On Stage Extra: Mia X Ally put their twist on traditional instruments

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Mia X Ally

If someone told you to check out an interesting music act – a duo featuring two young women playing violin and bagpipes – you’d probably envision a folky duo playing an acoustic blend of Celtic tunes and traditional Appalachian songs.

If the group was Mia X Ally, you’d be in for a surprise.

Mia X Ally, who are headlining a show at Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, www.ardmoremusic.com) on November 21, are an electric duo that, while having traces of Celtic and Americana, are more a band that raises the roof with a self-descriptive blend of classic rock, metal, punk and pop.

Mia x Ally is the electrifying duo project of electric violinist Mia Asano and bagpiper/multi-instrumentalist Ally the Piper. With a combined following of over eight million people, both musicians officially joined forces in April 2022. Playing both original songs and covers of pop rock and metal music with a Celtic twist, Mia x Ally made their debut in Boston in August of 2022, playing two sold-out shows. They later went on to tour the East and Midwest on the “Shipping up to Boston Tour,” selling more than 3,000 tickets.

When electric violinist Asano and bagpiper Ally Duncan (a.k.a. Ally The Piper), both of whom were classically trained musicians,  first met in person, the chemistry was immediate.

They were also both established viral TikTok musicians. They’d been fans of each other’s work for a while and decided to finally meet in person in Boston in 2022.

They initially discovered each other during COVID via their TikTok channels.

Right now, they are wrapping up the 2023 segment of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia Tour.” The concert in Ardmore will be the penultimate date of the tour.

“This isn’t a folk concert or a traditional show,” said Asano, during a phone interview last week from their van as the band travelled to Nashville. “It’s a rock show.

“I’m originally from Denver. I moved to the East Coast to go to school at Berklee College of Music. I had a dual major – violin performance and professional music with a concentration in business and songwriting.”

Classically trained from the age of five, she developed a love for alternative styles of music early on and plays a variety of music styles including rock, pop, metal, electronic and Celtic music on a seven-string electric violin. She graduated from the Berklee College of Music in August of 2022.

Asano has had global success with her viral covers and has translated that to her live shows, collaborating with artists and friends such as Lindsey Stirling, Dragonforce, Tina Guo, Kiki Wong, MALINDA, Grace Kelly, Leo P, Avi Kaplan, and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

“I studied classical violin starting when I was six,” said Asano. “I discovered electric violin at 13 – jazz, rock, bluegrass, Celtic. In college, my heart was in contemporary music. I spent a while releasing my own music.”

Ally the Piper, also known as Piper.Ally, is a musician and content creator who has gained a significant following of three million followers on various social media platforms. She is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist but is best known for her work on the Great Highland Bagpipe. She is particularly recognized for challenging traditional perceptions of the bagpipe, and for her ability to take the centuries-old instrument and make it relevant and appealing to a modern audience.

Ally began her career as a competitive bagpiper, starting off strong by winning the 2012 World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow as a member of a youth pipe band. She continued to compete solo and was consistently ranked at the top of her divisions in the Eastern United States. However, in 2016, she decided to step away from competition to focus on her music career.

Since then, Ally has been actively working to break stereotypes about the bagpipes and introduce new audiences to the instrument.

“I’m from upstate New York,” said Ally. “I started playing music when I was little. I started with keyboards when I was six and took piano lessons. I also played a lot of woodwinds. Actually, I play a lot of instruments. I love being versatile.

“My stepdad legally adopted me when I was 12. His family is Scottish-American, so I got a new last name – Duncan. I grew up in a Celtic household. My mom’s side is Irish. When I was a sophomore, I went to Scotland and won a youth championship there.

“I went to college in Pennsylvania at Edinboro University. They had a great bagpiper instructor, and I went to school there specifically to work with him. I also studied voice and piano. After college, I went back to upstate New York.

“After winning the competition in Scotland, I decided that pipes would be my main instrument. For Mia X Ally, in addition to bagpipes, I play Irish whistle, a hybrid bagpipe and some small pipes.”

Fate – and TikTok – brought the two talented musicians together.

“We were fans of each other online,” said Asano. “We really enjoyed each other’s content. We met through TikTok. What brought us together was ‘The Wellerman.’

“That was the first time I’ve ever had ever publicly covered a Celtic tune. That got me into the world of Celtic TikTok. That’s how I became aware of Ally.

“We got together and filmed six videos together in an hour. And a lot of those videos went viral and that led us to a sold-out tour. We started small and then people started coming out in droves.

“Our album ‘‘Mia x Ally: The Viral Hits,’ just came out on October 27. It is the first time we released our own music. This is the first actual album and Mia X Ally and it’s already doing really well.”

Video link for Mia X Ally — https://youtu.be/KBmYKmAvuko.

The show at Ardmore Music Hall on November 21 will start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $30.

Joanne Shaw Taylor

Joanne Shaw Taylor will have some new songs to play when she performs at the Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) on November 21, but the focus will still be on her most recent album, “Nobody’s Fool,” which was released on October 28, 2022 on Joe Bonamassa’s Journeyman Records.

