Alyssa Bonagura Has Truly Found ‘New Wings’ as a Solo Artist [Interview]
Alyssa Bonagura says she didn't realize so much of what she sings and talks about today relies on "flight" as a metaphor, but it's fitting. The newly-solo artist now understands the lesson of the butterfly.
In this context, she's referring to a Paulo Coelho short story called The Lesson of the Butterfly. A man sees a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon, and after seeing the creature suffer for quite a long time, he decides to get a pair of scissors and help.
"So he does it, cuts open the cocoon and the butterfly falls right to the ground and is never able to use its wings because they’re underdeveloped," Bonagura says, summarizing. "The lesson of the story is the struggle of going from out of the cocoon to the open air is the one part that’s the most pivotal part of a butterfly stage. The struggle makes it stronger.”
The pandemic found the Tennessee native and one-time member of the Sisterhood Band back in a familiar cocoon: the house she grew up in. With shows canceled and prospects dashed, this once-vaunted solo artist moved back home and began to have some serious heart-to-heart talks with herself and God. It was a summer of long walks and meditation and songwriting. Thoughts became ideas, and ideas became song lyrics.
“I have a lot of flying dreams where I can jump and take off like Peter Pan," she'll say later during an interview at the 2022 Country Radio Seminar in Nashville. "They’re really fun. I wonder if maybe I was a bird in a past life," she adds with a laugh.
Bonagura's future as a musician has been bright since she was born. Her parents are Kathie Baillie and Michael Bonagura from the late-'80s country group Baillie and the Boys, so by age three, she was roaming hallowed institutions like the Grand Ole Opry. Session work, a prestigious scholarship and a critically acclaimed solo album called Road Less Traveled created even more momentum that was free from expectations. That changed slightly when she teamed with Ruby Stewart to form the Sisterhood Band and signed to Sony Music Nashville in 2017, but Bonagura relished it.
“I’m so grateful for the time I had in that band because it helped me step up to the plate," she says. "Playing a stadium show opening up for Rod Stewart was insane. You start to see what you’re made of.”
Now past the hard work of emerging from that pandemic-induced cocoon, Bonagura is focused on flight. Like "New Wings," a song called "Destroyed" on the album she's nearly finished is about rejuvenation. Another track called "Paper Airplane" throws mixed emotions at an old relationship.
"Took a ride in your paper airplane / Flew close to the fire / Put our trust in the folded wings / Thought the wind was gonna take it higher / Never know when the heat of a moment can go up in flames / But we were never gonna make it, in a paper airplane," she sings.
“There is something about music that feels like I’m flying," she says.
Bonagura is humble enough to recognize, however, that in many ways she's just taking off. So her goals are simple and her measuring stick for success is obtainable.
“Any step forward is a step toward success to me," she says. "And me putting this music out and even having a number of people listen to it, I’m grateful for that.”