- Words Notion Staff
- Photography Christina Arza
- Production Axi Mines
- Hair & MUA Maggie
- Assisted by Jenna Cicero
- Location Robot Studios
Pull up a chair for this conversation between prolific songwriter, Ali Tamposi, and rising popstar, Liza Owen, as they chat about everything from writing music together to lockdown in Malibu and tramp stamps.
Ali Tamposi is arguably one of the most talented pop songwriters working today. Known for her work on more chart-storming hits than you could count, she’s sprinkled her magic over everyone from Little Mix, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez to Cardi B, One Direction and more. From writing Camila Cabello’s “Havana” and 5 Seconds of Summer’s “Youngblood” to Dua Lipa’s “Break My Heart”, most recently, she’s also had a hand in writing Miley Cyrus’ rock ballad, “Midnight Sky”.
As a signifier of the great things she would go on to achieve, Ali’s songwriting career began in 2008 when she sold a song to Beyoncé. QUEEN BEE. No biggie then.
The incredible journey she’s been on has led Ali to win BMI Pop Songwriter of The Year in 2019 and appeared on the third and final season of The X Factor US as vocal coach and mentor to Simon Cowell’s team.
Now adding rising British-Cambodian musician Liza Owen to her roster of collaborations, the two creatives have become firm friends after spending time together in L.A. writing sessions.
Catching up over Zoom (because where else right now?), Ali Tamposi and Liza Owen sit down to talk about everything from their dream writing retreats to making bets about tattoos. Pull up a chair and get in on the convo!
- Ali wears Tata La
- Ivia Retro
Ali. Baby, my girl. When did you know that music – and in particular songwriting – was the dream that you wanted to pursue?
Well, I knew that I wasn’t good at anything else. So I’d say when Beyoncé took “Save The Hero” from me, I realised that my path was going behind the curtain. So when I got my first placement and I got my first cheque.
But that was that was initially one of your songs, right? That you wrote for yourself? And, and then obviously Beyonce wanted it so… hard to say no.
Mmm. Hard to say no, exactly.
When was the last time you felt that you were really struggling to get something out creatively? And how did you get around it?
Probably yesterday. I put it down and walked away from it. I think that the more you try to fight to get something out, the less likely it’s going to be worth holding on to. So when it flows, it flows. And you can’t harness creativity. So you kind of just have to let it do its thing.
I love that. I mean, it’s so true. I feel like the more you hammer away at something, it just gets frustrating and just kills the vibe. Very honest. Yesterday… we were we’re in the studio today. So let’s hope it’s not today [laughs].
So how do you write a song?
It usually starts with a chord progression. And then whoever we’re writing with will all sort of sing out melodies and then the lyrics come last. So it’s music, chords, melody, lyrics.
It’s interesting because I feel like sometimes when you and I write, we go in with a concept beforehand, but it is really is the chords and the melody that ends up driving it. Unless you find the killer melody. You can’t be married to it, you know?
Essentially living outside of L.A. now, has that presented any collaborative challenges?
Um, no, I think if anything, it’s given me the opportunity to work with more people. I think more people are starting to leave L.A., just because living outside of the heart of the city is really really conducive to well being. So I feel more inspired to go into the city and write when there’s a session or write with my crew in Malibu – which is you.
Yeah, baby. I feel like you’re able to take better care of yourself out here. You wake up you can surf in the morning, you’re closer to all the things you love, you know, nature… What a perfect year to move to Malibu, with lockdown?
It doesn’t get better.
Okay, this is a fun one, and also a terrifying terrifying one. And maybe we’ll actually do this one day. But if I let you choose a tattoo for me, what is it and where would you put it?
Oh, for sure tramp stamp. Put it right on the butt. Right in the middle.
All right, babe. If we get 10 Number One hits together, I’ll get the tramp stamp.
You heard it here first!
Okay, where would your ideal writing retreat be? Anywhere in the world.
I’d have to say Cambodia.
Bring me to your roots, baby.
Okay, same. Done and done. That’s my dream retreat also. So it makes me very happy. And it would just be an incredibly enriching trip culturally. You get to meet the fam fam. I love that we’re gonna make that happen.
Okay, so, if you could have a dream session with any artists dead or alive, who would it be? It’s a tough one.
Let’s get John Lennon and Bob Marley in a room.
Oh. Damn! I’d like to see that collab.
We can only dream. Now’s a good one. That’s a tough question – of all the people in the world.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given to yourself 15 years ago?
Don’t sweat the small shit. And floss your teeth. And the best is yet to come.
I love that. That still holds now. I feel like I needed to hear that today. Definitely gonna floss my teeth.
I need to take my own advice. Seriously.
Ok, Ali, in seven words, who is Liza Owen?
A beacon of light – that’s one word [laughs]. It’s impossible to just describe you in seven words because you’re so unique. You light up every single room. You’re exceptionally talented and vibrant. Eccentric; you’re enthusiastic, super optimistic.
I think you’ve got it [chuckles]. I’m like, keep it coming, what else you got!
You’re a good one. You’re a rare breed. And I’m so happy to have you as a friend and as an artist. I wish I had like a more solid vocabulary because my brain works very visually.
