Military child on journey to become professional musician

Ally Westover plays a coffee house in Colorado prior to the release of her debut single “Lullaby.” (Courtesy photos)
Ally Westover plays a coffee house in Colorado prior to the release of her debut single “Lullaby.” (Courtesy photos)

Military child on journey to become professional musician

by Dave Ornauer
Stripes Japan

For any aspiring musician, no matter the genre, the road toward success is almost always a long and winding one, and at times awfully narrow.

In the case of Ally Westover, a military dependent who released her first single, “Lullaby,” three months ago, that road was narrowed even more over the years by military life, which involved her family moving from base to base over her 22 years.

The Westovers – Air Force Col. Dave Westover, his wife, Laura, and Ally’s fraternal twin sister Jessie – lived in California, Maryland and Texas, twice in Japan and most recently in Germany before settling in Colorado Springs, Colo.

There were music lessons, from Ally’s father – an accomplished musician in his own right – as well as outside teachers, and great amounts of self-teaching.

There were talent shows in high schools at Yokota Air Base and Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and later appearances in small clubs and coffee shops in Colorado Springs before finally recording the single.

“Lullaby,” released on Westover’s independent Lemon Ginger Records label, is available on most music platforms. It debuted Sept. 18 on YouTube and has been viewed, listened to and downloaded more than 5,000 times, said Westover and her producer, Shane Malcolm.

“The song was inspired by my own anxieties and the people I am closest to experiencing depression,” Westover said.
Professionals in the radio industry, given an opportunity to listen to “Lullaby,” gave the song positive reviews.

“I like her sound. Nicely crafted lyrics. Vocals are reminiscent of Lisa Loeb,” said Jon Yim, a 1976 graduate of Kubasaki High School who was a DJ on the old Far East Network in Japan and Australia in the 1980s while in the Navy. Yim, now a TV production technician at KPBS-TV in San Diego, also does a Sunday radio program on KCR, San Diego State’s student station.

Twin sisters Jessie and Ally Westover, then freshmen at Yokota High School, perform one of the pair’s several original compositions at the school’s Christmas talent show.

Another former AFN DJ, Kellen Carr, says Westover’s voice sounds like a combination of pop rocker Grace Potter and British teen-pop singer Jasmine Thompson.

“Her voice is so raw and magical,” said Carr, a former airman who did the morning program as DJ K-Cruise in the mid-2010s on AFN-Tokyo and now works for R.J. Reynolds and lives in Eugene, Ore. “I could listen to an entire album of her with no problem.”

Westover said she’s not expecting to become the next Taylor Swift. At one time, she said, she wanted to be a big star, be on the Disney Channel and sell out stadiums.

“Now, it’s a little bit different,” Westover wrote via email in late November from her Colorado Springs home.

“I want to be able to live comfortably off what I love doing,” she said. “I want to have a voice that holds enough weight to where I can speak out about things that matter to me: Inclusivity, environmental issues and human rights.”

Those issues matter most to her, Westover said, along with friendship, and not vast mansions and entourages.

“I would love to have a small apartment somewhere on the West Coast and travel the world with my best friends and family while I sing about things that matter,” she said.

Malcolm, a part-time producer, sees potential in Westover’s talent.

“I’ve seen her perform live; she has all the tools to be a good musician,” he said. “Just finding good people around her to help her achieve superstar status; I think she has that in her.”

Birth of a musical career

Though she primarily plays guitar, Westover’s first instrument was a small percussion box with eggs and maracas that she and her sister would march with around the house. “I think I was 3 or 4 years old at the time, living in Maryland,” Westover said.

The family also had a piano at home, but Westover said she didn’t approach it seriously until recently.

“I’m in the process of learning the keys,” she said. “I do remember enjoying the sounds that it made.”

At age 10, Westover began taking drum lessons in Texas, partly inspired by Nick Jonas. The Jonas Brothers were just becoming popular. Like many young girls at the time, “I wanted him to like me,” she said.

Her interest in music took a serious turn 10 years ago, when her father and an instructor named Joe Smith taught her the rudiments of the guitar when the Westovers lived briefly in California. Smith also helped her with percussion.

“My dad taught me how to play chords and I still use the same chords today,” she said. “My family is absolutely the reason that I’m pursuing music. They gave me a lot of freedom in choosing whatever songs I wanted to learn and encouraged me to write as well.

Westover’s father taught to his daughters what he learned about the guitar from a friend in Arkansas, when he was an airman first class assigned to Blytheville Air Force Base as a graphics specialist.

The friend played bass and they found a drummer to form what Dave Westover called a “post-punk/power trio/garage band.”

They got out of the Air Force, went on to form a band called “Know Idea,” recording an LP and two extended-play songs from 1988-91, and toured college towns, dive bars and radio stations on the East Coast and Midwest.

“It was a good run, chasing the rock ’n’ roll dream, but we didn’t get the record deal we were hoping for,” Dave Westover said.

He re-entered the Air Force, became an officer, married and started the family he has today, teaching the basics of guitar to his daughters.

