Ali Spagnola is a modern-day Renaissance Woman. In 2006, while a student at Carnegie Mellon, Ali began an art project called Free Paintings. Since then, she has mailed out, for free, 12"x12"paintings to whoever asks for one. She paints one a day, whatever the person asks for. Ali has also designed 2D and 3D video games, illustrated a children's book, created the scoreboard design for Disney World's Toy Story Midway Mania ride, and designed the complete suite of sounds that come prepackaged with the Galaxy Nexus smartphone.
It's enough to make you look at your own resume with disdain and self-loathing.
I haven't even mentioned the reason Ali will be in Pittsburgh the night before Thanksgiving (besides the fact she lives here). You see, Ali is a musician, too, and her Freedom Victory Tour wraps up with a show at Club Cafe. She put out a couple albums in the mid-2000s, then, in 2008, she began performing a collection of sixty original one-minute songs, which were eventually released as the Power Hour Drinking Game DVD. Soon after, she was sued by a man who claimed trademark over the term "power hour." She fought, won, and this tour is to celebrate. Why don't you listen to Ali explain her saga:
Ali was kind enough to answer some of our questions prior to her Pittsburgh homecoming:
PMR: First of all, I can't be the only person to notice the irony in a CMU grad creating the quintessential party album. A power hour album seems more likely to come from the Cathedral side of Panther Hollow.
Ali: Are you saying us CMUers can’t party? Hah! Clearly you missed out by only drinking with Pitt students.
PMR: Usually, when you're on the road, you perform by yourself. But for your show Nov. 27, at Club Cafe, you're performing with local alt-rockers Verity's Lie. How do you approach a band and tell them they'll need to learn 60 songs, ranging from rock to reggae to gospel to honky tonk?
Ali: Verity’s Lie is actually just opening for me. So they’re off the hook for learning my 60 jams. Though the drummer from their band is actually my drummer when I’m home in Pittsburgh. And yeah, he’s super talented so he picked up my songs really quickly and can handle any covers I throw at him, too. I’m definitely lucky to have him because I’ve worked with some people in the past that can’t keep up with the pace of all my short songs and genre changes.
PMR: You put out a few albums before The Power Hour Album, but you've been successful in a wide variety of creative endeavors. Do you consider yourself a musician first and foremost, or is music just one facet of your artistic expression?
Ali: I consider myself an artist. Music is a part of my art. So is painting. And drinking. And answering interview questions.
PMR: Your lawsuit garnered a lot of press. Vice, in particular, did a big feature on your ordeal. But, even before that, you received a big outpouring of support from fans all over the world. You were able to raise over $40,000 to launch the tour and help recoup your legal bills! Do you think people saw this as a David vs. Goliath type of battle? How do you explain all the love?
Ali: It was so awesome to get such amazing support. I think people wanted to help because they understood the whole situation really was completely unfair. David would have had an army if Goliath was a jerk trying to stop the world from partying.
PMR: Are you worried at all about condoning, if not outright encouraging, binge drinking? A "proper" power hour is 7 1/2 beers in one hour! Granted, the idea of "power hour" has been around for a very long time; this was pretty much the crux of your lawsuit. But for better or for worse, your album has become a popular means through which people, namely young adults, engage in what is essentially a very dangerous activity.
Ali: My album and live show is about creating an interactive party where everyone gets involved and plays along. I never encourage harming yourself. There’s even a song called “Everybody Wins” where I sing about how everybody wins the game no matter how little they drink. If you ever come experience my concert live, you’ll see that people are too busy dancing and having a good time with everyone to feel pressured to drink.
PMR: What's next for you? You've said before that the power hour idea was a way distinguish yourself, to get people listening who might not otherwise want to hear some random girl on a guitar. Do you think you might put out another "straight" album?
Ali: I’m definitely putting out another non-alcoholic album. It’s already in the works!
PMR: How long is the waiting list currently for your Free Paintings project? Is there any way to jump ahead in line, maybe through, say, transparent flattery? You talented, charming person...
Ali: The wait list is around 1,500 right now. And, yes! You can jump in line via flattery. Though, everyone on the list has also flattered me. So you’re in line at 1,500.
PMR: You told reddit that your favorite place to perform a live power hour is Peter's Pub in Oakland. Any other local institutions you want to name check?
Ali: My favorite place to fist pump is Diesel. My favorite place to get tan and smashed at the same time is the Double Wide Grill. My favorite place to make my parents pay is The Grande Concourse. My favorite place for carbs is Joseph Tambellini Restaurant. My favorite place to make my sight (and face look) awesome is Norman Child Eyewear. My favorite place for comedy that comes into existence exactly at the moment you experience it is a toss up between Arcade Theater and Steel City Improv. My favorite place to use a time machine to have steak is Pittsburgh Rare. My favorite place to have trouble deciding between mussels and waffles is Pointe Brugge Café. My favorite place to feel I should grow a mustache is Over The Bar Bicycle Café. My favorite place to tequila is Mad Mex. My favorite place to regret my volume of tortilla chip intake is also Mad Mex. My favorite place to dance like Jesus (on water) is the Gateway Clipper. I could go on but I’ll cut myself off there. I’ve been in Pittsburgh a while.
We are giving away two tickets to catch Ali live, at Club Cafe, on Wednesday, Nov. 27, at 9PM. To enter, simply email your name to email@example.com, and put "power hour" in the subject line. Ali's shows are always a party, so we can only imagine what it will be like on one of the biggest party nights of the year. And while you're there, consider purchasing Ali's Power Hour Drinking Album. It comes preloaded on USB stick that's built into a shot glass. It's an original creation that Ali designed and patented. Just another day's work for Pittsburgh's Renaissance Woman.
-- B. Conway