It’s not about the riffs, or over-doing it and showing off. It’s all about the voice as a pure instrument, a channel to real, sincere emotion. Listening to that is a powerful source of inspiration to me.

Performing has always come naturally for her.
Growing up, I was always performing for family and friends, and in countless plays and talent shows (thank you, Newton Public Schools!). My family always encouraged this tendency, along with the idea that music and art were communal experiences, things to be shared.

Her first paid show was at the Stowe Farmer’s Market in Stowe, VT...
I was 15. I took home a check for $100 and felt sure that I had 'made it'! I often spent Tuesday nights in high school at the Club Passim open mic, and I believe my first official Boston-area gig was opening for Antje Duvekot at Passim.

...and her most memorable performance in Boston was in November, 2018.
I played my album release show with a full band to a sold-out house at the Burren in Somerville. The band was incredible, and I am so proud of the show we presented. I had Freebo lead the band and play fretless bass, John ‘JT’ Thomas on keyboards, and Marty Walsh on electric guitar, Dave Mattacks on drums, and my older brother Augie singing backup vocals. It was a joyful celebration, and one that I’ll always look back on with love and gratitude.

Any pre-performance rituals?
Since I started touring full-time three years ago, I began practicing 15-20 minutes of vocal warm-ups before every show. I’ve never taken vocal lessons, so it was new to me, but I’ve found that it really helps me to sing my best. Caring for my voice with warm-ups, water, tea, and enough sleep has become very important to me.

Career options outside of music?
To be honest, I feel that music is my calling in this life. I believe that this is what I was put on Earth to do. That being said, if I absolutely had to choose another path, perhaps I’d run away to southern Spain and teach English. I have studied Spanish since elementary school, and speak it fluently.

Where can Boston see you perform next?
I’ll be playing a solo matinee show at Club Passim in Harvard Square on Saturday, November 30.