As Ally Westover began learning the guitar, Swift’s career as a country-and-western megastar was just taking off; Ally said Swift was a big influence.

“Her songs were relatable and genuine,” she said, “and I admired the honesty in her songwriting.” She said she also takes a shining to rhythm-and-blues musicians Drake and Alicia Keys.

Swift “really inspired me to write how I felt, which as a young kid who is dealing with constant change, was about the healthiest outlet possible,” Westover said.

As their high school years began, the Westovers arrived a second time at Yokota, where Colonel Westover was commander of American Forces Network-Pacific.

And Ally and Jessie began appearing at high school talent shows, performing original compositions, which continued after the Westovers transferred to Ramstein, Germany, where they remained until the sisters graduated.

“I always loved English; I loved writing, especially,” Westover said.

She also enjoyed arts and humanities and science. “I am really interested in the environment and sustainability,” she said. “Math still terrifies me.”

In Germany, and later in Colorado Springs, Ally’s dream of becoming an accomplished musician began to take hold, and the appearances in small clubs and coffeehouses began.

“My dream has always been to play shows where people come to listen and to write songs that people have on repeat,” Westover said.

Dreams and fears

Ally Westover, then a Yokota High School freshman, performs during the school’s Christmas talent show. (Courtesy photo)

Malcolm entered the picture last June, via a friend of Westover’s, Diego Gutierrez, a former teammate of Malcolm’s on the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, a pro team in the second-tier United Soccer League. The Switchbacks are an affiliate of Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids.

Westover and Malcolm met at a Colorado Springs coffee house with Chiara Garland, a former Patch High School classmate of Westover’s and freelance photographer whom Westover calls one of her closest friends.

At that meeting, Malcolm said he “kind of just felt the vibe, talking about music.”

Then, he said, Westover came straight out and asked if he could help her out and go to Utah to record with Chiara.

The next day, they drove west to scenic Moab, Utah, just south of Arches National Park, which served as the backdrop for “Lullaby.” Eventually they created both a song and a video, Malcolm said.

After several weeks in production, Westover and Malcolm released “Lullaby” across virtually all online musical platforms – Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Tidal, YouTube, Pandora, iHeart Radio and others.

Her greatest fear, Westover said, was that “Lullaby” wouldn’t break 1,000 listens on Spotify. “But it did. And it was such a cool moment,” she said.

Though “Lullaby” isn’t on the Billboard chart, “for what she’s done with one single, it’s incredible,” Malcolm said.

It’s hard to gain traction in the music business, he said. “For what ‘Lullaby” did, it gave her the green light that said, ‘Hey, you can do this.’”

Even that, she said, wasn’t enough to make her feel complacent about her career’s present and future, the latter with its many mysteries.

“Not to sound morbid, but I am afraid of the unknown,” Westover said. “Life is full of unexpected turns and I feel this really intense sense of urgency to pursue what I love – now.”

What Westover has going for her and what gives her the potential for long-term success, Malcolm said, go beyond a soft but powerful voice and its unique tone. “When she starts singing, it’s like everybody wants to listen,” he said.

The value of friendship, and how it helps one’s career, is a message Westover says she hopes will resonate with any other alumni of the Department of Defense Education Activity, the DOD school system for dependents.

“Making friends in the creative community” has been key for Westover.

“Be kind to people. Treat people well. Encourage others. The biggest reason for any of my success stems from building genuine relationships with people and being concerned about their well-being.”

Growing up in the DODEA environment, changing schools the way some people change socks, can be both a blessing and a curse, Westover said.

“We are challenged in that we are uprooted and replanted, but that is also our superpower,” she said.

“Your friends become your supporters and when they disperse all over the world, they take a piece of you with them. And boom.
Now, you’re international. All because you owned your craft and chose to be kind.”

And the sisters’ father has achieved a first of his own; Col. Westover is the first public affairs officer for the newly minted Space Force, assigned to Peterson Air Force Base, 10 miles east of Peterson Air Force Base, also in Colorado Springs.

“Historic times for sure,” Dave Westover said of himself and his daughter via Facebook Messenger. “I can’t say that I saw either of these coming, but so proud to be part of both!”

As for her music future, Ally Westover says her style is still developing. “As I grow, I hope to merge elements from the folksinger/songwriter genre with the R&B world to create dimensional music that reflects me,” she said.

A move to Nashville should come next spring or summer, Westover said.

She harbors no illusions about how hard it might be planting roots in the country music capital of the world; no artist makes it
immediately, especially when they choose to be independent, as Westover has.

“It’s definitely more difficult to grow organically, as opposed to signing to a major label and having them do the work for you,” she said. “But for where I am right now, this feels so right. I have complete creative control and am able to really discover who I am as an artist without anyone pushing me in a specific direction.”

On the Web: Ally Westover’s debut single “Lullaby”

Ally Westover’s official Web site

Ally Westover’s Facebook page

Shane Malcolm’s Colorado Switchbacks FC bio page

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