Leftover Cuties' Shirli McAllen: It's going to be a wild adventure

Leftover Cuties' Shirli McAllen: It's going to be a wild adventure
Photo by Joe Gall

The Leftover Cuties' singer Shirli McAllen has had quite a musical journey. The performer grew up in Israel until leaving her native country for California at 22 to follow her dreams of becoming a rock star. McAllen grew up listening to Hebrew music, had an underlying love for rock 'n' roll, and now she sings jazzy-pop songs.

On the eve of the band's five-week national tour, Gimme Noise spoke with McAllen from her home in Venice, California about the stages in her life as she packs for the tour. Never having been on the road for so long before she shares, "Packing has been a three day ordeal for me. [laughs] I'm definitely excited, but I have some concerns. I do know that no matter what, we're gonna have a blast. We know how to make the best of every situation."

When she moved to the States, Shirli divulges that she had to hit the restart button, learning English as she came out of her shell. In a voice laced with an Israeli accent, she says, "English is my second language, so when I started writing songs in English, I was translating a lot from Hebrew. It wasn't really working, and luckily I have an amazing partner that would go through my lyrics and help me make sense in English rather than translating. That was the process for years until I really started feeling comfortable writing. It's a great thing when you can cycle through that process, and you feel you're growing."

That partner came in the form of the Leftover Cuties' bassist, Austin Nicholsen. The California band was borne one evening when Nicholsen came over to Shirli's home with a ukelele. Something magical happened that night, bringing together a musical collaboration that changed the way Shirli sang. The lead singer is a self-proclaimed late bloomer, sharing that she finally found her true voice with the Cuties. She says, "From hearing the uke, it made me sing a certain way. It was a really good match right off the bat. I'm grateful to Austin and the ukelele."

Since the conception of the band, the music has evolved from a duo to a full band. Their new album The Spark & the Fire (out July 23) has the group leaving their emotions unguarded as they open up new avenues. Almost every song is a snapshot of the last year and a half of the band's lives. While she would rather leave the songs to the listener's interpretations, Shirli tells the story behind "Once Again." "I wrote that song about my family in Israel. It's about that cycle I go through every time I visit. I arrive smiling, and I leave crying. My family is very close knit, so the fact that I live here, so far away from home, is a tragedy for everyone over there. It's also hard for me. As the years go by, we get used to it, and although we get to visit each other all of the time, it truly is on the other side of the world. It's very emotional -- being so happy to see them, then having to say goodbye and reset back to your life. That's what that song is about."

Adjusting is another way that McAllen is growing into the person she is looking to be. Even though the band is starting to take off, the singer is at a turning point in her life where her thoughts of having a family are in the back of her mind. "I think about it a lot. I'm not planning on getting pregnant anytime soon, but I am at that age where I will have to make that decision soonish. I'm a we'll-cross-that-bridge-when-we-get-there kind of gal. I can't really plan that stuff out. I know many women in my life that do amazing things and have babies. It's possible to bring your baby anywhere. Although I'm very motherly with all of my friends, I'm also very driven. I'm sure all of my priorities would shift, but I don't see myself giving up my career."

With a new album on the horizon, the band will not be slowing anytime soon, especially with their five week tour just starting. Even though they have been together for close to six years, the group has only done one-offs previously. So why tour now? "We've wanted to tour for a long time now, but we had always hoped a bigger opportunity would come along where we could open for another band and be in front of a bigger crowd. For some reason, nothing ever really fell into place, so we made this record and our team urged us to tour behind it. We want to go out there, and we want to meet new people, so it's time. It really feels like we've waited long enough. It came to the point where it's time to do this whether we end up losing money on this or not. We're super stoked about it; it's going to be a wild adventure."

Leftover Cuties will perform at the Dakota Jazz Club on Wednesday, July 17, 2013.
$12, 7 pm

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