No, that was pretty damn good. I’ll take it. I love you so much. I feel the exact same. I’m very lucky to have you as my sister and my mentor.
I wouldn’t say I’m the most optimistic or light up every room, but er…
You do in your own way! Oh, you. You light it up in your very own special way. Trust me. Ain’t nobody like you, baby.
Okay. Al, when did you know that we would be good collaborators?
The second you opened your mouth. When I heard you behind the mic for the first time – it was over.
I feel like we really bonded over a million things instantly. But in terms of music and writing, when we would get up to freestyle on the mic, I loved doing that so much. I’ve never really worked with anyone that encouraged me to do that and harness that and just go for it. You really did and just allowed me to be free with it. And I’m still so inspired when I see you do that. That was like something that I instantly loved about you and learned from you.
I don’t know if you remember this, but after those first sessions we had and I was in LA just for like a couple of days, like a week. And I had lost my bank card. My one bank card I bought to the US! But it was fine because I was leaving back for London the next day. And I was like, well, I’ve got my Uber app, that’s all I need. I’ll just get home from the session and I’ll stay at the apartment then I’ll go to the airport, I’ll be fine. I was kind of freaking out looking for my card and you were like, “What’s wrong? Is everything okay?” And I was like, “Yeah, it’s fine”. You’re like, “No, what’s up?” I said, “I just, I lost my bank card. But it’s all good. I’ll get to the airport”. So you reach into your pocket and gave me all the cash you had in your pocket at the time. It was like 50 bucks. You say, “Take this”, and in that moment I was like, oh my god this is my fucking sister for life.
She was flying home with no snacks from the airport!
I was like damn, that is my girl. Oh and that 50 bucks went a long way.
You know my favourite memories of you are opening up your bags and there’s all the airplane snacks [laughs].
Listen, you know what? Waste not, want not. You can’t be throwing away food. I didn’t know when I was gonna eat again. It’s a weird complex.
I’m gonna bring like 10 snacks to the studio today.
Okay, do you have a favourite song that you’ve ever written?
I haven’t written it yet.
You that’s not true. You haven’t written it yet?
No. You’ve got to keep reaching.
I mean, I have a lot of favourite songs that you’ve ever written. But, I mean, now this year, there’s too many to choose. But I will say the James Blake “Are You Even Real?” song. Obviously, aside from all the hits, lyrically, I was like, wow, this is a pretty beautiful special moment. So I love that one.
Okay, what parts of the music industry are you passionate about and involved in outside of songwriting?
Outside of songwriting, I put a lot of my focus into my foundation Creative Waves. We’re in the process of building a large music facility at an elementary and middle school in Belle Glade, Florida. We’re about $200,000 away from the complete renovation and remodel of the entire school. We’ve not only underwritten their music programme, but we’ve really fallen in love with the people, the administrators of the school. We’re actively helping them to create an innovative and safe facility for the kids. And I’ve realised that, unfortunately, music programmes are the first to be cut up, especially from the public school system. If parents need singing, music lessons, art classes, any extracurricular activities for their children, we also give grants to provide those resources. I think that having a creative outlet is the most important thing in the world. Especially at a time when we’re just in a constant state of chaos and the fear of the unknown is very present and everyone is at home on their computers. So we’re putting our best foot forward.
Yeah, it’s so important. I’m sure you feel the same, but for me, my piano lessons at school – when I was able to do that, that was such an incredible escape and a safe space for me. It’s really some of my earliest memories of falling in love with music. I think it’s awesome that you’re doing that.
Okay, so, in an alternative universe, if you were not a songwriter, what career would you see yourself in?
I think something in design like maybe architecture.
I was literally about to say that you would be an inventor [they laugh]. You’re the one that every other month you’re
like, okay, I’ve got this new idea for a new invention. And I’m not saying any of them because we don’t want people to steal the ideas!
Oh my god, there were so many random ones, but architecture, that would be an interesting path.
You’re very creative with your mind and you love design.
Yeah I think I’d have to stay pretty creative and have to exercise that muscle.
Yeah, I like it. Ali Tamposi the architect. That would be a good alter ego – The Architect. Your rapper name!
That hasn’t been used.
Exactly – The Architect. It’s very mysterious.
Okay, last question. What is your advice for those who may not know where to turn or where to begin for quality music education?
Well, I’m currently in the process of developing a music e-curriculum that is part of my foundation [Creative Waves Foundation]. We’re putting our heads together to put a programme in place where you can learn songwriting 101, produce production 101, engineering 101 taught by professionals in the industry. So we will have a few exciting announcements within the next month. Definitely at the top of the year, we’ll be able to reveal exactly which platform we’ll be hosting the content on, but it’s moving in the right direction. We’re very excited about it. And it is free. So I hope I’ll be able to guide aspiring songwriters and producers, aspiring engineers and mixers, aspiring music publishers, music A&Rs…
That’s so cool. What an incredible tool to have access to. It’s kind of like a master class. I think that’s really cool that you’re doing that and I would have loved to have had access to something like that growing up.
Yeah, definitely. It’s amazing that we’ve found our way here without knowing. We just left so much of it up to luck.