“Nobody’s Fool” was the latest in a series of chart-topping releases from the blues ace. Her 2019 release, “Reckless Heart,” broke into the UK Top 20 Album Chart, cementing her status as one of the most important exports in British blues-rock.

“The Blues Album” (2021), also produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith at Oceanway Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, marked Taylor’s seventh studio album, and her first release on Bonamassa’s independent label KTBA Records, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Blues Charts. In 2022, Joanne received her second No. 1 Billboard Blues Album with “Blues From The Heart Live,” also released on KTBA Records.
Taylor is currently working on her next studio album that will showcase a bold slate of new material.

“The new album should be out early next year,” said Taylor, during a phone interview last week from Burlington, Vermont. “I have been releasing some singles from it already.

“For my live show now, I’m not playing much from the new album. I will be playing a lot from ‘Nobody’s Fool.’”

Her latest album release was recorded at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. It was produced by Bonamassa and Josh Smith and features Bonamassa on “Won’t Be Fooled Again,” guitarist Carmen Vandenberg (Bones UK) on “Figure It Out,” cellist Tina Guo on “Fade Away” and music legend Dave Stewart on a cover of the Eurythmics classic “Missionary Man.”

“Nobody’s Fool” is her most personal album to date. Taylor’s writing focuses on love, loss, and the desire to be free of the past through the vessel of catchy hooks and infectious guitar riffs.

“I recorded ‘Nobody’s Fool” at Sunset Sound in L.A. It’s a legendary studio. I just wanted to go to L.A. — to someplace sunny — to record. It was fun.

“Some songs came from earlier ideas from previous material. On others, I sat down in my apartment and wrote. I just tried to find the best songs. I would say it’s a pop-soul album – with lots of guitars.”

Taylor’s next album will definitely have an “album” feel.

“I like to record an album and focus on that,” said Taylor. “I look at it as two sides. For me, the track I love the most is the first track of the ‘B side.’ The songs that open the second side and the albums’ final songs are the ones I remember.

“I recorded the new album at RCA Nashville. I went back to using Kevin Shirley as producer. We recorded my album, ‘Wild,’ in 2016.”

Taylor has established herself as one of the U.K.’s top stars of the blues-rock world. She grew up in Wednesbury in the Black Country, England, and was inspired in her early teens to play the blues after hearing Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins and Jimi Hendrix.

“I grew up near Birmingham,” said Taylor. “My dad played guitar and was a big music fan. He was also a big blues fan and listened to artists like Big Bill Broonzy and Bukka White. I started playing guitar when I was a teenager. I was listening to acts like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins and ZZ Top. I also listened to Cream, Free, Led Zeppelin – anything that was loud.

“I didn’t get into British blues acts like John Mayall or Alexis Korner until later. I was attracted to American music. It’s funny because Joe Bonamassa, who is a friend of mine, was in New York listening to British guys and I was in Britain listening to American guys. I did a blues cruise with Joe Bonamassa a few years ago.

“I always wanted to play guitar. I had played classical guitar at school. I knew I could play guitar but classical wasn’t for me. It was too structured. When I listened to Albert Collins, there were no rules. “I listened to the blues guys and imitated them. I loved it so much.”

The girl with the big voice from the Black Country has toured extensively around the world, released critically acclaimed albums, and gained a global fan base as well as having the honor of playing alongside some of her musical idols.

Taylor’s debut album “White Sugar,” which was released in 2009, opened the door. Subsequent albums “Diamonds in the Dirt” (2010), “Almost Always Never” (2012), “Songs from the Road” (2013) and “The Dirty Truth” (2014) enabled Taylor to build a world-wide fan base.

“The Dirty Truth” was a return to her original sound that mixes rock riffs with blues influences. The album was released in the U.K. in September 2014 on Taylor’s own independent boutique label, Axehouse Records.

“I have more than 20 years of playing guitar,” said Taylor. “I started when I was 13. My first guitar was a Mexican Sunburst Strat. I recorded ‘Wild” in February 2016 with Kevin Shirley. He’s worked with acts like Joe Bonamassa, Aerosmith, Journey, and Iron Maiden. I recorded the album in Nashville in a studio in the old RCA Building – Grand Victor Sound Studio. We were in the studio with the band for four days.

“Recording at Grand Victor was incredibly inspiring. It is quite the legendary studio. Dolly Parton cut ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love’ you here. And Chet Atkins worked here. Basically, if there was a hit record out of Nashville, it was made here.

“I recorded the ‘Reckless Heat’ album in Detroit. Then, I made the ‘The Blues Album’ in Nashville with Joe Bonamassa. During COVID, we were using ZOOM. I wanted to make an album of blues covers.

“I moved to Nashville last year and I was hanging out with Kevin Shirley. We both wanted to work together again. He was free and I was free, so we went into the studio. It’s pretty much finished.

“I wanted to move it back more to blues after doing the pop-soul of my last album. I’m a blues guitarist – but not necessarily a blues artist.”

Video link for Joanne Shaw Taylor – https://youtu.be/z0RUiqxeK_w.

The show at the Keswick Theater on November 21 will start at 8 p.m.

Ticket prices start at $29.

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