Her Faith in ‘Athfest’ Pays Off Well

I never know what I'll find each summer when I go to the "Athfest" in Athens, Ga., but I always stumble across at least one gem. One of my favorite discoveries this year was Allison Weiss and the Bandits.

They looked like Lisa Loeb fronting a punk band and sounded like tight pop pros.

Better yet, they sank their hooks into a diverse and enthusiastic crowd. Around here, I never see farmers at shows, but in Athens, I was second in line to buy a CD after an old man in overalls, who was eager to get his new purchase autographed.

No doubt, Weiss made some new fans and friends when she played South Philly's Palindrome last Sunday with her brother A.J. The positive vibes and open spirit that shine through even her saddest songs are even more pronounced on stage and via e-mail.

The Weisses are originally from Grosse Point, Mich., but they moved to Flowery Branch, Ga., when Allison was 5. Now 20, and a student at the University of Georgia, she spends most of her free time making music and mini-movies with her friends.

Last year, she released her first CD — the accurately titled "An Eight-Song Tribute to Feeling Bad & Feeling Better." On the feeling-bad tip, Weiss is fond of "I Don't Want to Be Here" and the rocking Korg synth that A.J., 18, adds when they play it live. On the feeling-better side, "I'm Ready" has all the makings of a hit: a memorable melody and hopeful lyrics about bridging the distance between would-be lovers and getting into something good.

Weiss said that her parents shared their love of music with her and her brothers. She started on piano as a kid, and in ninth grade she picked up a guitar, partly to impress a boy and partly inspired by one of the greatest girl-power films of our young millennium.

"I saw the movie 'Josie & The Pussycats' and decided I'd become a rock star," Weiss wrote in one late-night e-mail conversation.

She wrote a lot of pop-punk songs and played them with a bunch of friends before switching to acoustic guitar during her junior year in high school. The sonic shift really stepped up her game, she recalled, but her subject matter has been a constant: love and loss. (She might have a bit more experience in that department now.)

Good thing Weiss didn't heed a bitter ex-bandmate's advice on her fledgling career as a singer-songwriter.

"I still played in my pop-punk band," she said, "but soon after, the drummer quit and told me I wrote too many songs about love."

This year has been full of rich experiences for Weiss. She got fodder for her songs, broadened her musical horizons and revamped her band.

"I had a wonderful summer fling that led to a lot of my most recent stuff. What's cool is that even when relationships go bad, I get something out of it. I've got a newer song called 'The End' that I wrote in August, about that incident, and I've had a lot of people say to me, 'I'm really glad that guy broke up with you, 'cause that song you wrote about it is awesome.' "

Romantic Inspiration
Half of her set is new material inspired by that romance and its aftermath. Weiss explained that she tried to add intensity and darker shades without losing the catchiness that makes her songs so fun to play.

Still catchy, but more subdued than most of her work, "The End" dwells on the downtime between when someone says "Let's still be friends" — and when he or she really means it.

Expanding her music collection hasn't hurt the Weiss productivity, either.

"I started listening to a lot of new and different stuff," she said. "I got into garage rock, electronica and a whole lot of folk. So my new material is kind of a blend of all that."

Weiss recorded "An Eight-Song Tribute" in Marietta, Ga., with a couple of engineers.

With the exception of a backup singer and guitarist who appear on one song, the EP captures her on her own. She liked working in a real studio, though she noted that she wants to try something different for her next release.

She's already replaced the Atlanta-based Bandits I saw her with in June — loved the guys, hated the distance between them — and recently started playing with an Athenian rhythm section. She met the bass player at an open-mike night and connected with the drummer on Craig's List a few years later.

A.J. rounds out the group with electric guitar and synth, and though he hasn't been playing long, Allison's proud of her little brother's awesome licks.

She also told me that she films herself playing in her apartment and posts the videos on YouTube.

Her unabashed love for pop in all its various forms is evident in her choice of material; she covers hits by Rihanna, Britney Spears and the Beach Boys, along with her own tunes and songs by her friends and more obvious musical heroes, like Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes.

Be sure to check out her videos at: www.youtube.com/ amlingisrad.