When a musician is asked what inspires them the most, typically, they will give you a short list of other artists whose work has influenced their own. Maybe it could be some of the music their parents listened to or artists they’ve discovered on their own.
Senior creative writing major Alyssa Rieper could’ve easily produced that list, but instead, she said she is most inspired by words.
“When I hear or read or talk to somebody that tells me a cool word, I have to stop and write it down in a notebook I always carry with me,” Rieper said. “It’ll get me rolling and I can just go off of the thought that it gave me. That’s usually what inspires me.”
Rieper was one third of Eau Claire’s own, now defunct female folk trio, Feathe, but despite the group’s recent dissolution, she’s doing well for herself. The McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul held an online talent competition called “Express Your Talent,” to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary. Rieper entered a video of herself playing a Feathe song she wrote called “Jon’s Song,” and she won the first place prize of $1,000.
But it didn’t start (or end) there.
Rieper has found success playing music even despite the fact that she hasn’t had formal training.
Junior Adelyn Strei, the drummer for Feathe, is no stranger to music education. She was a part of Eau Claire Memorial High School’s Jazz Band and is now playing saxophone in UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz Ensemble I. Strei said she finds it impressive that Rieper writes her songs without extensive education.
“She is one of the most humble people I know and I think she’s an underrated songwriter,” Strei said. “She has written so many beautiful songs that just came from her heart. She was doing pretty smart stuff without realizing.”
Growing up in Chippewa Falls, neither of Rieper’s parents were particularly musically-minded, but Rieper was still able to find enjoyment with listening to music. She explained that the first moment she knew she wanted to sing and play was in high school after seeing a male a cappella group perform at her school’s auditorium.
“ … There was a bass singer and he got featured in one song and he had a voice that could shake the auditorium,” Rieper said. “I looked up at him and said, ‘I want to do that,’ and I ended up playing bass (guitar).”
Apart from singing in church, Rieper hadn’t had too much hand in doing music, but she said she feels incredibly fortunate to have parents that are so supportive.
“They really admire that I’m always doing things in music,” she said. “It’s really wonderful; I’m really lucky.”
When Rieper was in high school, she said she certainly wasn’t expecting how quickly Feathe would form.
Rieper met sophomore Johanne (Jana) Swanson, when Swanson was still in middle school and Rieper was in high school.
Rieper said Swanson was waiting for the bus and Swanson complimented Rieper’s shoes and from there, Feathe was born.
“It was just really quick and we ended up hanging out and it just really fell together,” Rieper said. “We made music for a while just for ourselves and she played along with my songs and eventually it just stood from there.”
Feathe, since then, built a following in the Eau Claire area, acquiring over 1,000 Facebook fans, opening for many notable local bands and embarking on two summer tours.
Rieper and Swanson were Feathe’s sole members until October 2009, when Strei said she joined Feathe as a drummer. That’s when Strei met Rieper.
“We met at our first practice in the Towers basement and right away I could tell that working with her would be fun and easy and awesome,” Strei said. “Alyssa is a very genuine person who always wanted to hear my and Jana’s ideas and really enjoys making music.”
After their second tour, however, Feathe split up for a number of reasons. The biggest, Rieper said, was that Swanson was going to be doing the National Student Exchange in Albuquerque, N.M. for the entirety of the 2010-2011 academic year.
But since the split, each member is working on a new respective project. Swanson released a cassette of solo music from her side project, Yohuna. Likewise, Strei released an EP of her own material as Adelyn Rose and Rieper is currently writing songs for her project entitled Lorelei.
Despite Feathe’s dissolution, both Rieper and Strei look back fondly on the experience, especially the final tour.
“We didn’t really spend a whole lot of time together until then,” Strei said, “it was awesome, and some of it was stressful, but it really brought us closer together.”
“I think the most memorable stuff was probably this last summer because we had Addie (Strei),” Rieper said. “She adds a lot of character to it. It was just kind of fun having like a girls’ road trip.”
Rieper first experienced McNally Smith when Feathe recorded with Zach Hanson of The Gentle Guest and Laarks, who is a student there. Hanson had full access to the recording facilities there so he recorded Feathe’s last EP for free.
Rieper received an e-mail informing her about McNally Smith’s “Express Your Talent” contest. At the start, she didn’t think she would take first place; in fact, she said she wasn’t even gunning for it.
“At the beginning of this, I looked at it and the second place prize was an iPad and I thought if I could win that iPad for my church, I’d be really happy,” Rieper said.
Then one day when Rieper was cutting a friend’s hair, instead of paying her, her friend shot the video that she submitted to the competition.
According to the McNally Smith website, the contest ran throughout all of January of this year and half of February. The site explains, “this contest will empower youth to create a video piece showcasing their musical talent, whatever that may be.”
The contest began as students and young people of all kinds submitted homemade videos of themselves playing their own music. Then through McNally Smith’s Facebook page, the video with the most “likes” advanced to the next round where the top five were chosen. After the first round, Rieper’s video was tied with another for fifth place.
Then, Rieper explained, the top five videos were sent to professional judges at the school and they narrowed it down to the top three submissions. Rieper’s was chosen for first place.
Being tied for fifth place and having her submission chosen for first place, Rieper said, is nothing short of miraculous.
“I almost didn’t make the top five and then I actually made first place instead of second, semi-miraculously,” Rieper said. “I got really excited when I realized that I won a thousand dollars instead of an iPad. I still can’t understand it really.”
Rieper is still in disbelief over the excitement of winning.
“I still didn’t cash the check. I don’t know, it’s incredible,” Rieper said, “I’m incredibly lucky and blessed.”
Dr. Cathy Rex, assistant professor of English at UW-Eau Claire has worked with Rieper on a number of occasions and said that Alyssa’s creativity sets her apart.
“Alyssa is curious. I love that about her,” Rex said. “I enjoyed working with her because she was always ready for a challenge and positive about meeting that challenge.”
As for the future, look out for future releases from Lorelei and more from Rieper soon.
Strei said she’s proud of Rieper, but not surprised that she won.
“Alyssa definitely deserved to win this thing,” Strei said. “I am really not surprised. I am totally glad Alyssa is getting recognized for the talented musician she is.”