Photo Credit: Anndy Negative

“People like to put things into boxes, and I like to open the box and ask what’s outside.”

Alanna Sterling is a local Ottawa musician and Twitch streamer who recently released a music video for their latest single, “Alien,” which will be featured on their upcoming album Mind Over Matter.

The video was inspired by TikTok videos in which users would rapidly cut between different outfits or costumes while singing. As such, “Alien” frequently cuts between nine different characters singing, each of which Sterling created and dressed as for the video. They describe these characters in a recent behind-the-scenes video.

In a behind-the-lyrics video for “Alien,” Sterling describes their struggles with social anxiety and feeling like an outsider growing up. Due to frequently moving around, being in the foster care system and struggling with social anxiety, they often felt like an outsider—like an alien.

In the song, they describe the shock that overcomes them during an anxiety attack as “electricity itching in my chest.”

In some cases, Sterling has had to go to the hospital because the pain was so great that they feared it was a heart attack. They hope that their experience will help others understand that mental illness isn’t just in a person’s head, but can also affect people physically and in other aspects of life.

Sterling’s music isn’t bound to one genre or style of music, but instead they produce whatever feels right to them.

They describe their wheelhouse as soul rock with jazzy elements, but do not feel bound to this. In the past, they’ve produced heavy-rock and grunge. More recently, they have worked on Adele-style ballads and experimented with Vaudeville.

Sterling’s music makes use of the wide variety of instruments that they have learned on their own such as piano, guitar, trumpet, saxophone and, of course, their voice, which can range from “raspy belted notes to delicate falsetto.”

“I don’t have a favourite type of music,” said Sterling. “I listen to all music. I love all music. And for me, if I’m writing a song, I’m not thinking about what genre it is. I’m thinking about, ‘Oh, is this a good song?’”

Sterling’s songwriting process is as unique as their music. Sterling described songs coming to them in form of “auditory hallucinations” which they then dissect, break down and recreate.

“I’ll hear a song,” said Sterling. “Obviously there’s no song playing, that song doesn’t exist, but I’ll hear it. And I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s figure out what does this sound like on piano,’ and then I’ll go and produce it. And some songs like that, I produce an entire song in like an hour.”

For other songs, Sterling will sit at a piano and play whatever comes to mind. They’ll develop a melody and focus in on the feeling that comes with it. After that, they write lyrics that match with that same tone.

Sterling advocates for raising awareness around mental health, abuse, body image, LGBTQ+ issues and a variety of other social issues.

“When I write songs that are more personal like about a specific issue, for example, my song “Home With You” deals with sexual assault,” said Sterling. “I’ve been able to tell my story through music, and have had women approach me and be like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know I needed that song.’ And that really helps me feel less alone in the situation.

“It’s powerful healing for myself, but seeing the healing that it does in others is ultimately the biggest impact that it has on me.”

Many of Sterling’s recent songs will be featured on Mind Over Matter, which they describe as “a manifesto of mental health.”

“Each track is a different kind of story, or a different diagnosis that I’ve had to deal with or work through,” said Sterling. “Every single song tells a story. And that story, it gives the reader something to connect with whether it’s something they’ve been through, or whether it’s something they’ve watched someone else go through. Even just to see a situation in a different light. And I think that’s powerful.”

Sterling writes about such important, personal issues because it’s what matters to them. It helps them heal and allows them to let others know they are not alone.

“I feel like a lot of people repress their emotions, or they have misdirected emotions because emotional intelligence is something you’re not really taught in school,” said Sterling.

Sterling hopes to help others learn to properly deal with their emotions. They want people not to be ashamed of their feelings, but to accept them and even wear them with pride.

This is a message they focus on in “Cookie Cutter,” a song about being true to yourself, in which they say: “If you look inside, maybe then you’ll find what you left behind – what makes you, you.”

“Nobody tells you that it’s okay to just cry when you’re sad, or it’s okay to smile and sing when you’re happy, or that it’s okay to sleep when you’re tired,” said Sterling. “But I think true freedom comes when you’re in touch with your emotions and you allow yourself to feel and accept those feelings without trying to change them in any way.”

Sterling expects expects to release their next single, “Chemicals” in late November, and is working on a music video to accompany it.